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2017 Red Sox Positional Preview: The Infield

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Looking at the organization’s infield outlook heading into the season.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

In this final week before the regular season finally begins, we’ll be taking a look at the organization as a whole by position groups. This will include the starters, the bench players, the immediate depth, the high-level prospects and the low-level prospects. By my arbitrary definition, the high-level prospects include those in Double- or Triple-A, and low-level prospects including everyone else. Today, we’ll look at the infielders.

The Starters

Mitch Moreland, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez

There aren’t any surprises as to who will comprise the Red Sox’ starting infield in the 2017 season. Mitch Moreland was brought in to at least play first base when the opponent put a right-handed starter on the mound. His bat should be able to play up some in a platoon, but even if it doesn’t he’ll provide a strong glove at first base. That’s not all that valuable by conventional metrics, but it is my opinion that those metrics downplay the importance of strong defense at the cold corner since it is involved in some many plays. Dustin Pedroia is the starting second baseman and he will be for the next 50 years. Shut up, yes he will. Xander Bogaerts is the starting shortstop, and he will be for the next 50 years. Shut up, yes he will. Pablo Sandoval is the starting third baseman, and is one of the most interesting players on the roster this season. He’s looked fantastic this spring, both in terms of appearance and performance. Still, there will always be some doubt until he shows it at the major-league level. Hanley Ramirez will start the year as the full-time DH, but that’s mostly for health reasons. When he’s physically able to, he will play first base when the opponent starts a left-handed reliever with Chris Young taking over at DH. Ramirez is expected to (to some extent) take David Ortiz’ role as the power bat in the middle of the lineup.

The Bench

Brock Holt, Josh Rutledge

As we all know, I could’ve included Brock Holt in the outfield section as well, but my guess is that the ideal scenario is in which the super utility man spends most of his time spelling the infielders. His defensive skillset is best suited for this role, as is his offense. Speaking of Holt’s bat, it took a downward turn last year and this is a big season to determine who he really is as a hitter. If he can get back to being a league-average bat, he’s an incredibly valuable piece. Josh Rutledge, meanwhile, makes the Opening Day roster mainly because he’s right-handed. He doesn’t have an overly impressive track record, but he’s the best fit to protect against an unproductive Sandoval, particularly one that struggles against left-handed pitching. If Sandoval looks good against pitchers of both handedness and Rutledge gets off to a slow start, expect him to be given back to the Rockies (from whom he was taken in the Rule 5 draft).

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

The Immediate Depth

Marco Hernandez, Deven Marrero, Sam Travis

If Rutledge does end up getting cut from the roster, one of the other reasons will be that Marco Hernandez forced the teams hand. I am one of Hernandez’ biggest fans, as he fits my ideal baseball aesthetic as a fast infielder who can play multiple positions and leans on strong bat-to-ball skills at the plate. (Mauricio Dubon and Carlos Asuaje are other recent Red Sox prospects who fit that mold.) Despite what he’s shown this spring, he’s probably nothing more than a second-division starter but that is still a very valuable profile for the bench. My guess is he’ll be there by the middle of May. Deven Marrero, meanwhile, is not nearly as exciting. He’s amazing with the glove and that will likely allow him to stick around in this league for a while, but until he figures out how to get his bat to acceptable levels he’s not going to have much of a role wherever he goes. Finally, there is Sam Travis, who joins Hernandez in the Grapefruit League superstar class. He’ll need to show a little more power in regular season action to become an exciting starter, in this writer’s opinion, but the hit tool is legit and he can play a decent first base. If there’s a serious injury to either Moreland or Ramirez — or the former underperforms to extreme levels -- expect Travis to be called up and have a significant role on this team. If not, he’s at least got the inside track for the everyday job in 2018.

The High-Level Prospects

Rafael Devers, Nick Longhi, Josh Tobias

It goes without saying that Rafael Devers is the most exciting infield prospect in the organization, and he’s likely the most exciting prospect at any position in the organization. He’s a dynamic hitter who will spend this entire season as a 20-year-old and has improved enough at third base that it is now expected that he’ll stick there for at least a few years. He’ll start this season in Portland, and I can definitely see a scenario (that involves a poor year from Sandoval) in which Devers finishes the year in Boston. Things get less exciting after this, but Nick Longhi is still an exciting prospect. I’ll admit that he’s probably more of an outfielder than an infielder, but Sox Prospects projects him to play first base for the Sea Dogs this year and that’s good enough for me. (He’ll also play some corner outfield.) He’s not a finished product, but it’s not impossible to see a breakout year from Longhi if he can start to show some in-game power. Finally, there is Tobias who I am weirdly excited about. Part of it is that infielder with a hit tool thing I talked about above, for sure. Part of it is that the Red Sox just recently had Hernandez go from an unknown throw-in to interesting player. He’ll play second base for Portland this year, and literally anything is possible for his trajectory from there.

The Low-Level Prospects

Bobby Dalbec, Josh Ockimey, C.J. Chatham, Michael Chavis

The Red Sox don’t have a ton of super exciting infielders in the lower levels of the minors, but they do have one in Bobby Dalbec. The former University of Arizona two-way player was incredible in his first taste of pro ball in Lowell last summer, showing off absurd raw power against New York Penn League. He’ll have a tougher time in whichever full-season level he begins 2017, particularly with his long swing, but if he can make contact enough the sky's the limit for Dalbec. Josh Ockimey also has big time power, and while his ceiling is limited by his first-base only profile he also fits the bill as someone who can make a big leap in perception in 2017. He’ll have to solve some of his strikeout issues, but he could be the next First Baseman Of The Future we all get excited about. C.J. Chatham was a second round pick last year, and while part of that was so he could sign below slot to make room for Jason Groome, the shortstop still disappointed in his first pro season. He’ll need to use the year in Greenville to prove that was a fluke. Finally, Michael Chavis is a former first round pick who is still just 21 (he’ll turn 22 in August) but hasn’t shown the potential that was hoped for when he was picked in 2014. This is a big year for his trajectory in this organization, and he’ll likely start the year in Salem.