Other Storylines to Pay Attention To
Hanley Ramirez‘s transition to first base:
Hanley’s defensive woes in left field last season were well-documented and drew much ire from Red Sox fans and coaches alike, prompting the organization to move Ramirez to first base for 2016 after the departure of Mike Napoli last season. While the Red Sox seemed to have found a suitable replacement for Napoli in Travis Shaw, there was nowhere else on the diamond that Ramirez could have fit besides first base. After failing at a new position in his first year with the team, the Red Sox will simply try him at another new position in his second year. Assuming he’s fully recovered from whatever shoulder ailment was holding him back in 2015, Hanley should hit well enough as a first baseman, but the defense is another story. The good news: Ramirez showed up to spring training looking leaner and bit more athletic than he did last season. The bad news: he didn’t even bring a first baseman’s mitt. Only time will tell if Ramirez will be able to adopt the new position with any success.
Pablo Sandoval‘s physical condition and performance:
The “Kung Fu Panda” showed up to spring training looking like he was ready for hibernation last year, drawing criticism from the media and fans before even playing in on game with Boston. Sandoval found a novel way of making everyone forget about his poor physique, however, by simply being the worst player in baseball in terms of WAR in 2015. Regardless of his size, Sandoval was always an inconsistent defender in his seven-year career with the Giants, accumulating 0 defensive runs saved, with seasons as high as 15 (2011) and as low as -11 (2009). 2015 was a decidedly bad year, again posting a -11 DRS. He played with about the range of a large boulder, posing 14.5 range runs below average according to UZR.
Not surprisingly, the rotund Venezuelan was also a hilariously poor baserunner last year, but that’s nothing new – he’s amassed 29.6 baserunning runs below average in his eight-year career. At the plate, he was (you guessed it) bad as well, hitting .245/.292/.366 in 505 plate appearances, a far cry from the .294/.346/.465 line he has accumulated in his career before coming to the east coast. While he reportedly has lost 20 pounds this winter and plans to hit from both sides of the plate again, Sandoval will need to show the Boston fans, coaches and executives much more than he did last season if he wants their approval, and that should all begin in spring training.
The return of Clay Buchholz:
The story of Clay Buchholz is a long and frustrating one, and 2015 was a chapter we’ve all read before: he starts the season hot, building hope and garnering appreciation among the fanbase, only to go down for the season with an injury. In nine major-league seasons with the club, Buchholz has never started 30 games, and has cracked 20 just three times, and never in consecutive seasons (2012, 2012, 2014). Like the San Francisco Giants, Buchholz’s tendons and ligaments seem to perform best in even years, but his performance hasn’t quite followed. After finishing 6th in the Cy Young award voting in 2010, starting 28 games and finishing with a 2.33 ERA, Buchholz’s seasons are as follows:[table “” not found /]
Buchholz has shown glimpses of elite-level pitching along with glimpses of bad pitching. Not only will he need to show the former – or at least something close – this year, but he will absolutely need to stay healthy for a full season if he wants the team to pick up his $13.5 million option for next season. Buchholz’s road back to the majors will have to start with a good spring training.
Overall, the Red Sox are an incredibly promising team leading up to 2016. FanGraphs chose the Red Sox to have the best team in the American League this season, projecting a record of 91-71, five games ahead of the next-best AL team (Houston) and six games ahead of the division-rival Yankees. However, there are many players that need to make the appropriate progressions and adjustments to improve upon a poor 2015 or maintain a high level of play. Spring Training is the first chance for these players to showcase the progress they’ve made over the winter and begin to translate it into games, and the Red Sox are hoping they can impress when they get started in Fort Myers this year.