The Week In Sox: Feb 20

by Joey Crandall

There are real pitchers throwing real baseballs at real catchers in Fort Myers, which must mean we are really on the cusp of the 2016 season.

We don’t get in-game looks at these guys for another nine days, though, and none of the games count for another six weeks.

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Until then, we’re going to read and hear a lot of talking.

So far, everything I’m reading and hearing leads me to one conclusion.

This is the season of the “Big If.”

The word is in nearly every conversation for the Sox so far into this very, very young Spring (here in Nevada, we just had eight inches of snow on Thursday). It is present up and down the Boston roster.

if Clay Buchholz can stay healthy …’

if Allen Craig can regain his 2013 form …

if Pablo Sandoval can regain his 2014 form …

if Hanley Ramirez can find a suitable position on the field …

if David Ortiz’ farewell tour fares better than Derek Jeter’s …

…if we get the second-half version of Rick Porcello instead of the first-half …

if we get the Joe Kelly of every even start …

if Eduardo Rodriguez stays away from tipping his pitches …

if the promising young trio of outfielders makes a Bogaertsian shift into a strong young trio of outfielders …

if David Price can win a postseason game …

If Boston somehow gets all 10 things to happen, I like their chances at winning the World Series. A lot.

But no one ever sweeps their “ifs,” do they?

The ‘ifs’ I like are Sandoval returning to form, Ortiz having a monster farewell season, Porcello finding his way and Rodriguez coming into his own as a potentially elite pitcher. If the Red Sox can get even one more “if” granted, I can see them returning to the playoffs.  After that, who knows?

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I want so badly for Christian Vasquez to make the big league roster coming out of training camp. The argument can be made that he is the most underrated player on the club.

But Blake Swihart hits, and hits quite well, as it turns out.

Supposing Vasquez has a strong spring, it’d be hard to see a scenario where Ryan Hanigan isn’t dealt to a team looking for catching depth. It’s a good problem to have – three serviceable Major League catchers. The ceiling on Swihart and Vasquez, for opposing reasons, is very high, whereas Hanigan has settled into the player he is going to be. That is worth a potential bullpen arm. Maybe part of a package with Hanley Ramirez.

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Scanning the roster for this year’s potential season-changing type of find – it’s not hard to see the most likely candidate.

Carson Smith is the steal of the offseason, particularly considering that he came with other pieces (Roenis Elias) in the Wade Miley deal.  He was brilliant in 2016, turning in a 1.01 WHIP with 92 strikeouts in 70 innings pitched.

Much will be made over the next six weeks about Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa headlining an elite bullpen. Don’t be surprised if Smith surpasses them all by season’s end.

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It’s odd that more isn’t being made of Carlos Marmol being in Red Sox camp. He was one of the game’s best closers from 2010 to 2011. His ERA ballooned after he hit the age of 30 though, and he was cast off on the scrap heap two seasons ago.

There may not be high expectations for him, but what if he’s really solid?

A stretch toward the end of 2013 sticks out in particular. He threw in 21 games for the Dodgers, posting a 2.53 ERA with 27 strikeouts. Maybe it was Dodger Stadium’s more forgiving dimensions. Or maybe he found something then that he can find again this spring.

Regardless of the outcome, this has become one of the more interesting storylines to watch over the next five weeks.

 

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