Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE
Boston finalized their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 draft, and made a few surprising decisions in the process
Most of what the Red Sox accomplished late on Tuesday made sense. They cut a lot of dead weight on the 40-man roster by removing players like Zach Stewart, Sandy Rosario, Danny Valencia, and David Carpenter. Players who, on a team with far more room, could have stayed on as depth, but in Boston, where the Red Sox began the day with just one open spot on the 40, made sense as cuts.
The adds mostly made sense, too. Alex Wilson could be on the Opening Day roster as a reliever, but could also serve as bullpen depth at Pawtucket all year. Christian Vazquez isn't about to be placed on the major-league roster, but even if his bat doesn't develop into that of a great offensive catcher, he is arguably their best defensive backstop in the entire organization besides maybe David Ross. There's a similar thinking to keeping Dan Butler, who, if Jarrod Saltalamacchia is traded, becomes the third viable catcher on the 40-man for major-league play in 2013. Steven Wright gives Boston team-controlled starting depth at Pawtucket, and that's always important. Allen Webster's addition was the most obvious of them all, as he's up there with Matt Barnes as some of the best Boston's pitching prospects have to offer.
Not all of the drops and adds make obvious sense, though. The Red Sox protected Triple-A outfielder Alex Hassan with one of the now-open 40-man spots, and the organization decided that Pedro Ciriaco was a more valuable utility infield piece than the recently acquired Ivan De Jesus.
Hassan has patience, that much is obvious from his career numbers, and even his tough season at Pawtucket in which he hit .256/.377/.365. Maybe he wouldn't have been safe in the Rule 5 draft, and the Red Sox wanted to ensure that if he breaks out, or has a repeat of his strong season at Double-A Portland, it's in their organization. But he's never hit for a ton of power, and is something of a designated hitter playing left field. His swing still needs a lot of work, as he doesn't generate enough power from his lower half, leaving it up to his walk rates to create all of his offensive value. That's something that will need to be rectified before he can head to the majors, as big-league pitchers, if they don't fear his bat, will cut into those free passes that comprise his game.
Another way to put it: if Hassan could hit .291/.404/.456 or thereabouts in the majors, as he did at Portland in 2011, then he'd be an obvious addition to the 40-man. But it seems a bit odd to protect him over say, Jeremy Hazelbaker, who is useful on the basepaths, in the outfield, and has shown a more consistent ability to hit for power. Hazelbaker has his own issues, as his walk rate has fallen the higher his level. But of the two, from an outside point of view, Hazelbaker seems the more obvious to be snatched up in the Rule 5 by someone with plenty of room on their roster for a lottery ticket. The Astros and the Marlins come to mind, especially post-Miami purge.
Would Hassan have been snatched up as well? The Red Sox might have heard a little gossip around the league saying as much, hence the placement on the 40-man. It still just seems odd, though, as the reports of many scouts make it seem as if Boston is the only one who thinks much of Hassan's future at this point. And it's not as if the options to add were limited to the likes of Hassan or Hazelbaker -- reliever Josh Fields is now in the same Rule 5-limbo as Hazelbaker and the rest of the unprotected players.
As for De Jesus, he lost out to Pedro Ciriaco as the team's utility infielder in the majors. De Jesus was out of options, as was Ciriaco, and with Boston adding so many players to the 40-man, one of them was going to go. De Jesus has had all of 80 plate appearances in the majors, including eight in Boston in 2012. It's tough to glean much from that, as he was poor in two small samples, and then decent in another. In the minors, he hasn't shown much power (and likely has even less than he's displayed in the upper levels thanks to the offense inflation of the Pacific Coast League) but he can draw a walk, and play multiple positions. Boston could use more players who can wait for their pitch or take a free pass, but De Jesus isn't going to be one of them, unless he sneaks through the Rule 5 in early December.
Ciriaco is a great defensive player, and his speed can be an asset off of the bench, but he has no game at the plate. Ciriaco has no plan at the plate, letting pitches in the strike zone go while wildly flailing at those out of the zone. Sometimes he gets a hold of one, but except for when he first came up in 2012, he was a black hole in the Red Sox lineup from which no offense could escape. There is a very real chance over a full season that Ciriaco hits about as well as Jose Iglesias, but with lesser defense, and does that while filling in at positions other than shortstop. That's an ugly thought -- this is where you start to hope that Boston can retain De Jesus despite designating him.
[Update] Take this for what it's worth, but Alex Speier has some of Boston's reasoning for why they retained Hassan:
Though he's shown limited power for now, the Sox believe that the corner outfielder has a chance to develop into some power later in his career (much as Kevin Youkilis did).
That's probably a stretch, but if they can get him to swing with the lower half of his body, he should be a better hitter. It just hasn't happened yet. And, as Speier further points out, Hassan's patience is a commodity that is rare on the market, meaning the Red Sox would have watched another team attempt to capture his potential usefulness in the Rule 5. As said above in the original version of this article, it's a long shot that Hassan develops into something. But what he could turn into would be a pretty good player, so it's at least defensible. More so than the Ciriaco retention, anyway.