Many of the biggest storylines surrounding the Boston Red Sox entering the 2016 season can be found in the infield.
Veteran third baseman Pablo Sandoval is aiming to improve on a disappointing first year in Boston, Hanley Ramirez will continue his transition from left field to first base, shortstop Xander Bogaerts is hoping to reach superstar status, and Blake Swihart has an opportunity to prove he’s the Red Sox’s catcher of the present and future.
And we must not forget about Brock Holt, Boston’s super utility man and lone All-Star in 2015.
For an in-depth look at the Red Sox’s infield in 2016, check out our preview below.
What to like: Xander Bogaerts
Bogaerts had a breakout season in 2015 and became one of the league’s best shortstops. He led all AL shortstops in batting by 50 points, and he ranked first among those same players in runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, on-base percentage and WAR (wins above replacement). He won his first Silver Slugger award as a result.
In addition to Bogaerts’ impressive production from the plate, his defense also showed a lot of improvement. Red Sox fans should expect Bogaerts to build on his excellent 2015 campaign and become a legitimate superstar this season.
What not to like: How often will Travis Shaw play?
Shaw was on fire for most of the spring, and although he’s 0 for his last 13 at-bats, he’s still batting .353 with two home runs, 9 RBIs and 18 hits through 18 spring training games. His defense — particularly his range to the right side at third base — has improved a lot since the start of last season.
Shaw’s left-handed power, his versatility at either corner spot and the fact he’s not a defensive liability make him a valuable infielder. The problem will be finding enough at-bats for him to develop and grow his confidence to become an everyday player.
Ramirez (first base) and Sandoval (third base) should take up most of the at-bats if they’re healthy.
2016 expectations: This group should be excellent offensively. Sandoval and Ramirez are capable of providing plenty of power and driving in runs, Swihart has shown flashes of being a solid hitter, Bogaerts is the best hitting shortstop in the AL, and second baseman Dustin Pedroia is a lifetime .299 hitter.
The concern is defensively. Sandoval and Ramirez struggled at the corner infield positions in 2015, and Pedroia, who normally is a Gold Glove-caliber fielder, is 32 years old and has battled injuries in recent seasons. Boston ranked in the bottom half of the AL in fielding percentage in 2015, and its 97 errors ranked 12th among the league’s 15 teams.
The outfield defense likely will be excellent with Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. showcasing elite range. The infield defense is a different story, but it should be improved if injuries aren’t a huge factor.
Minor league prospect to watch: Yoan Moncada, 2B
Moncada is the No. 3-ranked prospect in the sport, per Baseball America’s Feb. 13 list. The 20-year-old second baseman batted .278 with three homers, 38 RBIs, 61 runs scored and a .380 on-base percentage in 81 games for Class-A Greenville last season. His blend of athleticism and incredible strength and power makes him one of the most exciting prospects the Red Sox have had in quite some time.
Moncada is best suited as a middle infielder, but that might not work in Boston, at least for now, with Bogaerts and Pedroia expected to be at shortstop and second base, respectively, for the foreseeable future. It’ll be interesting to see if Moncada remains in the infield or gets some looks in the outfield as he continues his minor league career in 2016.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts on deck against the Tampa Bay Rays