The 13 things you need to know about these Red Sox so far


New England sports fans might be a bit distracted. You have NFL free agency this week, along with the constant quest to figure out exactly what they have in the Celtics and Bruins. So when the guesswork that comes with the Red Sox comes up, many are left scratching their heads.

It's difficult to figure out what to make of Alex Cora's crew.

Having soaked in two weeks worth of Grapefruit League games, along with a smattering of backfield workouts, we can offer the kind of takeaways some might be yearning for ...

- Christian Arroyo has been the best player in camp. Not only has the infielder totaled a .348 batting average, 1.009 OPS and three home runs, but virtually every out has also been hit hard. If Arroyo does emerge as a breakout performer, it would allow Cora to utilize Kiké Hernandez to fill in the gaps for what might be a slightly uncertain outfield alignment. Arroyo can also play both second and shortstop, having come into camp clearly more athletic than his introduction to the Red Sox six months ago.

- While it appears as though Cora is prioritizing playing Alex Verdugo and Hunter Renfroe in center field, Hernandez seems a natural when playing the position. This reality was put in display Sunday when adeptly making a pinpoint throw home. And as for Hernandez's role atop the lineup, the priority is clearly to take advantage of the righty hitter's propensity to hunt early-count fastballs, as was the case when he attacked the initial pitch of the game Sunday. (He was 5-for-11 when putting the first pitch in play in 2020, and has hit .364 in such situations for his career.) Also, a side note, former Red Sox pitcher Joe Kelly has taken Hernandez's locker with the Dodgers.

- It's striking how much pitchers are attacking J.D. Martinez on the outside part of the plate. The results have been hit and miss, with the designated hitter managing just one extra-base hit (a double) while striking out eight times without a walk. The results shouldn't be too noteworthy, but the pitchers' approach might be.

- When it comes position players, there haven't been too many disappointments. Even the regular with the lowest batting average, Rafael Devers, has started to put better swings on balls, as was evident with his 425-foot home run Sunday. There is a very conscious effort to have the third baseman hit the ground running on April 1 with Devers owning the most plate appearances of any player in camp. Also, after a somewhat rocky first week or so in the field he has bounced back with a couple of above-average plays.

- While Arroyo might have staked claim to the camp's top performer, Jonathan Arauz isn't far behind. Last year's Rule 5 pick is playing with a ton of confidence, both at the plate and in the field, owning the most hits (9) of any Sox hitter. But with Arroyo out of options and Arauz now having roster flexibility, the infielder will most likely have to wait his turn.

- Bobby Dalbec's existence was summed up in just a matter of three games this past week. The first baseman struck out six straight times (not really coming close on most of the at-bats) before finally grounding out in his second at-bat Wednesday. The contact was enough to get Dalbec locked back in, launching a grand slam in his next at-bat.

- After Cora's proclamation that he wanted the Red Sox to become more athletic, they own the fewest stolen bases (1) of any big league team. The manager noted, however, that shouldn't be indicative of what will be coming when the regular season rolls about, suggesting they simply haven't prioritized that part of the game thus far.

- The pregame backfield workouts are completely different than in years past, with no fans and pretty much no media there to watch. The defensive drills are ripe with competition, with batting practice accompanied by blaring music. The lack of attention is clearly a positive for many of the high-profile players who normally may feel under the microscope. A huge tip of the cap for the attitude also can be attributed to bench coach Will Venable, while assistant hitting coach Peter Fatse helping organize the BP playlist.

- Judging by early returns and appearances, it would seem Matt Barnes clearly has the upper-hand in the competition for the closers role. While the curveball has become the reliever's bread-and-butter in recent years, his jump in fastball velocity so far in these games has been notable.

- Speaking of fastballs, Rule 5 pick Garrett Whitlock's two-seamer might be cementing his spot on the roster. The Twins' hitters' reaction on the righty's 95-96 mph offerings Sunday were what the Sox staff was looking for. In three outings, he certainly looks like a major league pitcher. And then there is the other part of the equation ... not returning Whitlock to his old team and watching him become something with the Yankees.

- Overall, the Red Sox have to be encouraged by the starting rotation. Sure, there were Garrett Richards' first two outings, and Nathan Eovaldi's final frame at Hammond Stadium. But the group of Eduardo Rodriguez, Nick Pivetta, Martin Perez, Matt Andriese, Richards and Eovaldi have been about as encouraging as the Red Sox could most likely have hoped for.

- While we heard all about Richards' spin rate and stuff, the weapon he broke out in his last outing -- a paralyzing backdoor curveball -- was perhaps the biggest eye-opener. It's a pitch he only threw about seven percent of the time in 2020, without great results. But considering the Red Sox' recent success with 12-to-6 curveball guys (Brandon Workman, Barnes), the pitch might be a welcome new addition for the starter.

- There aren't a lot of fans, but no matter. "I can't tell you what a different having fans in the stands makes," Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush said. And while there will certainly be at least some added energy thanks to fan attendance, it should also be noted that the Red Sox' dugout is also already noticeably more boisterous than a year ago. Considering the need for teams to continue to supply their own energy, this is of some importance.