Amidst all the misery that engulfed the 2014 Red Sox, we had the joy of witnessing the breakout of Brock Holt. Though it’s probably far-fetched to ever see that kind performance from Mr. \o/ ever again, he made watching the disaster of a season much more fun than it should have been. There was phenomenal defense all over the diamond, the seemingly infinite multi-hit nights and general exuberance that you only see from out-of-nowhere seasons like that. He took the city by storm, and has locked up a spot on the 2015 Opening Day roster. Can we be so lucky to have another breakout next season? There are a few candidates in the organization to play that role.
Before we look ahead at who could be the next Brock Holt, we need to look at who he was heading into 2014. Acquired in the Joel Hanrahan trade, he was just a little more than a throw-in. He had a small taste of major-league play with Pittsburgh, but he was mostly a career minor leaguer up to that point. Going into spring training last year, he was entrenched in a battle for the Opening Day utility man role with Jonathan Herrera, a battle he would eventually lose. Holt tore up triple-A to start 2014, though, and we all know what happened when he finally got the call to the bigs.
So, as we look towards the 2015 version, we need to cross off any prominent prospects, former or current. That means Jackie Bradley can’t make the list, despite his expectations precipitously falling since last spring. Garin Cecchini still remains in most top-10’s as well, so he’s also disqualified.The same goes for the entire Pawtucket rotation, and obviously Blake Swihart. The following players have some chance at an out-of-nowhere breakout, though.
This one may be kind of a stretch, since there are definitely some huge Coyle fans out there. I haven’t seen him in any top-10s, though, so we’ll count him. He may be the odds-on favorite to be this year’s Holt. The former third round pick should be getting his first taste of AAA ball this year, with a chance to be called up sometime around midseason if a need arises. He spent all of last year in Portland and put up an impressive .295/.371/.512 line in 384 plate appearances. The batting average is something of an anomaly compared to the rest of his minor-league numbers, but there is some real pop in his bat. The 23-year-old would fill Holt’s utility infielder mold too, playing mostly second base in his pro career while getting some time at third last season. There would need to be multiple injuries and/or underperformance to open up a spot for him, but there is potential for a spark in his bat if the chance arises.
It doesn’t have to be a position player to fill Holt’s shoes. A pitcher could easily provide the same spark Holt did, both in the rotation or out of the bullpen. Wright has had a few stints in the majors with the Red Sox, but has mostly been a 4A depth piece in his three years with the organization. He’s 30-years-old now, but that’s only like 16 in knuckleballer years. He actually had an impressive 2014 with Pawtucket, putting up a 3.41 ERA over 95 innings with a K/BB ratio over three. Wright also tossed 21 frames for Boston with a 2.57 ERA (153 ERA+) and a 22/4 K/BB. It’s unclear where he stands on the pitching depth chart right now, but he’s shown an ability to perform, and the fact that he throws knuckleballs adds the all-important fun factor that Holt provided a year ago.
Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Ramirez is a bit of a long shot to fill Holt’s shoes since he’s not on the 40-man roster, and thus is presumably buried on the pitcher depth chart. There was some speculation that the Red Sox may protect the 25-year-old from being selected in the Rule 5 draft, but they ended up successfully sneaking him through. Ramirez was drafted in 2011 as a starter, but converted to the bullpen in 2013 and has had fantastic results. Over 142-2/3 innings between Salem and Portland, he had posted a 2.27 ERA with a 131/33 K/BB. In 2015, he is expected to get his first try at triple-A hitters, but likely the only way he will find himself on the big league roster is if he forces his way there, or the team experiences an ungodly amount of injuries. He’s shown an ability to be dominant out of the bullpen, though, and has the potential to make a huge impact in an unexpected, Holt-like fashion.
While the Red Sox opted to sneak Ramirez through the Rule 5 draft, they did wind up protecting Shaw. The 24-year-old first baseman raked in AA Portland to start the season to the tune of a .406 OBP, but scuffled a bit in his first stint with Pawtucket. Over 1889 professional plate appearances, Shaw has posted a .263/.365/.461 slash-line. There is a legitimate chance of playing time for him, too, as first base could open up at any point. Napoli’s hips remain a concern even if they haven’t acted up just yet. Allen Craig could take over at first base, but there is a chance he’s eventually traded or doesn’t perform well enough to hand a starting spot to.
When I first starting thinking about including Berry, I was planning to do so as a joke. Yet the more that I think about it, the more sense it’s making. Just hear me out. There is one thing that Berry does extremely well: run the bases. He can fly on the base paths and steal bases at will. It’s not at all impossible for him to BABIP his way to a strong OBP like Jose Iglesias of 2013, giving him a chance to steal a million bases and provide a spark that no other player could provide. I’m not sure if he really counts given his spot on the 2013 team and 301 career plate appearances, but he’s fun enough where I think the slim chance of him contributing, even if it’s mostly luck, is worth mentioning.
There was no better part of 2014 than the emergence of Brock Holt as a legitimate major-league player, and there’s no denying that it would be fun for that to happen again in the coming season. Looking at the names above, Sean Coyle seems like the most likely to emerge, but Quintin Berry is my sleeper pick. It would be hard to replicate the joy Holt brought to the last year, but the names above have the best chance of doing so.