The retooled Red Sox are going to be a lot better in 2013 than they were in 2012. That won’t make them contenders unless their starting staff basically finds the fountain of youth and returns to their glory days, or at least find the fountain of control and dominance.
The health of Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury alone would make the team better, but the addition of Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino are icing on the offensive cake. It won’t be good enough to make them a playoff team, but it should make them more competitive as they wait for the missing pieces to come through the farm system.
Here are 10 to watch in 2013.
Mike Napoli (C/1B): Napoli was brought to Boston for one reason: to wield the big stick and to add some power to what was an anemic offense last year. Average wise he’s erratic, but he’s a proven 20-30 home run hitter who should love hitting at Fenway. Eligibility at catcher is one of his biggest assets. With David Ortiz on the DL indefinitely at this point, it’s possible that Napoli could get a chance to DH. Anything that prevents wear and tear is a further positive.
Jacoby Ellsbury (OF): In 2011 Ellsbury hit 32 home runs and stole 39 bases while hitting .321 and establishing himself as a should be elite player. In 2012 the wheels fell off and he managed just .271 with four home runs and just 14 steals. He’ll be 29 as he goes into the season so he should still be in his prime years, but the lack of power numbers last year have me concerned that 30, or even 20, home runs may not be something he can repeat. The speed should still be there. Everything depends on his health though.
Dustin Pedroia (2B): An elite second base option, Pedroia ranks only behind Robinson Cano at the position when he’s healthy. Last year he battled with hand injuries and still posted a 15-20 along with a .290 average. He comes into the season with no ailments that we know of and should be able to better that. Will Middlebrooks (3B): Middlebrooks’ bat pretty much ran Kevin Youkillis out of town last year, by posting a .292 average with 22 home runs, 76 RBIs, and he even threw in six steals to boot. That was amazing considering he only managed 360 ABs before he broke his wrist. It’s fun to imagine that he could have surpassed 30 home runs and 100 RBIs with 500-plus ABs. He’ll get the chance this year, and while 20+ home runs seem like a gimme, I doubt he can repeat the average. .250s seem more like, but heck, with that kind of power I’d be happy to take a .250.
Shane Victorino (OF): The Flying Hawaiian may be on the wrong side of 30 but he’s a useful fantasy commodity due to the nice mixture of teen home run power, good speed and solid average. Fenway should favor his power even more than Citizens Bank Ballpark did and a slight bump to his power numbers could be in order. He’ll also be a nice source of runs scored.
Jon Lester (SP): Lester had a brutal 2012, easily one of the worst seasons in his career. Part of that was definitely bad luck, but part of it may be skill erosion too. He’s entering the years when pitchers typically have their best stuff so a bounceback is definitely in order. How much will depend on if it’s was just bad luck or a failing skill set that drove the ugly 2013. Either way I’d expect a lot better for 2013.
Clay Buchholz (SP): Things have trended very much the wrong way for Buchholz over the last two years, yet if you look just at his second half numbers from 2012, you can see the skills showed a definite rebound -- just one masked by a few disastrous starts. If he can keep the trend alive he could definitely be a pleasant surprise, though not a huge one in 2013.
Joel Hanrahan (CL): Hanrahan didn’t find the AL as much to his liking as the NL following his trade from Pittsburgh to Boston last year. The main culprit was a spike in his walk rate. The damage didn’t look too bad as he posted a 2.72 ERA, but he was very lucky with it. His xERA was a 4.20, 1.5 runs different. He pitches like that again, and he could find himself an ex-closer very quickly.
Andrew Bailey (RP): If Hanrahan fails, Bailey is the guy waiting in the wings, and he might well be the better choice anyway. Of course Bailey hasn’t been healthy enough to log more than 50 innings since 2009. Neither he nor Hanrahan have looked good this spring, but of the two Bailey has looked a lot better. Keep an eye on this situation. It’s very fluid going into opening day.
Stephen Drew (SS): Drew is a placeholder in Fenway, just keeping the SS position warm for the season. However Drew might very well turn out to be a productive fantasy hitter. It wasn’t that long ago that Drew posted .250-15 season on a regular basis. His second half of 2012 (.225-7-28) suggest that the power is still there, and the improvement of that over the first half of last year suggest the average will come along too.