Skeptical about the 2024 Red Sox? You’re not alone. Boston is coming off back-to-back last-place finishes in the American League East and outside expectations are tempered, for various reasons.

That said, a strong spring training could go a long way toward setting a positive tone for the upcoming season. And the work began in earnest this week, with the Red Sox hosting their first full-squad workout Monday at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers.

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Here’s what (and who) you should watch over the next month-plus as camp unfolds. The Red Sox open their regular season March 28 in Seattle.

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Most intriguing storyline: What will the outfield look like?
The Red Sox basically swapped out Alex Verdugo (traded to the New York Yankees) for Tyler O’Neill (acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals) while potentially losing Adam Duvall (still a free agent). The moves created a little more balance — O’Neill is a right-handed hitter, whereas Verdugo hits from the left side like fellow Boston outfielders Masataka Yoshida, Jarren Duran and Wilyer Abreu — but is the unit better? Hard to say, largely because it’s still taking shape.

In theory, the Red Sox’s outfield should improve defensively. O’Neill was a Gold Glove left fielder with the Cardinals in 2020 and 2021. And Yoshida, arguably the worst defender of the bunch, figures to be Boston’s primary designated hitter in 2024. Throw in Ceddanne Rafaela, an elite defender vying to prove himself offensively and become the Red Sox’s Opening Day center fielder, and this could be an area of strength when the dust settles. There just are so many lingering questions — Can Duran build on his breakout 2023? What is Abreu’s ceiling? Will Boston add or subtract from the group? — that it’s difficult to say with any certainty, and therefore it’s a situation that bears watching throughout the spring.

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Player to watch: Vaughn Grissom, 2B
The Red Sox are counting on Grissom to be their starting second baseman after acquiring him from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Chris Sale. That’s compelling in and of itself, as the keystone has been a revolving door since Dustin Pedroia hung up his spikes. Yet, it’s even more fascinating when you consider the player and the underlying situation.

Grissom was a highly touted prospect with the Braves. He has a world of offensive potential and should be better positioned to excel defensively now that he’s penciled in at second base after struggling in the field as a shortstop. It helps he’ll play alongside Trevor Story, who’s emerged as a leader in the Red Sox clubhouse, but Grissom has just 64 MLB games (236 plate appearances) under his belt. There could be some growing pains, making spring training invaluable for the 23-year-old newcomer.

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Pitcher to watch: Nick Pivetta, RHP
It’s easy to be distracted by the shiny new toy, Lucas Giolito, a two-time All-Star who signed with Boston this offseason in the hopes of rebounding from an abysmal 2023. Same with rising phenom, Brayan Bello, potentially the Red Sox’s best homegrown pitcher in years, and a still-intriguing group of young hurlers that includes Garrett Whitlock, Tanner Houck, Kutter Crawford and Josh Winckowski. But don’t sleep on the importance of Pivetta, now entering his fourth full season with the Red Sox. While the results were volatile last season, as was his role on the staff, Pivetta ended the year on a high note, positioning him to recapture a spot in Boston’s rotation to begin 2024.

Sure, sounds boring — especially with many fans clamoring for the likes of Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell in free agency. But you need stability. Doubly so when there are so many other moving parts. And while Pivetta hasn’t exactly been the model of consistency in his MLB career, he’s dazzled enough at times to make one think there’s another gear. Pivetta, who struck out 11.5 batters per nine innings last season, ranked sixth in FanGraphs’ Stuff+ metric, just below Spencer Strider and Bobby Miller and a notch above Tyler Glasnow, Gerrit Cole and Shohei Ohtani.

“This is the best I’ve seen him,” Cora recently told reporters in Fort Myers.

We’ll see if it translates to success on the bump. Again, nothing, performance-wise, is guaranteed with Pivetta. But the rotation looks much, much better if he’s firing on all cylinders.

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Prospect to watch: Bryan Mata, RHP
The hype surrounding Mata has diminished a bit, due to both injuries and prospect fatigue. After all, we’ve been talking about the hard-throwing right-hander for years and he’s yet to throw a pitch in the majors. But the Red Sox are nearing a crossroads with Mata, who’s out of minor league options and competing for a spot in Boston’s big league bullpen. He needs to make Boston’s Opening Day roster, or else the Red Sox will need to designate him for assignment or trade him. It’s an unsettling reality.

Losing a pitcher with Mata’s upside would sting. He once was considered the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox system, with Tommy John surgery and a shoulder issue derailing his trajectory. But Justin Slaten, a Rule 5 Draft pick who also can’t be optioned to the minors, is fighting for a spot in Boston’s season-opening ‘pen, as well, creating a tricky situation from a roster flexibility standpoint. Basically, it’s on Mata (and Slaten) to force the organization’s hand.

Featured image via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images