Can Bellhorn replicate 2004?
Mark Bellhorn arrived in Boston via the Colorado Rockies, who received future considerations for Bellhorn. He had been selected in the 37th round of the 1992 amateur draft by the Padres, but elected to go to college. In the 2nd round in 1995, he was picked by the Athletics and then was traded in 2001 to the Cubs for Adam Morrissey. He was shipped to Colorado in the middle of 2003 along with Travis Anderson for Jose Hernandez.
Bellhorn made the A’s at age 22 in 1997 and bounced between the big-league club and AAA until he was traded to the Cubs, always showing potential in AAA but never getting an extended shot in the bigs save for his 22-year old season. Bellhorn is one of these players that needs playing time to produce, and you just can’t rely on him as a bench player. The Cubs gave him a shot in 2002 when he amassed 445 AB, with a line of .258/.374/.512 with 27 HR. He lost his job next year, after starting as the Cubs’ third-baseman. A .209/.341/.317 line will do that for you. He did not hit a HR for Colorado after the trade either and suffered to a .236/.368/.264 (this is Colorado) line as a bench player.
The Red Sox love OBP, so we got him. When Nomar went down to injury, Bellhorn was able to start off as a starter, which more than likely saved his season. 138 games later, he was sitting at a .264/.354/.444 line with a ton of walks and strikeouts. Early this off season it was mentioned that Bellhorn would work extensively to cut the strikeouts down, so we will see how that goes. While Bellhorn did have a solid 2004, I think a lot of people are overlooking – Theo and Co. included – the possibility that Bellhorn could fall flat on his face. Just ask the Cubs how high they were on Bellhorn after 2002 and what happened in 2003.
If he does fall flat on his face, he won’t go anywhere because he still has a good OBP and over his career, has played every position but catcher and pitcher. Even then, he’s the emergency catcher for the Red Sox. But Bellhorn as a bench-player, as mentioned, is not very hot. In 2003, he hit .136 with 6 walks as a pinch-hitter. (I could not find pinch-hitting statistics for 2004.) He is, however, very good in the clutch. In 2004, he hit .225/.330 with no one on base, and .309/.420 with runners on. He especially enjoyed Fenway, hitting .283/.380.
I don’t think Mark Bellhorn will fall flat on his face, but I highly doubt he will repeat his 2004 season. I think a better bet is an average of his 2002, 2003, and 2004 seasons which would put him in line to achieve a .253/.369/.438 SLG. Is it as good as 2004? No, but it’s a LOT better than what 2003 was, and it’s certainly enough to keep his job.
But what if he does fall flat?
You can’t automatically write Bellhorn in … you can’t write him out, either … but the possibility is there. In the beginning of the season, Bellhorn wasn’t expected to contribute. (Sure, we expected him to play well, but I think he surpassed a lot of people’s expectations.) He did. Great. In 2002, he wasn’t, and he did. In 2003, he was expected to contribute, and he didn’t. I’m not saying that mental games play a part of this, I’m just illustrating he’s not the hallmark of consistency.
So what if he does?
Can Kevin Youkilis play second? No. Can Bill Mueller? The answer will surprise you, but … no. He has only played 48 games at second base – 14 in 2004, 10 in 2002, 1 in 2001, 2 in 2000, 3 in 1999, 10 in 1998, 8 in 1997. Can he play second, I guess. Can he play it well? How can we judge that? So we’d have a dilemma here. We could slot Youkilis at third and Mueller at second and cross our fingers. That’s our best bet, right?
But can Youkilis repeat 2004? A lot of people are excited about him (me included) because he hit .260/.367/.413 for the Red Sox in 208 AB. Great, but what about 2004 at Pawtucket, when he had 154 AB and hit .266/.350/.403. I know you’re a little confused now, so remember this – Kevin Youkilis in Pawtucket was horrible until he came up to the majors, then went on a tear when he was sent back down temporarily. Plus, have you ever heard of the sophomore jinx? He is no sure thing. So who’s next? Ramon Vazquez, who hit .261/.342/.341 for the Padres in 2003 in 422 AB? No thanks. While he’s a great utility guy to have, him as a starter scares me.
Bottom line is this: Mark Bellhorn is no sure thing. Kevin Youkilis is no sure thing. Ramon Vazquez does not have the power to start.
So who’s next? Kenny Perez in AAA? No thanks, he’s going to be a Ramon Vazquez clone. Who’s next? Ah, then we get two intriguing choices … you’ve heard their name in this space before … Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia.
But they’re at least a year or two away. So we don’t exactly have a lot of depth, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a trade for a second baseman should Bellhorn flop. But who? Who out there would trade their second-baseman? The only one off the top of my head I can think of is Ron Belliard of the Indians, but even he had what many think was a fluke 2004 season, so what if he regresses in 2004? Who then?
A lot of people are writing the Red Sox off (wrongly so) because they think the Yankees are so powerful with a great rotation, and they fail to see our offense is better and our rotation is just as good as theirs. If you want to write the Red Sox off, write them off because of the possibility of Mark Bellhorn failing. If he does, we don’t have a bridge from Johnny Damon to Manny Ramirez. We could move Edgar Renteria to #2, sure, but Terry Francona tipped his hand the other day and said he sees Edgar as the #6 hitter, or thereabouts. So now we’re missing a great gap in #6, so we move Nixon, Varitek and Mueller up, creating a hole in the nine-spot. Could we get away with Bellhorn/Youkilis/Vazquez in the nine-slot? We certainly could, but then our batting order gets weak near the end.
We were very spoiled the last two years, and while when you think about it, Bellhorn/Youkilis/Vazquez in the nine-slot certainly could be acceptable because come on, we’re so deep. And I agree, but the fact is this: we got where we are the last two years because of our ridiculously deep offense. I would love to say it was the pitching (starting that is) and be right, but I would be wrong. It did help us win, but it didn’t get us there. Our offense did, and a drop-off from Mueller in the nine-slot to Vazquez in the nine-slot could change the outcome of games.
And don’t forget about Kevin Millar. What if he starts off with a weak first half again (second half would cripple us more, because then we couldn’t make a trade)? What if Roberto Petagine doesn’t succeed in the MLB, as he couldn’t before? We then have a gigantic black hole at first base.
Big question marks at first and second base with little power coming from there is not a recipe for success.
We could see Hanley Ramirez in Boston sooner than we think – just on the opposite side of the second-base bag. As for first base, that’s a debate for another time.