Now that pitchers and catchers have officially reported to Jet Blue Park in Fort Myers, Florida, baseball season is finally here!! As Spring Training gets underway there are 3 major storylines regarding pitchers and catchers to follow. First, how will the starting rotation wind up? Second, will Sandy Leon remain the starting catcher? Third and most important, how will the back end of the bullpen shake out and who will take over as this year’s setup man?
Starting Rotation Battle
Like I said in the Wins Projection article earlier this week, the order of the starting rotation is in question and the 4 and 5 spots in the rotation are up for grabs. We all know that the top 3 starters will be Sale, Price and Porcello. What we don’t know is in what order they will pitch. Will how they perform in Spring Training necessarily translate to where they fall in the rotation? Probably not. Unless one of the three is atrocious in Spring Training I would think Farrell already knows who is going to throw on Opening Day and who will follow him in the rotation.
The bigger story is which two pitchers will take advantage of their opportunity and become the 4 and 5 starters. Going into Spring Training Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz are the 3 main contenders for the 4 and 5 spots in the rotation. Let’s look at some of their important stats relative to each other.
As you can see, Wright and Pomeranz are the two more polarizing pitchers. The numbers highlighted in red mean that the stat is bad compared to the other pitchers, whereas the numbers highlighted in green are good compared to the others. The easy decision would be to take the two players with the lowest ERA and make them the last two starters. However, each of these three pitchers have interesting backstories revolving around their ERAs. First, Rodriguez’s career is only 41 games and he was hurt for part of last season. His ERA is skewed by bad games that many are hopeful won’t happen as often as he matures. Wright had the best season of his career last year and was voted to his first All-Star Game. Although he had a career year, his season was cut short due to a lingering shoulder injury. Drew Pomeranz had one of the more intriguing seasons in the MLB. He started the year with the Padres, had a 2.57 ERA through 17 games and was also voted to the first All-Star Game of his career. After he was traded to Boston he had an ERA of 4.59 through 14 games and lost his role as a starter. If I was Farrell I would have Wright and Rodriguez as my 4 and 5 starters entering Spring Training. Pomeranz has yet to prove himself in a Red Sox uniform and is the odd man out in my eyes. Moving forward this will be a fun battle to watch throughout Spring Training.
Will Sandy Leon be the Starting Catcher?
The preseason favorite to be the starting catcher for the Red Sox is Sandy Leon after his pleasantly surprising offensive outburst last season. Blake Swihart will also take reps behind the plate but is more of an outfielder by now. What many people are overlooking is that Christian Vazquez is returning to Spring Training this February fully healthy after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April of 2015. In 57 games and 172 ABs in 2016, Vazquez hit .227. Before getting injured Vazquez was a highly regarded prospect and Farrell, along with the rest of the Red Sox community, are hoping he returns to that form after shaking off the cobwebs last season. Vazquez will have his work cut out for him as Leon hit .310 last season in 252 ABs. I expect Leon to keep the starting role, but I don’t think Vazquez will go down quietly. Regardless of who gets the start on Opening Day both catchers must contribute in order for the Red Sox to reach their full potential this season.
Sandy Leon (Getty Images)
Who takes over as the Setup Man to Kimbrel?
For those of us who watched the playoffs last year we know that the strength of a teams bullpen is what determines most games and is essential to winning a World Series. The Red Sox have an important decision to make regarding who is in charge of shutting down the opposing team in the 8th inning and getting the ball to Kimbrel. The obvious choice would be Tyler Thornburg. The Red Sox traded for Thornburg during the offseason in an attempt to fix their late inning pitching woes. Thornburg has a career 2.87 ERA and in 2016 managed a 2.15 ERA as the setup man for the Brewers. An in-house contender for the setup role is Joe Kelly. Kelly has been bounced around from starter, to long relief, back to starter, and towards the end of last season seemed to settle in as one of the late inning guys. Matt Barnes is another in-house name that has been floated around as a possible setup man for the 2017 season. Similar to Thornburg and Kelly, Barnes throws a fastball in the upper 90s. Something else to note is that one of the 2 pitchers who do not become the setup man will most likely become the 7th inning guy for games when the starter cannot reach the 8th inning. My guess is that Thornburg will win the setup man role and Kelly will become the 7th inning guy, finally being able to just let loose and not worry about a second inning. Regardless, I’m looking forward to watching all 3 throw this Spring Training.
Now that pitchers and catchers have reported, we are anticipating the arrival of the position players for their first workout on February 17th. Once the whole team arrives we will see more storylines start to unfold with the position players. The Red Sox first Spring Training game is February 23rd against Northeastern and February 24th against the Mets. Time to see who seizes their opportunity.