All the talk entering Spring Training is about how the 2019 Boston Red Sox will not be as good as their 2018 counterparts. That’s probably true, as 2018 was a once-in-a-lifetime display of dominance by just about everyone on the team. While some players will certainly regress, there’s quite a few players on the Red Sox who should improve in 2019.
Boston Red Sox Players Likely to Improve
2018 was something of a disappointment for third baseman
While the defense might not notably improve, his offensive production certainly will. Devers was just 21 during 2018, an age where most players are still in Single-A, or Double-A at best. The fact he managed to spend the entire season in the majors speaks to just how talented he is. Because of his young age, Devers should only improve with time.
On top of that, Devers is a lot more prepared for 2019 than he was for 2018. The lefty spent the entirety of the off-season working with designated hitter J.D. Martinez. Martinez is one of the smartest hitters in all of baseball, and spending an off-season with Martinez will naturally make Devers a better hitter. Additionally, Devers is already at spring training and looks to be in notably better shape. The third baseman acknowledged that a lot of his health issues came from being in poor shape, and he spent the entire off-season getting in peak physical condition. The sky’s the limit when it comes to Devers, and the lefty could even be an All-Star in 2019.
For Blake Swihart, there’s nowhere to go but up. Coming back from injury, Swihart never had a chance to get consistent playing time and thus never found a rhythm. The Red Sox clearly didn’t trust him to catch and made him play all around the diamond. Because of this misuse, Swihart finished the season with an unimpressive .229/.285/.328 slash line and a 64 wRC+.
However, Swihart showed signs of life when he actually got regular playing time. Swihart played 14 games in the month of July, recording a .412/.474/.618 slash line with a 196 wRC+. Some of this production was due to an unsustainbly-high .464 BABIP, but Swihart was making good contact and seeing the ball well. Unfortunately, Swihart suffered a hamstring injury and, upon his return, went back to being a sparingly-used bench piece.
Swihart should have more opportunities in 2019. The Red Sox are currently carrying three catchers but are likely to ship off Sandy Leon before the start of the season, assuming no injuries. Christian Vazquez isn’t going to play a full 162-game season, so Swihart will have his opportunities to earn regular playing time. This isn’t to say Swihart is going to be a superstar – he probably won’t. That said, the former top prospect can easily be a serviceable catcher for the 2019 season.
2018 was a rough year to be a Boston Red Sox catcher. Christian Vazquez, when healthy, was probably the Red Sox best catcher. However, that speaks to just how bad everyone else on the depth chart was. Playing in 80 games, Vazquez posted an ugly .207/.257/.283 slash line with an accompanying 42 wRC+. His defense, which is normally his calling card, was also down. All in all, it was a forgettable year for the 28-year old.
Simply due to the law of averages, Vazuqez should naturally improve. He’s never going to be a superstar, but Vazquez is a much better player than what he showed in 2018. He’s always been a great defensive catcher dating back to his time in the minors, so his subpar 2018 was probably a one-year fluke.
Additionally, Vazquez was highly unlucky at the plate throughout 2018. The righty finished the year with an incredibly low .237 BABIP. That’s an unsustainably-low number which should rise in 2019. Even if he makes the same exact type of contact, some of those balls should start finding holes instead of gloves. The Red Sox catchers combined for the worst positional WAR in the league, but they should collectively improve as a group in 2019.
Eduardo Rodriguez has always flashed the making of a top-of-the-rotation starter, but 2019 could be the year he finally puts it all together. The knock on E-Rod thoughout his career is that he always gets hurt right after he goes on a hot streak. He started the year injured in 2016, 2017, and 2018 and missed significant time in each of the three seasons.
However, Rodriguez is entering 2019 with a clean bill of health. The lefty starter is already at Spring Training and working on getting ready for Opening Day. Getting a full camp under him will do wonders in helping his body survive an entire season.
Additionally, the reason Rodriguez missed time in 2018 was due to forces outside of his control. In 2016 and 2017, Rodriguez missed time with different knee injuries. These injuries were worrisome, as knee injuries could be a sign of chronic body failure. However, in 2019 Rodriguez missed time because he got in a collision at first base. This is a non-systemic injury caused by nothing more than bad luck. His body held up to the wear and tear of a season, but couldn’t survive a freak play. If he can stay out of bad luck, hopefully his body can hold together for a whole season.
Rodriguez was quietly effective during the first half of 2018. While he didn’t go deep into games, the lefty managed to churn out a solid 3.44 ERA and a 3.58 FIP in his first 104.2 innings pitched. If Rodriguez can give that production over the course of a full season, then he can play a big role in solidifying the back of the rotation.