Two days ago, pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training for the defending champions Boston Red Sox. To me, this is the official beginning of the Sox title defense and all eyes are going to be on how this year’s roster shakes out. We continue with our position-by-position analysis of the Sox roster as is on this first week of Spring Training. Now batting, first base:
Let’s take a look at Mike Napoli. The former Catcher surprised me with how well he took to first base. His defense at the position was far better than expected with only six errors committed. Though he didn’t hit up to his 2011 numbers, (while with Texas) he did improve upon his previous year’s stats. He finished the year with an OPS of .842 compared with .812 from the previous seasons.
Though he hit one less Home Run then the previous yea,r he had far more Runs Batted in, 92 compared with 56 previously.
The one area he really needs to work on is his cutting down his strikeouts. Napoli strikes out far too often (187). Say what you will about “Clutch” and “Late” but Napoli came up with some great late or game winning hits during the season and a clutch Home Run during the Playoffs.
Backing up Napoli, Mike Carp is the perfect left-handed compliment to Napoli. Carp has never been given much of an opportunity to show what he could do before coming to Boston. The most games he ever played in while with Seattle was 79. He performed well but was sent back down to the minors for his efforts. He struggled in his last 59 games with Seattle and seemed to relish the new opportunity with Boston. Mike put up solid numbers as a reserve with; .296/.362/.523/.885 with 18 Doubles and 9 HRs in 86 games played. It’s no wonder Ben Cherington has received phone calls asking about Mike’s availability in trade.
I have to say, Mike Napoli surpassed all of my expectations last season. He failed his physical, which ended up making his contract into a bargain for the Red Sox, and now the question becomes what can he offer the 2014 team. His career arc would suggest that some games will be missed, but his stats would be prorated for those games.
The power numbers aren’t my concern about Napoli, but rather it is OPS. He has always hit homers, but he set a career high with 38 doubles last season. That number blows away his previous high and for a guy who isn’t guaranteed to make contact that much, I doubt he will reach 38 again this season. If he can give 75 percent of what he offered last season, that will be good enough for Napoli. His career on-base percentage is about 100 points higher than his average, which helps me sleep at night worrying about this upcoming season.
His backup can also help out if Napoli struggles for an extended period of time. Mike Carp showed what he can do against right-handed pitching last year, both in starts and in pinch hitting instances. I would hope that the club keeps him for one more year, as I think his power numbers will actually improve from a season ago. If he is traded, the team must be looking for more relief pitching help or another outfielder. Either way, Carp’s bat is a great example of the team’s commitment to depth at each position.