Opinion

Red Sox Spring Training Storylines to Watch

Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (July 29, 2018 – Source: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images North America)

With the start of baseball season now under a month away, it’s officially time to start dreaming about summer. This site has 2019 MLB win totals projected for The Red Sox and Yankees have both been pegged at 95.5 wins. Despite the Red Sox acting as the defending World Series champs, the Yankees have made serious additions. It should turn out to be one of the most compelling division races in the game.

With that in mind, every decision will be of consequence. Though Spring Training has statistically been proven to be a negligible indicator of a team’s performance in the regular season, spring baseball is important for players on the margins of the 40-man roster. There are a handful of storylines that will determine the look of Boston’s Opening Day roster. The near two weeks of action have shown these more clearly. Let’s go through a few of them to see what we have learned in the early weeks.

Michael Chavis is Mashing

Boston’s top prospect is having a Spring Training for the ages. In 19 at-bats, the 23-year-old has accumulated a scorching 1.328 OPS. He also has knocked four balls out of the park, which translates to roughly a homerun every five at-bats. Sure, this is an excellent start and adds to the Chavis-hype train. With that said, this is way too small of a sample to matter.

The sample is not the biggest problem, however. Theoretically, even if Chavis were able to sustain this production for the rest of spring, whose spot is he taking on the roster?

RSU’s Dave Latham blogged about this very conundrum:

“Even if the Red Sox believed Chavis was major league ready, there’s nowhere for him to play. Right now, Chavis is blocked at third base by Rafael Devers (yes, Devers is considerably better than Chavis) and is blocked at first base by the platoon of Steve Pearce and Mitch Moreland.”

He goes on to write about second base being the only viable position for the infielder. Yet, Dustin Pedroia, if healthy, will be the starting second baseman. Brock Holt would probably be next line. Maybe he would have the edge over the defensively-challenged (at least at second) Eduardo Nunez. This is not certain because Chavis has his own fielding problems.

After 2019, Pearce and Moreland will both be free agents. It seems like this will be the auspicious time for Chavis to become an every day player. This would also be ideal because it is a significantly less defensively-skilled spot.

He certainly could force the hand if he has a big year or could fill in when someone inevitably gets injured. This does not detract away from the fact this early clinic probably does not move the needle whatsoever on his ETA to the majors.  

Fluid Bullpen Spots

The Red Sox are not going to be re-signing Craig Kimbrel and “Fight Club” Joe Kelly will be throwing baseballs for the Dodgers. Boston’s brass is betting on a patchwork project to fill these voids. Outside of Matt Barnes and Ryan Braiser (and maybe Heath Hembree?), no one appears to have a locked down spot.

Tyler Thornburg, Brandon Workman, Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez seem to be the frontrunners to round out the rest of the bullpen. Meanwhile, Steven Wright‘s injury provokes all sorts of health questions to his status come Opening Day.

The real interest lies in the pitchers on the periphery. Josh Taylor has been exquisite in a very limited sample. He has appeared in two games and has yet to allow a run. Like his friend, Travis Lakins has been perfect in five innings.

Colten Brewer, the “big” relief acquisition of the offseason, has had a dicey start to say the least. In three limited innings, the right-hander has a 12.00 ERA. One must not judge anyone for three innings but Spring Training is inherently a compressed showcase.

Last Spring Training’s southpaw Bobby Poyner has accumulated two solid appearances.

Needless to say, there is a lot of activity to watch here. Honestly, any time a Boston reliever pitches this Spring it is worth monitoring.

Which Catcher Gets the Boot?

The Red Sox have been adamant about dealing one of their catchers in their triumvirate before Opening Day rolls around. However, recent reports suggest this goal has faced a few challenges. Though it is a fluid situation, it behooves them to deal a catcher. If they want to carry Steve Pearce, Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt on the bench, then they will have to dispose of one. Moreover, all three are generally ineffective contributors.

Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez have regularly been slated in the middle of these Spring lineups. Leon actually hit a homer the other night with a strong offensive showing so far. Meanwhile, Vazquez has been ice cold in a very meaningless sample. Blake Swihart has been in the middle of their two extremes with a .650 OPS.

Again, these early runs are not indicative of their acumens. They are all below-average backstops with traces of big-league skills. Vazquez feels safe to remain, though that is not written in stone. It will presumably come down to Leon and Swihart for the last roster spot.

Leon has proven to be significantly below average with the stick. Meanwhile, Swihart is believed to possess offensive “potential”. In regards to the latter, here is a snippet from a piece written by the author earlier this offseason:

Additionally, his offensive prospects may be a little inflated and misguided. Based on how he actually hit the ball last year (xwOBA), his offensive production should be worse.

Yes, Swihart flashed offensive potential sporadically in 2018. Yes, he seemed clearly affected by inconsistent playing time. Yes, he probably has the most offensive potential of the three. Even so, he is at best a pinch better hitter than Vazquez with none of the defense. The case between him and Leon comes down to offense versus defense.

Neither will command much of anything on the trade market. Perhaps a team will fall smitten with a perception of potential for Swihart. Even then, the Red Sox are getting nothing of consequence back. Remember: Swihart asked for a trade last year and no market materialized for his services. Has he done enough in the interim to change that? Additionally, Boston would be lucky to get more than a bag of baseballs for Leon.

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