Red Sox

Red Sox

If all goes according to plan, the Red Sox will field a roster of breakout candidates sometime soon.

That time is not now.

Unlike 2019, when Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts emerged as MVP-caliber talents, Christian Vazquez set career-highs in everything, and Eduardo Rodriguez won 19 games, the 2020 Red Sox are light on true breakout candidates.

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That's life when your farm system is thin and your roster is in transition, but it doesn't mean a handful of players couldn't surprise us.

So let's examine three of them.

1. Andrew Benintendi

Some of us have been saying that Benintendi could win a batting title for four years. But the sad truth is the outfielder has really delivered only one good half season, the first half of 2018, when he was a borderline All-Star on a team loaded with the genuine item.

Benintendi hit .297 with 14 homers and an .897 OPS in the first half of 2018. Take away those three and a half months, and his career numbers become even more pedestrian: .272 with a .772 OPS. That puts Benintendi in a class of players like former Orioles infielder Jonathan Villar or Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara, and no one's predicting a batting title for either of them.

The good news is the 25-year-old is entering his prime. It's also encouraging that he showed up to spring training looking leaner and stronger. The talent that made him the seventh pick in the 2015 draft is still there, as is the sweet line drive swing that raced him to the majors in barely a year in the first place.

 

He'll get every opportunity to impact 2020 out of the leadoff spot, where he'll try to make amends for a strikeout-riddled 2019. Benintendi was a mental and mechanical mess last season, swinging at balls off the plate and taking offerings down the middle.

Plenty of hitters need three or four years before they break out, and Benintendi is the best candidate on the Red Sox to do just that.

2. Alex Verdugo

Yes, his back must first heal. And then he must regain lost strength. It's possible we won't see him until May.

But if there's one player capable of delivering on the promise that made him a top prospect, it's Verdugo.

Take everything we just said about Benintendi and apply it to his fellow corner outfielder, because Verdugo might reach Benintendi's best-case scenario before Benintendi does. A former consensus top-35 prospect, Verdugo gave a taste of what he could be with the Dodgers last year, hitting .294 with an .817 OPS in 106 games before suffering a season-ending back injury that continues to linger.

Before getting hurt, Verdugo had displaced veteran A.J. Pollock as the starting center fielder for the Dodgers, and until a September setback during rehab, the Dodgers held out hope that he'd be able to return for the playoffs.

When Verdugo is right, he's got the power to hit the ball out to dead center, but also the discipline to inside-out balls to the left-center gap. He's also excitable, with an exuberant style of play that energized crowds in L.A. and could translate to Boston, if he can get healthy.

3. Jose Peraza

Ugh. The third spot on this list is a tossup between Peraza and second-year man Michael Chavis. We'll side with the former primarily for reasons of opportunity. He's likely to open the season as the starting second baseman, and the 25-year-old was once a top-50 prospect with the Braves.

A lifetime .302 hitter in the minors, he hasn't made the same offensive impact in the big leagues, though he did hit .288 with 14 homers and 23 steals in 2018. The free swinger almost never walks — he posted a miserable .285 on base percentage last year before being non-tendered — but he doesn't strike out much, either.

If he delivered league-average production, that would count as a breakthrough.