The Red Sox have put the shortened 2020 season behind them. COVID-19 is still a factor, but more manageable. The Sox are scheduled to play the standard 162 games. With all the turnover to the roster, and the Yankees and Rays expected to be atop the American League East again, expectations for the Red Sox — outside of their dugout, at least — lean toward missing the playoffs for the third straight year.
Nonetheless, Alex Cora returns as manager, and the Sox brass believes the team can be competitive. Here are the players who will lead that charge.
1B Bobby Dalbec
He proved his power was real by the end of last season and carried it over to the spring. Dalbec also has shown he’s a complete player who can make an impact in more ways than one this season.
2B Kiké Hernández
Cora believes Hernández has untapped talent. He made his mark as a utility player for the Dodgers for six seasons. He’ll have a chance to play second base and hit leadoff, a spot where Cora believes he can thrive.
SS Xander Bogaerts
He’s the team’s one consistent presence. He’s a fixture at shortstop, looking to have yet another All-Star-caliber season.
3B Rafael Devers
His offense will be there, but questions about his defense remain. He led the majors in errors last season (14). This is a huge year to determine whether Devers, only 24, can remain at third base.
LF Marwin Gonzalez
He brings a veteran presence and the ability to hit from both sides of the plate and play multiple positions. He likely will fill in at left field in the absence of Franchy Cordero. He gives the Sox much-needed versatility.
CF Alex Verdugo
He was the team’s best player last season. He isn’t afraid of the limelight and will take over center field with Jackie Bradley Jr. a Brewer. Verdugo can hit, and it’s not a stretch to foresee a batting title in his future.
RF Hunter Renfroe
Alex Cora has been impressed with Renfroe’s athleticism, calling him the second-best center fielder on the team, behind Alex Verdugo. Renfroe will play mainly right field, and his power will fit well at Fenway.
He has proven to be one of the best all-around catchers in the league. Vázquez is a throwback who wants to play as many games as possible and has his eye on winning his first Gold Glove.
A serviceable backup catcher who can swing it a bit.
If there’s any player who’s in need of a bounce-back season, it’s Martinez. He has his video, he has the 162-game season. This year, in large part, will determine whether the 33-year old Martinez is on the decline or not.
LH Eduardo Rodriguez
He missed all of last season because of COVID-19, which led tomyocarditis, but he hasn’t seemed to miss a beat this spring. He’s the Opening Day starter for good reason.
RH Nate Eovaldi
A key for Eovaldi every year is to stay healthy. The last time the righthander pitched more than 150 innings was 2015. There is no question about his stuff. When healthy, he can be dominant.
LH Martín Pérez
He can eat innings and has proven to be a reliable starter. He’s also a veteran leader, something this pitching staff lacks in the absence of Chris Sale, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
RH Garrett Richards
The Sox are enamored with his pure stuff and are confident there is more talent to tap into.
RH Nick Pivetta
Acquired at the end of last season from the Phillies, he found success with the Sox in 2020. If he can build on that, he can be a key contributor.
RH Adam Ottavino
He is coming off a down year, albeit a small sample size, with the Yankees, but his sweeping slider and high velocity should help solidify the back end of the bullpen.
RH Matt Barnes
Barnes finished 2020 on a high note and is looking to keep that going as the team’s closer. He will be a free agent at the end of the season.
RH Garrett Whitlock
A Rule 5 draftee picked up in the offseason from the Yankees, Whitlock turned some heads during spring training. He could turn out to be a steal.
RH Matt Andriese
He has the ability to serve multiple roles. His versatility and knack for filling up the zone make him a quality addition to the staff.
RH Hirokazu Sawamura
A big arm with big expectations coming from Japan. Sawamura is expected to be a key contributor to the bullpen.
LH Darwinzon Hernandez
He missed a chunk of last year after contracting COVID-19 and never quite got the ball rolling when he returned. The Sox are still high on the 24-year-old after his impressive 2019 campaign (57 strikeouts, 30⅓ innings) and believe he can regain his form.
LH Josh Taylor
He missed a large part of 2020 because of COVID-19 and didn’t look the same once he returned. Taylor was one of the Sox’ best relievers in 2019.
RH Colten Brewer
He’s a versatile reliever who can eat innings. Ryan Brasier will likely start the season on the injured list, giving Brewer a chance to prove his worth.
RH Austin Brice
He has shown glimpses of being a productive reliever with a unique three-quarter arm slot who can be effective in spurts.
A roster spot appeared to be a long shot, but he performed well during the spring, allowing him a shot to recapture his play from the first half of 2018.
He’s out of minor league options but made an impression in the spring and could earn a spot on the Opening Day roster. His contributions will mainly be as an infielder.
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