Red Sox Summer Camp – Three Things to Look For

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Red Sox players will be reporting to Fenway on Friday for the resumption of Spring Training, or as it is now being dubbed, Summer Camp.  There are still many concerns with the coronavirus spiking in other parts of the country, and several MLB players opting to sit out the season due to those concerns.  Now, for the first time since mid-March when the entire country was shut down by the pandemic, we are about to see some on the field baseball activities in the good ‘ol USA, just in time for the 4th of July.

Photo courtesy of nesn.com

The return of baseball means we can now stop talking about labor negotiations, COVID contingency plans and potential bubble cities and focus on the issues that were left unsettled in Spring Training before the shut-down.  In my first Red Sox Column to be Named Later, I spotlight three things to look for during the Red Sox Summer Camp.



Who’s Bats First?

To paraphrase former Celtic Head Coach Rick Patino, Mookie Betts is not walking through that door.  With Mookie gone, the Sox need a new leadoff hitter.  Last season Manager Alex Cora inexplicably tried to put Andrew Benintendi in the leadoff spot, which failed miserably.  Benintendi slashed .256/.355/.412 when leading off last season, but only .119/.229/.143 when leading off the game.  By comparison, Betts’ numbers when leading off the game were .326/.373/.568, exactly what you’re looking for to put immediate pressure on the opposition.

Benintendi admitted he was not in the proper mindset to handle the leadoff spot.  He did not know if he should be taking pitches, as is traditional for leadoff hitters, or to continue to be aggressive.  It clearly through him off and the experiment led to a disappointing season.  Given a year to rethink and reset his approach to the task may have helped. 

Another option for the leadoff spot could be Betts’ replacement in right field – Alex Verdugo.  Verdugo is now reportedly fully recovered from his back issues and is ready to go (one benefit of the layoff).  This may be too much to ask of the young outfielder, and further target him as the man for whom Mookie was traded.  Last season Verdugo hit primarily out of the two spot for the Dodgers, while also logging significant time in the six and seven hole.  He was productive while batting second (.282/.316//.518), but Rafael Devers is a lock to hold on to that slot.

The safe bet is Benintendi gets another crack at the leadoff spot, but if he struggles don’t be surprised if Verdugo gets a shot.

What’s on Second?

There has been a carousel of players at second base for the past three seasons while Dustin Pedroia has been battling knee injuries.  That may not change in 2020.  The Red Sox signed the former Red as a free agent in the offseason.  The right-handed hitting Peraza had a good season in 2018, when he hit .288 with 14 home runs, but dipped to .239 and 6 in 2019.  He is still only 26, and could blossom as he enters his prime.

Michael Chavis is another option to see time at second, though it is expected he will serve more in a platoon role at first base with Mitch Moreland.  Primarily a third basemen coming up through the minors, Chavis switched to second after being called up to the majors last season.  He was serviceable at best, and will be a defensive liability.  Pairing Chavis with Xander Bogaerts does not give the Red Sox a lot of range up the middle, something that would benefit a less than stellar pitching staff.

Some other potential candidates to see playing time at second base are Marco Hernandez, Tzu-Wei Lin, and Rule 5 draftee Jonathan Arauz.  It makes one pine for the days of Jose Offerman, Wilfredo  Cordero and Pokey Reese.

And, speaking of the pitching staff…

I Don’t Know Who the Fourth and Fifth Starters Are

One of the biggest question marks for the 2020 Red Sox will be its starting pitching.  The top three slots are set with Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, and off season acquisition Martin Perez.  But things get very murky after that trio.

Time off due to the virus has both helped and potentially hurt them in that cause.  The time off has given free agent acquisition Colllin McHugh a chance to recover from a flexor strain in his elbow which sidelined him at the end of the 2019 season.  Despite that, even if he is healthy and ready to go, it is unlikely McHugh builds up enough arm strength in the shortened camp to be a viable starter.

Ryan Weber is another candidate to make the rotation.  The 25 year old right-hander was impressive in Spring Training, going 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in nine innings pitched.  There is a vast difference in the level of competition faced between early spring training and the regular season, so take those numbers fwith a grain of salt.  Weber showed some flashes in 2019, but also showed that when he is not hitting his spots he can be hit hard.  He will probably get a shot by default given the lack of other viable candidates.

Chaim Bloom assembled a stable of 4A type arms in the offseason, and that move now looks like a great one with taxi squads and extended rosters being allowed for the first few weeks of the season.  The compressed schedule only makes matters worse.  Expect bullpen games and “openers” to be used once, if not twice through the rotation.



Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_SYN

Check out the Red Sox Podcast to be Named Later, the Syndicate’s podcast dedicated solely to the Boston Red Sox and the rest of Major League Baseball.


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Boston Sports Syndicate: Red Sox Summer Camp – Three Things to Look For
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