Spring Training provides Sox with fresh start

Spring Training provides Sox with fresh start

Spring Training provides Sox with fresh start
BOSTON -- They will arrive to a plush new Spring Training facility, which only befits the type of camp this will be for the Red Sox.

The general manager (Ben Cherington) and manager (Bobby Valentine) are new. So, too, are some potentially key players (Andrew Bailey, Nick Punto, Ryan Sweeney, Mark Melancon and Cody Ross).

Though much of the core remains, everyone is looking for a fresh start after a September collapse that went down as the worst in Major League history.

The Red Sox are ecstatic that the offseason is coming to an end, because now they can get to work at JetBlue Park and erase the sour taste that has haunted them since Sept. 28, 2011, the night their once sure postseason hopes went down in flames at Camden Yards.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing Bobby and the staff in action," Cherington said. "The new facility, I think, will provide some energy for us, and most importantly -- this goes back to the beginning of the offseason -- I truly think our players are ready to put last year behind them. Spring Training is kind of the first chance for them to do that, at least in a formal sense. I think that's something I'm looking forward to."

Valentine, who has worked at a frenzied pace since being named manager more than two months ago, also looks forward to starting the next chapter of his baseball life.

"I have a lot of challenges. I'm not sure what the biggest one would be. It's all a work in progress," Valentine said. "The list is real long. I'll show it to you someday. I have a coaching staff I have to get to know and they have to get to know me, and there's a fluid process of that workday that needs to be coordinated, and there's team building and there's competition -- there's a lot of stuff."

Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 19

Full squad reports

Feb. 23

First Spring Training game

Home vs. Northeastern University, March 3, 2:35 p.m. ET

Opening Day

Away vs. Tigers, April 5, 1:05 p.m.

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Do they have enough starting pitching?
Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz form a front three any team would love to have. However, the other rotation spots are up for grabs. Daniel Bard has a lot of talent and was one of the top setup men in the American League the past two years. But the jury is out on how effectively he can make the transition to the rotation. The Red Sox have a lot of pitchers vying for the fifth spot, and they need to find a reliable option from a derby that will include Alfredo Aceves, Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, Carlos Silva and others.

2. Who takes over for Marco Scutaro?
The Red Sox traded both of the men who battled for the shortstop position last spring in Scutaro and Jed Lowrie. After years of injury problems, nobody was surprised to see Lowrie go. But Scutaro finished last season strong and might have been Boston's best hitter during an otherwise miserable September. Mike Aviles and Punto will battle to be his primary replacement. Prospect Jose Iglesias probably needs a bit more seasoning at Triple-A. Cherington is confident Aviles and Punto can come close to matching the production the team would have gotten from Scutaro, but if that projection is off, Cherington could receive some criticism.

3. Can Carl Crawford bounce back?
Crawford's first season in Boston was basically a disaster. He didn't hit and was less aggressive on the bases. Even his fielding was inconsistent. The Red Sox hope it was nothing more than a conscientious player trying hard to live up to his price tag. Getting Crawford back to the player he was in Tampa Bay is key to Boston's World Series hopes. The left fielder might not be ready for Opening Day, as he is rehabbing from left wrist surgery.

2011 record

90-72, third in the American League East

Projected batting order

1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury:
  .321 BA, .376 OBP, .552 SLG, 32 HR, 105 RBIs in 2011
2. 2B Dustin Pedroia:
  .307 BA, .387 OBP, .474 SLG, 21 HR, 91 RBIs in 2011
3. 1B Adrian Gonzalez:
  .338 BA, .410 OBP, .548 SLG, 27 HR, 117 RBIs in 2011
4. 3B Kevin Youkilis:
  .258 BA, .373 OBP, .459 SLG, 17 HR, 80 RBIs in 2011
5. DH David Ortiz:
  .309 BA, .398 OBP, .554 SLG, 29 HR, 96 RBIs in 2011
6. LF Carl Crawford:
  .255 BA, .289 OBP, .405 SLG, 11 HR, 56 RBIs in 2011
7. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia:
  .235 BA, .288 OBP, .450 SLG, 16 HR, 56 RBIs in 2011
8. RF Ryan Sweeney:
  .265 BA, .346 OBP, .341 SLG, 1 HR, 25 RBIs in 2011
9. SS Mike Aviles:
  .255 BA, .289 OBP, .409 SLG, 7 HR, 39 RBIs in 2011

