3 crucial questions as Red Sox open camp
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The excitement for 2016 started in November when the Red Sox acquired a four-time All-Star closer in Craig Kimbrel. The anticipation reached a new level in December when ace David Price signed a seven-year, $217 million contract.
And now, baseball is finally here for the highly passionate fanbase that stretches across six New England states, not to mention the various other locales of Red Sox Nation.
• Spring Training: Tickets | Schedule | Information
Spring Training has an official start date of Thursday, when pitchers and catchers are all due in camp. In truth, most of them have already been at JetBlue Park for at least a week.
Much like the fans, the players can't wait to get started. Righty setup man Carson Smith and veteran outfielder Chris Young are the other key additions.
And there is much excitement about the young core of players who performed so well at the end of 2015. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Eduardo Rodriguez and catcher Blake Swihart hope to be cornerstones for a return to the postseason.
But in the coming weeks, there are some questions that need to be answered for the team to reach its goals.
1. Can Hanley Ramirez play first?
All eyes will be on Ramirez as he again tries to transition to a new position. Last year's move to left field was rocky from the start, and he never looked comfortable moving around out there. This time, Ramirez at least returns to the infield, where, as he notes, he's played his entire life. But it remains to be seen how much Ramirez's years as a shortstop will help him master the art of playing first.
• Hanley excited about return to infield
As Ramirez mentioned recently, he needs the other infielders to be able to trust him when their throws are less than perfect. Ramirez must also get used to the footwork that comes with playing first. He has one of the best instructors around in Brian Butterfield. This will be a story to follow throughout the spring.
2. Who will step up as the No. 2 starter?
Yes, the Red Sox now have an ace in Price. But do they have a true No. 2 starter? For teams who have aspirations of playing deep into October, it is crucial to have more than one stellar pitcher in the rotation. Clay Buchholz has pitched like an ace and a No. 2 at various times in his career, but he's had trouble doing it over a full season.
If not Buchholz, perhaps Rick Porcello will make the leap. The righty with the nasty sinker lost his identity the first few months of last season by relying too much on his four-seamer. The pitcher in the rotation with the most ability after Price is fellow lefty Rodriguez. But at the age of 22, Rodriguez is still growing, so it remains to be seen what type of leap he will take this season. Having Price as a mentor can only help.
3. Will Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo hit?
By parlaying four prospects to get Kimbrel and making such a big financial commitment to land Price, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski didn't feel he had the resources to spend big -- in terms of player compensation or money -- for another outfielder. In truth, Dombrowski wanted to give his young trio a chance to prove its worth. The Red Sox already know what they have in Betts, who last year became one of only four players in history to have 60-plus extra-base hits, 20-plus stolen bases and fewer than 90 strikeouts in his age 22 or younger season.
But it isn't as clear cut what type of Major League hitters Bradley and Castillo will be. Bradley was dominant for nearly a month down the stretch last year. But he's had several prolonged slumps already in his young career. As Bradley recently acknowledged, he needs to minimize those slumps. The Red Sox are still trying to figure out what they have in Castillo, who has struggled with nagging injuries and health in his brief time in the Majors. On the plus side, all three Red Sox starting outfielders are plus-defenders. And veteran backup Chris Young is a decent insurance policy if Bradley or Castillo falters.