How different are Red Sox going to be without David Ortiz? Wednesday helped set that scene

by: Rob Bradford on Wed, 02/15/2017 - 4:36pm

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Welcome to life without David Ortiz.

Wondering who is going to undeniably be the next one for the middle-of-the-clubhouse Rudy speech at some point during this season? Take one look at what transpired during a seemingly innocuous position player workout on Field 5 at JetBlue Park.

Upon completion of the voluntary batting practice session, most of the players were ready to put the balls away and head to the next part of the day. But Dustin Pedroia had other ideas. 

The Red Sox second baseman mandated that the infielders stick around and take grounders. When it was pointed out by coach Rich Gedman that he could help execute, but there was only one fungo bat, Pedroia said that would have to do. So, almost as if it was infield warm-ups heading into a high school game, the Sox took their infield.

And when Gold Glove first baseman Mitch Moreland warned Pedroia that some of his throws might not be on target due to the relative lack of practice, the Sox veteran quipped, "Don't worry about it. Just get it near the equator and I'll get it!"

This much is clear: What was a two-person center of the Red Sox universe in that clubhouse has now become one.

The Red Sox are going to be a different team without Ortiz, and the ever-emerging presence of their 33-year-old infielder is just part of the equation. That was clear as Wednesday unfolded.

How about what could be found over at first base? For the first time since Adrian Gonzalez manned the position in 2011, the Red Sox have a Gold Glover taking the throws. Hanley Ramirez was good in 2016, but when right-handed pitchers on starting against John Farrell's team, the Red Sox will be better defensively.

"You know, he's going to be in the DH slot against every right-handed pitcher, so you're probably looking at 60-70 percent of the time, initially, is what it would work out to, with Mitch being at first base on those days," said Farrell during his daily media briefing. "Against left-handers, we can easily envision Hanley being at first, with someone else rotating through that DH spot. Chris Young is a primary candidate for that spot."

How that will manifest itself offensively without the guy who held the best OPS in baseball for 2016? That also took an interesting turn on the second day of pitchers and catchers workouts.

Xander Bogaerts went on the Bradfo Sho podcast a few weeks ago and predicted he would become a 20 home run, 20 stolen base guy. Part of that was due to how close the shortstop came to the feat in 2016, hitting 21 homers and stealing 13 bases.

But Bogaerts' physical evolution is just part of that equation. The other piece has to do with the absence of Ortiz.

Without the potential of Ortiz doing what Ortiz did, the Red Sox can take some more gambles when it comes to stealing bases, with Bogaerts serving as a primary candidate to become one of the beneficiaries.

"We put the red light on him a number of times letting David hit. Bogey, he's got tremendous skills," Farrell said. "We see his base-stealing capability, but yeah, we'll see how that unfolds."

There is also the matter of bunting.

With virtually every member of this lineup seeing some semblance of a shift, the Red Sox are prioritizing not taking the Ortiz approach toward beating the strategy. Guys like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts might actually lay one down if the opponent is going to give them the base for free.

This will be another element of this post-Ortiz spring training that might become evident.

As colleague John Tomase writes … 

Per Baseball Info Solutions, the Red Sox faced over 1,300 defensive shifts last year, seventh most in baseball. Almost a quarter of them (408) came against retired slugger David Ortiz, but he wasn’t alone. Jackie Bradley (224) was also shifted frequently, for instance, and manager John Farrell would like to see the team’s approach to such situations evolve.

“One of the things that we’ve really seen is that even with guys coming in the first part of their career, guys are really starting to get shifted against when we’re on offense,” Farrell said. “We’ve got some things that we’ll look to do to hopefully take back some of those lanes that are otherwise shifted away from. That’s just becoming more prevalent around the game. The bat-handlers that can work the ball the other way, or who are the guys that can more readily drop a bunt down to take advantage of that shift, that’s one thing that we’ll look to do more of."

The manager added, "“The opposition may say, ‘Well, we’re fortunate we got a bunt so it’s working and we’re taking him out of his power swing.' But we’re seeing teams shift on guys that aren’t your prototypical power hitters. Jackie Bradley Jr. hit 25 [homers], but that’s kind of a breakthrough year for him. He’s a guy that, to me, we can look to take advantage of and work against the shift to hopefully open things back up for him.

"You’re seeing the shift on the bottom third of the order type hitters as well. So when it makes most sense, leading off an inning, late in a game when we’ve got to get something started, that’s the opportune time."

It is becoming clear that it's not just the three lockers the Red Sox are turning over in the JetBlue Park home clubhouse due to the absence of Ortiz. It's going to be a whole lot more."

The signs of change started piling up Wednesday. Now we start finding out it will be for the better (or at least not dramatically worse).