February 16

On Baseball: Warmth in air as Red Sox open spring camp

What should we be looking for from the Boston team this year?

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Seems I always write these spring training primers right after an hours-long session on snow shoveling.

click image to enlarge

Jackie Bradley Jr. will be counted upon to replace the team’s biggest offseason loss – Jacoby Ellsbury.

The Associated Press

Just a reminder that baseball cannot come soon enough.

Of course, the Boys of Spring and Summer are already gathering in Fort Myers, Fla.

As the Red Sox are about to take the field for the official start of spring training, what should we be looking for? 

Center field: Jackie Bradley Jr. may not be the key to success in 2014, but his transition to major league starter will be much analyzed. He is replacing the largest missing piece from last year’s World Series champion team – center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

Bradley, 23, already brings positives. He’s a better fielder with a better arm. While not a burner, Bradley can still run the bases well. And his offense, based on a disciplined approach at the plate, is coming along.

For insurance, Boston signed Grady Sizemore to a low-risk deal. Sizemore may end up making huge contributions, although he may need more time in his comeback from injuries. 

Leadoff: Ellsbury also needs to be replaced at leadoff. Options include Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia and Daniel Nava (against right-handed pitching). Bradley is a consideration but that may be placing too much on him right away. There is also the darkhorse candidate: Xander Bogaerts. 

Xander Bogaerts: Speaking of Bogaerts, this could be his time to shine, especially with the Red Sox playing him solely at shortstop. The job apparently is his (even if Stephen Drew is re-signed).

Bogaerts has already transitioned well to the big leagues. He also has gone from free-swinger to disciplined hitter. He is a star in the making, and he will be the first to emphasize “in the making.” 

Starting pitching: The Red Sox enter camp with six proven starters and a load of prospects at the higher levels. Boston is in no hurry to figure out the rotation. Six starters is wonderful insurance if there is an injury.

But also keep an eye on other teams during the spring. A team may desperately need a starter. Boston can fetch a solid prospect (and unload some salary) in a trade. 

Will Middlebrooks: The third baseman surprised everyone the way he adjusted so quickly to the majors in 2012. But what was overlooked was that Middlebrooks still had developing to do.

That became evident in an up-and-down season, which included trips to the minors and eventually being replaced by Bogaerts in the starting postseason lineup.

But Middlebrooks has loads of talent and will be one of those who helps give Boston a boost of power. This is a key season for the 25-year-old. 

Ryan Lavarnway: Speaking of key seasons, Lavarnway, 27, could emerge this year, or be traded. Lavarnway, still the No. 3 catcher, is reportedly planning on playing some first base this spring to help expand his role.

But Lavarnway could still be a catcher, given the age of Boston’s tandem – both A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross will be 38 when the season begins.

If Lavarnway could get some playing time (catcher, first base, DH?) then he might get a chance to show off the offensive tools the Red Sox like so much.

Bryce Brentz: Last offseason, Brentz was talked about as an outfielder with a future in Boston. With his power, he might have been a possible call-up at the end of 2013.

But Brentz shot himself in the leg, in an accident while cleaning his gun, and his invitation to major league spring training was revoked. He remained in Pawtucket (17 homers in 82 games). Maybe this year … 

Garin Cecchini: He reminds Sea Dogs fans of Bradley, who finished 2012 strong in Portland and was in the majors the next year. Could Cecchini, 22, who batted .293 with the Sea Dogs, make such a jump?

Not likely. Cecchini may spend more time at Hadlock Field but could be sniffing Boston sometime in 2014. 

Henry Owens: Triple-A is loaded with pitching talent but Boston will get a look at maybe the best prospect of them all. Owens, 21, a lefty with stuff, will wow them in the spring and then (hopefully, for Sea Dogs fans), return to Portland.

Bullpen: As usual, a crowd of contenders, led by 2013 stalwarts Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

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