Mookie Betts, Chris Sale and the Boston Red Sox Are Looking for a Repeat

The world champions return after one of the best seasons in franchise history. Are Mookie Betts and the Red Sox equipped to repeat?
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2018 finish: 108-54, won World Series in five games over Dodgers

SI's 2019 prediction: 96-66, Second in AL East

Key additions: Re-signed SP Nathan Eovaldi, RP Carson Smith, 1B Steve Pearce, INF Eduardo Nuñez

Key departures: Closer Craig Kimbrel, RP Joe Kelly, 2B Ian Kinsler, SP Drew Pomeranz

Projected Lineup

1. LF Andrew Benintendi

2. RF Mookie Betts

3. DH J.D. Martinez

4. SS Xander Bogaerts

5. 1B Mitch Moreland

6. 2B Dustin Pedroia

7. 3B Rafael Devers

8. C Christian Vázquez

9. CF Jackie Bradley, Jr.


C Sandy León

1B/OF Steve Pearce

INF Eduardo Nuñez

INF/OF Brock Holt

Projected Rotation

1. LHP Chris Sale

2. LHP David Price

3. RHP Rick Porcello

4. LHP Eduardo Rodríguez

5. RHP Nathan Eovaldi


RHP Ryan Brasier (closer)

RHP Matt Barnes (closer)

RHP Heath Hembree

RHP Tyler Thornburg

RHP Brandon Workman

LHP Brian Johnson

RHP Hector Velázquez

Movin’ On Up! Rafael Devers’s first full season in the majors had plenty of rough patches. The young third baseman logged a pedestrian 94 OPS+ after struggling to draw walks and hit lefties. But Devers is just freshly 22 and already shown big-league patience, power (21 HRs in 2018) and an improved ability to hit southpaws. He’ll likely master all of these traits by the time he’s old enough to rent a car.   

Sell!: Dustin Pedroia has finally made a return to gameplay in spring training—a good sign, after a knee injury kept him out for a chunk of 2017 and essentially all of 2018. Even if he manages to stay healthy for 2019, though, Pedroia is still a 35-year-old whose comeback attempt looks like a uphill battle.

Appreciate This Man! It’s hard to stand out on a club so studded with stars; Jackie Bradley, Jr. might not do so even if he was able to consistently hit like he did during his breakout 2016 season. But the centerfielder is worth your attention for his defense alone. The human highlight reel regularly manages not only to make some seemingly impossible acrobatic catches, but to make them look smooth.

A Modest Proposal From Joe Sheehan:  Last year, Xander Bogaerts broke out with a .288/.360/.522 season. This year, look 40 feet to Bogaerts’s right for the next young Red Sox star. Devers was disappointing in 2017, posting a .298 OBP and playing poor defense at third base. Eduardo Nunez, no glove man himself, was chipping away at Devers’s playing time in the second half. Still, Devers is just 22, younger than almost every player who got Rookie of the Year votes in the AL last season. When he hit the ball in the air, he averaged an exit velocity of 95.4 mph on his line drives and fly balls, in the top 50 among all hitters. His strikeout rate of 25% is just barely above average in today’s game, and his walk rate of 6.6% is good for a player in his age-21 season. Devers will take a big step forward in 2019. 

MLB.TV Rating: 9.1  

They're the eigning World Series champions featuring Chris Sale’s slider, J.D. Martinez’s dingers and Mookie Betts’ everything? Yeah. (Now included: Heightened drama in the later innings, courtesy of a bullpen that lost Craig Kimbrel and does not look fit for a team of this caliber.)

Keep an Eye Out for… Michael Chavis, one of the organization’s top prospects, should be up this year at first or third, with the potential for plenty of power and plenty of strikeouts. In the bullpen, Jenrry Mejia’s “lifetime ban” from baseball has been lifted, and after three full years away, he’s doing his best to secure a spot in the relief corps. And elsewhere on the pitching staff, it sure doesn’t seem likely that Carson Smith will be healthy, given his track record, but if he is, there’s still enough here to make him intriguing.

Scout’s Takes

A rival scout analyzes the 2019 Boston Red Sox

What is the key question surrounding this team in 2019?

