3 Red Sox players key to another amazing season


Could Bobby Dalbeck repeat his monstrous ending for the 2021 season?

The thought of Bobby Dalbeck in the outfield may hurt your mind, but the Sox will entertain speaks volumes about how much they think of their potential. Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff


After Wednesday’s introduction, if there’s any way to start looking at the broader Red Sox roster that doesn’t include the sentence, “There’s more to this story,” I’m not strong enough to provide that.

Glad we can be honest with each other like this. Because honestly, two weeks out of the regular season, I’m still not overly optimistic given the changing landscape of the American League on the Red Sox.

This is a subjective exercise, of course. Toronto rebuilt their initial rotation around Kevin Gossman and the extension to Jose Berios, but also lost Cy Young winner Robbie Ray and MVP contender Marcus Semin. The Yankees ravaged their farm and built a less-feast-or-famine lineup, but how much better they are than they were a year ago is an open question.

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The White Sox spent big in their bullpen, including old friend Joe Kelly, but lost their rotation to Carlos Rodone. The Astros are transferring from Carlos Correa to rookie Jeremy Pea at shortstop.

Through that lens, Greeley Tribune’s winter doesn’t look half as bad. It’s hard for me to dismiss that they were the rookies of last year’s playoffs. Stealth-fire is a valid tactic in the modern game, but big breaks and overseeing seasons built into career years become something of a ruckus next year.

Trevor Story will clearly be a big piece at the end of the 2022 Red Sox. Three other people also leap to mind.

Bobby Dalbeco

In the new looking infield, which has been a main point of focus For the team this winter, the player with the widest possible range of results is easily Dalbec. To the extent that he can’t even end up in the field.

“We’ll turn him around,” manager Alex Cora told reporters earlier this spring, “The more versatile, the better.”

In Grapefruit League games, this means only a brief stint at shortstop other than first, but the intention is for the former minor-league third baseman to get a taste of both left field and second base. How deep is the desire to bring Dalbeck into the lineup after putting up 1.053 OPS (.288/.369/.684 with 14 homers in 48 games) in the final two months of the regular season.

That deadline coincides with Kyle Schwarber grabbing Dalbeck in the first mass, and taking the 26-year-old rookie under his wing.

“He made me realize it wasn’t about swing, it was about other things,” Dalbeck told reporters. “Being slow and in control is more important than having the perfect swing mechanically every day.”

An offseason of work and adjustments (including a leg kick change) have reaped immediate dividends, for whatever they’re worth – Dalbeck led the Grapefruit League in total bases ahead of Wednesday’s game. His struggle with high velocity last season helped keep him on the bench for most of the playoff run, but Cora is clearly laying the groundwork to bring Dalbeck into the lineup as often as possible.

First base belongs to Dalbek, for now. Is he able to find consistency, how long he holds it, or is the push (with the arrival of Tristan Cass from Worcester) needed eventually to make him more versatile.

Matt Barnes

Pitching is a question entirely unlike in 2021, when Garrett Whitlock, Tanner Hawke and Nick Pivetta helped fill Chris Sell’s void. (Hat tip Eduardo Rodriguez too, whose misfortune—the .363 batting average per balls in play that was easily the worst in baseball—was deep.)

With the sale already closed, how does it all work again? Nate Iovaldi, who was not so lucky – his .326 BABIP was second only to the late E-Rod. mentioned above, all of which will depend on the increased capabilities.

And Barnes, whose role in helping the Red Sox coast through their summer swoop, can’t be overstated.

In the first 109 games of the season, Barnes clocked a 44 to 2.25 ERA, a batting average against .161, and nearly 42 percent of men’s strikeouts. He made 24 saves out of 28 and Greeley Tribune won 37 of 44. They needed each one to make October.

Where Barnes barely stood after a nearly complete collapse.

Theories abound. His breakthrough COVID infection in August. General fatigue is going from the 60-game 2020 schedule to 162. Specific fatigue being the most reliable alternative to the kora, with the cost of commanding a fastball enough for a power pitcher very little of it is available to lose,

“I think it was a perfect storm of scenarios,” Barnes told masslive before this spring.

With rotation as spongy as the Red Sox, it’s important to make the most of every game that the staff can get into a late inning. There’s no substitute for Barnes to leap off the page, leaving the team to rely on that his confidence this spring is well-argued.

Raphael Devers

We can argue that, but the mix in the outfield didn’t grab my attention that much. The Red Sox don’t have good, not-so-great pieces to collect between Kike Hernandez, Alex Verdugo, Jackie Bradley Jr., and whatever else fills the roster. They will do their job.

Xander Bogaerts and the possibility of expansion? It’s a winter issue, and in the meantime, he figures out to be the consummate pro and star piece we know. According to multiple reports, the same can be said about Rafael Devers, who has Sox with, did not offer long term extension to Two years from free agency.

However, it catches my attention more. Because I sometimes wonder to what extent people feel that Davers is the best player on the team.

Davers has missed just 15 regular season games in the past three seasons. A year earlier, he led the team in hits, runs, extra-base hits, home runs, Ops and tied for a walk with the Bogarts. Since the start of 2019, he leads the majors in extra-base hits, ranks fifth in overall hits, and is in the top 20 in both batting average (.291) and OPS (.886). Bogaerts and Mookie Betts are at .899 and .895 for reference, and they weren’t so good their Age 22-24 season.

His defensive issues are well established. They should be mitigated with a really good second baseman with Story installed – Davers made just three errors since joining Jose Iglesias’ Red Sox in September last year. And it’s easy to forgive him when he’s actually growing into a great player.

Some may roll their eyes, but Devers is a lot closer to an MVP-level talent than I think many people realize. The kind of leap it would take to get the Red Sox among those who got it within two matches of the World Series a year ago wouldn’t be out of place.

Making it happen could help the 2022 season as well as its predecessor as much as anything else.

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