Spring training games for minor-league camp are set to begin on March 13, so it's no surprise to see that the Red Sox are making cuts at big-league camp. This will narrow down the number of players fighting for playing time in major-league exhibition games, while giving players expected to begin the year in the minors more at-bats and innings facing off against their appropriate level of competition.
Outfielders Alex Hassan, J.C. Linares, and Jeremy Hazelbaker, along with first baseman/outfielder Mark Hamilton, and pitcher Steven Wright, were all cut from big-league camp and sent to the minor-league version on Tuesday. Hassan, due to a stress fracture in his foot, hasn't played during spring training at all, but even if he had, he was a likely cut by this stage. Yes, he's on the 40-man roster, but that was so the Red Sox didn't lose him in the Rule 5, not because they think he's major-league ready. Since he's on the 40, he was optioned to minor-league camp, whereas Hamilton has been reassigned.
Hamilton was a non-roster invite signed to a minor-league deal, a player who might be nothing more than minor-league depth for the Red Sox at first and in left. He hasn't hit much this spring, and the Sox, given the David Ortiz situation, need to give at-bats at those positions to players who are vying for the Opening Day roster. With the sheer number of permutations to fill in at DH in the season's opening days, there just isn't room for Hamilton in major-league spring training contests from here on out.
J.C. Linares has also been reassigned, after a strong spring that saw him hit .364/.375/.545 in 12 games. Linares has potential as a future bench outfielder with a solid glove and some contact skills, but as his spring has reminded us, he needs to learn to take a pitch against those who can come at him with more than just fastballs. A decision doesn't need to be made about the 28-year-old's 40-man status until this upcoming November, though, when he's eligible for the Rule 5 draft, so he still has time to work on that at Triple-A Pawtucket. Jeremy Hazelbaker was already eligible for the Rule 5, and wasn't picked up by any other club -- he too might have a future as a bench bat with a glove, but he'll need to spend more time at Triple-A before that's a given.
As for Wright, he's struggled with his control this spring and owns an exhibition ERA over nine. That means little, given it's the spring, but also given how knucklers develop. The Red Sox do have Wright on the 40-man already, so they thought enough of him to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this off-season, but it's likely they want to see much more of him at Triple-A Pawtucket, in order to see how well he can command the pitch that will define his career, before bringing him into the big-league plans.
More cuts are sure to come before too long, as the roster is still at 52 players even after this round of winnowing. For the most part, the Opening Day roster doesn't need to be set until, well, Opening Day, but a decision on Lyle Overbay will have to come sooner given the nature of his contract, as a major-league player signed to a minor-league deal. Another dozen players, at least, are sure to be reassigned before that decision is made, though.