Red Sox infielders head into the “Lab”
What a great few days it’s been. The Boston Red Sox are back in Florida and full-squad workouts are underway. We’re beginning to hear from some of the team’s biggest names and we’re also beginning to see what the gameplan is for this group in 2021. Already, Alex Cora has attacked spring training with a different approach than he had in 2019 and one of his biggest focuses in this camp is improving his team’s defense.
The Athletic’s Chad Jennings wrote yesterday about the Red Sox putting a heavy focus on the team’s defense, specifically the infield. Boston’s infield hasn’t been the most concrete lineup in the last few years beyond Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. We’ve seen a platoon at first and an army trying to keep second base covered. With Cora back at the helm, he’s made it clear that this team wasn’t great in the field and that needed to change.
In 2020, the Red Sox finished third in the league in Errors with 45 owning the third-worst FLD% at .979. Despite not being with the organization this past season Cora has made it well known that he didn’t miss a game and has been pretty open on what he thinks went wrong.
One of the areas that he’s often pointed to is the fielding and how slow the infielders seemed to move. In order to work on the defensive deficiencies, the Red Sox coaching staff has created what’s being called the “Laboratory.”
Throughout Jenning’s piece, he noted that several coaches on the staff referred to a lab and that its intention was to create better infielders. The coaches met with the team the night before camp really got underway to lay down the gameplan and get them mentally ready for what spring training was going to be like this year. Whereas the camp before the 2019 season was like a holiday this was going to be a work trip and everyone is going to be putting in the blood, sweat, and tears.
"“We can move people around, and they’re going to do the job defensively,” Cora said. “And that’s something we have to do a better job. I do believe that for how great we were in ’18, we had our lapses defensively. In ’19, obviously, we sucked defensively. And, last year, just watching from afar, the organization was a step behind. So we have to be better defensively as a unit.”"
Jennings reports that even the training facility is being used differently this spring in order to achieve Cora’s goal of a more active and uniform infield. One field is being used specifically for intricate drills that will test every aspect of playing in the infield. From hard-hit balls that may take a nasty hop to situations where tags need to be applied in the blink of an eye.
Cora’s staff of Carlos Febles, Will Venable, Tom Goodwin, and Ramón Vázquez are all bought in and have plans for each of their players to be more than ready for 2021.
There are some guys that I worry about more than others, and I think we all know who I’m talking about. Rafael Devers, despite being a phenomenal hitter and exciting young player, is terrible in the field. Before you know it he can rack up a handful of errors and find himself in a defensive hole.
In his four seasons with the Red Sox, Raffy has amassed 74 total errors, not good. He had 14 through 57 games in 2020, matching his total from 2017 and well behind his numbers from 2019 and 2020, 24 and 22 respectively.
"“Part of that,” bench coach Will Venable said, “is setting up a defensive lab structure where we can really dissect some of these components of different plays and get these guys working at a high intensity around the field, but all on one field. We still have yet to see how it’s going to be pulled off, but I think you’ll see some interesting drills that will challenge guys to play at a high speed and make high-speed decisions and encourage them to play faster.”"
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I’m sure Cora and his team are paying a little more attention to Devers than say someone the level of Bogey, but the work doesn’t end there. It looks like Kiké Hernandez will be the everyday second baseman, possibly splitting time with Christian Arroyo. When given the chance to play a set position frequently, Hernandez is a great defender and will be a massive upgrade to the position. For Bobby Dalbec, he’s no Mitch Moreland but he’s young and can turn things in the right direction. He’s a great defender at his more natural position of third base and just needs to flip the switch to first.
Going into this offseason and eventually spring training we all spoke about the Red Sox needing to upgrade their pitching staff. While that was an incredibly correct analysis, I think the defense needed just as much attention, especially after reading Jennings’ article. I think we all knew it was pretty bad, but seeing the numbers right on the screen is eye-opening. Now with this heavy emphasis on the infielder’s defensive capabilities, we may see this group climb the ranks and actually become respectable.
The lab is open for business and the Red Sox will be in there each and every moment the schedule allows them. It’s pretty clear that Alex Cora has a much more pointed plan of attack not just for spring training this year but for the season as a whole. In my eyes, that’s incredibly refreshing and has me excited to see what he and his coaching staff can create in Fort Myers. With a big chip on their shoulders and a lot of naysayers to prove wrong, the Red Sox are looking to make some noise in 2021.