Five reasons to keep watching

Five reasons to keep watching
July 17, 2014, 1:45 pm
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With 67 games remaining and a 9 1/2 game deficit in the American League East -- and eight in the wild card standings -- the postseason looks like a pipe dream for the Red Sox.

Still, all is not lost. There are reasons to keep watching, beyond the standings and scoreboard watching.

Here are five:

1) Can Xander Bogaerts salvage his season?

Bogaerts looked like he was just getting comfortable at the end of May, having overcome some early-season jitters at short. Moreover, he was driving the ball with authority and beginning to flash some power.

Then, Stephen Drew returned, Bogaerts was shifted to third and his season began to spiral downward.

Over the past couple of weeks, Bogaerts has periodically found himself out of the starting lineup. At the break, Boagerts' slash line was a disappointing .235/.311/.348, hardly the kind of season most had envisioned for the rookie.

Assuming Drew remains with the team -- it's hard to imagine a lot of takers, given his hitting woes and salary -- Bogaerts will have to make the best of it at third. The real test will be to see how he responds offensively.

Can he establish himself more at the plate so he goes into 2015 with a stronger offensive foundation to his game? And what of his future position? If Bogaerts clicks at third, does that free the Sox to shop Will Middlebrooks and think about penciling in Deven Marrero at short next season?

Surely, this has been a disappointing first full year in the big leagues for Bogaerts. Still, it's important to remember that he's still just 21 and as rough as the first half was, he can still take some good from the second half.

2) How much can Christian Vazquez learn on the job?

The catching position is like no other because of the many responsibilities. A young catcher not only has to worry about his hitting and defensive game, but learn the league, opposing hitters' tendencies and his own pitching staff.

By all accounts, Vazquez is a quick learner, willing to put in the necessary work and eager to help. If the first week is any indication, he'll be fine -- he's already earned praised from veteran starters on his poise behind the plate and ability to frame pitches. His arm strength, by now, is a given.

Fortunately for Vazquez, he can lean on David Ross, the perfect mentor. Ross is a student of the game and has the perfect temperment to teach a willing student.

The more comfortable Vazquez gets, the more the Sox will know about how much he can be counted upon in 2015. That, in turn, will help determine whether they need to sign a veteran to team with him next season, and perhaps, how fellow catching prospect Blake Swihart fits into the picture.

3) Can Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa nail down 2015 rotation spots?

The opportunity is already there for De La Rosa, and presumably, Workman will be recalled and re-inserted into the rotation once Jake Peavy is invariably traded.

Workman has just 11 major league starts between this season and last. He can get more than that in the next 2 1/2 months and get plenty of experience and innings the rest of the way.

De La Rosa, like Workman, has been up-and-back with Boston this season, stepping in for spot starts here and there. Better than two years removed from Tommy John surgery, De La Rosa can be turned loose with no worry about innings limits.

The Red Sox know that Peavy won't be back next season and there's no guarantee at this point that Jon Lester will be re-signed. Throw in the uncertainty about Felix Doubront's future with the organization and there could be anywhere from one to three vacancies in the rotation heading into '15.

If Workman and De La Rosa can prove themselves worthy of claiming tw of those roles between now and the end of September, it would go a long way toward solidifying the staff and allow the front office to cross some needs off the off-season shopping list.

4) Will Jackie Bradley Jr's offensive improvement continue enough to make him the team's center fielder for the future?

After a two-month struggle, Bradley began to show signs of life in June and into July. Since the start of June, Bradley has hit a more respectable .257. And since the start of July, he's hit a torrid .375.

Bradley has made some adjustments at the plate by opening his stance more and the results have been evident.

As has been said before, Bradley needn't hit .300 or better to prove his worth to the team. Given his defensive brilliance, if he could hit .250-.260, he'd still be plenty valuable given the contributions he can make with his range, athleticism and arm at such a key defensive position in the field.

But the Sox can't afford to go into another spring training uncertain about what Bradley can or can't do at the plate. He's on the clock for the rest of the season with a chance to claim the position for his own -- or convince the Red Sox they need to look elsewhere.

5) Where will Brock Holt and Mookie Betts fit?

It's about to get more crowded in the outfield, with Shane Victorino finally returning to the lineup and reclaiming right field. With Bradley handling most games in center, that leaves as many as as five outfielders for left -- Brock Holt, Jonny Gomes, Mookie Betts, Daniel Nava and Mike Carp.

It's doubtful that Carp will get many starts -- he'll be more limited to pinch-hitting appearances and perhaps a spot starts at first -- and it's possible that Gomes will be dealt.

Both Holt and Betts came up as infielders, but were blocked by established players at their natural positions. With Dustin Pedroia at second and some combination of Bogaerts, Marrero, Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini handling the left side of the infield, Betts and Holt are left to compete for playing time in the outfield.

It might be useful to move Holt around in the second half to determine whether he can handle the role of super-utility player, popping at different positions five or six times per week. As for Betts, he needs as many reps as he can in the outfield in order to insert himself into the team's plans for 2015.