Sox spotlight set to shine on J.D. in '18
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There are a lot of main attractions on the highly talented roster the Red Sox will send out there this season. But the one who will draw the most attention from opposing pitchers and from the rabid Boston fan base is the new cleanup hitter.
J.D. Martinez will be the must-watch player on the 2018 Red Sox for a few reasons.
First, there is the fact he has such massive power that agent Scott Boras dubbed him the "King Kong of Slug." Then there is the fact that he is the new addition on an already talented team that won 93 games in each of the last two years while getting knocked out in the American League Division Series both years. And the other thing everyone wants to see is how much the rest of the group can improve just with Martinez's influence.
Keep in mind that several young players on the 2016 Red Sox had career years at the plate while David Ortiz was still in the middle of the lineup.
Surely, it is no coincidence that many of those same players took a slight step back last season when Ortiz was gone -- and never truly replaced.
Now the Big Papi replacement has arrived, and everyone should be better for it.
Yes, one high-impact hitter can make a huge difference in a lineup.
"I don't know if he's going to protect somebody, but I know the way they attack the lineup is different because that guy with men on is very dangerous," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "Maybe they might be more aggressive with the first two or three guys that hit ahead of him and they can take advantage of it. It doesn't mean he's protecting them, it just means he's making everybody better. It's a well-balanced lineup."
The Red Sox, with Martinez in the middle of the action, should turn into a lineup nobody wants to face.
"It's a deeper team. We talk about the Indians, the Astros, all these offensive teams, New York," said Cora. "I think we're up there with him."
Already, the Red Sox seem to be talking more about hitting and studying more with Martinez in the fold.
"We're very happy with J.D., and not only that, like I've said before, what he's bringing to the clubhouse," said Cora. "There's more iPads lately.
"There were a lot of conversations about this team last year, about the void that David left; they needed somebody to fill that void. I'm not saying J.D. is that guy, but at least in his own way, he's bringing a lot of knowledge, leadership and helping guys with plans, which is great."
One thing that will be interesting to watch with Martinez early is how he meshes with Fenway Park. Everyone knows that the inviting Green Monster is just 310 feet from home plate. But Martinez isn't a dead pull hitter. In fact, he loves going to right and right-center.
Manny Ramirez had the same approach, and he made a nice living at Fenway. The same goes for Hall of Famer Jim Rice.
"You saw Manny and what he did," said Cora. "People talk about Fenway, how big it is to right field, right-center. With him it doesn't matter. If he stays with his approach -- and I bet you a dollar he will stay with his approach -- the wall is going to help him out, actually, because he's going to stay on those fastballs and drive them to right-center. Whenever they hang one, he'll pull it with power."
Martinez, who has played at Fenway just seven times as a visitor, won't make any judgments until he starts playing there with the Red Sox this season.
"I'm kind of on the fence with it," Martinez said. "Most of my power and my strength is the opposite field, the other way. But I do hit balls to left field. It's one of those things where I'm trying to see how it's going to be. A lot of those balls that are flyouts to left are probably gone, but I think it's going to play fair because a lot of the balls I hit to right are probably not going to go out. I just hope the balance is there. I'm not going to change the way I approach anything. I'm staying with what got me here."
That should be just fine for the Red Sox. There was a reason Martinez was the one player president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski pursued for the entire offseason. It was clear Martinez was the one guy out there who could give the Red Sox what they were lacking.
And now he will be in the middle of it all, trying to help hit the Red Sox deep into October.
"I'm expecting, hopefully, to do a lot of damage. That's the game plan coming in," Martinez said.