The Boston Red Sox have experienced massive turnover amongst their position players over the last year. No more Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Mike Aviles or Cody Ross. They will be replaced by a combination of free-agent signees and internal prospects, and the organization hopes the new faces will help the offense improve from last season’s mediocre output. Boston finished with a 12th-ranked .316 wOBA and a 94 wRC+.
For fantasy owners, the trick will not only be assessing whether the Red Sox will ultimately improve with the bats, but also who projects to get early playing time. David Ortiz is doubtful for the start of the season with Achilles / leg problems, while Stephen Drew may begin the year on the disabled list due to concussion symptoms.
Ortiz was Boston’s best hitter in 2012 before an Achilles injury cut his season short, hitting .318/.415/.611 with 23 home runs and more walks than strikeouts. Owners should be cautious since he’s now 37 years old and struggling with what could become nagging injuries, but being a designated hitter should lessen those concerns some. Whenever he returns to the middle of the Red Sox lineup, he’ll continue to get the vast majority of available plate appearances and more than likely continue to rake.
The injury sidelining Stephen Drew, however, is more concerning. Concussions are not understood as well as they probably should be, and the symptoms can linger for longer than expected. Justin Morneau is perhaps the best example of that in recent years. Drew currently has no timetable for his return, though a recent visit to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center last week suggested his return may be hastened in the coming weeks.
With Drew likely beginning the season on the DL, Boston will turn to Jose Iglesias. He’s only 23 years old, but the hype surrounding the former top prospect has cooled dramatically over the last couple seasons. He only hit .266/.318/.306 with a .290 wOBA in his second stint in Triple-A last year. It’s becoming more apparent that his bat simply won’t play in fantasy formats, no matter how many plate appearances he may get because of his slick fielding. Even AL-only leagues should avoid Iglesias.
Elsewhere around the diamond, Jarrod Saltalamacchia will look to build upon a season in which he proved to be an elite power option at the catcher position. He compiled a career-high 25 home runs and had a .232 ISO in 448 plate appearances. The power is certainly nice, but he doesn’t offer much else. He’s a career .239 hitter, only scored 55 runs last season and doesn’t have a lick of useable speed on the basepaths. And with David Ross now in the mix at catcher, Salty could begin to see his plate appearances dwindle.
Boston also brought in Mike Napoli, and while he could steal a handful of starts away from Saltalamacchia at catcher, his primary position will be first base. He saw his production slip last season, as his strikeout rate ballooned to 30.0% and his swinging-strike rate jumped from 10.1% in 2011 to 11.5% in 2012. He will provide prodigious power numbers — especially in Fenway Park, one would think — but his ultimate value will be determined by his batting average and his ability to stay on the field. It was revealed this winter that Napoli has avascular necrosis in both hips, and it’s unclear how that will affect his potential playing time. Keep in mind he’s only eclipsed 500 plate appearances once in his career.
If Napoli cannot go 500+ plate appearances in 2013, expect Daniel Nava to see increased playing time. He posted a .354 wOBA against right-handed hitters last season and could see some spot starts against them if Boston begins to search for opportunities to rest Napoli. At this point, though, Nava isn’t worth selecting on draft day. Simply monitor him on the waiver wire.
The recently-acquired Mike Carp could also see some time at first base, though he only managed a .293 wOBA last year and would need to show some evidence of a return to his 2011 numbers before he’s worth owning.
Moving over to second base, the Red Sox have stability in Dustin Pedroia. He dealt with a thumb injury in the first-half of the 2012 season, but torched the American League with a .318/.372/.508 slash line with nine home runs and 14 stolen bases. He will turn 30 this season and should be a good bet for 600+ plate appearances once again, as he’s done in four of the past five seasons.
The real intriguing position for Boston is third base, where 24-year-old Will Middlebrooks will have the everyday role. Middlebrooks has been a popular name on many breakout player lists this spring, and it’s not difficult to see why. He launched 15 home runs in fewer than 300 plate appearances last year and hit .288 in his big-league debut. The walk rate is obviously a concern, but Steamer still projects him to hit .271 with 20 home runs. In the later rounds, that’s a potential steal.
EARLY DEPTH CHART
Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia / David Ross
First Base: Mike Napoli / Daniel Nava / Mike Carp
Second Base: Dustin Pedroia / Pedro Ciriaco
Shortstop: Jose Iglesias / Stephen Drew / Pedro Ciriaco
Third Base: Will Middlebrooks / Pedro Ciriaco