“What a Rush!” The Mad Prof’s 2016 Boston Red Sox Team Preview
Oh, what the heck. The Boss said, “Go ahead and do Boston first.” I said that I did not want to be too much of a homer…but I am. So, here is proof that a homer can have both feet on the ground.
Real Baseball Prediction. The Red Sox will win the AL East amidst a lot of nose pinching. This is not a strong division. The Sox could be outstanding—but only if the sun, moon, stars, planets and black holes align. There is strength on this team, but there are glaring weaknesses
Fantasy prediction: there is great potential fantasy profit here. So, when you do draft from Boston, do so with confidence.
OK: Batters. Let’s go around the horn.
C: Blake Swihart: He did a solid job last year. When Christian Vasquez went down, Swihart was called up and it was clear that he really was not ready. He has decent pop in his bat, but is not a top of the lineup hitter.
1B. Hanley Ramirez. Boston owes HanRam. Thanks to the trade, the Sox got Josh Beckett and the World Series in 2007. He was horrendous in left field last year and is injury prone. He still possesses a prodigious bat. But that bat manifested itself only in the first half of 2015. In the last three years, he has had 304, 449 and 401 AB respectively. This is not the track record of a dependable source of offense. Maybe he’ll get hurt less at first base…until he has to stretch to scoop a throw out of the dirt and a groin pull puts him on the shelf.
2B. Dustin Pedroia is the kind of player you want on your real and fantasy baseball team. He plays fearlessly and, when healthy, has been a top fantasy producer at 2B. But injuries are a big concern with him as well. In 2013, he had 641 AB; in 2014, he had 551; and in 2015, he had 381. He did hit 12 HR in 2015. But the rest of his offensive output fell with the drop in AB. If and when he has been healthy, Pedroia has hit in any of the top 5 slots of the batting order. If Boston’s lineup is healthy, and Pedroia can regain some of his old form, he stands to be a solid offensive producer at a rather thin position. But, at 32 years of age, a lot needs to go right for him to deliver profit to your fantasy team. He is a buy low candidate.
SS. Xander Bogaerts is only 23 years old. He suffers from the curse of astonishingly high expectations while playing on a team that has floundered due to age, injury and some poor decisions (such as spending the GNP of several small countries on Ramirez, Sandoval and Porcello). He is a work in progress and has demonstrated power and speed. He does hit a lot of ground balls though. He is still quite young (a common characteristic of this lineup). He will be a quality player. His fantasy value will depend in no small part on where he bats in the order.
3B. Pablo Sandoval. He had a career year in 2015. No, seriously. It must have taken a tremendous amount of effort to play this badly in every way possible. I’m glad I’m not responsible for signing him. He is a black hole in the lineup. If there were ANY bright side to his performance, he maintained an 80+ contact rate throughout the year. But his groundball rate was terrible. That, coupled with his mercurial speed, kept him from suffering excessive wear and tear on the basepaths. He reported to Spring training overweight.
From a fantasy standpoint, the only question is whether you want to toss one of your last bucks on him in hopes that he bounces back after what may have been nothing more than a bad transition year from the NL to the AL. If the Sox lineup produces, he stands to deliver some value. But 3B is deep. No real need to go prospecting here—unless you are looking to fill the CI position at the end of the auction draft. From a reality standpoint, the only question is whether the brass can suffer long enough to let uber-prospect Rafael Devers hone his skills (see my colleague Brian Luhrs’ analysis here).
This is the sort of situation that Red Sox fans used to suffer as they spent long, cold winter nights praying by the AM sports talk radio. Three World Series victories have dried up that seemingly bottomless pit of patience. OK. The rant went on a bit longer than I had anticipated.
OF. Let me leave the quagmire of 3B and turn to Mookie Betts. He has lived up to the hype. He is a legitimate 5-tool stud for whom the sky is the limit. He will hit atop the order and will be followed by some combination of Pedroia, Bogaerts, and Ortiz or Ramirez. If the lineup is healthy, he will be prodigious. In auction drafts, he will go for $40.
Rusney Castillo remains an uber-prospect with a reserved seat in the physical therapist’s waiting room. Seriously—shoulder, ankle, foot, quad? Hey—the good news is that he is only 28 (If you are looking for flexibility in your fantasy roster, I understand that he qualifies to be injured at all three OF positions as well as DH).
He possesses the skills of a legitimate 5-tool stud, but he needs to stay healthy. This skill set earned him a $72M dollar contract (On the other hand the Sox paid how much for Dice-K?). If he and the rest of the starters can stay healthy, Castillo will give the Sox a formidable top 6 spots in the lineup. OF is deep and there are lots of dependable young players out there. So, do not over bid.
