Fantasy baseball 2014 team previews: Boston Red Sox
Not many things went wrong for the 2013 Boston Red Sox. After a last-place finish in the AL East in 2012, Boston took back the division crown with authority and went on to win its third World Series in a decade. There were stars aplenty covering many fantasy aspects, from speed to power to rotation to relievers.
David Ortiz shook off an injury-laden 2012 to hit 30 home runs and knock in 103 RBI -- the most since the last Red Sox championship in 2007. Jacoby Ellsbury put a horrible 2012 season behind him (after an other-worldly 2011), and hit close to .300 as Boston's leadoff man in his contract year.
John Lackey, who lost 2012 to Tommy John surgery, posted his best season since signing a big contract with the Red Sox before the 2010 season. It should have been no surprise to see Jon Lester rebound as well, as his former pitching coach, John Farrell, was now his manager. His 3.76 ERA was a full run lower than his 2012 effort. Clay Buchholz had an ERA north of 4.50 in 2012, then battled through injuries again to go 12-1 with a 1.75 ERA last season.
Even when things went wrong, they still went right. Injuries to Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan forced Boston to use Uehara in the closer's role in late July. His 0.565 WHIP for the season was the lowest in MLB history for someone with at least 50 innings pitched.
This season, however, looks a little different -- at the plate, at least.
Ellsbury took his talents to South Bronx, leaving center field at Fenway Park for rookie Jackie Bradley. It also looks like Ellsbury's former spot atop the lineup will be taken over by Victorino, with underrated Daniel Nava batting second.
A.J. Pierzynski also comes to Fenway and replaces Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate. The veteran backstop shouldn't have many problems handling the pitching staff or Pesky's Pole in right field.
While the Red Sox were one of the best hitting teams in the majors last season, they also happened to be one of the better pitching teams in the American League as well. The rotation returns, and they now go six deep, so that should be a strength position once again. While none of their starting pitchers will be among the top 25 on Draft Day, four will be drafted before all teams are filled.
MORE TEAM PREVIEWS:
1. Shane Victorino, RF
2. Daniel Nava, LF
3. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
4. David Ortiz, DH
5. Mike Napoli, 1B
6. Xander Bogaerts, SS
7. A.J. Pierzynski, C
8. Will Middlebrooks,3B
9. Jackie Bradley, CF
1. Jon Lester
2. John Lackey
3. Clay Buccholz
4. Jake Peavy
5. Ryan Dempster
Others: Felix Doubront
Bullpen: Koji Uehara (Closer), Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa
• What can we expect from the two rookies expected to hit in Boston's lineup now? Bradley and SS Xander Bogaerts step into a lineup that scored more runs than any other team last year. Boston also had more extra-base hits than any other team, and their team OPS of .795 blew away every other team but Detroit (.780).
This offense is built on patience at the plate, with the table-setters dragging out pitch counts, getting on base and allowing the sluggers to do what they do best -- knock in runs.
Bogaerts and Bradley will hit in the back end of the lineup, for now. Neither rookie has a ton of speed, but they're both adept at getting on base.
Early in his career, Bogaerts had trouble with plate discipline, but he worked hard on that area last offseason, and he ended up with a .388 OBP in the high minors before getting called up. It would not be surprising to see him move up in the order as injuries befall the aging Red Sox in front of him. He could also gain some third-base eligibility by season's end. He's the early favorite for AL Rookie of the Year, and his final stat line will be in the ballpark of .268-68-14-70-7. To put that in perspective, there were just five shortstops to hit more than 15 homers last season or drive in 70 RBI.
Bradley will be a player you grab as your final mixed-league outfielder on a whim -- and never cut. It's not like he'll be an All-Star, but he should produce enough in this offense to make him a Fantasy asset, with totals nearing .265-65-13-55-10, with over 500 at-bats.
