Life of a Sportsaholic

This blog is intended to be insight into my life as an irrational, stats-driven, obsessive sports fan in Boston. I am a fan of all types of sports with an emphasis on Boston teams and am a proud UConn alum.

Tag: J.D. Martinez

Top 4 Red Sox Players to Watch in Spring Training

Michael Chavis

Salem Red Sox

The long winter is over and the Red Sox are back on the field in Fort Myers getting ready for (hopefully) a strong 2018 season. Spring Training provides a great opportunity for fans to see current Red Sox players and future prospects on the field together. On the flip side, it can be very difficult to watch a full game over the next month when by the 5th inning most of the players on the field are unfamiliar. In an effort to help everyone focus on just a few names and storylines, here are some prospects (and perhaps a familiar name or two) to watch for during Spring Training.

Michael Chavis

A familiar name to those in the know, Chavis the the #2 prospect in the Red Sox system. The 22-year old 3rd baseman has struggled a bit defensively, but has offensive potential for days. He appears to be on a path to play every day in the big leagues, especially if he can work on his defense. Since the Red Sox have previous #2 ranked prospect Rafael Devers as their 3rd baseman, the team is planning to work Chavis at 1st base this Spring to see if that’s a future role for him in the big leagues. Since his defense isn’t great at 3rd and his bat is really his best quality, there isn’t much risk in trying him at 1st.

Blake Swihart

This season feels make or break for Swihart. After getting a good look in the majors in 2015 (84 games), he hasn’t been able to stay in the big leagues because of injuries and struggles (25 games in 16 and 17). Now that Swihart is healthy and has a full Spring Training to get reps, the catcher/outfielder/first baseman is looking to cement his roster spot this Spring. He is now out of minor-league options, so will likely be on the opening day roster as a bench bat. The Red Sox have also toyed with the idea of trying Swihart in the infield (other than 1st), making him a super-utility player off the bench. Swihart has offensive potential and could be a nice depth piece for this team, but if he struggles this Spring, he may be looking for a new club in a month or two.

Jalen Beeks

Another member of the Red Sox 2014 draft class, Beeks got the nod against the Northeastern Huskies in the Spring Training opener. Beeks was the Red Sox minor league Pitcher of the Year in 2017, posting a strong 11-8 record, 3.29 ERA, and .224 batting average against in 26 starts (145 innings). The lefty was teammates with Andrew Benintendi at the University of Arkansas and now at 24 years old, is starting to gain some experience that should help him become more consistent. He will start 2018 in AAA Pawtucket and on the 40-man roster, making him a potential call-up option in the event of injury to an MLB starter. He’s listed as the #10 prospect in the system, but appears to be getting closer to the doorstep.

Sam Travis

I’m a broken record when it comes to Travis: I think he has the potential to be the everyday 1st baseman in the majors (see my spotlight before his MLB debut). Every time I watch Travis swing the bat, I see his extra-base power potential and really want to see him get the chance to play everyday in the big leagues. He plays hard and grinds with max effort all the time. After a devastating ACL injury sidelined him in 2016 when it looked like he was on the brink of getting the call, Travis missed 10 months and finally came back to play in 82 games in AAA Pawtucket and 23 with the Red Sox in 2017. The #5 prospect now has the chance to enter Spring Training healthy and start on an even playing field with everyone else. He’ll likely see a lot of playing time as the coaching staff gets a good long look at him. I don’t think there is room for him on the MLB roster to start the season, but he should be waiting by the phone in case of injury.

Honorable Mention – J.D. Martinez

If for nothing else but drama, Martinez is my honorable mention. A major signing happening this late is highly unusual and will put J.D. at least a few days behind the rest of his teammates. The fact that he hadn’t officially be introduced as of writing this is a bit concerning, because it is slowing down his acclimation into his new environment. He doesn’t need a long Spring to get ready, most hitters don’t, but don’t underestimate the importance of getting settled and bonding with new teammates before the daily grind of the regular season kicks in.  All eyes will be J.D. once (if) his contract is officially announced.

Reversing the Narrative on David Price

Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 season was one to forget for Red Sox starter David Price, on and off the field. He started the year on the DL with elbow issues, not making his first start until the end of May. Then, after 11 starts, at the end of July, went back on the DL until mid-September when he returned as a reliever for the stretch run. In his 16 appearances in the regular season, Price had a 3.38 ERA with 76 Ks in 74.2 innings pitched and had 2 solid relief appearances in the postseason against Houston. Unfortunately for the already vilified Price, his injury wasn’t even the biggest negative story of 2017.

As everyone knows at this point, David Price confronted Red Sox broadcaster Dennis Eckersley on the team plane following a benign comment he made during the broadcast of a game against the Minnesota Twins about Eduardo Rodriguez. I’m not going to rehash the incident, because frankly, it was middle-school level dumb, and once again in his short tenure with the Red Sox, Price shined a negative light on himself. If he wasn’t already hated among Red Sox fans, berating a well-liked, Hall of Fame pitcher certainly didn’t help his image. Add to that his earlier confrontation with a reporter at Yankee Stadium in June and things were just out of control for him.

