John Tomase

Red Sox lineup represents team's best bet for 2024 contention

Can the Red Sox hit their way to respectability this season?

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It's probably not going to be the young starting rotation with virtually no margin for error. It follows that it won't be the potentially overtaxed bullpen, either. The defense? Please. Let's just get back to average in that department.

That leaves the lineup. If the Red Sox have any chance of surprising us this season, it's going to come down to their offense.

The good news is there's legitimate growth potential, with multiple breakout candidates and a major bounce-back one, too.

If the Red Sox can score, they may be able to stay afloat in an American League East that's temporarily without top-tier starters like Gerrit Cole in New York, Kyle Bradish in Baltimore, Shane McClanahan in Tampa, and maybe Kevin Gausman in Toronto.

The Red Sox aren't typically mentioned as a top-10 offense, but the potential is there. Let's take it one through nine.

1. Jarren Duran, RF

Manager Alex Cora said early in spring training that he envisioned Duran as his leadoff man, and the athletic outfielder has done nothing to change his mind with a solid spring.

Before breaking his toe in a freak injury that ended his season last August, Duran stood as one of the 2023 season's great success stories, hitting .295 with an .828 OPS and 24 steals in 26 chances. He stopped swinging for the fences and unlocked gap-to-gap power.

We haven't focused on him much this spring, but Duran's game-changing speed turns singles into doubles and makes him an outstanding table setter.

2. Rafael Devers, 3B

The $300 million third baseman won a Silver Slugger last year despite never really carrying the attack like the Red Sox desperately needed. His .271-33-100 numbers were kind of empty by his standards, but he has consistently hammered the ball this spring, particularly to left field, hitting .378 with four homers and a 1.129 OPS.

Devers turned 27 in October and is in the heart of his prime. He's easily a top-25 overall hitter, but the Red Sox need him to crack the top 10 to really be in business.

3. Trevor Story, SS

Blessed with his first healthy spring since arriving in Boston, Story has delivered solid production and looks ready to reclaim his place as a run producer who also happens to play Gold Glove defense. On a team desperate for leadership, Story has stepped up.

The Red Sox would love a return to his days as someone who can be counted on for 25 to 35 home runs, sneaky speed, and dynamic all-around play. There's still time to offer a return on the team's six-year, $140 million investment.

4. Triston Casas, 1B

There's an outside possibility that Devers isn't even the best overall hitter on the team. That distinction very well could belong to Casas, a hulking combination of power and patience who took off in the second half last year with some of the best numbers in baseball.

Casas blasted 24 homers and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting, and it doesn't feel like he remotely scratched the surface. He has the potential to post David Ortiz-like numbers at the plate.

5. Tyler O'Neill, LF

The groin that has slowed the oft-injured outfielder this spring is a concern, but as recently as 2021, O'Neill slammed 34 homers, won a Gold Glove, and finished eighth in the NL MVP voting with the Cardinals.

The musclebound slugger altered his offseason workout routine to emphasize flexibility in a bid to stay healthy. He'll need to prove he can hit right-handers, but he's a force against lefties and should greatly improve the defense in left field, too.

6. Masataka Yoshida, DH

In a perfect world, the Red Sox would not be devoting $18 million annually to a one-dimensional DH, but Yoshida's lousy defense in left field has left them no choice.

There's a history of Japanese position players hitting their stride in year two, the most recent example being Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki, and the Red Sox can only hope that Yoshida follows suit. He'll be lucky to hit 20 homers, but the Red Sox would accept doubles and walks.

7. Vaughn Grissom, 2B

Grissom is going to open the season on the injured list with a bad hamstring, but long-term, the Red Sox like his potential to hit .300 and mature into the power befitting his impressive size.

Grissom is built like former Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts and he owns an outstanding lifetime average of .320 in the minors. The best lineups include players of varying skillsets, and Grissom's bat-to-ball ability is elite.

8. Connor Wong, C

He's got some pop, anyway. Wong wore down while playing 126 games last year, but the athletic backstop possesses some power that won't be fully unlocked unless he becomes more selective.

Wong struck out 134 times and walked only 22 in 2023, giving away too many at-bats. He doesn't turn 28 until May, however, and the Red Sox still believe he has everyday catcher potential, at least until prospect Kyle Teel arrives.

9. Ceddanne Rafaela, CF

The boom-or-bust potential with Rafaela is strong. Despite some strides in selectivity this spring, he remains a free swinger who compensates for poor decision-making with quick hands and excellent athleticism.

Cora has preached patience for two years now, and if Rafaela can figure it out even a little bit, his athleticism absolutely plays, as does his tremendous defense.

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