BOSTON (CBS) — The 2021 Red Sox season has to be better than last year, right? We think so, because really, it can’t get any worse than it was in 2020.

The Red Sox had a real lack of talent on the diamond last season. This year, they at least have some exciting players to keep an eye on, not to mention a much more interesting manager with Alex Cora back on the bench.

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It was hard to get into a 60-game season last year, especially with the Red Sox out of the hunt fairly quickly. There are still a lot of question marks with the team’s pitching, but Boston figures to have one of the best lineups in baseball, one that has the capability of scoring a boatload of runs.

Here’s a look at a dozen players we’re most excited to watch throughout the 2021 season.

Eduardo Rodriguez

Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

He’s got ace stuff and we saw him win 19 games in 2019. But health is always the biggest concern. E-Rod missed all of last season with complications with COVID, but was slated to make his first career Opening Day start until he started dealing with a “dead arm” in his last start of spring. It’s not ideal for your ace to be dealing with a dead arm before the season even begins.

But if Rodriguez is the pitcher he was in 2019, then Boston will have a really good arm leading its rotation.

Nathan Eovaldi

Red Sox starter Nate Eovaldi. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Eovaldi will get the Opening Day start in place of Rodriguez, and will look to put a tough spring behind him. The righty had a 6.60 ERA in his four spring starts.

A postseason hero in 2018, Eovaldi was a wreck in 2019, finishing the season with a 5.99 ERA. He somewhat decent last season with a 3.72 ERA and 1.200 WHIP in nine starts. He pitched really well over his final four starts, winning three of them as he allowed just two runs over 21 innings. Hopefully that’s the Eovaldi the Red Sox get this season as their No. 2 starter.

Tanner Houck

Red Sox pitcher Tanner Houck. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The 24-year-old righty had an uneven spring, but he saved his best stuff for his last outing, tossing 4.1 innings of shutout ball while striking out six Braves on Monday. He may have a spot in the rotation to start the season if Rodriguez ends up on the IL, and should get a chance to build off an impressive finish to 2020 when he went 3-0 and allowed just one run over 17 innings in three September starts.

Adam Ottavino

Red Sox reliever Adam Ottavino. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Cora isn’t saying it, but Matt Barnes will be the closer, meaning set-up duties will fall primarily on Ottavino. Great for the Yankees in 2019, he was not so great for the Yankees in 2020, with a 5.89 ERA and 1.582 WHIP. Ottavino tossed just 18 innings in 24 appearances last year.

He’s got a fresh start now in the Boston bullpen. Ottavino is a Brooklyn native who went to Northeastern, and soon he’ll have worn both a Yankees and Red Sox uniform. If he can return to his 2018 form, the Sox could have a tough 1-2 punch at the back of the bullpen.

Hirokazu Sawamura

Red Sox reliever Hirokazu Sawamura. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

A great reliever for a decade in Japan, we’ll now see what he can do in MLB. Sawamura has a good fastball and a devastating slider, and could turn into an important piece of a much-improved Boston bullpen.

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Garrett Whitlock

Garrett Whitlock (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

The 24-year-old righty is on his first Opening Day roster after a great spring, allowing just one run over nine innings while punching out 12 batters. He’s another intriguing arm for the bullpen, and the fact that the Red Sox got him as a Rule 5 pick from the Yankees will make any success a little more sweeter.

Xander Bogaerts

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogarts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

Bogaerts is the face of the franchise and is always worth watching. Always.

He was one of the few bright spots in 2020, slashing .300/.364/.502 over 56 games, and now we get to see a full season of X doing his thing. Sign us up.

Rafael Devers

Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

The 24-year-old was a beast in 2019, mashing 32 homers and 54 doubles while driving in 115 runs. He shook off a slow start to have a fairly respectable 2020, and will hopefully continue the growth that we saw two years ago.

Alex Verdugo

Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

The prize of the Mookie Betts trade had a solid first season in a Sox uniform, leading the team with a .308 average and 62 hits — 22 of which went for extra bases. He figures to be the face of the revamped Boston outfield for the foreseeable future.

J.D. Martinez

Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Martinez hit just .213 last season and had very little pop in his bat with a .389 slugging percentage. We probably won’t see the 2018 version of Martinez again, when he had 82 extra base hits and a career-high 43 homers, but it’s safe to assume that he won’t be flirting with a .200 batting average either.

Bobby Dalbec

Red Sox first baseman Bobby Dalbec. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

One of the most intriguing young bats in the Boston system, Dalbec hit seven homers this spring. After playing 23 games last season, crushing eight homers, he’s in line to be the team’s everyday first baseman this year.

He strikes out a lot, but Dalbec is going to bring a lot of pop to the bottom of the order.

Franchy Cordero

Franchy Cordero with the Kansas City Royals during the 2020 season. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

The most interesting player on the roster, Cordero came over in the Andrew Benintendi trade. He’s got a ton of raw power and a great arm in the outfield, but injuries and consistency are the biggest question marks with the promising young player.

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Honorable Mention: Chris Sale (what will he look like when he returns from Tommy John?); Kiké Hernandez (it all starts with Boston’s new leadoff man); Marwin Gonzalez (Mr. Versatility in the infield); Jarren Duran (another young masher who could be up sooner rather than later).

CBSBoston.com Staff