NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox are on the verge of another season, and there are still plenty of questions that need answering as spring training wraps up and the season begins. The offense is expected to outproduce last year’s team by leaps and bounds and could even be the highest scoring offense in the league if things go well. But Boston has an inexperienced (albeit fantastically talented) leadoff hitter in Mookie Betts. Several “wait and see”-type players (Hanley Ramirez, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Pablo Sandoval, among others) are expected to make big contributions this year. And the pitching, from the starting rotation to the end of the bullpen, is one big question mark.

Mookie Betts is an intriguing player. As a fifth-round pick in the 2011 Amateur Draft, Betts rocketed through the minor league system. Although he is a natural second baseman, he proved versatile enough to play pretty much every position on the field. And he proved he could hit.

Betts made his MLB debut on June 29, 2014 against the New York Yankees. He came up and played 52 games for Boston last year, and those games turned out to be his first interview for the big league club.

He hit .291 with five home runs and 19 RBI in his 52 games, which is very impressive for a 21-year old kid fresh out of the minors. But he really showed his value in the field. Betts made a seamless transition to centerfield and actually had a .989 fielding percentage in the outfield in 2014.

The solid performance earned him a spring training invitation in 2015. In 17 games this spring, Betts hit an eye-popping .451 with eight doubles, two triples and two home runs, as well as only six strikeouts. He showed off his speed with seven stolen bases and an improbable inside-the-park home run. All the tools a good leadoff hitter needs to have.

But the fact remains that he is a 22-year old rookie hitting leadoff for one of the marquee franchises in baseball. While most fully expect him to be able to handle the pressure, it is uncertain for now how he will respond.

Provided Betts does even an adequate job in the leadoff spot, there is still some uncertainty about hitters two through nine in the lineup. While these are all great players, there are legitimate questions about each player individually. Pedroia is coming back from offseason wrist surgery and a poor statistical season in 2014. Ortiz is 39 years old. Ramirez and Sandoval, the new additions to the team, have some questions about availability and durability. Mike Napoli looked great this spring after getting serious sleep-apnea surgery, but he was also hurt for a stretch last year. Xander Bogaerts, last year’s “can’t miss” prospect, will try to rebound in 2015 after “missing” for the most part in his rookie year.

Which brings us to pitching. Last year’s trade deadline saw the Red Sox trade away their top two starters, Jon Lester and John Lackey. That leaves perennial number-three starter Clay Buchholtz as the front of the rotation guy, which is unnerving for any Red Sox fan. There is a ton of new talent on the team, with three of the remaining four starters coming in from new teams. Rick Porcello came from the Detroit Tigers, Wade Miley from Arizona and Justin Masterson coming from Cleveland. The entire starting five is full of guys with plenty of potential, but potential might not be enough if you’re trying to win games now.

The same is the case for the bullpen. There are several new faces, and there are several players who have found themselves in different roles than on previous teams. Koji Uehara, last year’s closer, will start the season on the disabled list. This moves everyone up a spot, and puts more pressure on the bullpen as a whole. And if the bullpen can’t handle themselves, it will put more pressure on the rotation to be outstanding.

All this being said, it is a long season. There are 161 more games to be played, and a lot of things are going to happen. If everything goes right for this team, they will be one of the highest scoring teams in baseball and could win 92-95 games. If things don’t go so well, they could be looking at another 80 or so-win season.

And that just won’t cut it.

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