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The Starting Nine

With pitchers and catchers due to report to Fort Myers on February 18th, the countdown is on for Red Sox Spring Training and we’re going to take a look at a projected starting nine in the lineup.  Last week, we posted about the Red Sox starting rotation to determine who could be the #2 starter.  There are still a lot of question marks about the rotation after David Price.  The Red Sox lineup appears to be very solid heading into this season.  There’s a good mix of youth and veterans and there’s a realistic possibility that four players in the starting lineup could be All Stars this year.  The Sox are poised for a big season and the lineup appears to be set to lead the way to a potential playoff run.  Granted, it’s very early to be putting lineup together considering that the players haven’t tried on their Spring Training jerseys, but it’s never too early to look forward to and debate baseball!

Here’s our projected starting lineup for the Red Sox to start the season.

1. Mookie Betts – RF

2. Dustin Pedroia – 2B

3. Xander Bogaerts – SS

4. David Ortiz – DH

5. Pablo Sandoval – 3B

6. Travis Shaw – 1B

7. Rusney Castillo – LF

8. Christian Vazquez – C

9. Jackie Bradley, Jr. – CF

 

Setting the Table

Naturally, we’ll start at the top.  The top three are all poised to have big seasons.  This may very well be the best top four in the American League when you consider the mix of speed, hitting, power, and defense.  Mookie Betts will likely move to right field this year.  Betts is a true five-tool player, folks. Betts hit .291 with 18 home runs and 77 RBI’s from the leadoff spot last year.  He also stole 21 bases.  He is not the typical leadoff hitter considering his ability to hit for power, but he makes things happen when he gets on base.  Betts finished 19th in the AL MVP voting last year and, at age 23, we can only expect him to continue to improve.  Dustin Pedroia continues to be the perfect #2 hitter.  This is assuming he can stay healthy, of course.  Pedroia played very well in the 93 games he played last year.  He hit .291 with 12 home runs. His OPS of .797 was the best he’s had since 2012.  Pedroia continues to excel defensively as well as he enters the end of his prime years at 32 years old.  Xander Bogaerts, like Betts, made outstanding progress last year.  In fact, he won the Silver Slugger Award for AL Shortstops with a .320 average and 81 RBI’s.  His defense improved dramatically as he was a candidate for the Gold Glove Award.  This year, there will be a high level of expectations.  This is the best shortstop in the American League and a player who is poised to be an MVP candidate for many years to come.

 

 

The Heart of the Order

Wait for it…  It won’t be long before we start hearing that this is the year we can’t expect big numbers from David Ortiz.  This has been one of the big stories in Spring Training since the 2009 season.  Yes, for six years this has been the general expectation and for six years Ortiz has repeatedly proved he is still one of the top power hitters in the game.  In 2015, Ortiz hit .273 with 37 home runs and 108 RBI’s.  Ortiz will be retiring at the end of the season.  That will be another story for another day.  Expect 30 and 100 once again from the player who mysteriously has not gotten the recognition he has earned from Boston fans.  Pablo Sandoval disappointed last season.  There’s no need to post the numbers.  We saw it.  He was out of shape, unproductive, and was a below average third baseman defensively.  This may be one of the only true weaknesses in the Sox lineup considering that they don’t have a true #5 hitter.  Sandoval will need to put up numbers like he did in San Francisco to produce in this spot.  Otherwise, we can expect a lot of pitching around Ortiz.  Travis Shaw.  Yes, Travis Shaw at first base over Hanley Ramirez!  Shaw had a .813 OPS while hitting .270 with 13 home runs and 36 RBI’s in 65 games for the Red Sox last season.  He was very solid defensively.  At age 25, he deserves a shot to show he can continue to play well.  65 games was enough of a sample size to show that he can play.

Ramirez, despite being the guy speculated to be the first baseman this season, is not a good fit for this position.  Ramirez at first base would be an even bigger mess at first than he was in left field last year.  Why?  He’ll have a lot more opportunities to give no effort on key plays and impact the game with his poor defense and lack of interest.  The Red Sox have two Gold Glove caliber middle infielders.  Do you really think they’re going to risk having a great infield defense by having a guy who doesn’t care and is a major defensive liability at first base?  Lastly, the notion that Ramirez is a great middle of the order bat is a complete myth.  In his last three seasons, the most home runs he’s had is 20.  The most RBI’s he’s had is 71.  Whether it’s an injury, a trade, or the Sox simply making the right decision, the expectation here is that Hanley Ramirez will not be the starting first baseman for the Red Sox.

 

The Bottom Three

Rusney Castillo has a lot to prove this season.  He’s been inconsistent since the Red Sox signed him to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract.  His defense has been very solid.  He has a great arm.  However, his bat has been well below expectations.  At age 28, this is really a make or break year for Castillo.  The Red Sox signed Chris Young to help solidify the outfield.  He will likely platoon with Castillo and he could be an option to take over if Castillo disappoints.  Christian Vazquez will be in a battle with Blake Swihart for the starting catcher position this spring.  Swihart played very well last year when he replaced Vazquez and Ryan Hannigan.  Vazquez is an elite defender which is the main reason he will likely get the starting spot.  Jackie Bradley, Jr. is arguably the best defensive outfield in Major League Baseball.  He makes plays no one else can make and he’s a game changer on defense.  The only question with Bradley has been can he hit?  Last year, he hit enough to earn a starting spot going into 2016.  Bradley hit .249 with 10 home runs and 43 RBI’s in 74 games.  His .832 OPS was very impressive.  If Bradley can hit .250 with some power, it’s a no-brainer to keep him in the every day starting lineup.

 

One point that sometimes gets lost about the Red Sox every day starting lineup is the overall defense.  We always hear about how important it is to be strong up the middle defensively.  Christian Vazquez, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley, Jr…name a team that is better up the middle than that?  Lastly, the Red Sox have the ultimate utility player in Brock Holt.  If any position player goes down, Holt can fill in at that position and do a very good job.  There may not be another player in MLB who has that type of value.

We’re about eight weeks from Opening Day.  We’ll see how this lineup shapes up.  It has a lot of potential and hope (especially for Shaw at first base).

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