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The forgotten men of the Red Sox 40-man roster

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As spring training gets rolling and real news is on the verge of rolling in, we take a look at some unheralded men on the 40-man roster.

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In this midst of this never-ending offseason, we’ve discussed what seems like every player in the Red Sox organization. What to expect out of them this year and in the future. What kind of role they figure to play. How good (or bad) their hair looks. Things like that. Even with all of that discussion, there are a few players on the 40-man who either I feel like either haven’t been covered, or they’ve just barely been covered. They’re the forgotten men of Boston’s roster, and I’ll remember them today because nothing else is happening. The regular season can’t come fast enough.

Ryan Hanigan

Hanigan has been covered a little bit this offseason, but not really enough considering how much playing time he could see in 2015. Acquired from San Diego in exchange for Will Middlebrooks, the Andover High School product is expected to split the duties behind the plate with Christian Vazquez. It’s only natural for the youngster that was developed in the system to garner more attention, but Hanigan could arguably play a bigger role. While his bat isn’t going to blow anyone away, it may be a safer bet than Vazquez. The latter only has 201 plate appearances under his belt, and they were underwhelming. Hanigan, while below-average with the stick, will put up good walk-rates and has shown the ability to put up OPS+’s in the 90s with a little batted ball luck. He pairs that offensive profile with a plus defensive one, making the 34-year-old a good mentor for Vazquez. Though he’s not discussed as much right now, I’d expect Hanigan to get something around 40-50 percent of the playing time behind the dish.

Heath Hembree

When Hembree was acquired by the Red Sox last July, the sometimes great Craig Goldstein told me he’d be my next middle relief love. While his short time with the organization in 2014 didn’t fuel the flames, he could take a step in that direction this season. Unfortunately for him, he’ll start the season in Pawtucket with a few names to jump over on the depth chart if he wants to play in the bigs. The good news is that he could make his way up that list relatively quickly. Although he struggled with his control and command in the last few months of 2014, he’s got a fastball/slider combination that can be filthy when it’s at its best. With the uncertainty at the bottom of Boston’s bullpen, a good month or two at AAA could earn Hembree a promotion in short order. Now, that kind of performance is far from a given, but he has big upside and has an outside chance of being that fourth weapon this relief corps needs outside of Koji Uehara, Edward Mujica and Junichi Tazawa.

Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Zeke Spruill

The coolest "Zeke" since Parenthood went off the air, Spruill was acuried this offseason from Arizona for Myles Smith. Like Hembree, he’s likely to start the year in Pawtucket and also has a few names to jump over to claim a spot in Boston’s bullpen. Unlike Hembree, he has spent most of his professional career as a starter, and this will be his first full season in a relief role. While he doesn’t have the upside of the previous name on this list, he has two distinct advantages. The first is his ability to induce ground balls, something the Red Sox showed they value highly with their acquisitions this past winter. This, in turn, makes him a slightly safer option than Hembree, as he could theoretically limit his long-ball damage more. Look for him to play some sort of role at some point in 2015, but Spruill has a slim chance of being a late-inning option at any point.

Travis Shaw

Breaking the trend of recent trade pickups, Shaw is a former ninth round pick by the Red Sox who was protected from the Rule 5 draft this offseason. In other words, we know about him already. Despite his placement on the 40-man, however, playing time in the majors will be tough to come by for the first baseman. Much of it will depend on whether or not Boston finds a trade partner for Allen Craig. If he’s still on the roster, the team already has its insurance for Mike Napoli and there’s two players in his way on the depth chart — three if you count Daniel Nava. He does have some experience at third base, but Garin Cecchini is first in line at the hot corner. It’s probably for the best that Shaw will get plenty of time in AAA, though. He got his first taste of the level last season after tearing up AA Portland, and hit .262/.321/.431 for Pawtucket. He’s shown strong walk-rates and solid pop through his pro career. He could get an extended look in 2015 if there are multiple injuries at the same time on the 25-man, but quick MLB stints followed by a September call-up is the most plausible path for Shaw this year.

Bryce Brentz

If Shaw is buried on the depth chart, Brentz is at the Earth’s core. For the 12th consecutive year*, Brentz is on the cusp of major-league call-up. He did get a cup of coffee last season, making 26 plate appearances in nine games. Sadly for him, this is not the ideal situation for a fringy corner outfielder. Ahead of him on the depth chart are names like Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava and Jackie Bradley Jr. Long story short, he’s going to need multiple injuries to make an impact on this team. The more likely scenario is he spends almost the entire season manning a corner outfielder spot for Pawtucket. If he can show off the power in his bat for long enough, he’d make a lot of sense as part of a trade package for whatever need pops up in the middle of the season, so he can go play for an organization that actually has a place for him.

*Possibly a slight exaggeration