The 2013 World Series champion Boston Red Sox have plenty to look forward to this year as one of the best prospects this organization has seen in recent years is ready to play in his first full season. Xander Bogaerts showed us a brief glimpse of what he is capable when he was called upon in the playoffs and the 21-year-old could definitely win Rookie of the Year with Stephen Drew most likely playing elsewhere this season. He is joined by a group of familiar faces that are all capable of putting up solid years.
At first base, the Sox brought back Mike Napoli to help anchor the middle of the lineup and provide some pop from the right side of the plate. Although Napoli’s numbers last season were not his best, he drove in a career-high 92 runs while adding 23 home runs. If he can stay healthy and play around 140 games, I believe he will be able to improve on his power numbers, especially if he can make more contact.
Napoli whiffed 187 times last season in 498 at-bats, which is just about three Ks per eight ABs. The only three players with more strikeouts were Chris Carter, Chris “Crush” Davis, and Adam Dunn, all of whom had more home runs. While home runs don’t mean everything, it would be nice to see the strikeouts go down, the home runs go up, or both.
Napoli was surprisingly strong at 1B for his first full season at the position. It was unclear if the former catcher would be a reliable option in the field, but he proved doubters wrong by putting up the best defensive WAR of any AL first basemen.
There are very few questions when it comes to second base, as Dustin Pedroia will be holding down the same spot he has since 2007. After putting up another solid campaign last season at both the plate and in the field, Pedroia should be ready for another solid season after undergoing surgery this offseason to repair the injured UCL in his thumb.
Pedroia will have a new double play partner to become acclimated to, but that is nothing new when playing on the Red Sox who haven’t had a regular shortstop since the Nomar Garciaparra called Boston home.
Bogaerts just may be the next Nomar for the Sox, who have rotated shortstops for a decade since #5 was dealt during the ’04 season. The 6-foot-3 Aruban has loads of athleticism and potential, but also has a terrific plate approach and baseball knowledge, which is rare for such a young player. Capable of hitting for both average and power, it will be fun to see what type of numbers Bogaerts can put up during a full season at Fenway Park.
As a 23-year-old rookie in 1997, Nomar was able to put up 30 home runs while batting .306. Bogaerts has better plate discipline than Garciaparra did, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he is able to put up a high OBP to go with solid power numbers and average.
At the hot corner, Will Middlebrooks is looking to bounce back from a rough season and prove his doubters wrong. After a very promising rookie season in which he batted .288 with 15 home runs in 75 games, Middlebrooks could not stay consistent last season, leading to a lengthy stint in Pawtucket. His .192 average before going down to the farm definitely raised eyebrows, and not in a good way.
After being called back up in August, Middlebrooks was able to bat .276 and finish off the year with 17 home runs. The 25-year-old still has plenty of time to improve on his plate approach, which will most likely be his focus this offseason and spring training. Middlebrooks definitely has the capability of putting up 30 home runs and if he can pair that with a .250-.275 average, the Red Sox will once again have a highly feared lineup.
On the bench, the Red Sox will look to Mike Carp and Daniel Nava to back-up Napoli at first, along with Jonathan Herrara in the middle of the infield, who the Sox acquired from Colorado in exchange for Franklin Morales. Brock Holt and Brandon Snyder, who filled in for Middlebrooks last season at third, will also have shots at the roster.
One notable prospect that may see some big league action later this season is Garin Cecchini. This left handed hitting third baseman is the Red Sox fourth best prospect and could potentially make a name for himself this spring training.