Jackie Bradley, Jr. showed signs of brilliance at the end of 2015. 13 HR and 52 RBI in 263 AB in the second half was solid. Can he continue at anything close to that pace? He strikes out a lot and does not hit for much average. In real terms, he is an asset. But, for fantasy purposes, he is a bottom of the order hitter who might offer more value if he moves up and gets some protection from other solid hitters. If he is down there with Sandoval and Swihart, he won’t deliver as much value. In fantasy terms, he is not a bad 4th or 5th OF. If he maintains that second half pace, he is a legitimate #3.
One thing to keep in mind, by the way. Betts is 23, Bradley is 25 and Castillo is 28. There is a lot of room for growth here. It’s a potentially outstanding OF.
Chris Young is a legitimate #3 OF. If Bradley or Castillo struggle, Young could find significant opportunity for Pt. Young is only 32. He possesses a 4-tool skill set (SB are not legitimate any more for him). But he still can hit lefties, and the short RF porch in Fenway will embrace him. If he plays regularly, he is a legitimate #4 OF.
DH. David Ortiz continues to defy age. There is no question that the DH position has protected him from injury and prolonged his Hall of Fame career. He has hit when the Sox were strong and hit when they were weak. He had a HR spike in 2015. If he is healthy, he remains a solid $25 investment. Expect his AB to drop as the Sox look to keep him healthy for the entire 162-game David Ortiz retirement tour.
The Red Sox have solid SP. David Price is a legitimate stud. He does not claim the hype that accompanies the likes of Scherzer and Kershaw. But he is solid. My only concern about him (as I noted in earlier columns) is that he is a lefty moving from neutral or pitcher-friendly ballparks to hitter-friendly Fenway. I suspect he will give up a few more HR. Nonetheless, he’s a quality #1 SP in fantasy and real baseball formats. Bid with confidence.
Somehow, Clay Buchholz shows up as the #2 in the depth chart. When Buchholz has been good, he’s been very, very good. When he has not, he has been horrid. He has not come close to 200 IP in the last 3 years. In 2015, he was quite solid (2.6 K/BB ratio) but pitched only 107 innings. He is 31 and has a strong skill set. Even if he looks good in the spring, don’t overbid. Injury looms. If he is healthy all season, he offers great returns and will be a solid #2 or #3.
Eduardo Rodriguez, Rick Porcello and Roenis Elias comprise a solid 3-4-5 in the rotation. In September, 2015, Rodriguez had a 25:7 K/BB ratio. Porcello had [45:10]. Elias had [30:15]. Rodriguez is 23; the other two are 27. This is a potentially outstanding back end of the rotation. They will be undervalued. Snap them up. They will deliver for your fantasy team and, if they perform, will be the reason the Sox are in the postseason.
The bullpen is equally solid. The offeseason acquisition of Craig Kimbrel (already a fantasy stud) and Carson Smith stabilize and strengthen a bullpen that will move Koji Uehara down to the setup position. Junichi Tazawa offers a solid RH complement to Smith. Boston starters will not need to go much deeper than 7 innings in many games. There are ample save, hold and K opportunities in this bullpen. Bid with confidence.
Overall Assessment. Boston is a team with outstanding young talent. The bottom of the order is middling. But, if Swihart can deliver average performance at catcher, the only real liability will be Sandoval (unless he moves up to, say $12 respectability). The pitching staff is deep and young. Equally scary is that the Sox maintain an outstanding farm system. Despite shipping several prospects out for Kimbrel, the 19-year-old Devers still looms as the 3B of the future and Yoan Moncada will soon succeed Pedroia at 2B. This is a fertile ground for keeper leagues.
The Sox will win the AL East and deliver fantasy dividends. They will require a bit of luck to support their level of talent. But, if the stars align, look out.
(Click the RED link below to listen)
Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly Show: Join Lou Landers and Kyle Amore live on Thursday, February 25th, 2016 from 8-10pm EST for episode #2 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly. We will discuss player positions and help prepare you for the coming draft season. This will run every Thursday as a live broadcast that will take live callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will be discussing the Outfield positions. Our Thursday show will cover the American League OFs from fantasy and MLB perspective. Our Sunday show will tackle the N.L. side of that topic.
Our guests this week are Bryan Luhrs and Hernan Batista. Bryan is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com and the owner of Real Deal Dynasty Sports. Hernan is a verteran owner in our baseball leagues, and he is an excellent researcher of statistics.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts on Sunday, February 28th, 2016 from 7-9pm EST for this week’s episode of the Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show. We are a live call in radio show so we encourage callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will be breaking down the National League outfielders from a fantasy and MLB perspective.
Our guests this week are Kyle Amore and Jesse Ellison. Kyle is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com, former college player, and pro in Italy. He is also the co-host of our Thursday night shows. His articles publish every Tuesday. Jesse is a good child hood friend mine, fantasy baseball fan, and is the owner of Ellison Baseball Instruction which he founded in 2011. I encourage everyone to check out his organization.