COMMENTARY | Spring training is about to start for the Boston Red Sox, signaling the start of the 2014 baseball season.
Coming off winning the 2013 World Series, the team is deep, experienced and in a position to make a push to repeat its success from last year. Accordingly, some players would benefit from making good early impressions.
Here are three players who could use big spring trainings:
Catcher Ryan Lavarnway: Once one of the team's most highly regarded prospects, the 27-year-old has hit just a combined .208 with five home runs and 34 RBIs in 88 games spanning multiple major league stints over the past three years.
The right-handed hitter has shown great promise with his bat in the minors, hitting .282 with 88 home runs in six seasons, but has not been able to parlay that yet into a full-time gig in the majors.
With veterans A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross ahead of him on Boston's roster, and top prospects like Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez coming up behind him in the minors and nearly major league-ready, this spring training could be pivotal for Lavarnway.
The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo reported that Lavarnway will get some work at first base this spring. If he can handle the position, the versatility will only enhance his status in the organization.
Barring an injury, Lavarnway is likely a longshot to make the big league roster out of spring training. However, with a big showing, he could remind the team of his potential and position himself to make an impact at some point during the season if an opportunity opened up.
Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.: There is no doubt the 23-year-old is one of the best young up-and-coming players in baseball. MLB.com recently even ranked him 33rd on its 2014 top 100 prospect list.
The former first-round pick got his first taste of the majors last season. After a big spring training, where he hit .419 and excelled in the field , he started in left field against the New York Yankees on opening day.
Bradley's bat didn't stay hot once the regular season began and he wound up spending most of the year in the minors, but did return to Boston at the end of the year. In 80 games at Triple-A, he hit .275 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs -- much better than the .189 with three home runs and 10 RBIs he had in 37 games with the Red Sox.
With veteran center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury departing this offseason via free agency, Bradley is a top candidate to replace him. The youngster's primary competition figures to be Grady Sizemore, whom the Red Sox recently signed to a deal.
Bradley has a ton of potential and is a major piece of the team's future. However, he could erase any bad memories from last year and establish himself as the team's starting center fielder of the present and future by standing out this spring.
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski: The 37-year-old may be entering his 17th major league season but he is a new kid on the block when it comes to the Red Sox.
Despite Saltalamacchia hitting .273 with 40 doubles, 14 home runs and 65 RBIs last season, his ability to handle a pitching staff may be where he is missed most. Although he threw out just 21 percent of base runners, he earned the confidence of the veteran Boston pitching staff, as outlined by the Providence Journal's Tim Britton.
The left-handed hitting Pierzynski should be able to keep up at the plate. He is a career .283 hitter, and posted a .272 batting average, 17 home runs and 70 RBIs with the Texas Rangers last year. It will be his ability to take over behind the plate that will need to be established during spring training.
The Red Sox had extremely positive team chemistry during their championship run last year. Fostering a good relationship between their pitching staff and their new starting catcher will be very important. If Sports Illustrated's Ben Reiter's 2012 article detailing how Pierzynski's teammates love the backstop is any indication, he should be up to the task.
Pierzynski is the clear-cut starter at catcher for Boston. He has more than enough experience to handle the position, but fitting in quickly with his new team and earning his pitchers' trust and respect is something that would be best if it happened right out of the gate.Statistics obtained via Yahoo MLB Stats and Baseball-Reference.com.
In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written extensively for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports (particularly the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots). He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
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