The biggest competition during Spring Training for the 2011-edition Red Sox is taking place at shortstop. This position has not been held down consistently since the departure of Nomar. The Red Sox had star prospect turned star player Hanley Ramirez in their farm system, but traded him in the Beckett deal. Last season, Marco Scutaro started here, but now he has perennial "break out" threat Jed Lowrie healthy and ready to challenge him.
Francona has already made it clear that he will be choosing his incumbent to start the year, so the real question is who will finish the year. Barring any injuries, I believe Lowrie will force his way into the line up. Last season, Scutaro was an unsung hero for this team. With all of the injuries, including one to Jacoby Ellsbury, Scutaro was thrusted into the leadoff spot for much of the year. He filled in nicely, putting up a .275 BA, .333 OBP, 92 R, 11 HR and 56 RBI, while appearing in 150 games. While the numbers don't jump off the page, he was very consistent for a team that seemingly threw out a different line up on a nightly basis.
However, Scutaro is turning 35 this season. That is traditionally the end of a players prime, so I definitely expect to see some regression. On the other hand, Lowrie is turning 27, which as I mentioned in the Lester v. Beckett blog, is the age where players break out. The Red Sox have been waiting for Lowrie, the 73rd ranked prospect in baseball after the 2007 season. In that year, Lowrie started in AA Portland, and ended up in AAA Pawtucket, and put up numbers at both levels. In the entire year, combining stats from both stops, Lowrie hit .298, with 13 HR, 70 RBI and an OPS of .896, all in 133 games. This season led the Red Sox front office to believe he would be ready in 2008, and they expected that they had found their future SS. However, Lowrie has not been able to stay healthy in the majors. His career high for games played is 81 in 2008. In 2009, he had to have surgery on his left wrist, which is finally completely healed this year. For the first time since that 2008 season, Lowrie will be completely healthy. It is a make or break season for Lowrie and I think he realizes that. So while he will start the year as a utility guy off the bench, he will end up as the starting shortstop soon enough. Here are my predicted stats for both Scutaro and Lowrie.
Scutaro- 84 G, .260 BA, 7 HR, 42 RBI, .316 OBP.
Lowrie- 124 G, .274 BA, 17 HR, 86 RBI, .845 OPS
Besides catcher, this is the biggest hole in the Sox lineup, and those numbers don't look half bad.