Some of Red Sox Nation arrived at Winter Weekend in Springfield, Mass. hunting for positivity before the upcoming baseball season.
After another disappointing offseason featuring few substantial changes to the roster, Garrett Whitlock was a sight for sore eyes.
Manager Alex Cora knew he would be, too. He spent his fan fest Friday evening saying, "Wait 'til you see Whit," per Yahoo Sports.
For the first time in five seasons, Whitlock did not need to nurse an injury after the 2023 slate — he could spend his time getting into proper pitching shape. He did just that.
The 6-foot-5 hurler put on multiple pounds of muscle, earning himself comparisons to Boston icon Jon Lester, a parallel of which Whitlock is proud.
"That makes me want to puff out my chest a little bit," he said.
Garrett Whitlock looks completely different, could bring life to the Red Sox starting rotation
The Red Sox spent this offseason promising to pursue quality starting pitching, which is the team's biggest deficiency, and it has been for quite some time. Now, with Whitlock in the best shape of his Sox career, the front office likely believes they're in the clear for Opening Day. Whether they should believe that or not is a different story.
Whitlock admitted to having little success in 2023 after posting a 5.15 ERA, a career-worst for the pitcher. Whitlock made a career-high 10 starts in 22 appearances for the Red Sox, but he spent 59 games on the injured list with elbow inflammation and irritation and he never hit his stride upon his return from his offseason hip surgery. The right-hander went as far as to call himself "the worst guy on the roster."
But Whitlock plans to make up for his disappointing campaign. He'll begin training as a starter this offseason and he'll be competing with Tanner Houck and Josh Winckowski for a spot in the starting rotation.
His teammates believe he might earn it.
Winckowski said that Whitlock is "miles ahead of where he was at" last offseason. And going into 2024 with a fully healthy spring training of work ahead of him should only help.
Many Sox fans believe Whitlock is better suited to the bullpen, and his 1.96 ERA from his 2021 season makes that a reasonable assumption. But with ownership unlikely to spend money on an A-tier pitching candidate this offseason, a new-look Whitlock may be one of the Sox's best options for 2024. A new-look Whitlock and a new starting pitcher, like Jordan Montgomery, could make Boston's rotation actually look good. It's known by now that the Red Sox probably won't sign Montgomery, but a fan can dream.
Whitlock's physical transformation was the flash of optimism a lot of Red Sox fans needed at Winter Weekend. The starting rotation is still far from perfect, but seeing effort from players on the team is reassuring, especially if Whitlock could be in Lester form.