We know the Red Sox focused on pitching and defense this winter. Do you think they improved their offense?
–Tommy, Somerville, Mass.
Overall offense? Yes, but I think the power remains a question mark. With the addition of Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre in this lineup, both may see better power numbers than they have the past few seasons. Losing the home-run threat of Jason Bay is no doubt an issue. However, I believe this is more of a balanced attack now, especially at the bottom of the lineup. Last year, there were some clear holes at the bottom. It is now strong, top to bottom. This will help, as Terry Francona says, keep the line moving.
The Red Sox have begun this year?s rookie program. How does this program help the players?
–Sarah, Westchester, N.Y.
I think this is one of the great things that the Red Sox do as an organization. I think it is critical, especially when talking about playing here in Boston. This can be overwhelming if you do not have any idea what you are getting into. So the team picks a handful of prospects that, in their estimation, will be here in the future. They introduce them to the big league coaching staff and the front office and school them in several areas, including what to expect from the media.
The experience is crucial, so that when the player is called up to Boston, he is at least comfortable with his surroundings and is not totally overwhelmed by the experience. It is amazing how many of those guys have come up a year or two later and just appear to fit right in. Part of the reason for that is that the veterans do a good job here, but also because of this helpful program that the Red Sox have implemented.
Do you think Kevin Youkilis would rather stay at one position?
–Sam, Biddeford, Maine
Yes, I do. I think Youk has really been a great team player in so many ways. I think we first learned what team guy he was when he moved all over the Red Sox' batting order. The one place he preferred not to hit was leadoff, but until last year, he was all over the place.
I think while he's extremely versatile and willing, he would prefer to stay at one spot defensively all year. It was amazing to watch him start to learn first base in spring training a few years ago and then go out and win a Gold Glove. I think now with Beltre entrenched at third base, Youk can settle in at first again most of the time. However, the one issue becomes when Victor Martinez goes to first and Jason Varitek catches. So I think he will play some third but will do a lot less moving than last year.
Which new Red Sox addition could surprise some people with his skills?
–Heather, Pittsfield, Mass.
I think Marco Scutaro will surprise some. He has been the classic late bloomer. I think he is only late because he really did not have the chance to play every day in the beginning of his career. I first saw him play in Buffalo with the Bisons, and he was scrappy player. Then we watched him as a utility player in Oakland for Ken Macha. It was only last year that he really had a chance to play a regular amount, and he really flourished. I think people will be surprised with his year coming up.
How many games do you think Jason Varitek will play this season? What are some ways Varitek can contribute to the team if he?s not playing regularly?
–Paul, Sarasota, Fla.
That's tough to say, and Victor?s health will play a large role in that. I would think Varitek would catch one of the starters regularly to keep him fresh and in a rotation. I would also fully expect him to start the day games after night games and some of the other obvious areas for backup catchers. I think what he will bring off the field will be what he does best, and that?s help devise game plans for pitchers and how to deal with hitters. Victor was extremely appreciative of all the assistance that Jason gave him in learning the staff on the fly last year, despite taking his playing time.