The Boston Red Sox are looking to defend their title in 2014 and for a team that just won the World Series, they come into Spring Training with a fair amount of questions. The biggest of which seems to be what should they do with left side of their infield? As of right now, the Red Sox appear to be comfortable going into this season with Will Middlebrooks at third base and Xander Bogaerts at shortstop. There is significant risk in this scenario, especially considering that if either of the two struggle, Jonathan Herrera, acquired from Colorado for Franklin Morales earlier in the offseason, is tabbed as the current utility man. He is know more for his glove, since his offensive numbers are subpar and not suited for a starting role.
In the case of Will Middlebrooks, his first two seasons have been night and day. His rookie campaign, in which he essentially ran Kevin Youkilis out of town, gave Red Sox fans something to look forward each game in the disastrous 2012 season. Middlebrooks not only hit well, putting up a .288 average, but also showed significant power delivering 15 home runs in 75 games, before his season was cut short after getting hit by a pitch on the wrist. He returned for the start of the 2013 having sole possession of third base, but struggled out of the gate. Other than a three home run game against Toronto, Middlebrooks’ month of April was very frustrating and he finished the month hitting a weak .194. May and June didn’t go too much better and he ended up getting sent down to AAA Pawtucket until getting the call back up early in August. He showed somewhat of a mixed bag from there to the end of the season, with a very good month of August, but struggling again in September. He didn’t hit great in the playoffs and lost his starting spot to Xander Bogaerts at the end of the ALCS and didn’t see any action until the famous “Obstruction Game 3″ of the World Series. The big question for 2014 is which Will will we see this season. 2012 Will, who was looked capable of holding down the hot corner for the foreseeable future at Fenway? Or 2013 Will, who was up and down the entire year and looked very overwhelmed at the plate.
Xander Bogaerts will get every opportunity to prove that he is the franchise shortstop, until he shows that he isn’t quite ready to handle the job just yet. This isn’t to say that Bogaerts will get traded, rather he may see a short stint at AAA if he can’t keep up with major league pitching. He has already become a fan favorite, which is a combination of the unavoidable hype and his impressive playoff performance helping the Red Sox en route to their 2013 title. Still, it is tough to remember that Bogaerts is in fact a rookie and could struggle just as Jackie Bradley Jr. did last year. Another difficulty with Bogaerts is that he has a big frame at 6’3” 185lb that is only going to grow as he matures. This should be good for his offensive output, especially considered the lowered offensive expectations for shortstops, but at the same time, he may become too big and not have the range that many coaches prefer their shortstops to have. Again, Bogaerts will get the opportunities to start at shortstop and show the coaching staff that he can indeed handle the position, until he proves them wrong, but for now Bogaerts projects to put an end to the revolving door at shortstop.
So, what’s the solution? Well, right now the Red Sox don’t need one, since there is no problem yet. GM Ben Cherington is slowly starting to integrate their minor league prospects into Boston’s major league system and the idea is to give these young studs a chance. A contingency plan that has been discussed internally is bringing back Stephen Drew, who played excellent defensively last year and gives the Red Sox a lefty bat on the left side. The hesitation with signing him is he has Scott Boras as his agent, who always seems to find a lucrative deal for his clients and they have set a price and don’t plan to settle for much less. Along with that, is Drew turned down a qualifying offer from the Red Sox, which means that if he is signed by another team, the Red Sox gain a first round draft pick, which they covet given their philosophy shift from big money free agents to short term deals and using the prospects in their minor league system. Drew would prove to be an excellent backup plan if he is brought back on the Red Sox’s terms, but until Middlebrooks and Bogaerts show that they aren’t quite ready to handle the majors full time, they are projected to be the starting left side on Opening Day. So, should the Red Sox give them a chance or go out a sign another player as backup.