FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Not your typical spring-training primer, days away from the opening of Red Sox camp.
1. Has it ever snowed in Fort Myers?
Yes and no. There’s no measurable snowfall on record in the Fort, measurable defined as a half-inch or more. However, longtime residents swear to having seen flurries on a handful of occasions, and on Jan. 19, 1977, this headline appeared in the Miami News.
That said, the forecast for the first official workout of Red Sox pitchers and catchers on Saturday is partly cloudy and 77 degrees, with a high of 82 degreesWher scheduled for Sunday. Position players hold their first official workout on Feb. 25.
2. Who is Yoan Moncada and why should I care?
Some of you already know the answer. Moncada is a 19-year-old, switch-hitting shortstop who legally left Cuba and is regarded as maybe the best prospect yet to depart the island in recent years. Numerous teams, including the Red Sox, have looked at him in private workouts, and his agent, David Hastings, said it is realistic to expect his client will sign within the next week or so. A signing package of $40 million to $50 million is being projected as the cost of signing him, though that figure would double for the Red Sox because they would have to pay a 100 percent tax for exceeding their bonus pool for signing international players. Sox VP/player personnel Allard Baird is the team’s point man on Moncada and probably knows as much about him as anyone outside of his family. Will the Sox sign him? All we can say for sure is they like him an awful lot.
3. What are the chances Cole Hamels will be reporting along with the rest of the Sox pitchers and catchers on Friday?
I don’t see it, not as long as the Phillies are asking for catching prospect Blake Swihart in return. If the Sox need another starter at the trading deadline, they’ll get one.
4. Why should David Ortiz bother playing in March?
Ortiz missed all of camp in 2013 because of a sore Achilles tendon and had the best April of his career, posting a ridiculous .500/513/.917 /1.429 slash line. Last spring, he batted .054 (2 for 37) and hit safely in 10 of his first 12 regular-season games, hitting 5 home runs and knocking in 14 runs for the month. Ortiz is 39 now, so folks will be watching to see if age is finally catching up to Big Papi, but nothing he does in March will answer that question, unless he shows up using a walker.
5. How long has it been since Hanley Ramirez first played a game in the Fort?
Try 13 years. Signed at 16 by Red Sox scout Levy Ochoa in 2000, Ramirez made his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League the following season and played for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox at 18 in 2002, posting a .957 OPS in 45 games before being promoted to short-season Lowell.
6. What will we be able to tell about Jackie Bradley Jr. by the way he plays in spring training?
That’s a tricky one. Bradley was the sensation of camp in 2013, batting .419 with 7 extra-base hits and 12 RBIs and was in the Opening Day lineup, but was quickly dispatched back to Pawtucket when Ortiz came off the DL. Last spring, Bradley hit just .158 and was supposed to start the season back in Pawtucket until Shane Victorino strained a hamstring. He was a dream defensively but batted just .198 with 152 strikeouts in 479 at-bats. The Sox will probably need to see more than a good spring training from JBJ before they give him another shot; he turns 25 in April, so the club will need to figure out soon whether he is part of their long-term plan.
7. Will Swihart be given a chance to make the big-league club this spring?
It’s not totally out of the question, especially if Christian Vazquez gets hurt in camp, but it's a long shot. Swihart, who turns 23 on April 3, has played in just 18 regular-season games above Double-A and could use another year of seasoning. But the team’s No. 1 prospect will receive a great deal of attention from the big-league staff in camp and will be looking to make an impression that could lead to a call-up later in the season.
8. Much has been made of the retooled pitching rotation and Ramirez learning how to play the outfield for the first time. What is a significant issue facing the Sox this spring that has not received as much attention?
This is a big spring for shortstop Xander Bogaerts, one reason he is spending time before the opening of camp in Arizona with second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Bogaerts came into camp last spring with expectations inflated by his postseason play in 2013 and came nowhere close to meeting them. That’s hardly a shocking development for a player who just turned 22 last October, but there is no real safety net at short if Bogaerts continues to struggle again this season.
Hard to envision a scenario in which this isn’t an either-or proposition, outside of trading Shane Victorino and the $13 million left on his deal. Nava and Craig give the Sox position redundancy as first basemen/outfielders, and it would seem there’s room for only one. After a dreadful start last season that led to his shocking demotion to Pawtucket, Nava wound up hitting the way he usually does, especially against right-handers (.293 BA/.372 OBP). Craig had what the Sox hope was an outlier year in 2014, batting .128 in 29 games after being traded by the Cardinals. The Sox have him signed for three more seasons plus a team option at 2018 at a very team-friendly rate; Nava is out of options this spring. Something has to give. The Red Sox have not opened a season with fewer than 12 pitchers since 2008; the bench players project to be catcher Ryan Hanigan, outfielder Mookie Betts (or possibly Victorino), infielder-outfielder Brock Holt, and Craig or Nava.
10. Looking for a spring-training sleeper? Look no further.
Keep an eye on the knuckleballer, Steven Wright. He is 30, about the time pitchers of his ilk start to ripen (Tim Wakefield was 28 when he relaunched his career with the Sox, and pitched till he was 45). The Sox would like to see young pitchers like Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson gain more experience. Matt Barnes might get first call if the big-league rotation needs help, but don’t overlook Wright.