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Checking in on the minor-league depth: Position Players

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We know the major leaguers, but what about the injury insurance?

Boston Red Sox v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

There is still a lot of work to be done around the league before this offseason can be declared over. The two biggest names on the market are still unsigned. The best reliever, one of the top starters and one of the top outfielders are still waiting for new contracts as well. Arguably the best catcher in baseball is presumably still available in trade. It seems the hot stove season drags on longer than ever these days, which means the secondary movement also has to wait a bit.

Now, there have been plenty of minor-league signings by the Red Sox and other teams already as the lower-tiered players don’t want to wait and be pushed out by players with better reputations that are seeing their markets pushed down. There will be other potential signings as well as teams get closer to camp, look at their rosters and realize they could use a couple extra depth pieces. With that in mind, and with pitchers and catchers set to report to Fort Myers less than a month, let’s take the next couple of days to check out the depth for the Red Sox and whether or not they could use another body or two to shore up some positions ahead of the marathon that is the major-league season. We’ll start today with the position players.

Catcher

As we all know, this is arguably the most intriguing position on the diamond for the Red Sox right now, as they currently have three out-of-options catchers on their roster. The assumption is that one of Sandy León, Blake Swihart or Christian Vázquez will be traded before Opening Day, with one of the first two being the most likely to go. The Red Sox got a reminder last year that catcher can be an injury-prone position, but the luxury of keeping three catchers on the active roster is one that is very hard to pull off. Unless one of the catchers gets hurt before a trade happens, there’s no realistic way to make this work. All of this is to say that if a catcher gets hurt this year, someone will almost certainly have to come up from Pawtucket to serve as the backup.

For what seems like forever, Dan Butler has been the honorary third or fourth catcher in Pawtucket, serving as a great mentor for Triple-A pitchers but never really serving a major-league role. Butler has now moved on to coaching, and the top two catching options in the minors seem to be Juan Centeno and Oscar Hernández, with Austin Rei also looming as a possibility. This is not an inspiring group by any means, but this position is a disaster around the league and there’s really no way of finding a more exciting option for minor-league depth. Centeno and Hernández each have major-league experience and the former has a solid year in the majors under his belt. If they want to find another body to invite to spring training to add to this group, that’s fine, but Centeno is fine as a third catcher and one of Hernandez or Rei could emerge as an acceptable break-in-case-of-emergency option.

San Francisco Giants v Texas Rangers
Juan Centeno
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Infield

The Red Sox infield is one with a lot of question marks as well. We are pretty sure Xander Bogaerts will continue the breakout he experienced in 2018, but the rest of the spots are questionable. Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce are both on the older side. Dustin Pedroia’s health is a total unknown. Rafael Devers has all of the talent in the world but hasn’t shown it on a consistent basis. Eduardo Núñez was a disaster last year. Brock Holt was fantastic, but hasn’t shown an ability to hold up in anything more than a part-time role. There’s injury and underperformance risk all over the place here, so the Red Sox need to have some insurance ready in the minors.

The good news is they have some homegrown options that have already served as major-league depth and should be prepared to do so again. At first base, Sam Travis is in his final option year and should continue to serve as depth at first base as well as in left field, which we’ll get to in a minute. If you’ve been reading OTM for a while you know I’m not the biggest Travis fan in the world, but we’re talking about a third-string first baseman.

Moving around the rest of the infield is a little iffier. Tzu-Wei Lin represents the top option at the other positions at the dirt. His ceiling certainly isn’t huge, but he’s solid-ish with the bat, good on the bases and strong with the glove at any of the three non-first base positions. Should an infielder get hurt, he’ll certainly be the first guy called up and there’s nothing wrong with him being the top option. After that, things get a bit rougher. In a perfect world, Marco Hernández would be ready to contribute right away. At his peak prospect status, he was a really intriguing potential second-division starter with a great line drive, all-fields approach. Unfortunately, he is coming off a couple shoulder surgeries and he missed all of 2018 after playing in just 21 games in 2017. Even if he’s totally healthy this year — and that’s far from a guarantee at this point — he’ll need a significant chunk of time to get his timing back in the minors. From there we look at guys like Tony Renda, who the team apparently likes a lot but hasn’t ever really been more than a Quad-A guy. Chad De La Guerra is a sleeper to emerge as a middle infield depth candidate as well, and C.J. Chatham is the guy most likely to skyrocket up the depth chart.

Then, there’s Michael Chavis, arguably the top prospect in the system. He’s on the 40-man roster so he should be ready to contribute at some point, it’s just a question of at what position he’ll contribute. I’m a big fan of his bat, but I think it’s more likely he’d supplant Sam Travis’ spot on the depth chart than take over as third base depth. Bobby Dalbec could potentially be ready for the second half, though I wouldn’t bet on it. Given the versatility from the major-league bench pieces and Lin and the presence of guys like Renda and De La Guerra, the Red Sox probably don’t have room for another minor-league signing. It could be tempting if the right player falls through the cracks, though.

Atlanta Braves v San Francisco Giants
Gorkys Hernandez
Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

Outfield

At the top of the depth chart, the Red Sox arguably (probably?) have the best outfielders in baseball. Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez is a legitimately absurd group of outfielders. They were one of the biggest reasons the Red Sox were historically great in 2018, and if the team repeats in 2019 the outfield will be a big reason again. It’s also fair to say Boston was pretty lucky with injuries here. The relative youth around the outfield certainly helped, but they never really had to dip into their depth here, and that’s fortunate. There’s not a whole lot of depth to be found.

In terms of backups beyond the top four, the top options are mostly found amongst the infielders. Brock Holt has only started 16 games in the outfield in the last two years combined, but he’s still ostensibly an option here. Tzu-Wei Lin has been groomed as a super utility man who can play out there as well. Guys like Sam Travis, Blake Swihart and even Steve Pearce can fake it in left field if they have to, but therein lies the problem. Most of the top depth options here have qualifiers like “they can play here.” There aren’t really any true outfielders among the depth. In Pawtucket, the outfielders are projected to be Gorkys Hernández, who has a lot of major-league experience and is a legitimate depth option, Rusney Castillo, whose contract will prevent him from ever being promoted, Bryce Brentz, who is back but not all that exciting, and Cole Sturgeon. That’s actually a better group than what the team has had in recent years, but there’s still plenty of reason to have pause about them. If the Red Sox are to sign just one more position player to a minor-league deal, it should be an outfielder, though it will be tough to convince someone to sign as depth behind the star power at the top here.