The one stickler in all of this is that the Red Sox signed Grady Sizemore in the offseason. If Bradley stumbles out of the gate and Sizemore shows he has his batting eye back after missing all of 2012 and 2013, then the veteran could roam Conig's Corner in center field at Fenway.
• Can Koji-mania continue? Since Jonathan Papelbon moved to Philadelphia, the Red Sox have had tons of problems in the back of their bullpen. Things seemed to settle down when Uehara, a former Rangers reliever, took over the ninth inning. He retired 37 consecutive batters at one point, finishing four batters short of Bobby Jenks' MLB record.
But how many times have we seen a successful closer come apart in his second season?
On top of that, Uehara threw over 74 innings last season, doubling his 2012 output. He has had a long history of injuries, as well, and he'll turn 39 in the first week of the regular season.
Dial back on your hopes of a sequel from Uehara, and think of him as a closer outside the top 10, just to avoid risk. If you invest too highly, Kojimania could end up more like "Koji-meh-nia."
• Are there more prospects ready to step in as some of the aging guys fall apart? The Red Sox have been excellent at keeping their minor-league system stocked through their years of winning on the field -- whether those players end up being replacements, like Bogaerts, Ellsbury or Lester, or trade parts to acquire veteran talent, like Hanley Ramirez, Anthony Rizzo, Anibal Sanchez or Justin Masterson.
Brandon Workman could be the first starting pitcher to get the call if a couple starters get hurt. He'd likely be followed by Allen Webster. Workman looked good out of the bullpen late last season, and he might work as their long reliever again in 2014.
Baseball America has Webster as the team's fourth-best prospect, but its top right-hand pitcher. The 24-year-old needs some seasoning, but he's also someone to snatch up if he ends up getting more than one or two starts in the majors.
Finally, Henry Owens is who you'll want to keep an eye out for, as the 6-foot-7 lefty is expected to start the season at Double-A Portland. As a strikeout pitcher, he could be a nice boon for any fantasy team later this season -- including daily fantasy players if he comes up for spot starts once in a while.
Daniel Nava: Nava might end up working in a platoon situation, but he'll still get the bulk of at-bats in left. He's a terror against right-handed pitching, batting .322, with an .895 OPS in 339 at-bats. But if he can improve against lefties (he's a switch-hitter), he could get fulltime at-bats in the two-hole, with plenty of fastballs to hit and plenty of chances to score. Since he's not a speed demon or a huge power guy, he might get overlooked by many fantasy owners.
David Ortiz: Every year, Big Papi gets picked as a possible bust, as his age advances and the power era of the 2000s fades away (wink-wink). But David Ortiz has three consecutive seasons with an OPS over .950, and he's coming off a .309-30-103 season. Despite the fact he makes critics eat their words, he's still a big bust candidate. Jim Thome's age-38 season was the beginning of the end, also.
Will Middlebrooks: After struggling mightily last season, Middlebrooks was sent down to the minors to work on his swing. Once he returned, he hit .276 with eight homers and 24 RBI in 41 games. It's not uncommon to see a player coming off a wrist injury, like he had in 2012, have a slow season at the plate. What's great is most of your leaguemates will remember the early part of 2013, when he stunk. By the time he came back up in August, your competition was thinking about tailbacks and tight ends. Grab him as a corner infielder late in your draft and don't think twice.
AL-Only Guys to Know
Ryan Dempster: The former Cubs right-hander struggled at times last season, but he should enter 2014 with a rotation spot. He'll get a ton of run support, so if he can keep a lead, he should supply AL-only owners with some wins. But if he can't ...
Felix Doubront: The lefty will most likely end up in the rotation by midseason, if he doesn't beat out Dempster in the spring. But with Dempster, Jake Peavy, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey ahead of him -- he's bound to replace a DL-bound pitcher at some point.
Grady Sizemore: The outfielder is worth rolling the dice on in AL-only play because he has leadoff experience, and if his knee and back problems are behind him, he'll get at-bats if Bradley falters.