Looking over ESPN’s top ten prospects for the Red Sox, I fail to see a power hitter. After David Ortiz and Yoenis Cespedes, there’s not much power in the current line-up either. Whatever else happens in the Winter, the Red Sox will need to trade for a power hitter with some credibility.
Not Mike Napoli or Will Middlebrooks. Both have extended their medical benefits to their limits this year, and they are not consistent enough to make pitchers consider walking them. They both like to swing hard late in the count. Middlebrooks is not even a proven Major Leaguer. He is the lad of eternal promise, but now of broken promises. Napoli has been plagued with injuries, but he never gives you a full season of hitting. He goes on a bender for two months when he can’t hit anything. Since he can’t get out of his slump without playing, he has to take quite a few big swings before starting to connect again.
The Sox now have incredibly agile outfielders, who will fill the gaps and keep base runners honest. But Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino and Mookie Betts will not be clearing the bases with regularity. On base they will terrify, but someone has to drive them in. Daniel Nava? He is a steady performer, but not the power threat they need.
Comparisons are odious, but the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Angels have power up and down their line-ups. They don’t always need a rally to score runs– just a sold connection. If a pitcher puts two men on in the late innings, it is too easy to bring in flame-throwing relief before the third hitter gets to drive them in. Teams with power can get the rally started before that happens. The Yankees did not have healthy power hitters this year. The result speaks for itself.
If the pendulum in baseball has again swung toward pitching, then the selective power hitter is one answer to that. A pitcher has only to make one mistake to lose to a power hitter. With the short game, two or three bad pitches may not hurt you. How many double plays did the Red Sox hit into this year?
For Christmas this year, I would like a power-hitting first baseman.
It’s a no-brainer that you need hitters who can drive in runs, but that is exactly what the Red Sox lacked this year. Forget the low team batting average and the spotty pitching out of the bullpen. It all turns on driving runs in after the table is set.
Yoenis Cespedes is batting .421 (16-for-38) with runners in scoring position. That’s changed the offense significantly in the last month, even given David Ortiz pitches to hit. There is hope that if one of those guys get to bat with runners in scoring position, something good will happen. Dustin Pedroia can be that kind of hitter when he is well. So is Shane Victorino. After that, no one.
But the Red Sox are now a young, developing team, and we may be able to say that about Xander Bogarts and Mookie Betts and Brock Holt in the future. They are talented young hitters who need some coaching and practice in situational hitting, but they all have the eye for it.
But batting average and power are not enough to score runs and win games. You have to hit when it counts. I question whether Mike Napoli and Daniel Nava and Will Middlebrooks have that skill. They’ll swing at bad pitches even with runners in scoring position. They may hit for average or power, but they are not reliable with RISP. They get desperate and look bad on the low outside or the high inside pitch. Not sure what their future is with the Red Sox, even though I like their desire and intensity.
How do you get that RISP hitting efficiency? I have no idea, but I wish Greg Colbrunn could bring these young players along. I don’t hear anyone giving him credit, so I question whether he is helping in this regard. It seems to me this is a skill that can be taught, even if some players like Cespedes seem to have it innately.
Everything else except starting pitching can be mediocre if you can hit RISP. The Red Sox have been great when they could and awful when they couldn’t. It was probably obvious, but it had to be said.
The jury is still out, but the moves Ben Cherrington made in the July 31 “fire sale” are looking good. If two players can change the momentum of a team, Yoenis Cespedes and Joe Kelly have done it. Allen Craig remains a mixed blessing on the disabled list, but he showed every promise of a consistent hitter in his few appearances.
Cespedes drove in the winning runs in three consecutive games, the Sunday game in Los Angeles and the the two games in Cincinnati. Clearly those games would have been lost without Cespedes, because no other team mates were producing in those low-scoring affairs. Meanwhile Big Papi has now seen better pitches with Cespedes batting behind him. They are becoming another Ortiz-Ramirez duo, this time with Ortiz the primary beneficiary.
Joe Kelly has pitched effectively into the seventh inning of both starts since the trade. He looks like a No. 2 pitcher in the rotation, a comparable to John Lackey. The Cardinals will get their money’s worth out of Lackey if they get into the post-season, but with Allen Craig thrown into this deal, the Red Sox have the potential advantage from the trade.
Kelly is also a complete athlete, fielding, running, even hitting. This could mean durability as a starter as well. He won’t be stumbling off the mound when it comes to fielding a bunt or a squibber. He looks like a good mentor to the younger pitchers, if only because he works fast and throws strikes. Pitchers like Allen Webster and Rubby DeLaRosa could follow his example.
We know Allen Craig can hit good pitching from the World Series. That is what the Red Sox will need to compete with the upper division teams in the future. If he can stay healthy, he will make the 3-4-5 positions in the line-up a force to be reckoned with. That is a big “if,” but considering Joe Kelly’s value in the trade, Craig becomes a bonus.
Probably the Red Sox are also better in August because Pedroia and Nava are starting to hit and Bucholz is finding the plate again. You could also point to the blossoming of DeLaRosa and even Webster, but all of these individuals needed some catalysts in the line-up to make the difference. Yoenis Cespedes and Joe Kelly have made that difference.
So, cheers for Cherrington!