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Your Red Sox spring training preview: Areas of concern, players to watch, roster, and schedule

JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla., is the spring home of the Red Sox.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Red Sox have landed at Fenway South to begin spring training this week with a group that, once again, is trying to find its identity.

The Sox have seen their share of changes. They fired chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom last September, hiring Craig Breslow to take over the leadership role on Jersey Street. They cut ties with some on-field staff, too, namely pitching coach Dave Bush and third base coach Carlos Febles. Andrew Bailey will now attempt to revamp the pitching staff, while Daniel Hudson, the first base coach last year, will take over duties at third. Andy Fox will be the first base coach.

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The Sox also promoted Paul Toboni to assistant general manager.

Breslow has preached the value of building infrastructure within the organization, believing that if the foundation is set, on-field performance will follow.

But, ultimately, on-field performance is dictated by the players on the field.

With that reality and the Sox’ refusal to acquire top-tier talent this offseason, fans could be in for another down year.

Here’s an overview as spring training begins.

Areas of concern

The Red Sox finished in last place (78-84) in the American League East for the third time in four years in 2023, and much of it had to do with pitching and defense. Those concerns still ring true.

Starting pitching: Bailey might need a pay raise even though the season doesn’t start for more than a month. Pitchers and catchers are set to report Tuesday, and so far the Sox’ starting pitching leaves a lot to be desired.

The Sox’ rotation will include Lucas Giolito, Brayan Bello, Nick Pivetta, and Kutter Crawford. Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock, and Josh Winckowski will battle for the fifth spot.

The rotation is full of pitchers with untapped potential, if you ask Breslow & Co. The team believes Bello will take a step forward after a promising rookie season. The Sox are bullish on Pivetta after he found a sweeper last season that, in part, thrust him back into the rotation spotlight. Giolito, despite two bad seasons, is a Cy Young candidate when at his best. Crawford is considered to have one of the best — if not the best — four-seamers in the league with the truest spin, while the Sox believe Houck, Whitlock, and Winckowski have upside, although they haven’t panned out as starters.

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The Sox have projects. But is that enough?

Defense: The Red Sox will benefit from having Trevor Story at shortstop and not Kiké Hernández. When Story returned in August from elbow surgery, he entered his own stratosphere defensively, accumulating eight defensive runs saved in just 314 innings. His skill set at shortstop is still among the league’s best. Still, other Sox players present a huge question mark on defense.

The Sox traded Chris Sale for Vaughn Grissom, and Breslow said you can pencil in Grissom as the everyday second baseman. His experience there is limited, though, considering he came up as a shortstop. Triston Casas struggled at first base last season, ranking 12th in defensive runs saved among qualifiers. Casas’s first step, manager Alex Cora has noted, was an issue much of the season but has improved. Across the diamond is Rafael Devers, who regressed tremendously, tying for third most in the majors with 19 errors.

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The Sox have a solid defensive catcher in Connor Wong, but the outfield represents another issue. The club is tied up with Masataka Yoshida, who grades as a below-average defender. Jarren Duran has improved in center, but if he’s next to, say, Wilyer Abreu in right instead of an elite defender such as Alex Verdugo, would that leave too much responsibility for Duran? Abreu has little experience in right field with the Sox, playing in just three big league games (and none being at Fenway). Tyler O’Neill is a two-time Gold Glove Award winner, and the Sox will benefit from having him in the everyday outfield group. Yet his injury history and durability should bring some pause.

Lack of power: Where will the power come from? The Red Sox made it a priority this offseason to acquire righthanded power, yet they have fallen flat with just O’Neill to show for it. Justin Turner is now a Blue Jay. Adam Duvall is still a free agent. Historically, the Red Sox have never been a home run-hitting club. Instead, they had hitters first (J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts) with the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark to the pull side when need be. Much of the responsibility will fall on Story, who has the ability to hit homers by the bushel but is a streaky hitter.

Youth and inexperience: Ceddanne Rafaela turned 23 in September and has played in just 28 major league games. Abreu is 24. Duran has just over two years of service time, and Yoshida, 30, is entering his second season in the majors. Much of the roster feels like players just filling roles with the hope that they can develop.

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Whom to watch

Brayan Bello: He led the Red Sox in starts (28) and innings (157) last year. He carried a 3.71 ERA before being pummeled for 13 runs over his final two outings, leaving the 24-year-old righthander with a 4.24 ERA on the season.

Bello’s stuff declined after the All-Star break. He yielded a 5.49 ERA in 14 starts, allowing a whopping 16 homers, compared with a 3.04 ERA and 8 homers in 14 first-half starts. The rookie wall was expected, and Bello’s inability to get his four-seam fastball above the zone consistently, particularly to lefties, hurt him.

His changeup and sinker remain true weapons. But those two pitches have much of the same actions: going away from lefties and inside to righties. Once the book was out on Bello and fatigue set in, it became easier for opponents to time him.

Nick Pivetta: He’s positioned himself as a leader of the club. Despite his prickly nature with the media, Pivetta was a key voice in convincing Red Sox players to allow Netflix cameras in for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the club this season.

Pivetta was the Sox’ best pitcher after the All-Star break, collecting a 3.30 ERA in 16 games (eight starts) and striking out 102 batters. His conviction in the zone, confidence, and again, the sweeper pitch helped redirect his season. But can he sustain it over the long haul as a starter who takes the ball every fifth day?

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Garrett Whitlock: He hasn’t been that good since 2021 when he shined as one of the Sox’ best relievers, putting together a 1.96 ERA. And some of it isn’t his fault. The club toying with Whitlock as both a reliever and starter could have hindered his development.

