As players continue to practice this week for the beginning of Spring Training at Fort Myers, FL, here’s a rundown of what to watch for and prospects to keep tabs on this year :
Pitching Could Be Promising: According to Red Sox Ace Jon Lester, the Sox pitching staff will be ready to prove last year was a fluke and that they will be better than advertised. Lester was quoted in an article from ESPN.com saying “We can sit there and talk about it every year,” Lester said. “It’s a matter of going out and doing it. As far as potential, as far as that possibility, it’s all there. It’s just a matter of going out and actually executing and doing what we’re supposed to do.”
According to ESPNBoston.com Lester, Clay Bucholz, newcomer Ryan Dempster, even John Lackey, all showed strides of improvement in their practices this week. Lackey reportedly shed some weight this offseason and appears to be in the best shape of his career. As I mentioned in my Red Sox preview this pitching staff can absolutely get the job done. Consistency will be the key for this group of hurlers. For now the jury is still out on the rotation. However, news that Lester and Co. are fired up for this season is always good news.
Prospects to Keep An Eye On: Spring Training not only allows the returning veterans and every day lineup guys to “get back into the swing of things” , it also allows for young prospects to have a shot at proving their potential. Here’s a list of players to watch according to bleacherreport.com and ESPN’/Scouts Inc’ Keith Law:
SS Xander Bogaerts: According to ESPN’s Keith Law, Bogaerts is the fifth best prospect in the MLB. In 2012 Bogaerts hit for a 307 average with 37 doubles, 20 HR 80 RBI and 71 runs splitting time with Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland. Bogaerts is considered by most to be “the” top prospect in the Bo-Sox farm system. He could very well find himself donning a Red Sox uniform in the near future, but for now we’ll see how this spring and the minors go.
OF Jackie Bradley Jr.: Bradley Jr. has been making a buzz in the Bo-Sox minor league system for his outstanding defensive abilities and his play at the plate is an attention grabber as well. In 2012 Bradley Jr. batted .315 with 42 doubles, nine HR, 63 RBI, and 90 runs splitting time between Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland like Bogaerts. Keith Law has Bradley Jr ranked as the 40th best prospect in the majors and 2nd among Red Sox prospects.
Bradley is expected to begin the season in Double-A Portland with a possible promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket by seasons end. Depending on the future of Jacoby Ellsbury (who is a free agent at seasons end) Bradley Jr. may be coming up faster than expected.
SS Deven Marrero: Marrero is making history with the Red Sox, as it marks the first time since the 1991-1992 season in which the Sox invited Scott Hatteberg to Spring Training after drafting him the year before.
Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington, was quoted on the decision and said while they normally don’t invite recent draftee’s they felt given the scouting history with Marrero and watching him perform at multiple levels in the game, he wanted to get Marrero familiar with their major league staff.
Marrero hit .268 with 45 runs and 26 stolen bases in 64 games with Single-A Lowell last year. Marrero, of course, has a ways to go before being called up. Nevertheless, he is certainly a prospect to keep track of in the near future.
Other players to watch this Spring include: SS Jose Iglesias, INF Pedro Ciriaco, P Allen Webster, P Rubby De la Rosa, OF Daniel Nava (who has been fielding balls at 1B in practices), and C Ryan Lavarnway.
Nava, Lavarnway, Iglesias, and more recently (last year) Ciriaco have had success in platoon/backup roles for the Red Sox and could see more games this season. Webster and De la Rosa (both acquired in the Beckett, Crawford, Gonzalez deal with LA) could and should work their way into the starting rotation at some point in the season.
Side note on Iglesias: His timeframe for earning a starting role at SS or 2B is dwindling. With recently signed SS Stephen Drew being the Sox everyday guy, and up and comers Xander Bogaerts and Deven Marrero in his rear view mirror, Iglesias is in a bit of a pressure cooker to perform.
Final Thoughts: Spring Training is always chock-full of interesting developments and has produced a plethora of players who have become household names today. It will be interesting to see how these and many other invitees perform for the Red Sox in the weeks to come. Who do you think will shine this Spring? Leave a comment below.