As we close in on the start of spring training amidst a slow and unproductive off-season, (save for the re-signing of Mitch Moreland to a 2-year deal) the Red Sox will hope that their pursuit of J.D. Martinez will come to fruition… sooner, rather than later.
And hey, a pitcher or two couldn’t hurt either.
However, as Dave Dombrowski stated, he is hoping that certain players who struggled last year will take the steps forward that are necessary to put 2017’s dismal offensive production behind them, and not just on the calendar. In a recent article by Jason Mastrodonato on BostonHerald.com, he lists four players that he believes need to take a couple steps forward in an effort to become staples of the 2018 roster, and beyond: Christian Vazquez, Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers, and Xander Bogaerts.
Vazquez is finally healthy after missing all of the 2016 season due to undergoing Tommy John surgery. Although starting in a backup role to Sandy Leon, he quickly proved that his right arm was back to full health, and what shocked many was his prowess at the dish. Not only did the 27 year old backstop finish the year with a highly respectable average of .290, but his on base percentage spiked as well:
Under new manager Alex Cora, Vasquez is expected to be the full-time starter this season and should be able to catch between 100-110 games depending on how his health holds up. With more consistent playing time can Christian build on his 2017 season, or will his increase in playing time expose him?
Taking a look at Mookie, much has been said about the slip in production he suffered last season. Still, the 2x All-Star produced 24 home runs (team high) along with knocking in 102, scoring 101, and compiling 26 thefts in 153 games.
Mookie hit in multiple places in the lineup for John Farrell. However, Alex Cora has already announced he’ll be the primary leadoff man in 2018. One of the things that Cora and new hitting instructor Tim Hyers will look to do is get Mookie back to being aggressive while at the dish. Last season, Betts seemed to be a bit more reluctant to swing the bat. Last season he saw his first-pitch swing percentage fall six points, and after just 27 3-0 counts in 2016, that number jumped to 50 in 2017.
As exciting as players like Mookie and Benintendi have been to watch, Rafael Devers has taken some of the spotlight away from them; and rightfully so. Rafy made his debut with the Red Sox on July 25th, hitting his first of 10 home runs while in Seattle. By doing so he also proved that he was ready to handle MLB pitching.
The left-handed hitting Devers showed very few flaws, which had him ranked as one of the Sox top prospects as well as leading him to be called up in late July. In the 58 games, after his call-up, he went on to hit .284 average, 10 homers, with a .819 OPS.
Against left-handed pitchers, Devers was also able to hold his own, hitting southpaws to the tune of a .400 clip in 57 plate appearances, showing an ability to make adjustments not just from at-bat to at-bat, but from pitch to pitch. One of the most dramatic home-runs of last season was tattooed by the 3rd baseman, off an Aroldis Chapman 102 MPH fastball in Yankee Stadium to tie the game.
Devers will still only be 21 years old as he enters his first full season as the Red Sox everyday third baseman. If he can continue to improve on what was a short yet productive season a year ago, that’ll give him a chance to be one of the Sox big run producing bats in Cora’s lineup. However, while his offense is unquestioned, his defense is in need of help. With new infield coach Carlos Febles on the coaching staff, we could see his defense improve dramatically.
And last, but not least…Xander Bogaerts. 2017 was a tale of two seasons for the shortstop. He was hitting at a .337 clip on May 31. However, the fatigue factor started to set in, and Farrell overplayed him due to the lack of adequate depth on the team, forcing Xander to slog through AB’s.
Then came the day before the All-Star break where he was hit on the hand/wrist by a Tampa Bay pitcher, an that injury leaked over into the second half, which completely zapped Xander of much of the power he had in his swing. This injury led to him undergo multiple cortisone shots in his hand/wrist as well as attempting to change his swing to alleviate some of the pain, which sadly limited results.
Heading into 2018, Bogey has been busy with doing off-season workouts to strengthen his body, in the hopes of hopefully be able to stay on the field more and while on the field being more productive. As long as Xander can keep the injury bug away from him, as well as getting the proper rest, he should be able to once again take steps forward and propel him to being part of the top tier of shortstops.