Now looking towards the 2018 season, there are some positive reports being thrown out there in what appears to be an attempt to reverse the narrative on Price. He faced the media early in an attempt to clear the air and move on from his struggles in 2017 by acknowledging his role in the incident (sort of) and his overall attitude.

I could’ve handled it better last year, absolutely. But I didn’t, and I’ve moved on. I feel like I’ve always been one to lead with my actions, and I didn’t do that very well last year. I know that and understand that, and I look forward to getting back and being that faucet and not being a drain. -David Price

He reportedly reached out to recently signed slugger J.D. Martinez in an effort to convince him to come to Boston and whether he had an impact on J.D.’s decision or not, appears to be invested in the 2018 Red Sox and his role on the team. At this point, he is a veteran who needs to recognize his impact on those around him in the clubhouse.

What’s often lost in all the off-the-field crap and injuries is that David Price is a 5-time All-Star and Cy Young Award winner. That’s the reason the Red Sox signed him to a massive $30+ million a year contract. He has the ability, even at 32, to impact the Red Sox in a significant way in 2018 if he stays healthy and has the right attitude. If he keeps his mouth shut and pitches to his ability on the mound, even Price has the chance for redemption. I’m just not sure he can make it through the year without becoming an unwelcome distraction once again.

J.D. Martinez: Significant Impact or Waste of Money?

Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

After months of speculation and stalling, the Red Sox finally agreed to terms with the #1 free agent power hitter on the market. J.D. Martinez signed a 5-year, $110 million contract with the Red Sox on the first day of full squad workouts in Fort Myers. The contract was less than the original asking price and is front-loaded with 2 built-in opt-outs, which makes it reasonable (if that’s possible) for both parties involved. Beyond the dollars, the bigger question is around impact. Does J.D. Martinez help to make the Red Sox a serious contender in 2018? The short answer is yes…but.

Let me start by saying that I could just as easily see J.D. Martinez flourish in the friendly confines of Fenway Park as I could see him take a nose-dive into the Charles River. He’s one of the harder hitters to figure out, in my opinion, because he doesn’t have a long history of success. Everyone has been talking about his huge 2017, but 29 of his 45 HRs came in just 62 games after being traded from the Detroit Tigers to the Arizona Diamondbacks. That’s a tremendous stretch, but the likelihood he has another stretch even close to that in his career is very low. I look at 2017 as being a bit of an anomaly for J.D., but did display his raw power potential. The Red Sox brought him in as a middle-of-the-lineup power bat, but will he produce like a middle-of-the-lineup bat?

The positives first. In 3 full seasons with the Tigers (2014 through 2016), Martinez averaged 134 games played, 551 plate appearances, .299 average, .357 slugging percentage, 28 HRs, and 82 RBIs per year. By any account, those are really solid numbers for a power bat in the 3-5 hole in the lineup. If that’s the J.D. we see in Boston, I think most fans would be happy with his performance. For perspective, the Red Sox won 93 games in 2017 without having a single player hit more than 24 HRs (24 – Mookie Betts) and just 1 player with a higher slugging percentage (.369 – Dustin Pedroia). Given those averages, J.D. would be the best hitter in an already strong lineup.

On the negative side, there are definitely some consistency concerns. Of the 3 full years in Detroit, J.D.’s power was inconsistent, hitting  23 HRs in 2014, 38 in 2015, and just 22 in 2016. He played in 158 games in 2015 compared to 123 in ’14 and 122 in ’16, but that’s a huge 15-16 HR swing year-to-year, even with more at-bats. If the Red Sox get ’14 or ’16 Martinez, that’s concerning. The Red Sox don’t need another 20-25 HR hitter in the lineup (they had 4 in 2017), they need a feared 30+ HR hitter who can lift the pathetic overall team power out of the basement.

Age is another factor I’m concerned about. According to an Alex Speier article  in the Boston Globe looking at age correlation with offensive power in January 2015, “…after turning 30, players experience a clear and steady decline in the likelihood they’ll be productive offensive contributors.” The article looked at WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and it showed a 50% decrease in 33-year old players delivering a 2.0 WAR that players aged 26-29. What does this all really mean? J.D. may be in later part of his peak and have a few strong power years left, or he could be primed to start sliding down the backside of the hill in 2018.

The other less concerning piece for Martinez is his streaky nature, which is not uncommon with power bats. Taking 2015 as an example, he hit 14 of his 38 total HRs in a 20-game stretch in June and July, hitting just 4 in his final 34 games of the season. I imagine some of the late season struggles were around playing in 158 games, by far the most of his career, making it a lesser overall concern. The Red Sox will likely mitigated some of this by giving Martinez rest  when splitting some time with Hanley Ramirez in the DH spot. His other massive power streak, mentioned above, came last year when he hit 29 HRs in 62 games with the Diamondbacks.

My overall approach is cautious optimism. The Red Sox desperately needed to add a power bat to the lineup given their struggles in that department in 2017 and they got the best power bat available on the market without depleting their thin prospect system. It’s hard to argue against that. In addition, they need several players on their roster to have better 2018 results than 2017, Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts at the top of the list, but if 2015 or 2017 Martinez is in the lineup most nights, the pressure will be reduced on everyone else and the Red Sox could be legitimate contenders in 2018.