Spring Training is here, and you all know what that means…it is baseball season once again. What a wonderful time of the year! I’ve heard of Christmas in July, but never in March. One of the biggest questions coming into the 2016 season is whether or not the Boston Red Sox are going to keep up their streak of mediocrity, or become contenders in a very competitive AL East. The additions of David Price and Craig Kimbrel garnered most of the headlines during the off-season. Unfortunately, two players aren’t going to win you a World Series championship. Championship teams are not always built around big name players, sometimes the little guys need recognition, too. Therefore, I have created a top 5 list of under-the-radar Boston Red Sox players that I believe could be very influential in taking this team to the next level.
#5 Joe Kelly
Joe. Joe. Joe. Where do I begin with you? Mr. Kelly has been the bane of my existence since he first suited up for the Red Sox in 2014. This kid is only 27 years old and can touch 95 MPH with his fastball consistently. He has some filthy stuff, but has struggled tremendously to perform under the bright lights in Boston. When the Red Sox acquired Joe Kelly in 2014 from the St. Louis Cardinals, the little Red Sox fanatic in me was jumping for joy. In two and a half seasons with the Cardinals, he posted an ERA of 3.25. Kelly showed that he had the potential to become a consistent major league pitcher. Once he stepped onto the field for the Sox, it seemed like he forgot how to throw a baseball. In two seasons with the Red Sox, his ERA jumped to 4.60. But there is some hope. At points last season, he showed glimpses of his old self. After starting off the season going 2-6, he ended the year recording 8 straight wins. If the Red Sox want to make it far into August with a hope to make the playoffs, then they will need Kelly to continue how he performed in the second half of the season last year. Joe Kelly has frustrated me with his inconsistent play, but I believe that 2016 is the year that he shows Red Sox nation what he can bring to the table.
#4 Chris Young
David Price and Craig Kimbrel were the big signings for the Sox during the offseason. One signing that I believe went under the radar was the acquisition of Chris Young. Young is a 32 year old veteran outfielder, who will most likely be coming off the bench for the Bo-Sox in 2016. Young has always been a serviceable player in the Major Leagues. His low risk, high reward style of play is something that the Red Sox should value greatly. Young typically hits for a mediocre average, hovering around .230 to .240. Although he might not hit above his weight, his true value comes against left handed pitchers. In 2015, Young hit an astonishing .327 against lefties while hitting a laughable .182 against righties. I assume Young will be replacing Jackie Bradley Jr. when there’s a tough lefty on the bump. I hope and pray that Red Sox manager John Farrell realizes what he has with Chris Young because I believe that his bat can leave a major impact on this Sox lineup.
#3 Carson Smith
Carson who? Yeah Red Sox nation, his name is Carson Smith and he is going to be one of the most valuable players for the Red Sox; I guarantee it. Smith is an extremely intimidating presence on the mound. His 6 foot 6 inch frame makes him an ideal pitcher coming out of the pen. The Red Sox saw Smith’s value when they traded away Wade Miley and Jonathon Aro to acquire him this off-season. The 26 year old fire-baller played one full year with the Seattle Mariners, where he had a 2.31 ERA and a WHIP of 1.01. With an aging Koji Uehara, we can’t have too high of expectations for the once dominant closer. Smith’s young arm will provide depth to the pen as well as some much needed talent.
#2 Blake Swihart
The Red Sox catching position is a very cluttered situation. The Sox have Christian Vazquez as well as Ryan Hannigan as options to play behind the dish. Both are offensively inept but are defensive superstars. Blake Swihart on the other hand, specializes as a more offensive catcher who is serviceable defensively. His ability to hit for a high average is very uncommon nowadays in the MLB among catchers. Swihart’s bat at the end of the Red Sox lineup could be one of the most important. The Sox have a multitude of hitters who have high on base percentages. Hitting lower in the lineup will give Swihart many opportunities to clean the bases and have high RBI totals. I believe the Red Sox will run a catcher by committee strategy, but Swihart’s bat will definitely enhance this team’s offensive production.
Drum roll please……….
There it is everybody. The Boston Red Sox have a solid core of players who have potential to take this team pretty far, but they can’t do it without some help from under-the-radar players. I can’t guarantee a championship, but I can guarantee that these five players will leave a lasting impact on the 2016 Boston Red Sox.