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Ranking the AL East: Position Players

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As we get closer to Opening Day and rosters are close to set, how do the Red Sox rank on a position-by-position basis with the rest of the division?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next couple of days, I’ll be looking at how the Red Sox stack up on a positional basis with the other teams in the American League East. Today, we’ll be covering the position players, and the pitchers will come tomorrow. For Boston, I’m going to be using the following players as the starters to make this exercise a little less complicated.

C: Christian Vazquez

1B: Mike Napoli

2B: Dustin Pedroia

3B: Pablo Sandoval

SS: Xander Bogaerts

LF: Hanley Ramirez

CF: Rusney Castillo

RF: Mookie Betts

DH: David Ortiz

Obviously, the lineup situation is much more complex than this, with some details still needing to be worked out. But there aren't any straight platoons in Boston's lineup, and spreading out the lineup by playing time percentages would be far too complicated for this exercise. For the other teams, I used the lineups from rosterresource.com. A quick note before we get started: these rankings are for 2015 only. Future value is not being considered here.

Catcher

The competitors: Vazquez (BOS), Russell Martin (TOR), Matt Wieters (BAL), Brian McCann (NYY), Rene Rivera (TB)

1. Martin

2. McCann

3. Wieters

4. Vazquez

5. Rivera

The Red Sox finished fourth behind the plate, and it really wasn’t all that close. Martin’s on-base ability and premiere defense made him an easy choice for number one. McCann and Wieters could be switched depending on how comfortable you are with the latter’s return from Tommy John surgery, but neither could reasonably be placed behind Vazquez at the moment. Boston’s catcher just doesn’t have the offensive skills or the experience to be ranked any higher heading into the season, but the future is still bright for the 24-year-old defensive wizard.

First Base

The competitors: Napoli (BOS), Edwin Encarnacion (TOR), Chris Davis (BAL), Mark Teixeira (NYY), James Loney (TB)

1. Encarnacion

2. Napoli

3. Davis

4. Loney

5. Teixeira

It wasn’t very difficult placing Napoli second on this list. Encarnacion is one of the very best hitters in the game. He’s the rare power hitter who can also limit his strikeouts, and over the last three years he has an OPS+ of 149. The Red Sox first baseman is clearly a cut above the rest of the players on this list, though. Davis is coming off such a tough season that it’s tough to bank on a bounce-back in 2015. Loney’s power is too limited for his offense to have any ceiling. Teixeira has been in decline over the last few years and has also struggled to stay on the field.

Photo Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Second Base

The competitors: Pedroia (BOS), Maicer Izturis/Steve Tolleson (TOR), Jonathan Schoop (BAL), Stephen Drew (NYY), Nick Franklin (TB)

1. Pedroia

2. Drew

3. Franklin

4.  Schoop

5. Izturis/Tolleson

Until I did this exercise, I didn’t realize just how weak the keystone position was in the AL East. The gap between Pedroia and Drew is probably bigger than any other 1-2 punch on this list. Not only is he easily the best defensive second baseman in the division, but he’s the cream of the crop offensively as well, despite his decline. The rest of the group was kind of hard to order, but I’m still a believer in Drew’s game, attributing a lot of last year’s struggles to the strange free agent situation. Franklin and Schoop is somewhat interchangeable as young players still trying to prove they belong at this level.

Third Base

The competitors: Sandoval, Josh Donaldson (TOR), Manny Machado (BAL), Chase Headley (NYY), Evan Longoria (TB)

1. Donaldson

2. Longoria

3. Machado

4. Sandoval

5. Headley

For as weak at the group of second basemen were, this crop of third baseman is at least equally as great. All five of these guys have a legitimate argument to be All-Stars this season if everything breaks correctly. Donaldson is clearly number one, as he was one of the best third baseman in baseball with Oakland and now gets to play in a much better offensive environment. I don’t believe Longoria’s 2014 is representative of who he is as a player now, and expect him to get back to being one of the game’s all-around elite in 2014. I wanted to put Sandoval above Machado, but the latter’s youth, potential and defensive chops won out for me. This ranking is less about how I feel about Sandoval and more about how I feel about the rest of the division.

