If you liked the 2018 Red Sox -- and if you're a fan of the team, who wouldn't? -- then chances are good that you'll like the 2019 edition, too.
Why? One simple reason: very, very little has changed.
Ian Kinsler is gone, having signed with San Diego over the winter. But for now -- and this could change any minute now when it comes to the catching department -- everybody else who was on the postseason roster last October is back.
Different season, same players.
But in case you've forgotten, we'll go over them all, position-by-position.
Starting last June, the Red Sox essentially installed a platoon at first base, with Mitch Moreland getting the majority of the playing time against right-handed starters and Steve Pearce in the lineup against lefties. It will be more of the same in 2019.
The Red Sox may have to be careful with Moreland, who has been limited in each of the last two seasons with a knee which occasionally flares up. And Pearce has had an uneven spring, with a nasty bug taking him out of commission at the beginning and a bothersome calf pull at the end of camp.
Other options: Sam Travis would make the roster if Pearce isn't quite ready and could get a look, but has yet to demonstrate he can hit major league pitching. Michael Chavis is an intriguing option should he get off to a good start at Triple-A, but has looked unsure defensively at first and needs more time there.
Scout's take: "Professional hitters who buy in, have good at-bats and enough power. They've bought in."
Here's where it gets interesting. The Red Sox are hoping that they can get 120 games or so from Dustin Pedroia but, of course, can't be assured of that as he recovers from multiple surgical procedures on his left knee. Pedroia is confident of his ability to return to near-peak form, but then, he was last year, and ended up playing just three games.
Obviously, the Sox will have to monitor Pedroia's workload for the duration of the season, with an eye on preserving him physically. That could mean significant playing time for either Brock Holt or Eduardo Rodriguez -- or both. Holt is best featured as a player who moves around and takes advantage of his versatility. Nunez was a shadow of himself last year -- at the plate and especially at second base -- but looked vastly improved this spring and should be a bigger contributor.
Scout's take: "If Pedroia's semi-heathy and can play 100 games, that will help. He's got the high motor I don't see it as a position of weakness. Nunez looks so much better. Holt is the standard for the super-utility guy, so they're covered.''
Xander Bogaerts enters his walk year on the cusp of stardom. He's 26 and just now entering his prime. He knocked in 103 runs last year and posted an .883 OPS while also showing far more dependability at short, committing just 10 errors. What he lacks in range he makes up for in steadiness. A 30-homer season would seem within reach, and Alex Cora wants him to take further advantage of his base-stealing ability.
Holt will serve as the primary backup, with Nunez also available in a pinch.
Other options: Tzu-Wei Lin, accomplished with the glove but unproven from an offensive standpoint, is a short trip away at Pawtucket
Scout's take: "I think he's an All-Star. Everyone bashes him, but this guy's a good player. Maybe he's not at the Lindor-Correa level, but he's at the top of next level. Consistently a good player, offensively and defensively.''
Some in the organization believe Rafael Devers could enjoy a truly breakout season. He's better conditioned and thus, more athletic. He was the team's most explosive hitter in the spring -- if such a thing matters -- and may have earned himself a promotion to No. 3 spot in the lineup. Hitting after Mookie Betts and in front of J.D. Martinez isn't a bad spot to be. Defensively, the streamlined physique could mean better range for Devers, but the Sox would likely settle for more consistency there, with a reduction in some of the careless throwing errors to which he's been prone.
Nunez will be the choice at third if the Sox want to give Devers a rest, or sit him against a tough lefty.
Other options: Bobby Dalbec will likely begin the year at Double-A Portland, but it would surprise few if he got some time in the big leagues, especially in the second half. Chavis could help out here in the short-term, too.
Scout's take: "Sky's the limit (for Devers). Think about it -- he's 22-year-old and he's going to hit third in the best lineup in baseball. He's worked at it. He's bought in and you haven't seen the best of him. He's just starting to scratch the surface of what he can be. There's so few young No. 3 hitters, but he could be one.''
