Let's rewind two full years. It's July 7, 2013. The Red Sox are sitting at 54-36, 90 games into a campaign that will ultimately see them win their third World Series in ten years.
"I've got bad news," I tell you, "it's going to get rough after 2013. In two years, the Red Sox will only have one All-Star*, but he's already with the team now."
Look at that roster, and who do you think it's going to be? Consistent candidate Dustin Pedroia? One of the big three arms in Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz? Does Jacoby Ellsbury resign with the team and return to his 2011 form? Does Shane Victorino maintain the excellence he's shown this season?
Nope, it's that kid Brock Holt who made his Red Sox debut one day ago. You know, the one that let us make all those Arrested Development references back when we traded for him and--ugh--Joel Hanrahan. He will proceed to hit .203/.275/.237 in 72 plate appearances on the year, and make you quite certain that I am not the time traveler I claim to be.
It's hard to believe that Brock Holt is not only in the All-Star Game, but also entirely deserving of the honor given the obscurity he rose from. But here we are. He's hit .295/.383/.424 in 258 plate appearances for the Red Sox while playing strong defense at any and all positions the Red Sox have asked of him. He has basically been for the Red Sox this season what Ben Zobrist was for the Rays for all those years, and has proved one of the most valuable players in the American League despite having to fight for playing time to start the year.
And the thing is...it's not hugely surprising to see. Or at least it wasn't at any particular point in time. When Brock Holt got hot to start 2015, that was certainly no surprise. We'd seen him get hot before in 2014. Remember when the Red Sox lost 10 straight? Brock Holt was basically the only player on the team both during that losing streak, and the seven-game winning streak that followed. It was his big breakthrough, and while it tailed off some in the month that followed, on this date one year ago, he was still hitting .311/.359/.425.
But of course we all know he didn't finish the year hitting like that. In fact, by season's end, Holt was exactly league average with the bat. Given his defensive utility, that still made him a good player to have around, but given the heights he came from, he was quite bad for quite a while to fall so far.
In fact, the pretty clear dividing line was the All-Star Game. On July 13, the last game of the first half, Holt went 5-for-6 with a homer in a rout of the Astros. He wouldn't manage three hits in a game again until 2015. His .327/.371/.463 line in the first half fell all the way to .219/.278/.271 in the second. He did end up playing through a concussion for over a week at the end before he hit the disabled list to close out the season, but even before the concussion he was hitting .224/.291/.266 in the second half.
Suffice it to say, then, that this second half is pretty important for Brock Holt. There's a place in Boston for him no matter what, even if his bat drops off again, simply by virtue of his defensive utility combined with average or even slightly below-average offense. But if it doesn't drop off, Holt becomes something far more. Ben Zobrist still hasn't hit free agency since signing his initial extension with the Rays, but back before this disappointing season, Zobrist was the kind of player teams would pay big money for. One of the key figures on the Rays teams that caused the Red Sox so much trouble during his time there. He had three top-20 MVP finishes, and probably deserved more and better.
BP says Red Sox have 3 of the top-15 prospects
Even with Blake Swihart and Eduardo Rodriguez in the majors full-time, Boston's farm system remains stacked.
Even if Brock Holt's success lasts through the All-Star break, the Red Sox probably won't end up giving him a set starting position, but that's just because doing so would be a waste of his talents. Usually a team has nine (or eight, depending on how the DH is used) starting players, with some group of mediocre bench players filling in depending on who's sitting out on any given day. But the Red Sox can basically just plan to have nine players get some 140 starts on the season (with the catchers doing their own thing). Sure, that plan like all others will end up scrapped before too long as injuries and underperformers emerge, and maybe Holt ends up playing one or two positions far more than any other. But the plan, at least, is sound.
Before any of that, though, Holt has to prove that he really is the next Ben Zobrist, and not just a first-half wonder in the vein of early-career Kevin Youkilis. Either way he has value. But if he maintains this for a full season, he goes from being a solid role player to part of the foundation of this team right next to the likes of Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts. Hard to imagine given that, again, we're talking about a utility player thrown into a trade for a closer who busted hard. But from obscurity rose Ben Zobrist, and it's hard to think of a better comparison for the player Brock Holt might prove to be.
*Barring the final vote, of course.