Let's face it. Spring training is incredibly boring. After a long offseason -- especially during a winter that's been as miserable as this year's has been -- that can be strange to hear, since it feels wonderful that baseball is back. But after that first week or so of camp, it starts to sink in that this isn't really real baseball, and it just becomes another waiting game, this time for Opening Day. This isn't to say spring training is meaningless. Players need to get their work in. Some with specific aspects of their game they want to improve. Others just trying to get back into the swing of things. It's especially important for pitchers, who need to regain their arm strength. None of this is overly exciting for fans, though.
However, one fun thing to watch can be position battles. And, oh boy, do the Red Sox have a fun one in this year's camp. In one corner stands Jonathan Herrera, with Brock Holt(! \o/) occupying the other. Winner takes the utility man spot, and will also most likely stake claim to the title of least integral player on the major-league roster. Still, though, it's a position that needs to be filled, and the answer isn't entirely clear yet.*
*Of course, all of this is likely moot if Stephen Drew comes back.
Herrera is one of the few newcomers to this year's team, acquired in a deal with the Rockies in December. In the trade, the Red Sox parted ways with Franklin Morales, who heads to Colorado for the second time in his career. The former Rocky is most likely the frontrunner for this utility role, as he has more major-league experience than Holt. He has spent parts of four seasons with the big league squad in Colorado, serving as the back up in all those stints. Still, it was enough time for him to accumulate 1109 plate appearances, a significant enough sample to play with. In that time, he showed that he's not going to be the greatest hitter in the world, to put it lightly. He has a career .265/.325/.332 line, good (bad?) for a 67 wRC+. Remember, he's playing in the hitter's haven that is Coors Field, and still mustered just a .067 Isolated Power. Of course, this is a backup middle infielder we're talking about, so offense isn't overly important. He's proven to be a good enough defensive player to keep a major-league role. While he most likely has the lead in this competition, he does have a minor-league option remaining, and there seems to be a chance that Holt can play his way into the Opening Day role.
Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Holt, of course, was here last year, though he spent the vast majority of the season in Pawtucket, getting just 72 plate appearances with Boston in 2013. The 25-year-old came over from Pittsburgh last offseason in the deal for Joel Hanrahan, and struggled in his first year with his new organization. However, while he wasn't great with the stick last season, he'd been impressive enough offensively while in Pittsburgh's farm system that there is still reason enough that he can be an adequate hitter. Defensively, he isn't going to win any gold gloves, but he's proven his versatility at both levels, playing all around the diamond in 2013. His skillset makes him better as a second baseman, but, according to Sox Prospects, he is certainly passable at shortstop, especially for a utility player.
In the tale of the tape, there isn't too much doubt in my mind that Holt has the edge offensively. While Herrera hasn't posted a wRC+ above 100 since 2006, when he was in High-A, Holt has done it as recently as 2012, and was doing it on a consistent basis before this past year. Holt being a superior offensive player to Herrera seems clear looking at the stats, and it's an opinion that is shared by pretty much every projection system. However, as I said earlier, we're talking about a utility infielder, not a left fielder. Defense is a big consideration here, and Herrera has the edge. As a major leaguer, he has logged the majority of his innings at second base, and the numbers have rated him well there. Of course, with the Red Sox, he'll be spelling Xander Bogaerts a lot more than Dustin Pedroia (we hope), so shortstop defense is more important. Luckily, that's where he has played most often over the past two seasons. The bad news is that the defensive metrics don't like him nearly as much at short, but the sample isn't huge, and it's those metrics are far from gospel as it is. He's a fine defensive player, and would likely acclimate himself to shortstop quickly enough to at least be an upgrade over Holt, if not Bogaerts.
Honestly, this is probably a pretty close battle. With Herrera being five years Holt's elder, it's likely that he has an edge right now. The fact that he's a more sure-handed glove certainly doesn't hurt either. That doesn't mean the position is set, though. This is probably one of the few battles where the position can be won in spring training. If Holt shows real strides defensively, I could see him landing on the major-league roster for Opening Day, especially since he has more of a history with this organization. Herrera is still the favorite, but this is the one spot on the roster that finds itself with a real battle. It's not the most exciting position to following through the spring, but it's a boring time, so you'll have to take what you can get.