Projected rotation

1. Jon Lester, 15-9, 3.47 ERA in 2011
2. Josh Beckett, 13-7, 2.89 ERA in 2011
3. Clay Buchholz, 6-3, 3.48 ERA in 2011
4. Daniel Bard, 2-9, 3.33 ERA in 2011
5. Alfredo Aceves, 10-2, 2.61 ERA in 2011

Projected bullpen

Closer: Andrew Bailey, 24/26 saves, 3.24 ERA in 2011
RH setup man: Mark Melancon, 2.78 ERA in 2011
LH setup man: Franklin Morales, 3.69 ERA in 2011

The new guys

RHP Bailey: The hope is that Bailey can slide right into Jonathan Papelbon's role and the Red Sox won't lose anything. Because he was pitching in Oakland, a lot of people don't realize how successful Bailey has been. That said, he's also had some injury problems. His durability will be a key.

OF Ross: The Red Sox need a right-handed-hitting outfielder who can mash lefty pitching, and that's exactly the type of player Ross is when he is in a groove. He also earned a reputation as a big-game player in the 2010 postseason, something that should only help him transition to Boston.

OF Sweeney: Known for his grit and ability to spray the ball into the gaps, the Red Sox hope that Sweeney will emerge into one of the pleasant surprises of the season. He has good range in right, something that will help in Fenway's spacious right field.

RHP Melancon: The setup man should be battle-tested after getting to close last season for the Astros. Melancon has a lively arm and is just starting to come into his own. The Red Sox think he can be a vital force in their bullpen.

C Kelly Shoppach: The former Boston farmhand returns to his original organization to serve as Saltalamacchia's backup. Shoppach has pop from the right side and a plus arm that should thwart quite a few opposing baserunners.

OF Punto: The utility man is fresh off winning a World Series with the Cardinals, and he will be given the chance to compete with Aviles for the starting shortstop job. Punto doesn't put up gaudy numbers, but he's a tough at-bat and a solid defender with versatility.

Prospects to watch

SS Iglesias: This could be a breakthrough year for Iglesias if he can stay on the field and improve his offense, two areas he struggled with in his first two professional seasons. From a defensive standpoint, Iglesias is already Major League-caliber.

C Ryan Lavarnway: If the Red Sox had made the postseason last year, people would still be talking about Lavarnway's two-homer game the second-to-last day of the regular season. Lavarnway has a potent bat and just needs to round out his development a little more behind the plate. Most expect him to be Boston's catcher of the future.

On the rebound

LF Crawford: If Crawford rebounds to his Rays form, the Red Sox will gain a player they didn't have for virtually all of last season.

3B Youkilis: When Youkilis is on the field, the Red Sox are a different team. He has broken down with injuries the past two years, and it's probably not a coincidence Boston missed the postseason both years.

RHP Buchholz: Not enough was mentioned about how much the loss of Buchholz impacted the Red Sox. Nobody even came close to replacing his quality innings. He should be back at full strength entering camp, and that's a good thing for Boston.

Long gone

RHP Papelbon: The best closer in Red Sox history will be tough to replace. Not only did Papelbon have elite stuff, but he also had the type of competitive fire it takes to succeed in Boston.

RF J.D. Drew: The five-year contract the Red Sox signed Drew to was a bit disappointing. That said, there might not be a 2007 World Series banner without Drew's grand slam in Game 6 of that year's AL Championship Series.

SS Scutaro: Scutaro gave the Red Sox everything they wanted after signing him as a free agent two winters ago. His underrated humor will be missed in the clubhouse, as will his on-field toughness.

SS Lowrie: The Red Sox were always intrigued by Lowrie's potential and appreciated his ability to hit left-handed pitching. But he simply couldn't stay on the field enough and was ultimately dealt to the Astros for Melancon.

OF Josh Reddick: If Reddick had stuck around, he could have had a chance to win the right-field job out of camp. Instead, he was shipped to Oakland in the deal that brought Bailey and Sweeney on board. Though Reddick is a promising player, the trade was a no-brainer.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.