The Five Things We Didn't See Coming This Spring
The Five Things We Didn't See Coming This Spring
By Sean McAdam
BRADENTON, Fla. -- In February, it all seemed so simple.
The Red Sox had, perhaps, one bullpen spot up for competition. The rest of the 25-man roster was pretty much accounted for the -- the rotation, the starting lineup, even the makeup of the bench.
Or so it seemed.
But spring training always offers some degree of unpredictability. Players surprise and disappoint. Injuries take place. Evaluations change.
So it was with the Red Sox in 2016.
The Grapefruit League scheduled ends Thursday, and by Thursday night, the team will be in Montreal for two final barnstorming games before the season opener in Cleveland next Monday.
Now would be as good a time as any to review: The Five Things We Didn't See Coming This Spring.
1) The injuries
They happen to every team, every year. Some are major injuries that can impact the season and force teams into making adjustments.
The Red Sox were relatively lucky this spring. Nobody suffered any serious setbacks that will keep them out for extended periods, and no one required surgical procedures.
But two injuries will hit the pitching staff hard in the first month.
Starter Eduardo Rodriguez will miss most (if not all of April) recovering from a sublixation of the right knee. When it happened in early March, it seemed minor, but here it is, almost April, and Rodriguez has yet to face live hitters. That process will begin next week, but he'll need to build back his arm strength through a series of rehab starts - either in extended spring or on assignment in Pawtucket.
In the interim, Steven Wright, who would have otherwise had the long relief role in the bullpen, steps into Rodriguez's spot in the rotation.
A potentially more costly injury took place more than halfway through the schedule when reliever Carson Smith was diagnosed with a strained flexor muscle in his right arm.
The recovery time for these injuries are notoriously difficult to predict, with the window being anywhere from a month to two months. Either way, Smith's absence is a big blow, likely to be felt early against the likes of the Blue Jays (whom the Sox meet seven times in the first two weeks of the season). Toronto has a menacing righty-heavy lineup that Smith could help combat.
Matt Barnes had a strong spring, but he lacks the track record Smith built last year as one of the American League's most dominant righthand set-up men.
2) The competition at third base
The narrative heading into camp was that, with better than $75 million and four more years remaining on his deal, Pablo Sandoval would be the starting third baseman no matter what.
That narrative took a hit when Sandoval reported to camp looking essentially as he did when he walked into camp in February of 2015 -- overweight and out of condition.
When the games began, Sandoval looked particularly limited in the field, struggling to get down for balls and failing to make some routine plays. He didn't show much more at the plate.
In the meantime, Travis Shaw seemed to hit everything in sight, and got some looks at third. With two weeks to go, John Farrell first acknowledged that Shaw wouldn't be getting some time in left field, the better to get more looks at him playing third. Then, with two weeks left in camp, Farrell acknowledged that a competition for third was underway.
Shaw went into Wednesday's game in an 0-for-15 funk, but has still vastly outplayed Sandoval, who had the additional misfortune of suffering some lower back stiffness, costing him a week of playing time just as the competition was heating up.
To date, Farrell has not made his decision known, but most around the club believe it would be a significant surprise if Shaw wasn't the starter Monday in Cleveland.
3) The emergence of Brock Holt as an outfield regular -- and the corresponding demotion of Rusney Castillo
Castillo was the presumed starting left fielder at the start of camp, with Chris Young penciled into to get some playing time against lefties.
But Castillo's poor offensive showing in Grapefruit League play - .204/.278/.224 with one extra-base hit (double) in 49 at-bats -- sealed his fate. And as Farrell confirmed Wednesday morning, Castillo is essentially the fifth outfielder, lodged not just behind the three starters (Holt, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts) but also, Young, too.
This is Castillo's third season in the big leagues -- though he only played a handful of games at the end of 2014, and this is really the start of his second full year here -- but for now, it's hard to label him as anything other than a major bust, especially considering his price tag.
As for Holt, instead of being slotted as a super utility player, moving around to multiple slots, he'll now getting the most at-bats of anyone in left field, while still capable of helping out around the infield.
How this plays out remains to be seen. Can Holt produce as an (almost) everyday player? Can someone with a career slugging percentage of .370 produce enough for a left fielder?