Now that everybody else has joined the pitchers and catchers in Fort Myers and the team has settled in, it is time to see what position battles and storylines will be prevalent in the upcoming month. Before we get started we should let you know that we will not go into the battle at catcher in this article. If you wish to read about the catcher battle you should read our "Pitchers and Catchers Report" article when you are finished reading this one. Outside of catcher there is 1 major position battle at third base and 2 other battles, one in the outfield and one at first base.
The major battle at Jet Blue Park this spring will be at the hot corner. Pablo Sandoval is being tested by Farrell to step up. Sandoval passed the first test by showing up to camp in much better shape having lost around 30lbs from last year. Farrell isn't just gifting Sandoval the starting job because he lost some weight. He has 2015 All-Star Brock Holt pushing for the same spot. Sandoval needs to prove he can hit and field like he did back when he was with the Giants in order to guarantee himself the starting job. When he was with the Giants he was a two-time All-Star and top hitter for multiple years. His defense always varied year to year but he was never the catastrophe he was when he was with the Red Sox in 2015. It is Sandoval's spot to lose as long as he can perform. As long as Sandoval plays like his old self we don't see a scenario where Holt has an amazing spring and takes the starting spot away from him. However, if Sandoval does fail to meet Farrell's expectations we still have a sound player in Holt to hold down the fort. As long as Sandoval can get back to being an adequate fielder, a plus hitter, and isn't a distraction in the clubhouse, I see Sandoval winning the job and making a significant impact in this star studded lineup.
Some might say that left field is locked up by Andrew Benintendi, but they are clearly forgetting one of the biggest signings in recent history: Rusney Castillo. Castillo has been viewed as one of the biggest busts, especially for his salary, in the current MLB. However, Castillo spent his winter in Puerto Rico playing in the Puerto Rican League for the Criollos de Caguas. After shortening his swing and focusing on solid contact over power he might have turned his career around. In his short sample size in the Puerto Rican League he hit .392, had an .882 OPS, and had 3 doubles in just 14 games. His lack of extra base hits might alarm some but we believe it shows his dedication to the new hitting philosophy.
Here is a clip of Rusney Castillo's swing in an at bat against Adam Morgan in the Arizona League in 2014. Here he weakly grounds out to the pitcher. This is Castillo's "old" swing. It may be tough to see but his hands take a poor path through the zone. His hands go back before they go forward. This hitch creates a longer bat path to the ball and causes the batter to "come around" it. The longer bat path is why he was not creating solid contact against better pitchers. Having a long swing leads to getting jammed, hitting more fly balls and popups, and hitting more rollover ground balls (what Castillo did here). Unfortunately there isn't good video of his "new" swing in Puerto Rico. Instead, we will compare his swing to Benintendi's swing.
Here is a clip of Andrew Benintendi hitting in the minor leagues. When comparing his swing to Castillo's swing it is easy to see how Benintendi's hands go directly from his load position to the point of contact. The load position is simply where a player gets set in order to start his swing forward. Here Benintendi turns on a pitch inside and pulls a line drive down the right field line. On this same pitch Castillo would've most likely gotten jammed and hit the ball off the hands unless his timing was absolutely perfect and he was early on the pitch. Benintendi's swing allows for a larger error in timing while maintaining his ability to get a hit. If Castillo's swing looks more like Benintendi's then he might give him a run for his money but we believe Benintendi is going to explode this year offensively and win the starting left field job.
With the departure of Big Papi there is a vacancy in the DH spot that will be filled by Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez switching to DH leaves an open spot as the everyday 1st baseman. The Red Sox made it a point to go out and get 2016 Gold Glove winner Mitch Moreland, a lefty first baseman who is clearly an excellent defender. The main reason the Red Sox wanted Moreland was because his numbers at Fenway in 45 plate appearances are quite impressive. Through 14 games he has a .341 average and .683 slugging percentage at Fenway. He will also take advantage of the Green Monster as he is very adept at hitting the ball to the opposite field. Of Moreland's 633 career hits, 68% of them have been up the middle or the other way. That bodes well for his success at Fenway. One player not to overlook is Sam Travis, a highly touted prospect at first base who has hit .303 in his three year career in the minors. We don't see Travis passing Moreland or necessarily making the MLB roster after Spring Training due to Ramirez being the backup first baseman, but he is a fun player to watch throughout this spring. Hopefully his play pushes Moreland that extra bit. Jet Blue Park has its own Green Monster which will make watching Moreland hit this spring even more entertaining and important. Moreland will be the first baseman on Opening Day barring injury.
With all players in attendance at Jet Blue Park in Fort Myers it is time to watch this electric team come together and build their mold. This is not just a fun team to watch in October or August; they are exciting to watch in February and March as well. We are looking forward to watching their first game against Northeastern on Thursday the 23rd and their first Grapefruit League game against the Mets on Friday the 24th!