10 takes on Sox spring What we learned as team leaves Florida
FORT MYERS — Dustin Pedroia didn’t even finish the second inning before the Red Sox yanked him off the bases and ended his spring training with a .487 batting average yesterday afternoon.
But South Florida wasn’t as friendly to everybody else on the Red Sox this spring.
With spring training in the books, we present our 10 takeaways from a camp that lasted almost two months in Fort Myers:
Chris Sale has a much different presence than David Price.
Sale, who turned 28 yesterday, was rarely seen in the clubhouse, keeping himself fairly distant from the media for most of the spring. That's not to say he avoided his responsibilities — he made himself available after every outing and subjected himself to a lengthy introductory press conference when pitchers and catchers first reported. But he was clearly more averse to talking than Price was a year ago, when he came into camp and made friendly chatter with reporters almost daily. Price eventually changed his tune and became less giving with his time. Sale pitched brilliantly this spring, with 26 strikeouts to just two walks in 21 innings with a 2.57 ERA. Can he continue to excel while staying in the shadows?
Rick Porcello is all business.
For a guy who is making his first Opening Day start at Fenway Park in perhaps the most anticipated Red Sox season since 2011, Porcello sure doesn't seem too excited about it. But it's his business-like approach that has impressed the team so much. He once again put up ugly numbers in spring training (7.07 ERA this spring, 9.77 ERA last spring), but was more concerned with working on specific pitches with targeted plans for each outing. Proving that his 2016 season was no fluke is next on his list.
The starting rotation would be fine if they had depth. But they don’t.
This team was built to survive a loss the size of Price, who will be out indefinitely with an elbow strain. With Sale and Porcello at the top, and Eduardo Rodriguez blooming with a revamped slider, the top part of the rotation is still as good as most in the league. The problem is what's behind them. How healthy are Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz? There is still no great candidate ready to step up from the minor leagues.
Pablo Sandoval did exactly what he needed to do.
He slimmed down. He regained agility at third base (though he remains questionable on defense, particularly with his throwing). And he's hitting again. Sandoval finished with a .339 average and a team-leading five homers this spring. He'll likely start the season hitting eighth, but if he stays this hot, he'll climb in the order. Just don't play him against lefties.
Hanley Ramirez is in a weird place.
He still hasn't played first base because of shoulder issues that remain somewhat of a mystery, since he finished last year playing first base just fine. At the plate, the ball goes a mile when he makes contact, but he looks to be in swing-for-the-fences mode again. He said all the right things this spring. But if he doesn't continue to perform, old questions will reignite.
Andrew Benintendi fits right in (and is hitting second).
Once the shy and quiet kid in the corner of the locker room, Benintendi looked much more comfortable around his peers this spring. He put on muscle and continued to prove that his swing will be one of the prettiest to watch this year. And John Farrell moved Xander Bogaerts down to the six-hole (questionably) to hit Benintendi second. There's only problem: Benintendi was sloppy on defense all spring.
Dave Dombrowski’s bullpen woes still haunting him.
The Tyler Thornburg Saga can become a non-issue if Thornburg returns from his shoulder inflammation and pitches well in the set-up role. Otherwise, Dombrowski's long and lustrous career will continue to be clouded by his one glaring flaw: Bullpen construction.
Catching isn’t a concern, but it’s still unpredictable.
Sending Blake Swihart to Triple A to start the year, after he hit .325 and looked much better behind the dish, is a sign of how strong the Red Sox are at the catching position. But trying to figure out which one of the three — Swihart, Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon — will have a bigger impact on this team remains a mystery. Leon didn't hit until the final week of spring. Vazquez looks great on defense, but not on offense. Time will tell.
There’s a less impressive group of young guys than the Sox can usually boast.
There was no Benintendi or Yoan Moncada to come over from the minors, take a few atbats with the big league team and open eyes this spring. The Red Sox farm system took a big hit over the last two years, and it's starting to show. Rafael Devers has promise, but proved this spring that he's still a good deal away. Sam Travis can hit fastballs, but can he hit breaking balls and handle first base?
The clubhouse is different without David Ortiz, and that’s not such a bad thing.
It's quieter. Ramirez sat where Ortiz used to and hasn't talked a whole lot. Sandoval was also quiet all spring while going about his business. Pedroia and the young guys — Mookie Betts and Bogaerts, in particular — seem to radiate with the most personality. It's their team now.