The Boston Red Sox have a well-deserved off day Thursday, which gives us the perfect chance to assess how spring training 2021 has gone so far.
Having played 15 games, Boston is just a little more than halfway through its 27-game spring slate. Here are some takeaways from what we’ve seen so far:
— So far, so good for Eduardo Rodriguez, whom Alex Cora named the Opening Day starter Wednesday. The best news and most important thing for Rodriguez is he seems healthy after missing last season with myocarditis following a COVID-19 diagnosis. It appears he’s picked up right where he left in 2019 when he was a Cy Young Award contender. Rodriguez has logged 11 2/3 innings, allowing just three runs, striking out 14 and, most importantly, not walking anyone. That ability to throw strikes is the most important part of the left-hander’s continued development. The velocity is starting to tick up, too, as spring goes on. Rodriguez isn’t yet an ace, but he’s certainly earned the billing as one of baseball’s No. 1 starters.
— Spoiler alert: The Red Sox will hit a ton of home runs this season. That’s no great revelation, but Boston already has three players with at least three home runs this spring: Bobby Dalbec has five, Michael Chavis has four and Rafael Dever has three. Cora touched on that earlier this week when discussing the depth he has with the lineup, as it looks like someone such as Dalbec or Christian Vazquez — who has 30 home runs dating back to the start of 2019 — will hit in the bottom third of the lineup. Boston undoubtedly will strike out a bunch, but power looks like it will be a hallmark of the 2021 Sox.
— Speaking of Dalbec, buy stock while you can, especially if we’re mentioning him in the same breath as Aaron Judge. Dalbec talked earlier this spring about the adjustments he’s trying to make, and they have paid off so far. No one in baseball has more home runs than Dalbec’s five this spring, which is another reminder of his ridiculous power. The swing and miss is still very much there — only Arizona’s Trayce Thompson has more strikeouts (in 15 more at-bats). But as a bottom-third hitter with the potential to hit 30 (or 40?) home runs, the Red Sox should take that, especially at this point in his career.
— The Red Sox have an interesting decision to make with Chavis. He seems like the odd man out with the roster, but he’s making it hard for them to leave him off. His numbers look a lot like Dalbec’s so far this spring with four home runs in 14 games. His team-leading 33 at-bats seem to indicate the team is trying to get an even better look at him or perhaps even showcasing him for other clubs. The reality, though, is Chavis seems likely to make the Opening Day roster because of Franchy Cordero’s slow progression.
— Jarren Duran is going to be in Boston before too long. He made the most of his opportunities, going 7-for-22 with five extra-base hits. His game-changing speed makes him tough to defend, and it helps him in center field where it looks like he has the glove to stick for the long term. If he lights it up at Worcester early on, the Sox might need to change their conservative approach with the prospect.
— If the Red Sox contend in 2021 — still a big if, for reasons we’ll discuss shortly — Enrique Hernandez will look like one of Chaim Bloom’s best moves. No one personifies Bloom’s hunt for versatility better than Hernandez, who has played good defense across the diamond this spring. He has cooled off at the plate, but his seven walks are an indication he’s seeing the ball well. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him be something of a sparkplug from Day 1.
— After two weeks, we can feel confident stating once again the fate of the 2021 Red Sox will be driven by the starting pitching. Cora indicated the Sox will start the year with a five-man rotation, which probably consists of the following:
Rodriguez has been great. Eovaldi, meanwhile, is popping the radar gun but has been knocked around pretty good, allowing six runs in just 5 1/3 innings. Can he harness the stuff and put it together? That’s always the question with him, isn’t it? Richards has been a mixed bag; he was terrible in his first two starts but bounced back with an encouraging performance his most recent time out. Perez and Pivetta have been pretty good, and potential swingman Matt Andriese had a very nice outing Wednesday that bodes well for his role.
Basically, it’s been three weeks and nothing has really changed with the starting pitching. The ceiling is intriguing, but the floor is low enough to derail the season. If the Red Sox get something in between — and the offense stays hot — that should be enough to contend for a playoff spot.