The Red Sox’ pitchers and catchers officially start their workouts today, and while this is becoming more and more symbolic every year since so many players report early. Whether or not this day is as important as it once was baseball-wise, it’s still a great day for us. It means that baseball is here, games are on their way and games we actually care about are right around the corner. It doesn’t help that it is the first sign of spring, too. With camp underway and real baseball to talk about, the main focus of every camp around the league will be position battles. Much of Boston’s roster is set, assuming health at least, but there are still some battles to watch. Let’s take a look at the most important ones.
The Competitors: Sandy Leon, Blake Swihart
If you go by what the Red Sox are saying, this one may not be so much of a battle as both players have a good chance of making the roster. What we do know is that Christian Vazquez will be on the active roster to start the year after his strong performance in 2017, even if Alex Cora won’t commit to him as the everyday catcher at this point. Leon and Swihart are both out of options, and if we go based on track record Leon is the easy pick. If we go based on upside and pure talent, it would go to Swihart. The team is planning to use the latter as a super utility type who can play all over the diamond, and they have been adamant about that all winter. I still can’t really wrap my head around them carrying all three of their catchers with Swihart in that role, but with each passing day it’s becoming clear that it’s a me problem, not a them problem. Either way, there’s still a small part of me that thinks Swihart will be dealt this spring, but that feeling is going away with each passing day.
The Favorite: Both
The Competitors: Marco Hernandez, Deven Marrero, Brock Holt, Tzu-Wei Lin, Blake Swihart
Dustin Pedroia underwent knee surgery at the start of the offseason and it will cause him to miss the beginning of the regular season. It’s still unclear just how much time he’ll miss, though the team would be wise to be patient with this. Either way, someone else will be manning second base on Opening Day, and it’s a fairly open race. Hernandez is likely the best overall player at this point, though he’s coming off an injury of his own and missed almost all of last season. He also has a minor-league option remaining. Marrero is out of options and while he still struggles at the plate his glove is tremendous and he at least showed real progress against left-handed pitching in a small sample size last year. Holt is the veteran of the group and though he’s coming off a rough season some of that can be blamed on head injuries. He also has the most experience, though still has a minor-league option remaining. Lin was among the organization’s biggest breakouts last season, but he doesn’t have the ceiling of Hernandez and he has minor-league options remaining. Swihart was specifically mentioned by Cora as a possibility here, but again I just can’t wrap my head around it and I really can’t see him winning an everyday job here. In my mind, the best option would be to platoon Hernandez and Marrero, but I feel like Holt has the inside track to start camp. That being said, this feels like a true battle and spring training performance will play a big role.
The Favorite: Holt
End of the Rotation
The Competitors: Brian Johnson, Hector Velazquez
The Red Sox rotation is basically settled, though there are some question marks here and there. Eduardo Rodriguez surely has a spot among this group, but he’s going to start the season on the disabled list. With him absent, Steven Wright is all but certain to take the fifth spot, but he may miss the beginning of the season as well. MLB is still investigating a domestic dispute involving him and his wife from early in the winter and could hand down a suspension to start the year. If that happens, Boston will have to dip into their depth to fill the end of their rotation. Both Johnson and Velazquez showed that they are strong depth options last season and both should get starts at various points in the coming year. The latter seemed to be the more trusted player towards the end of 2017, but Johnson is out of options and it’s not hard to see the team leaning towards him simply as a way to more easily preserve as much depth as possible
The Favorite: Johnson
The Competitors: Carson Smith, Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly
Finally, we have the battle that I’m the most interested in because I think there is a legitimate argument for every player involved. We all know Craig Kimbrel will be the focal point of the bullpen, but it’s unknown who will be setting him up. Smith is the ideal answer here as when he’s truly on he’s one of the best relievers in all of baseball. Of course, he’s yet to pitch a full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2016 and while he showed some intriguing flashes upon his return at the end of last season he wasn’t really lights out. Barnes has the stuff to be a legitimate back of the bullpen arm and earned John Farrell’s trust for much of last year, but he seems to break down in the biggest spots and his control comes and goes as it pleases. Kelly is arguably the steadiest option in this group but he doesn’t miss bats as you expect from a late-inning reliever. I’m going to go with Smith as the favorite here, but it wouldn’t shock me if any of these three won this battle.
The Favorite: Smith