Impact of World Baseball Classic will be minimal on Red Sox
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox could well win the World Series this season, but topping that Super Bowl victory by the Patriots seems impossible. Yet, here we are, on the cusp of the baseball season as Boston readies for another parade.
Pitchers and catchers officially report next Monday, and the first Grapefruit League game of spring training is Feb. 24.
As the Red Sox gather at Fenway South, a few thoughts and observations about the team:
■ Because it’s a Major League Baseball production, managers and executives are always careful never to be openly critical of the World Baseball Classic. But you can be sure the Red Sox are relieved that only Xander Bogaerts (Netherlands) and Hanley Ramirez (Dominican Republic) are committed to play.
In the post-David Ortiz era, how the Red Sox come together from a leadership standpoint will be important. So having players like Dustin Pedroia, Mookie Betts, Rick Porcello, and David Price in camp for the duration is helpful.
Chris Sale, who was courted by Team USA, also will get a chance to become acclimated to his new team without interruption.
It also significantly helps pitching coach Carl Willis with how he wants to line up the rotation and get his relievers the work they need.
■ Ranking prospects is a very inexact science. But ESPN’s Keith Law does his homework and isn’t out to curry any favors with his selections.
He has four Sox players in his top 100. Andrew Benintendi is No. 1, followed by third baseman Rafael Devers (11), lefthander Jay Groome (20), and first baseman Sam Travis (98).
So while Dave Dombrowski carved into his prospect depth to obtain Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz, and Chris Sale, the Sox still have a decent number of high-ceiling prospects.
The Yankees have six top-100 prospects after rebuilding their system with major trades last summer. But the Rays and Blue Jays have just three and the Orioles one.
What the Sox lack are starting pitcher prospects above the Single A level. This spring is a crucial one for Roenis Elias, Brian Johnson, and Henry Owens to show they are worthy of being called up when needed.
Johnson is my pick to emerge. The lefthander has the competitiveness Owens has lacked in previous major league opportunities. Elias may ultimately profile as a reliever.
■ It’s probably not going to happen, but the Red Sox could use another veteran reliever in camp. Their bullpen appears deep because there are a lot of familiar names. But how many of those relievers are proven? You can certainly appreciate the talent and accomplishments of Kimbrel and understand the potential of Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, and Tyler Thornburg. But is there anybody you’re convinced will hammer out three outs in a big spot?
■ For some teams, pitchers and catchers report Sunday. That makes the coming week a big one for free agents still seeking a home.
Former Sox players Craig Breslow, Coco Crisp, Aaron Hill, and Mike Napoli are among those still unemployed. Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino, who didn’t play in the majors last season, aren’t officially retired but may as well be at this point. Both are 36.
■ Rusney Castillo played very well in Puerto Rico this winter and is now competing in the Caribbean Series. But if the Red Sox were to return him to the 40-man roster, his average annual salary of $10.36 million gets factored into the team’s payroll and puts them over the competitive balance tax threshold — or at least uncomfortably close.
Castillo would have to prove he should start for that to make sense. To give up the many benefits of staying under the cap, it would be pointless if he were just a bench player.
The competition level in the winter leagues is somewhere between Triple A and the majors. That’s pretty much what Castillo is, a tweener.
■ Finally, one reminder as you absorb spring training coverage: Don’t look at statistics. Ortiz was 8 of 45 (.178) with one homer last spring, then put together one of the best seasons of his stellar career. Porcello had a 12.00 ERA in three starts against major league competition, then won the Cy Young Award.
For veteran players, spring training is just that, training. Don’t get caught up in box scores or who makes the Opening Day roster. It’s all pretty meaningless.
One year, just for fun, I asked 10 players after the final game of spring training if they knew the team’s record. None had the slightest idea. Players are allowed to go home when they come out of games; that’s how much anybody cares about the final score.
Health matters in spring training, along with getting pitchers built up and having the lineup play together the last week or so. It also helps if the coaching staff can identify Triple A players they believe will be worthy call-ups when needed. Everything else is contrived drama.
Watch games with an eye on how individuals play, not what their numbers are. The players understand better than anybody that nothing counts until Opening Day.