Always Fun to Forecast
We are now firmly entrenched in the latter half of March. Eight days from today the Athletics and the Mariners will square off in Japan to officially open the 2012 season. Many people, like myself, have already made a handful of different predictions involving the Red Sox this fall and winter. As we begin to stare spring in the eyes, let’s take a look at some of the issues on this ball club and make some semi-educated guesses.
Alfredo Aceves, regardless of how well he pitches during the rest of Spring Training, will be in the bullpen. It’s too bad because I’m all about meritocracy, and Ace has tossed well enough to round out the rotation for the Red Sox. Nevertheless, his value as a member of the ‘pen is greater than it would be as a tail end of the rotation starter. Does Aceves deserve the chance to start? Yes. Will he get it, at least right away? No.
Mike Aviles will be the Opening Day shortstop for the Red Sox. Yeah, yeah–I know I had said that Jose Iglesias was a good spring away from nabbing the position. Iglesias has had a good spring, but Aviles has played exceptionally well too. Iggy is the better shortstop between the two. He plays better defense and is just downright intriguing. The Cuban defector needs to show that he can handle the stick a bit better before GM Ben Cherington and company gives him the keys to the convertible. It is an integral year for Iglesias–at some point, the Red Sox will have to decide whether he is the shortstop of the future or not. I believe he is. A solid 300+ at-bats in Pawtucket will go a long way in confirming that belief.
Rich Hill will eventually prove to be an important piece in Boston’s bullpen. As Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe points out, the Milton, Mass., native is progressing nicely as he attempts to return from Tommy John surgery. I know that many of us choose to forget the miserable start the Sox had last April, but Hill was one of the few bright spots. The guy was deadly out of the ‘pen on left handed hitters. From Robinson Cano to Carlos Pena, there are a bevy of dangerous left handed hitters that call the AL East their home. Hill, if healthy, is a tricky southpaw who offers a sidearm delivery that works to neutralize tough lefties. When he is right, Hill throws strikes. It’s easy to find a lefty who comes out of the bullpen. It’s tough to find a guy who gets the ball over the plate, while using a deceptive delivery. And
Felix Doubront will begin the year as the fifth starter, but Aaron Cook will ultimately assume that role. I like sinkers. I like quick innings. I miss me some Derek Lowe. Maybe Cook will make me miss Lowe a little bit less.
Carl Crawford will continue to disappoint. Make no mistake about it–I will be rooting for CC the whole way, but I just don’t see it. He has begun swinging again, but he will not even be close to ready for Opening Day. He has a wrist injury. And that’s never good. It is likely that Crawford will come back in late April/early May and begin hitting in the latter half of the lineup, where he is notably uncomfortable. Fenway Park simply does not play to his strengths. I wasn’t a huge fan of the signing when it happened last winter, and I really don’t like it today.
Bobby Valentine will struggle to get a handle on the bullpen. Is it just me or does the Red Sox ‘pen seem a bit disorganized these days? Andrew Bailey is the closer. Mark Melancon is the set-up man. I think. Or is it Aceves? I know that there is still plenty of time left this spring to sort things out, but I think it is time to start making some decisions. Doubront, Aceves, and Andrew Miller are in a sort of purgatory between the rotation and the bullpen. If Bailey struggles early on or suffers some sort of injury, things could get ugly. I believe it is important for Valentine to begin to designate at least who will be where (rotation, bullpen). Every move he makes will be heavily scrutinized, so he needs to be sure he has the right guys in the roles that are best suited for them to succeed.