Sunday Discussion: Up-and-Comers

How often might we see this sight at Fenway in 2012? (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Yesterday saw the return of baseball, more or less. The Red Sox played a pair of split-squad games, beating Northeastern University 25-0 in the afternoon, and defeating Boston College 6-3 in the nightcap. Today, they'll kick off official spring training play with a matchup against the Minnesota Twins.

Saturday's games also saw the spring training debuts of three players who may have important roles to play in the outcome of the 2012 season. Defensive whiz Jose Iglesias played at short and led off against Northeastern, while lefty hurler Felix Doubront and slugging catcher Ryan Lavarnway formed the starting battery against BC. All three players have seen small amounts of time in the majors, and each plays a position at which the Red Sox might require a boost. So as we get ready for the renewal of the Mayor's Cup rivalry, the question: which of these players will have the greatest impact on the 2012 Red Sox?

Of the three, Ryan Lavarnway has the least clear path to a spot on the 2012 major league roster. The Sox currently have Jarrod Saltalamacchia taking on starting catcher duties, with erstwhile PawSock Kelly Shoppach penciled in as the primary backup. As Ben covered on Wednesday, these two should provide the Red Sox with above-average production from the backstop, making Lavarnway no more than injury insurance for this season. On the other hand, Lavarnway put up a combined .290/.376/.563 line with 32 HR between AA Portland and AAA Pawtucket last year, and provided a few home runs for the struggling big-league club in September. A bat like that tends to force its way into a lineup sooner rather than later.

Jose Iglesias faces a similar dilemma, blocked by two capable big-leaguers at his position. The Red Sox already have Mike Aviles and Nick Punto ready to play shortstop, with the offensive upside of Aviles seemingly giving him the inside track on the starting job. Punto's an entirely worthwhile backup, and should see starts either when Aviles needs a rest day or when the Sox have a particularly grounder-prone pitcher on the mound (Clay Buchholz, for example). From all accounts, Iglesias's glove would play in the majors right now, but questions abound about his hitting. Marc covered this in January, and addressed the concern that Iglesias might just be another Rey Ordonez, the sort of all-glove no-hit-whatsoever player that a team like the Red Sox simply can't afford to give a lineup slot to. Should he show improvement to even Puntoesque levels of offense, though, there could be a spot waiting.

Felix Doubront's path to 2012 big-league relevance is the simplest of all. He's a pitcher. A starting pitcher. A left-handed starting pitcher. The Boston Red Sox, as you may have heard, are perhaps one or two pitchers shy of a contending rotation. Easy enough. On the other hand, all these things were true last year, and we saw him almost not at all. Matt Kory talked a bit about Doubront's lost 2011 a few weeks ago, and it's a fair question whether any of the concerns about Doubront's focus and conditioning have been allayed. If he's committed to a fresh start, though, his could be a useful arm.

So, readers of OTM, who of these three is most likely to lend an unexpected assist to the 2012 Red Sox' pursuit of a pennant? The slugging philosopher-catcher? The leather-slinging shortstop? Or the BC-slaying lefty? Chat it up.

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