Collectively, the 2011 Red Sox are the odds-on favorites to get to the World Series, and considering their remarkable talent individually serves as a pleasant confirmation of why they should be an outstanding team.
So in the casual spirit of spring training -- and because it's a really fun way to approach writing about such a deep roster -- TATB is taking a sometimes whimsical but mostly serious look at 40 Red Sox players and prospects relevant to this year's ball club, written up in no particular order.
Part one can be found here, with the second 10 checking in below.
Now, can Opening Day please hurry up and get here?. . .
Adrian Gonzalez: Gonzalez had a .980 OPS on the road last year; Mark Teixeira had a .968 OPS at home. Gonzalez had an. 821 OPS at home; Teixeira had a .728 OPS on the road. In 2009, his first in New York, Teixeira had a 141 OPS+; in 2010, his only season in Boston, Adrian Beltre had a 141 OPS+. What do these statistics mean in context? I have absolutely no idea, but I do know this: The number of Boston.com sportswriters who are still howling at the Red Sox for not signing Teixeira before the 2009 season is, by my count, down to a lonely one. Come toward the sunshine, Mazz. Gonzalez is here, Teixeira isn't, and that's a great thing going forward. To put it another way: If the former isn't superior to the latter over, say, the next five seasons, I'll eat both of Dennys Reyes's stirrup socks without any spices or condiments.
Jon Lester: Random stat: Red Sox lefthander-who's-totally-going-to-be-the-opening-day-starter Jon Lester and Rays southpaw ace David Price both faced the exact same number of batters last year (861). Random prediction: Lester and Price finish 1-2 in the AL Cy Young voting in 2011.
David Ortiz: Five players who hit fewer home runs than Papi's 32 last season: Ryan Howard (31), Adrian Gonzalez (31), Alex Rodriguez (30), Matt Holliday (28), Ryan Braun (25). Sometimes we focus so much on his slow recent Aprils and his slippage from the impossibly high standard of his prime that we forget that he's still one of the AL's better power hitters. At this point in his career, he's ideal as a No. 5 or 6 hitter, and he's capable of finishing in the top 10 in the AL in homers again (he was tied for 10th in the majors last season). One caveat: Should he struggle early against lefthanders like he did all of last year (two homers and a .599 OPS in 200 plate appearances), it's on Terry Francona to dole out some of his at-bats against lefties to Cameron, McDonald, and Jed Lowrie, even if it temporarily dents Papi's ego.
Andrew Miller: I'm as encouraged as anyone about the spring showing of Daniel Bard's college teammate and a former first-round pick of the Tigers (chosen sixth overall in 2006, a pick ahead of Clayton Kershaw and four picks before Tim Lincecum). Curt Young's first significant project as the Red Sox' pitching coach is shaping up to be a success, and I hope he sticks on the roster, because I do believe some alert big-market team will claim him if he is put on waivers even with his $1.3 million sticker price. The idea of actually counting on him, at least early this season . . . well, that's not a good idea. Miller is a long-term project, and if you're skeptical, consider these numbers from his nine-appearance, seven-start stint with the Marlins last year: 32.2 innings, 51 hits, 26 walks. His WHIP: 2.35. BB/9: 7.2. H/9: 14.1. That was his low point. To help him get to reach the high point of that potential, caution is the only wise approach.
Darnell McDonald: He was everything the Sox could possibly have hoped for in a replacement-level player, and his emergence after 13 years ricocheting around the minors was one of my favorite stories of the past several years, let alone 2010. With his versatility and useful righthanded stick, he'd be the ideal fifth outfielder for this team even presuming he regresses a bit. The suggestion, however, that he and Mike Cameron are redundant is foolish. McDonald had a 103 adjusted OPS last season. Cameron did better than that every year from 1999-2009, and he will again this season. The Sox shouldn't and won't have to choose between both players -- there's a spot on the team for Cameron and McDonald. But if they did keep just one, taking sentiment out of the equation, Cameron would be the easy choice, even at his advanced baseball age.
Lars Anderson: Those Justin Morneau comparisons from his heady days as a top-20 prospect a couple of years ago? They seem to have become Lyle Overbay comparisons, which isn't quite the same thing. He was surpassed last year by Anthony Rizzo and is blocked for the foreseeable future by Gonzalez, the superstar for whom Rizzo, Casey Kelly and Rey Fuentes were packaged. Much of his lost luster as a prospect is because he hasn't hit with the power projected, with just 10 homers in 409 at-bats at Pawtucket last year. But it's easy to forget because he's been on the prospect radar so long that he's just 23, and there's still hope. The best-case scenario for him and the Red Sox is that he goes back to Pawtucket, hits his way back into serious prospect status, and brings a useful piece in return come July 31.
Josh Reddick: His situation really isn't much different than Anderson's, with the main difference being that he's been surpassed by another prospect at the same position in Kalish (and perhaps Juan Carlos Linares soon). I'm wary that he'll ever command the strike zone well enough to be an everyday player in the majors -- I wouldn't be the first to make a Jeff Francoeur comparison -- but his .351/.372/.627 line in the second half in Pawtucket last year has to be worthy of some optimism. He's a great kid and I hope he makes it, but it would take a few unexpected plot twists for it to happen here.
Michael Bowden: For a pitcher who's just 24, has proven himself in Triple A (3.38 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over three partial or full seasons), does all the right things necessary to earn a steady big league job, and was rated a top-100 prospect by Baseball America each year from 2007-09 (not to mention No. 2 in the Sox organization entering 2009) . . . and yet, he's become pretty much an afterthought in terms of competing for a job this spring, mentioned after the likes of Alfredo Aceves, Miller, and Matt Albers if he's mentioned at all. I realizes he's stagnated, though no fault of his own, his stuff hasn't played well at the big league level so far (6.69 ERA in 36.1 innings), and his delivery is funkier than The Lionel in 1980. I still think he deserves more of a shot than he's had, and you could probably convince me that he's more capable than Tim Wakefield of filling the long relief/spot starter role effectively. Hey, it was just a year ago that the Sox apparently refused to part with him for Miguel Montero.
Alfredo Aceves: I'd like to think his switch from the Yankees to the Red Sox is the baseball gods' way of paying back Boston for the Ramiro Mendoza debacle. And Aceves's role with the Yankees -- he went 14-1 with a 3.21 ERA in 59 appearances (five starts) over parts of three seasons -- was reminiscent of the crucial role the rubber-armed Mendoza filled on their championship teams in the '90s. He could -- should -- be a savvy pickup by Theo Epstein, if for roster depth if nothing else. My lone concern comes when you read between the lines of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman's explanation as to why the Yankees didn't offer anything more than a non-guaranteed deal to a useful pitcher who is just 27 years old: He couldn't get healthy. I don't know whether Cashman, whose been on a candor kick since last offseason, meant to imply that Aceves is a malingerer. But his words certainly could be interpreted that way, and it's enough to convince me that the pitcher needs to earn his place on this staff.
Dan Wheeler: Don't know about you, but I haven't given the former Rays setup man a second thought this spring. I mean that entirely as a compliment. It's probably a bit unusual to be so confident in a new player who is being counted on to help the Red Sox' most glaring problem from last year (the bullpen as a whole, putting it in the broadest terms, but middle relief in particular). But he's so familiar, having spent the last three full seasons holding his own in the fierce AL East with Tampa Bay, and he's so uncommonly consistent for a reliever that he's about the least of the Sox' bullpen concerns, or certainly right there after Daniel Bard. That 0.00 ERA in nine appearances against the Sox last year probably doesn't hurt his perception around here, either.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.