Entering his third full season in the big leagues, Andrew Benintendi will take over leadoff duties and that will bear watching. For whatever reason, Benintendi had a troubling dropoff in power in the second half last year (two homers and a .384 slugging percentage) and was still tinkering with his swing some in the final weeks of spring training. Defensively, he's grown more confident playing in front of The Wall and if last year's postseason proved anything, it's that he's athletic enough to cut balls off in gaps.
Other options: Jackie Bradley Jr. or Martinez can fill in on occasion. In Pawtucket, the Sox have either Gorkys Hernandez or Bryce Brentz.
Scout's take: "He's hit since he arrived. The outfield play in left field, that's a little unsung. He doesn't self-promote. What a tough out, he's a quality hitter. You can hit him first, second, sixth. ... The power? He'll be fine.''
Did Jackie Bradley Jr. turn the corner in the second half last year? Bradley (and the Red Sox) dearly hope so. He worked all winter to maintain the swing that he discovered in his eighth year in pro ball. He'll need to continue to elevate the ball and maintain better control of the strike zone. It will be interesting to see what he can accomplish as a more consistent offensive presence. Defensively, of course, he's very nearly without peer.
Other options: Benintendi, Mookie Betts, or, if there's an injury and a roster spot to fill, Hernandez.
Scout's take: "Phenomenal defender. Sitting in the bottom of the order, he's dangerous. You don't need a lot out of him. He can do some damage and if he's re-worked the swing, look out.''
Mookie Betts has moved into the Best Player in the Game conversation. If he doesn't lead it, he's on a very, very exclusive list of those who are worthy. His 2018 season was so outstanding, it's difficult to find room for improvement. Betts is the rare, actual five-tool player. If you're going to get picky, he would benefit from maintaining his early-in-the-count aggressiveness, as he tends to regress to a more passive approach at times. And, looking forward a bit, a more dominant postseason performance would be welcome. Other than that, he's pretty much the perfect player.
Other options: Martinez will play right occasionally, with Betts shifting to center. Brentz and Hernandez remain in reserve in the event of (the horror!) an injury to the AL MVP.
Scout's take: "He makes everything looks easy. He's a smart, instinctive baserunner. You watch him play the outfield, and he seldom misses a cutoff man. Every at-bat is good. If you made a baseball player who wasn't this big, strapping, linebacker type, you'd come up with Mookie. He's the anti-Trout physically. He's fun to watch and you'd pay money to watch him. There's nothing he can't do.''
The Red Sox have been fortunate with this position -- excepting the 2017 season, when the team dearly missed the presence of David Ortiz. The arrival of Martinez last year transformed the lineup. He's the rare hitter who changes the course of the entire batting order. In his first season in Boston, he nearly won the Triple Crown. It's hard to imagine that there's a more impactful hitter in either league.
Other options: On the days that Martinez plays the outfield (expect 50 or so starts there, like last year), Cora can use the opportunity to get one of his regular defenders off their feet, or get Pearce or Moreland (whoever is not playing first) into an additional game.
Scout's take: "Never mind what he does in the box -- I think his passion for hitting and getting everyone on that team thinking about and talking about hitting all the time, might be his biggest contribution.''
With reports indicating that the Red Sox have placed Sandy Leon on waivers, it would appear that Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart will handle the catching duties. The Red Sox hope is that Vazquez can be more the player he was in the second half and in October than he was in the first half. His ability to control the running game is unmatched, but he needs more consistency as a receiver and, obviously, as a hitter. Swihart had a strong spring at the plate and has gained the confidence of the organization for his steady improvement behind the plate. That said, there will be a learning curve when it comes to game-calling and handling of the staff. It will be interesting to see how some of the veteran starters adjust to not having Leon behind the plate.
Other options: If there's an injury to either of the starters, the Sox will have Juan Centeno and Oscar Hernandez, each of whom has limited major league experience. They're strictly catch-and-throw options in an emergency.
Scout's take: "I have some concern about Swihart. He hasn't played. Vazquez will be a key guy for me. He needs to catch 100-110 games. For me, among the position players, this is the one potential area of weakness.''