The Red Sox went into Spring Training with very few questions about what the 25-man roster would look like on opening day- really, the only two things that were up in the air were the last two bullpen spots and the last utility infielder.
Now, about a month later, the same two questions have been narrowed down greatly, but we still don't know the final answer- presumably the bench will have Hall and Lowell unless the Sox manage to trade Lowell, but the bullpen is still in question.
Essentially, it looks like at this point, there are five men left standing competing for 2 spots- Boof Bonser, Scott Atchison, Joe Nelson, Brian Shouse, and Alan Embree. All of these guys have their own personal pluses and minuses, but I want to take a few minutes to discuss my personal favorite candidate for the bullpen- Scott Atchison.
Atchison originally pitched in the MLB for the Mariners and Giants from 2004-2007, have some decent success in the Majors. After being signed by the Sox in 2008, he decided to go to Japan instead, where he enjoyed quite a bit of success and did quite well. It turned out just a couple of years later, however, that he would have to return to the USA to be near the doctors needed to treat his daughter (who was born with a rare condition where she has no radius bones in her forearm). The Sox quickly re-signed him to a very team-friendly contract and promised him a chance to compete for a job.
And he has competed: so far in 8.2 innings of spring training, he has allowed 2 ER (both on solo homers), striking out 5, while only walking one and allowing a total of 6 hits. Personally I'm led to believe that he has an inside track for the job at the moment from the fact that he has been used mainly earlier in games, so he has been facing more major league players than many other relievers.
Obviously, anything we see in spring training is a small sample size, and must be taken with a grain of salt. If, however, we look at his entire career, we see a fairly dependable pitcher. His fastball sits just about 90, with an effective slider and curveball. His control has always been good- with a career K:BB Ratio of 2.8 in the MLB, though last year in Japan he saw a remarkable improvement in that (his 2008 was right about on par with his MLB numbers). He is effective at getting groundballs, especially with his off-speed pitches.
Perhaps most importantly of all for the Red Sox current bullpen situation is that he is just as effective against lefty hitters as he is against right handed batters. Left handed hitters hit for quite a bit of power against him, but only hit .222 over his career and get on base at a rate of just .311 - making it so left handed batters actually have a slightly worse OPS against him.
Almost just as important as all of this though, is it is just plain beneficial for the Red Sox for him to succeed- the deal he signed with the Sox becomes very beneficial for the team if he performs well in his return. He is signed for the league minimum in 2010, with club options of $440,000 and $600,000 for 2011 and 2012, respectively. This is compared to someone like Shouse, who makes at least $800k this year if he makes the roster and will walk as a free agent after this year. If Atchison can prove to be an effective reliever (which I see no reason to believe he can't), he can be a very cost-effective weapon in the bullpen for several years to come.