With the start of Spring Training just a few weeks away, anticipation is building for the 2017 season. MLB.com is going around the horn to break down each area of the Red Sox, continuing with the corner infield.
At the two corner infield spots, the Red Sox have one new face and one rebuilt body. The hope is that first baseman Mitch Moreland and third baseman Pablo Sandoval can provide steady production on both sides of the plate.
Considering how much firepower Boston has offensively, Moreland and Sandoval don't need to put up gaudy numbers. More than anything, reliability is the expectation here.
In three of the past four years, Moreland has hit 22 or 23 homers. And last year, he added a Rawlings Gold Glove Award to his resume.
"I always believed that kid could be special," David Ortiz said of Moreland last month. "It all depends on how much they play him."
At the very least, Moreland should start at first base against righties. Depending on how well he can tailor his left-handed swing for Fenway Park, it could develop into more playing time. In 2016, Moreland performed better against lefties.
"We're certainly open to his at-bats growing in number against left-handers," manager John Farrell said of Moreland. "Last year was his best year against left-handers in his big league career. With Mitch getting everyday at-bats against right-handed starters at first base and Hanley [Ramirez] moving to the DH spot alignment, we also have the ability against quality left-handers that Hanley would go back to first base."
Ramirez performed surprisingly well last season in his transition to first base. He will get at least some playing time there. But the fact that Ramirez can rest his legs should mean good things for his durability and production.
As for Sandoval, you are likely to do a double take the first few times you see him this spring. He might even need a new nickname. Panda, as he has been called throughout the years, has slimmed down considerably. This much is apparent from the several photos of him that have been posted on social media.
Coming off an unproductive first year with the Red Sox, Sandoval lost his job last Spring Training to Travis Shaw and then lost his season due to a left shoulder injury that required surgery. To Sandoval's credit, he turned a negative into a positive, using the downtime as an opportunity to reshape his body. But he will still have to prove he can be productive again.
Rick Porcello and Ramirez provided two examples this past season of how dramatically a player can bounce back.
"Totally," said Farrell. "And now that Pablo's put the shoulder issue behind him, he's again done a great job of getting in better condition. And I would think he sees those living examples in the same room with him, that these things are possible and the opportunity is going to be there to do that."
The path for Sandoval to get his job back was cleared when Shaw and Yoan Moncada were traded on the same day at the Winter Meetings.
"I have to commend Panda for the work he's put in," said Farrell. "He's got two years to maybe redeem himself on. We don't kid ourselves. Those first two years were rough for him. But he's driven, he's committed."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.