COMMENTARY| The new season is only a few months away. While there are still plenty of questions, Boston Red Sox fans are ready to move on. Following the worst season in nearly 50 years, fans don't have a lot to hold on to.
However, there were some bright spots, and it's time to find them. This edition of "Looking Back" features the infield.
The Red Sox's infield was a decent unit early in 2012. However, injuries led to youngsters getting some significant playing time. Despite the inexperience of those players, they were ultimately positive for the team's future since most will be back in 2013.
Clubhouse leader Dustin Pedroia led not just the infield but also the entire team in games played. The second basemen had a roller-coaster season, finishing with respectable numbers. Pedroia hit .290 with 15 HRs and 65 RBIs. He was also his usual self in the field, and he was many people's pick for the Gold Glove. Pedroia will continue to be one of the key figures for the foreseeable future.
The emergence of Will Middlebrooks ended up being one of the stories of the season. Middlebrooks came up early in the year to fill in for an injured Kevin Youkilis. Middlebrooks took right off, hitting .316 in his first month. He eventually became the starting third baseman when Youkilis was traded to the Chicago White Sox. Middlebrooks continued to play well until he suffered a season-ending broken hand in August. Fortunately, he is expected to be ready for the start of the 2013 season.
Was there a more intriguing story than the one of Pedro Ciriaco in 2012? A complete nobody entering the season, Ciriaco was a household name in New England by October. The shortstop finally had a true opportunity in his eighth season in professional baseball and proved to be an asset for the Red Sox. Ciriaco hit .293 with 16 stolen bases and scored 33 runs in 76 games. His numbers specifically against the New York Yankees were legendary. He hit an incredible .415 and scored 12 runs in 14 games against the Bronx Bombers. Ciriaco made such an impression that the Red Sox included him on the 2013 40-man roster.
Ciriaco will be competing with Jose Iglesias for the starting job at shortstop. Iglesias was called up late in the season to try and prove that he is ready for the majors. While nobody doubts his defensive ability, Iglesias will be judged on the bat alone. He struggled in his handful of games last season, hitting just .118 with five runs scored. It seems that the Red Sox want him to be the starter at the beginning of the season, but a sub-.200 batting average is not going to cut it.
Mike Aviles was decent in his final season with Boston. He finished the year with a .250 batting average, with 13 HRs and 60 RBIs. His was also adequate in the field. However, Aviles will be mostly remembered for being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for manager John Farrell.
Adrian Gonzalez did eventually get his average up to .300, but the power numbers failed to show up again. He hit just 15 HRs before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Gonzalez will be remembered as a bust in Boston because he didn't live up to his expectations. Would he have improved if not traded? This is a question that will never be answered.
Nick Punto was exactly as advertised. He was adequate in the field but struggled to hit over .200. Brought in to be a backup, Punto ended up getting much more playing time due to injuries and transactions. He became a part of the blockbuster deal with the Dodgers.
Red Sox fan-favorite Kevin Youkilis showed his age in 2012. He hit just .233, dealt with injuries, and was even called out by his manager. The Youkilis Era in Boston ended quietly with his midseason trade to the White Sox. His season highlight was marked by the standing ovation he received when returning to Boston with his new team.
Mauro Gomez, James Loney and Danny Valencia also saw time with the Red Sox in 2012. Gomez is on the Red Sox's 40-man roster and should get a chance next season. Loney has since signed with the Tampa Bay Rays, and Valencia was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles.
The infield should have a nice mix of youth and veteran leadership. Pedroia will anchor the unit, with Middlebrooks back at third. Mike Napoli, signed to play primarily first base, will add some power to the lineup. The only competition is at shortstop, with Iglesias being the frontrunner over Ciriaco. Fielding will be spotty on the corners but strong up the middle.
Overall, the Red Sox will have an infield unit that should produce not just for this season but also for years to come.
Chris Sedenka is a Yahoo! Contributor in Sports covering the Boston Red Sox. You can listen to his daily radio show on 96.3FM in Portland, ME or at thebigjab.com. He is also the voice of the Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League.
You can follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisSedenka.
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