Injuries have hurt, too. Last season he also dealt with his brother’s death. He gained muscle this offseason with the hope that he can contribute, be it as a starter or reliever.

Trevor Story: He’s in the third year of his six-year deal. The two previous seasons have been marred by injury and underwhelming play. He’s a strong candidate to win a Gold Glove at shortstop, but the Sox will need him to regain his All-Star form from his days in Colorado.

Rafael Devers: He won a Silver Slugger Award after hitting .271/.351/.500 with an .851 OPS. But the superstar status that was thrown on Devers is premature. Defense is the concern, but if Devers is just average at third base, you’re talking about a game-changing player. He’s not a kid anymore. He’s 27, entering his eighth season. He has to start consistently playing like it.

Alex Cora: He’s not a player but he’s the face of a franchise that doesn’t have a player who has earned that status. Cora is entering spring training on an expiring deal. Will he be with the Red Sox next year? Furthermore, if the team continues on the rebuild train, does Cora want to be a part of that?

The Sox will have their answer soon enough.

Key newcomers

Lucas Giolito: He allowed 41 homers last season, which would be a disaster at Fenway, but struck out 10 batters per nine innings, an element that the Red Sox lacked.

Vaughn Grissom: He was once one of the Braves’ top prospects, and will get the opportunity to play on an everyday basis with the Sox.

Key losses

Justin Turner: Turner had a career-high 96 RBIs last season while hitting .276 with 23 homers. He was a linchpin in the clubhouse, often leading the hitters’ meetings.

Chris Sale: Though his Red Sox tenure was mostly defined by injuries, Sale’s presence in the rotation, when he did pitch, and in the clubhouse will certainly be a loss.

James Paxton: He had a promising first half last season after coming back from injuries, including Tommy John surgery. Yet he’s a Dodger now and could see his stuff uptick after having almost a full season under his belt last year.

Roster

40-MAN

Pitchers (22): Brayan Bello, Brennan Bernardino, Isaiah Campbell, Kutter Crawford, Cooper Criswell, Lucas Giolito, Wikelman Gonzalez, Tanner Houck, Joe Jacques, Kenley Jansen, Zack Kelly, Chris Martin, Bryan Mata, Chris Murphy, Luis Perales, Nick Pivetta, John Schreiber, Justin Slaten, Brandon Walter, Greg Weissert, Garrett Whitlock, Josh Winckowski.

Catchers (3): Tyler Heineman Reese McGuire, Connor Wong.

Infielders (9): Triston Casas, Bobby Dalbec, Rafael Devers, Romy Gonzalez, Vaughn Grissom, David Hamilton, Pablo Reyes, Trevor Story, Enmanuel Valdez.

Outfielders (6): Wilyer Abreu, Jarren Duran, Tyler O’Neill, Ceddanne Rafaela, Rob Refsnyder, Masataka Yoshida.

NON-ROSTER INVITEES

Pitchers (11): Melvin Adon, Jorge Benitez, Cam Booser, Frank German, Luis Guerrero, Justin Hagenman, Alex Hoppe, Lucas Luetge, Helcris Olivarez, Andrew Politi, Chase Shugart.

Catchers (4): Nathan Hickey, Mark Kolozsvary, Roberto Perez, Stephen Scott.

Infielders (6): Eddy Alvarez, Joe Dunand, Chase Meidroth, Nick Sogard, Jamie Westbrook, Nick Yorke.

Outfielders (3): Mark Contreras, Dalton Guthrie, Corey Rosier.

Spring training schedule

Feb. 23 vs. Northeastern, 1:05 p.m.

Feb. 24 at Baltimore, 1:05 p.m.

Feb. 25 vs. Minnesota, 1:05 p.m.; at Atlanta, 1:05 p.m.

Feb. 26 vs. Philadelphia, 1:05 p.m.

Feb. 27 at St. Louis, 1:05 p.m.

Feb. 28 at Washington, 1:05 p.m.

Feb. 29 vs. Detroit, 1:05 p.m.

March 1 at Minnesota, 1:05 p.m.

March 2 at Tampa Bay, 1:05 p.m.; vs. Washington, 1:05 p.m.

March 3 vs. Toronto, 1:05 p.m.

March 4 at Detroit, 1:05 p.m.

March 5 vs. Tampa Bay, 1:05 p.m.

March 6 at Minnesota, 1:05 p.m.

March 7 vs. Atlanta, 1:05 p.m.

March 9 vs. Tampa Bay, 5:05 p.m.

March 10 vs. Tampa Bay, 1:05 p.m.

March 11 vs. Pittsburgh, 1:05 p.m.

March 12 vs. St. Louis, 1:05 p.m.

March 13 at New York Yankees, 1:05 p.m.

March 14 at Philadelphia, 1:05 p.m.

March 15 vs. Minnesota, 6:05 p.m.

March 16 at Baltimore, 1:05 p.m.; vs. Atlanta (prospects game), 1:05 p.m.

March 17 vs. New York Yankees, 1:05 p.m.; at Atlanta, 1:05 p.m.

March 18 at Minnesota, 1:05 p.m.

March 19 vs. Tampa Bay, 1:07 p.m.

March 21 vs. Baltimore, 6:05 p.m.

March 22 at Toronto, 1:05 p.m.

March 23 at Pittsburgh, 1:05 p.m.; vs. Minnesota, 6:05 p.m.

March 24 vs. Atlanta, 1:05 p.m.

March 25 at Texas, 8:05 p.m.

March 26 at Texas, 2:05 p.m.


Julian McWilliams can be reached at julian.mcwilliams@globe.com. Follow him @byJulianMack.