Baseball season finally is upon us, and hope springs eternal in Fort Myers, Fla.
The Boston Red Sox enter 2017 with raised expectations, having landed stud starter Chris Sale in the offseason. But before Sale and the Sox set out to meeting those expectations, they’ll navigate through spring training, a six-week span in which established veterans will get back into playing shape and others will fight for jobs.
Spring training games obviously don’t count, but Boston has enough position battles to add some intrigue to its exhibition slate. For several players, how they perform in the spring could determine where on the depth chart they’ll begin the 2017 season.
With that in mind, let’s look at which Red Sox have the most to gain and the most to lose this spring — including one guy who fits both bills.
MOST TO GAIN
1. Christian Vazquez: Vazquez’s road to recovery after 2015 Tommy John surgery has been a long one. The 26-year-old finally is healthy entering 2017, though, and can make a run at the starting catcher job with a solid spring. Defense never has been an issue for Vazquez, so if he can prove his offensive worth at the plate, he could give manager John Farrell a reason to play him over Sandy Leon.
2. Pablo Sandoval: Sandoval’s loss could be Boston’s gain, as the third baseman shedded weight this offseason while vowing to turn around his underwhelming Red Sox tenure. Spring training will mark the his first time on a major league diamond since last April, and a productive camp would help prove all of those Instagram workout videos weren’t just for show.
3. Joe Kelly: Yes, Boston acquired Tyler Thornburg this winter to be its primary setup man. But Kelly pitched very well down the stretch last season as a late-inning reliever, and his fine performances didn’t go unnoticed. If the fireballing right-hander can carry that momentum into an effective spring, he could gain Farrell’s confidence as someone to turn to late in games.
4. Rafael Devers: The Red Sox’s top infield prospect has an opportunity to hack it with the big boys this spring as a non-roster invitee. The 20-year-old really doesn’t have much to lose, but if he strings together some quality plate appearances against major league pitching, he could apply some pressure to Sandoval at third base and set himself up for a potential call-up in the near future.
MOST TO LOSE
1. Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz, Steven Wright: Yes, we’re cheating here. But all three starting pitchers enter camp in similar situations: trying to recover from nagging injuries while hoping to earn a spot in Boston’s five-man rotation. This spring will determine who earns those final two slots, but at the end of the day, one of these guys will be on the outside looking in on Opening Day.
2. Sandoval: The 30-year-old veteran could prove the last two seasons were an aberration by returning to All-Star form in 2017. He also very easily could flop again. A disappointing showing in spring training would place even greater pressure on Sandoval entering the regular season, undoubtedly thinning the Red Sox’s patience in him.
3. Sandy Leon: See Vazquez, Christian. Leon enters camp as the starting catcher by default but he had a rough stretch run at the plate last season. Vazquez is a better defensive catcher than Leon, and Blake Swihart also is in the mix. If Leon can’t recapture his offensive magic from last June and July, he’ll quickly start feeling the heat.
4. Rusney Castillo: The 29-year-old Cuban outfielder earned a non-roster invite to camp but he faces an uphill battle to make the big league roster. At the very least, Castillo needs to show a spark this spring to convince the Red Sox he’s worth keeping around. Otherwise, he’ll be playing a lot of Triple-A games going forward.
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