Around The Diamond is a weekly series where we will preview the Boston Red Sox position-by-position prior to the start of the spring training.
Theo Epstein has voiced his belief that the best direction for the Red Sox to head is one of run prevention in the form of better pitching and defense. Though the move seems to be drawing more criticism than praise, you can’t argue with the product Theo has put together to make his point. With an average or better defender at every position behind the pitcher, hitters may have trouble seeing the ball through the glare of all of those gold gloves.
2009 was another solid year for the versatile corner infielder. Although we saw his home run totals drop from 29 in ’08 to 27 in ’09, and his batting average dip from .312 to .305, Youkilis is one of the few bonafide run producers in this Red Sox lineup heading into 2010. Youkilis was third on the team in RBIs last year behind Jason Bay (now a Met), and David Ortiz (ready to carry the load again?). As of right now it seems that Kevin Youkilis is an elite fielder at his position with an above average bat. The question remains: Is he ready to take it to the next level? Or is the organization going to have to look elsewhere for pop?
An early power-outage in 2009 had many worried that Pedroia had been a one hit wonder in ’08. However, Pedroia quickly quieted those critics. After entering July with only four home runs, Pedroia belted 13 the rest of the way and ended up almost matching his total of 19 in ’08. Now, this isn’t to say I expect Pedroia to be the cure for our power problems. But it speaks to an important part of Dustin that defines him as a player; Character. He is a Gold Glover at second base, he has cemented the top of the Red Sox line-up giving it a number two hitter that’s exactly what you look for; Doubles, more walks than strikeouts, and a run scoring machine. If you’re looking to poke holes in this defense or line-up, start elsewhere.
Personally I think Beltre may be the best signing the Red Sox made this off-season as far as potential value. Adrian is considered by many to be one of, if not the, best defensive third basemen playing the game today. That alone helps Theo’s master plan of run prevention, however, that isn’t a reason to throw $10 million at a guy. Adrian quietly put together some respectable seasons in Seattle, although they were all seen as failures due to his inability to repeat his numbers before signing there (.334 /48 HR/ 121 RBI). However, to combine his defensive skill set with a projection somewhere near .270 / 27 HR / 90 RBI isn’t a bad trade-off for $10M. Don’t forget that Beltre hit in the cavernous Safeco Field for the last five seasons and is now being transplanted into a park that is very friendly to right handed fly ball hitters. Who knows? Maybe Beltre will find that stroke again.
Life begins at 33, or at least for Marco Scutaro’s career. Marco is one of the riskier signings by the Red Sox front office this off-season. The simple reason being that Marco has never even come close to his 2009 numbers. However, if you look closer at Marco’s body of work you’ll see that the biggest improvement he’s had is in walks where he jumped from 57 in ’08 to 90 in ’09. This shows that as a hitter Marco has become more patient at the plate and is letting pitchers get deeper in counts, improving the chances of seeing a good pitch to hit later in counts. The Red Sox preach this to all their hitters from the minors up. I can’t think of a better place to foster that improvement and make it grow. The only thing that is left to be seen is if Scutaro can play the field well enough. He’s filling the shoes of beloved defensive stud Alex Gonzales whom is now filling in the hole Scutaro left in Toronto. So expect to see the parallels drawn early and often.
Mike Lowell is looking to find his way back into the lineup anyway he can in 2010. Lowell was close to being traded to Texas to platoon as their everyday 1B/DH combo. However due to a thumb injury that Lowell has since had surgery on, he will be finishing out his contract here in Boston. It is yet to be seen what capacity the Sox will use him in, however, I think he will be spelling Ortiz at DH against lefties, and giving the occasional day off to either Youkilis or Beltre. There is also the possibility he could be traded from now until the July deadline.
Lowrie has had some hard luck since getting called up to the Red Sox. In 2008, Lowrie was called up to replace an injured Julio Lugo and did so very well with the bat early on. However, his numbers slipped a bit towards the end, due to a broken hand that he played through. He was then given the chance to compete with Lugo for the starting job last year but once again was brought down by an injury. He is now staring a two year contract with Marco Scutaro in the face and is looking to show the Sox why they should have let it ride with him at shortstop.
Bill Hall is looking to resurrect his career from the bottom up. He has long been vaunted as a super utility player, however that has been his downfall since he has never been able to nail down a position while in the majors. He has also quickly declined from his career years in ’05 (Hit .291) and ’06 (Hit 35 HR). He has yet to hit north of .260 since then and has seen his power fall off, averaging 12 homers a year since ’07. Hall will likely get some playing time with the Sox due to his ability to play so many positions on the diamond. However it’s imperative that he performs well early on if he wishes to keep his job since the Red Sox basically got him for free from Seattle.
Previous “Around the Diamond” posts:
Pitchers and Catchers – 1/19