Bright Spots for the Red Sox in a Bleak Season

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The 2020 baseball season is one we will forever remember as baseball fans, but when it comes to the performance of the Red Sox this year, it is one we definitely will want to forget.  The Sox got off to a bad start when both the pitchers and hitters struggled out of the gate, and they never recovered or got in contention, despite the corona-expanded playoff field.  The team, which was already low on pitching after the loss of Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery and the off-season trade of David Price to the Dodgers, was dealt a major blow when expected ace Eduardo Rodriguez and top prospect Darwinzon Hernandez both tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the re-start of the season.

Photo courtesy of bostonglobe.com

With the Bruins and Celtics also resuming their seasons and mounting deep playoff runs, and the buzz surrounding the Patriots over the addition of Cam Newton, the Red Sox became something they have not been in this region in any of our lifetimes – irrelevant on the sports scene.

As dismal and forgettable as this season has been for Red Sox fans, there were a few bright spots that bring a glimmer of hope for 2021 and beyond.

Alex Verdugo

OK, this is an easy one to call.  Verdugo was the key player to come to the Red Sox in the Mookie Betts/David Price trade and, fairly or unfairly, was viewed as the replacement for the former MVP and fan favorite.  Perhaps no one benefitted more from the lack of fans in the stands than Verdugo, however, based on the passion and style of play he exhibited this season, it is not hard to envision that he would have quickly become a fan favorite.

Verdugo was the most consistent players offensively for the Red Sox.  He led Red Sox regulars with a .308 batting average, despite a 1-16 slump to close out the season.  Overall he slashed .308/.367/.473, clubbed 6 HR and scored 36 runs batting primarily out of the leadoff spot.  He also flashed the leather and had more outfield assists (7) than 14 MLB teams.

Perhaps the best quality of Verdugo is he is still only 24 years old and will be under Red Sox control for four more seasons.  He may not approach the production of Betts out the leadoff spot, but he should develop into a solid MLB hitter with 25 – 35 HR potential.  He has shown he can be a lead-off hitter and a top-notch corner outfielder, which checks off a couple of boxes on Chaim Bloom’s offseason shopping list.

Bobby Dalbec

Dalbec got the call to the bigs after the deadline trade of Mitch Moreland to the Padres.  He homered in his first big league start on a ball he miss-hit but still hit it out down the right field line.  That’s the type of power that Dalbec was touted to have in the minors.  He went on to hit seven more homers in 23 games, which projects to 49 homers for an entire season.  The Red Sox haven’t had that kind of raw power threat since David Ortiz retired.

Unfortunately, Dalbec is also part of the new generation of player that strikes out frequently.  Dalbec K’d 39 times in those 23 games; once every 42 at bats.  However, from September 19 until the end of the season Dalbec cut his K% down to 27.3 (still high) and slashed .308/.455/615 in that span.  This is a good sign that Dalbec can make adjustments at the plate (unlike Michael Chavis).

Defensively Dalbec is still learning the first base position after coming up through the system as a third baseman.  He played some third after being called up and showed a decent glove and a strong arm.  Don’t be surprised to see Dalbec and Devers switch positions in some point in the future if Dalbec sticks and Devers defensive lapses continue.

Tanner Houck

The Red Sox are desperate for starting pitching.  Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez were the only two bonafide starters on the staff this season.  Neither is an ace or even a solid number two or three pitcher, and Eovaldi was once again bitten by the injury bug.  Chris Sale will likely not be ready to start the season, and it usually takes a pitcher at least an additional year to return to form after having TJ surgery.  Rodriguez has only recently been cleared to walk on a treadmill while recovering from his COVID induced myocarditis.  A full season of the parade of 4A starting pitching/openers we witnessed in 2020 is a bleak prospect.

September call-ups can be difficult to assess.  In most cases they are playing for a team out of contention and under no pressure.  But it is hard to ignore what Houck did in his first three major league starts.  

Houck shut out the playoff bound Marlins in his MLB debut, going five innings and striking out seven,  He followed up that performance with six more shutout innings against the Yankess, and showed no signs of being intimidated by their powerful offense.  Houck closed out his season facing another potent offense in the Braves and limited them to one run in six innings of work.  Overall he went 3-0 with a 0.53 ERA and a stingy 0.88 WHIP in 17 innings.

Nobody is saying Houck is the next Roger Clemens.  He has a nasty slider to go with his two-seam fastball, but he needs to develop a third pitch to be a consistent MLB starter.  His ceiling is a number two or three starter - eventually.  What he can provide for the Red Sox next year is an end of the rotation arm if Sale and/or E-Rod are not ready to go in April, or depth in AAA Worcester.

Bloom needs to do a lot more work rebuilding the team, including bringing in a new manager (or maybe on old one?).  The continued development of Verdugo, Dalbec and Houck alone will not vault the Red Sox back into contention in 2021.  However, it may help the Red Sox take the first steps to becoming relevant again to the New England sports fandom.

 

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Bright Spots for the Red Sox in a Bleak Season
Bright Spots for the Red Sox in a Bleak Season
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