Who’s gonna pitch the ninth? I think Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes are co-favorites here. Stuff-wise, it probably should be Barnes, but both are similar guys: They throw hard and have good offspeed but are unproven. Do they go out and spend a lot of money and re-sign Craig Kimbrel? If they did, they’d probably be the favorites in the league again, but it’s a lot of money.

Who is the most overrated player on the team?

I don’t think they have one.

Who is the most underrated player on the team?

Brock Holt’s a good player. Other people look at him and see a utility guy. He’s better than that. He’d be a starting second baseman for most clubs. He can hit good pitchers. He uses the whole field. He understands what pitchers are trying to do with him.

What young player(s) is/are on the cusp of stardom?

Rafael Devers is a good hitter. He’s got power. He has to improve his footwork at third base. His hands are okay and he can get to most things.

What young player(s) is/are the biggest bust candidate(s)?

Christian Vázquez really hasn’t made any offensive strides at all. He’s always been a good defender, but he never got better offensively. He doesn’t make enough contact and is easy to beat: just locate fastballs and throw him breaking stuff.

Who gets the most out of his talent?

The outfield as a group. They work hard at their craft. They’re outstanding defenders, especially in Fenway, where it’s very tough to play. J.D. Martinez plays it like Mike Greenwell used to—he’s out there and does what he can, but he’s not really a great outfielder—but the other three have basically got the whole thing covered.

Who has the nastiest stuff on the team?

Nathan Eovaldi’s gas sets everything else up. Chris Sale’s slider is incredible. It grinds like Steve Carlton’s used to grind, like Randy Johnson’s. It just keeps coming. It grinds right into the back foot of righthanders.

Who has the best baseball instincts/IQ?

Dustin Pedroia, but he’s just starting back to playing. They’ll ramp him up a little bit. He’s an absolute tiger.

Whose batting practice makes your jaw drop?

Jackie Bradley Jr.’s, because nobody expects it. It’s not because he hits it longer than anybody, it’s because he’s not supposed to be a power guy and he just mashes.

Name two guys on this team that you would immediately trade for.

Mookie Betts and Sale. Mookie is obvious: He works hard, he’s a great talent, an all-around player, a clubhouse guy. I have concerns that they’re not going to keep him. They’ll offer him a ton and a half and he might take the money. Sale has electric stuff and electric commitment to his craft. He wears down a little bit, though.  

Who do you want at-bat or on the mound in a season-defining moment?

Mookie steps up.

Who don’t you want in that situation?

Right now, Rafael Devers, because he expands the zone, but he’s going to get better. Going into last year it would definitely have been David Price, but he stepped up a little bit this year.

Which under-the-radar prospect/non-roster invitee could make a splash this season?

Darwinzon Hernandez. He’s got some kind of arm, it's electric, but he’s a puppy. Right now the only thing he can command is his fastball.He needs a lot of work, but it’s in there, boy.

Is the current manager one that you would hire to run your club?

I give Alex Cora all the credit. He’d be at the top of the list. He’s been there. He’s played in the big leagues. He was not a great player himself, but he understands how to handle all kinds of guys. He’s got a great feel for the ebb and flow of the clubhouse. In tough situations, Alex is never frantic.

What is the ceiling for the team this year? What about the next three years?

Win the whole thing. It’s gonna depend on what they do in the ninth inning. If this were a seven-inning game, they’d win it again, but they have to figure out the eighth and ninth innings. Kimbrel is a huge loss, but Joe Kelly put up a lot of important innings for this club, too.

Emptying the notebook:

The core of the team is the outfield, obviously. Mookie Betts is probably the best player in the league. Jackie Bradley Jr. doesn’t hit a lot of home runs, but has big power. He’s a little like Ichiro — Ichiro could have hit 35 home runs a year if he wanted to, but then couldn’t hit .350. ... J.D. Martinez had an unbelievable year last season. He can really hit. He has big power. He’s a perfect AL player, and he’s perfect in that park. J.D. gets a lot out of what he can do because his film study is outstanding. You can pitch to him, but you better get the pitch where you want it, because if you don’t, he’s gonna hurt you over the fence. ... I’m a big fan of Eduardo Nuñez. He knows how to win games. His numbers are never great, but he’s an ideal utility guy. He knows his role, he can play a number of positions. He’s what a winning team has to have on their bench.