Red Sox Spring Training: 3 Unanswered Questions

Sep 21, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Robbie Ross Jr. (28) and catcher Ryan Hanigan (R) celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 21, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Robbie Ross Jr. (28) and catcher Ryan Hanigan (R) celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /

Boston Red Sox pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in 12 days, so it’s time to start thinking about the questions that still exist within that group.

With the Boston Red Sox pitchers and catchers set to report to Spring Training on February 15th, now is the time to start thinking about the unanswered questions that still exist within the group and there are a few important ones.  Here are the three most important questions related to the pitchers and catchers that the Red Sox are hoping to find answers to beginning February 15th:

1. Who is going to step up to become the Sox number two starter?

Currently, the rotation behind David Price is Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez and Joe Kelly.  As his $217 million dollar contract indicates, Price is going to be the team’s number one starter this season.  However, the way the rest of the rotation is going to set up is anyone’s guess.

Joe Kelly: Won 10 games last season, but with a 4.82 era, came uncomfortably close to giving up five runs per game.  However, there are reasons to be optimistic: (1) this will be his second full season in the Red Sox organization and American League, so hopefully the comfort factor will be there; and (2) at 27-years-old, with a strong pitch arsenal, including a fastball that often touches the upper 90’s, it may be time for him to finally reach his ceiling, which we got a glimpse of this past season when he ended the season with eight straight wins.

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Rick Porcello: The 26-year-old will be pitching with the pressure of a $20 million dollar contract for the first time.  He struggled in his first season in Boston, but was reportedly dealing with various injuries.  Following a stint on the DL, he returned to compile a 3.15 era over his final 57 innings.  Given his track record of success in the American League with Detroit and his apparent health heading into this season, there is a lot of optimism heading into Spring Training.

Eduardo Rodriguez: The Red Sox have high hopes for Eduardo Rodriguez as he enters his first full season at the Major League level.  Rodriguez started 21 games last year and registered an impressive 17 quality starts.  With the mentorship of one of the best lefties in all of baseball being added to the clubhouse and a season under his belt, it is exciting to think about the progress Rodriguez will make this season.

Clay Buchholz: He missed the entire second half of last season, but still won seven games.  He also had a 3.26 era in 113 innings, which was the lowest of this group.  Buchholz is the only one to have been a number two starter before and he has shown flashes of dominance almost every year, with his undoing being injuries.  If he can stay healthy, one has to imagine he is the favorite for the number two role.  In all likelihood, he will start the year behind Price, but will he remain there?

2. Who is going to be the primary set-up man for Craig Kimbrel?

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Koji Uehara: He was the Red Sox closer until Craig Kimbrel arrived this offseason.  There are questions regarding Uehara’s health and durability at age-40.  He pitched only 40 innings last season, but compiled a 2.23 era, which demonstrates his effectiveness when he is on the field.  Ultimately, that is the question.  If he is healthy, he is probably the favorite for the 8th inning.

Carson Smith: The 26-year-old Smith was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball last season.  He appeared in 70 games, pitched 70 innings, surrendered only 49 hits and struck out 92 batters.  He finished the year with a 2.31 era.  His strikeouts per nine innings was 11.8 and Wins Above Replacement 2.3, which would have been a bullpen-best on the Red Sox last year.  Not only will Smith be in a tight battle with Uehara beginning on the 15th, but he may be the solution at closer once Kimbrel’s contract expires in a few seasons.

3. How will the Red Sox use Blake Swihart and Ryan Hanigan?

Swihart started 78 games behind the plate last season and Hanigan started 51.  Although many expected a position battle between these two and Christian Vazquez, who is reportedly ready to report at full strength on February 15th, the Red Sox just announced earlier this week that Swihart is going to be the starting Catcher and Hanigan his backup.

The question that remains unanswered is how the time is going to split up between Swihart and Hanigan.  Will Swihart start four of every five days?  Is Hanigan going to be assigned to a specific pitcher throughout the season or will he be inserted into the lineup whenever Swihart needs a day off?

Swihart batted .274 last season with 5 HRs and 31 RBIs, while Hanigan, who dealt with injuries for most of this season, hit .247 with 2 HRs and 16 RBIs.  At the catcher position, Swihart threw out 28% of would-be base stealers and Hanigan threw out 33%.

However, one of the bigger developments of the second half last season, and one in which the Red Sox will need to continue this season if they are going to go from last-to-first again, was the growth of Swihart’s game both at and behind the plate.  He hit .303 after the all-star break and was gained a lot of confidence in dealing with his starting pitchers and calling games, as evidenced by the Red Sox starters’ 3.97 era in the second half, which was fourth-best in the American League.

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Despite Swihart’s growth last season, the importance of Hanigan and his presence on the roster cannot be overstated.  He is seen as a steady hand behind the plate and pitchers like to throw to him.  In fact, the team was 27-24 in games started by Hanigan last year.  Therefore, how will John Farrell balance the clear effect Hanigan has on a game with the continued and exciting development of Blake Swihart?