One would think that coming off a year where the end result was a World Series title that stability would be easy to come by. In Boston, that simply is not the case. While the team has addressed the backup infield spot, there are still questions as to who will start at third base and shortstop. Though Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks remain on the roster, where and how they will be used remains a question.
Boston did not feel strongly enough that Middlebrooks could right the ship last season and ultimately sent him down to the minors. Even during the playoffs, Middlebrooks often found himself watching the action as opposed to being involved in it. Over the course of the year, he struggled putting the ball in play consistently. While to the eye there seemed to be a larger volume of strikeouts, peeling back the onion shows a deeper issue. Though Middlebrooks showed similar ISO numbers to 2012 and an improved mark over his minor league history, his propensity for fly balls came back to bite him in Boston during 2013. This contributed to a drop in BABIP of 70 points from 2012 to 2013 and put him below his minor league numbers as well.
Unfortunately for fantasy owners, reading the tea leaves their and expecting an instant rebound will be dangerous. He has slugged well above the league average against fastballs and he has shown the ability to turn around the inside pitch very easily. However, pitchers increased his diet of sliders last year. As RotoGraphs has pointed out, back injuries like he has suffered have been known to limit players far longer term than other types. Add in very few walks and a desire to pull every outside pitch he can and there could be issues for Middlebrooks in keeping a job.
Enter Bogaerts. The rookie burst on to the scene late in the year and found himself a fixture in the Boston playoff lineup. His ability to get on base via the walk and decent power through the minors made him a good fit and respectable replacement for a struggling Middlebrooks. Getting on base in the Boston lineup ultimately leads to plenty of chances to score runs. Losing Jacoby Ellsbury also could open a spot closer to the top of the lineup. Given his development and chance to produce power numbers as well, Bogaerts is an intriguing if still slightly unknown quantity for Boston to leverage in the 2014 season. His speed and defense could fit at either position on the left side of the diamond and will make the upcoming decisions Boston needs to make more interesting.
The team has yet to make a call on bringing in a full-time shortstop. This and this alone will determine playing time for these two young prospects. Re-signing Stephen Drew likely puts Middlebrooks on the bench and has Bogaerts starting at third. Not bringing in a veteran presence will mean Boston has accepted the limitations of Middlebrooks and will look to see if he can hit his way out of his funk. Still, that would put plenty of question marks into a lineup that will also feature another rookie in Jackie Bradley, Jr. It would seem more likely Boston look for a more predictable bat at one spot on the left side while leveraging the young players in more limited ways. Inside track here goes to Bogaerts gaining a starting job at third with Middlebrooks riding the bench.