It’s officially time to leave 2018 in the rearview mirror, as with the start of Spring Training comes the beginning of the 2019 baseball season.
Aside from Opening Day, Spring Training might be the only time during the season where fans of all 30 teams can at least shoot for the stars and have high hopes that this year can bring a World Series title to their city.
Last year it was the Boston Red Sox that raised that trophy in the air. However, they enter 2019 with some question marks.
What’s the story with Chris Sale’s shoulder? Can Nathan Eovaldi be counted on to stay healthy for a full season? Will Dustin Pedroia be able to regain his form of a few seasons ago? And lastly, who is going to be the Red Sox closer on Opening Day in Seattle?
With the newfound theme of Dave Dombrowski’s player management style being the minor league contract, Boston has brought in a handful of players who have had major league success in the past –– guys who could potentially win roster spots over some of the bubble players on MLB deals.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at some bold predictions for the Boston Red Sox in Spring Training of 2019.
Jackie Bradley Jr. leads the Grapefruit League in hitting
Everyone has commented on Jackie Bradley Jr.’s offense at some point over the course of this winter. Whether that be Dave Dombrowski, J.D. Martinez, or Bradley himself, a typically defensive-minded guy was receiving some praise on his offensive prowess. Apparently, in working with J.D. Martinez, Bradley Jr. was able to tinker with some of the flaws in his approach –– which paid immediate dividends in the second half of 2018.
According to Bradley Jr., he found out he had been receiving bad coaching in regards to his approach and swing, and Martinez was able to help him fix that. All in all, look for the USC product to have a big spring.
Jenrry Mejia wins the job as Red Sox closer
It’s no mystery that the Red Sox bullpen will be a major cause for questioning this spring. With Craig Kimbrel still awaiting work for 2019 and beyond, the Red Sox have made it fairly clear that they do not intend on spending big money to address the closing situation.
While Dave Dombrowski did say he has the utmost confidence in Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier to fill that role, neither of them has any closing experience at the MLB level. Mejia does, albeit just 28 saves in his career, but he still has the most of anyone on staff. It’s going to take a lot of work for Mejia to make the MLB roster, but it’s certainly not impossible.
Heath Hembree cut, replaced by Zach Putnam
Hembree has had a very interesting career in Boston thus far. Even with his 3.59 career ERA in four seasons with the Red Sox, it’s safe to say that he won’t be considered a crucial piece to the 2019 bullpen. In 2018, Hembree struggled most of the time but was ironically clutch when entering with runners on base. That being said, despite all the injuries Zach Putnam has suffered, he still has better stuff than Hembree does. Look for that to hold true in Spring Training.
Michael Chavis makes the Opening Day roster
The Red Sox have just one prospect in the top 100 as we enter Spring Training. That one man is a Sprayberry High School alumni who was taken 24th overall by the Red Sox in 2014: Michael Chavis. The 23-year-old was suspended for much of the 2018 season due to performance-enhancing drugs but still rounded out the season with an impressive slash line of .298/.381/.538. Chavis has been working on his versatility in the offseason as well, getting reps at both second base and in left field.
That newfound versatility could garner him a roster spot as both Dustin Pedroia’s backup and the fourth outfielder. Known more for his bat than his glove, look for the Georgia native to showcase some of that power that landed him a 31-homer season in 2017.
Blake Swihart emerges as Opening Day catcher
People criticized Blake Swihart aplenty in 2018 for not taking advantage of the opportunities laid in front of him. While early on in the season, those criticisms could be considered true, that didn’t hold up throughout. When Christian Vazquez broke his finger in early July, Swihart saw an extended opportunity he hadn’t gotten since 2016.
He didn’t let it go to waste, hitting .284 with six doubles and nine RBI in that 23-game stretch. Dombrowski wants to move a catcher this spring, and it would be foolish to part with the best offensive weapon at the position. Look for Swihart to really have a big spring and win that spot.
Dave Dombrowski makes another trade
Excluding the trade that’ll likely just be a dump of one of the catchers on the roster, expect Dave Dombrowski to try and make some sort of move this spring. With Boston in search of a formidable closer and a surplus of high salary contracts, Dombrowski should take advantage and make another move. It doesn’t necessarily have to be earth-shattering, but look for there to be a trade of some sorts that involves the Boston Red Sox at some point in March.