In sports, versatility is king. We’ve seen it with the Patriots, the most successful team the city has produced over the last 15-20 years. Bill Belichick covets players who can contribute in a number of different areas, with Troy Brown spending significant time on both sides of the ball springing immediately to mind. We also see it with the current Celtics, who utilize lineups full of players who can play any of three different positions on the floor. Even with those two franchises in the city, perhaps no entity represents the virtue of versatility in Boston sports than Brock Holt. That versatility may work against his quest to lock down an everyday job.
Over the last decade or so, it’s become something of a cliche to call a player "the next Ben Zobrist." It’s a hilarious concept considering Zobrist is among the most unique players the sport has ever had. Even so, the expectation gets thrown around with players like Holt and Arismendy Alcantara of the Cubs, among others. For his part, Zobrist has been able to carve out an everyday role despite not locking down a single position due to his well-above-average bat. Unfortunately for the Red Sox staple of versatility, he does not carry the same caliber of stick.
What Holt does possess, though, is an almost unthinkable ability to play anywhere on the diamond at an average-at-worst level. Last season was his coming out party to the league, and he played almost literally everywhere. He logged 327 innings at third, 264-2/3 in right, 101 at short, 74 at second, 57-2/3 in center, 70-1/3 at first and 60 in left. He joined Denny Hocking as the only players since 1914 to play at least eight games at each position besides pitcher and catcher. One would think that would be enough to earn an everyday role somewhere, but on this team, Holt might be too valuable on the bench to have a consistent spot in the lineup.
This is the downside of being this kind of valuable. His bat isn’t good enough to need to be in the lineup everyday, so he’s used to keep as much depth as possible on hand. Typically, teams will try to keep a couple defensive oriented players on the bench, but they don’t need to when they have someone who can step in for anyone in that day’s lineup. Unfortunately, there is only one other utility option waiting in the wings, and it’s unclear how much time he’ll need to be ready. But more on that in a second.
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First, let’s take a look at what would happen if anyone in the Red Sox lineup got hurt, and if Holt has any sort of shot at taking over in these scenarios. We’ll start with the outfielders, since these are easy. This is where all of that depth sits, and presumably Daniel Nava, Allen Craig, Rusney Castillo (if/when healthy) and Jackie Bradley would get the nod in this situation. On top of that, putting Holt in the outfield would leave the Red Sox without a true utility infielder.
The outlook is better in the infield, but it would result to more of a shared job than an everyday one. At first base, an injury to Mike Napoli would mean Nava and/or Craig would get the majority of the time there.
It gets more interesting at third base, though. In the event of a major injury to Pablo Sandoval, the Red Sox would likely recall Garin Cecchini. Holt would stand to get some playing time at the hot corner here, but since Cecchini is (probably) the better bat, he could steal some at bats as well depending on how he’s hitting in Triple-A at the time.
We came dangerously close to seeing what would happen at shortstop if Xander Bogaerts got hurt. There are two options that I see in this scenario. The first would be to call up Cecchini again and stick Holt at shortstop everyday. The problem with this would be the lack of defensive infield help on the bench. Cecchini can only play third, and even there he’s not that great. The other option would be calling up Deven Marrero. We aren’t sure Marrero will ever hit, but his glove is already major-league ready. Given the construction of the pitching staff and the depth in the rest of the lineup, it seems likely he would get more of the starts than Holt.
Now, all we have left is second base, which is the hardest situation to figure out. I don’t think they’d want to yank Mookie Betts out of the outfield, which means Holt could get the starts there. However, we’re left with the same problem if the other move is to call up Cecchini. In this scenario, though, there is also Jemile Weeks. Weeks would be able to give Boston the utility infielder Cecchini couldn’t, just at a significantly worse calber than Holt. So, as of now, Holt’s best chance at starting is probably at second.
The astute among you have probably realized there’s one name who I’ve left out of this conversation, and he could be a gamechanger. It’s not Yoan Moncada, but Sean Coyle. He is the one guy who could come up at some point to replace Holt’s utility-ness. He’s a natural second baseman, though the organization is setting him up to play third as well. This is enough versatility to make the bench work with Holt in the lineup. The only issue here is that Coyle had never played above Double-A prior to this season. While he’s already on the 40-man, it’s likely the Red Sox would like to wait a few months before calling him up.
Holt was one of the most surprising players in the game last season, and has looked equally as good in the early parts of 2015. His versatility is virtually unmatched, and he likely deserves a shot at being an everyday player. Unfortunately, the roster as currently constituted won’t allow that to happen. He could play more often if injuries occur, but he’ll still be sharing a job until Sean Coyle is ready. That doesn’t mean we won’t see him in the lineup once or twice a week, but John Farrell will have to get awfully creative to fit him in more often than that.