Shortstop

The competitors: Bogaerts, Jose Reyes (TOR), J.J. Hardy (BAL), Didi Gregorius/Brendan Ryan (NYY), Asdrubal Cabrera (TB)

1. Reyes

2. Bogaerts

3. Hardy

4. Gregorius/Ryan

5. Cabrera

While Sandoval ranked a little lower than I originally thought I would have him, Bogaerts was a little higher. I’m still a big believer that the Red Sox shortstop will turn into a star in this league, but after last season I think it’s important to manage your expectations. Reyes is clearly above him, with injuries the only thing that will hold him back. The only place I struggled here was whether or not to put Hardy above him. However, Bogaerts’ offensive ceiling is much higher than the Baltimore shortstop, and I believe he’ll come closer to that ceiling than he did a year ago. That was enough to outweigh the defensive gap in Hardy’s favor for me.

Left Field

The competitors: Ramirez, Michael Saunders/Kevin Pillar (TOR), Alejandro De Aza/Delmon Young (BAL), Brett Gardner (NYY), Steven Souza (TB)

1. Ramirez

2. Gardner

3. Saunders/Pillar

4. Souza

5. De Aza/Young

It’s kind of strange to say that the best left fielder in the division is someone who has never played in the outfield, but here we are. Offensively, we all know that Ramirez is an outstanding hitter with the ability to be an elite one. Defense is the worry with him, but I think some of that concern is overblown. There will be growing pains in the beginning, but he’s athletic enough to make the proper adjustments and be fine out there. Gardner is very good in his own right, but Ramirez’s offensive abilities put him at the top spot here.

Center Field

The competitors: Castillo, Dalton Pompey (TOR), Adam Jones (BAL), Jacoby Ellsbury (NYY), Desmond Jennings (TB)

1. Jones

2. Ellbury

3. Jennings

4. Castillo

5. Pompey

Center field and right field are the positions I expect to catch the most criticism for. To me, it’s pretty obvious that Jones and Ellsbury are at the top of this list. They both are all-around contributors who have done it for a long time. Jennings is another player who has proven that he’s a very solid player both at the plate and in the field. All of the positive reports for Castillo tempted me to put him above Jennings, but he’s just too much of an unknown to put him above anyone in this division other than Dalton Pompey.

Right Field

The competitors: Betts, Jose Bautista (TOR), Travis Snider (BAL), Carlos Beltran (NYY), Kevin Kiermaier/Brandon Guyer (TB)

1. Bautista

2. Kiermaier/Guyer

3. Betts

4. Snider

5. Beltran

Here is the one where people are definitely going to let me have it. Don’t get me wrong, though, because I still like Mookie Betts. I just think people have been a little out of control with what the expect in his first full season. Everyone should be able to agree the Bautista is number one, I hope. I’m expecting something like a league-average offensive season from Betts, but I also think that Kiermaier will finish somewhere around ther. However, the latter’s defense is a cut above Betts’. This is prediction that could very well look silly at the end of the year, but I’m much more comfortable being conservative with a player of Betts’ experience than aggressive.

Designated Hitter

The competitors: Ortiz, Dioner Navarro (TOR), Steve Pearce (BAL), Alex Rodriguez/Garret Jones (NYY), John Jaso/Logan Forsythe (TB)

1. Ortiz

2. Rodriguez/Jones

3. Pearce

4. Navarro

5. Jaso/Forsythe

Ortiz has been the class of designated hitters in the entire league for most of his Red Sox career, and I won’t bet on his offense to die until I see it with my own eyes.

Bench

1. Red Sox

2. Yankees

3. Blue Jays

4. Orioles

5. Rays

Of course, the Red Sox offense is incomplete right now, and some of this depth will almost certainly be traded before Opening Day. As of right now, though, having guys like Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Allen Craig, Brock Holt and Ryan Hanigan is just too much for any other team here to overcome.

Team

C

1B

2B

3B

SS

LF

CF

RF

DH

Bench

AVG

BOS

4

2

1

4

2

1

4

3

1

1

2.3

TOR

1

1

5

1

1

3

5

1

4

3

2.5

BAL

3

3

3

3

3

5

1

4

3

4

3.2

NYY

2

5

2

5

4

2

2

5

2

2

3.1

TB

5

4

4

2

5

4

3

2

5

5

3.9

It looks like Boston’s stable of position players compares very favorably with the rest of the league. Though it’s not all that surprising, I was a little taken aback by them finishing slightly ahead of Toronto. It’s close enough that it’s safe enough to call it a draw between the Red Sox and the Blue Jays for the position players. I’ll be back tomorrow to look at the pitchers.