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Offseason Preview: Infield Breakdown

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How does the infield shake out this winter?

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

With the offseason really getting underway as free agents are eligible to sign with other teams, we are going to spend some time looking at where the Red Sox stand with each positional group. We’ll look at catchers, infielders, outfielders, starting pitchers and relief pitchers. For each group, we’ll highlight the current projected starters, the projected depth, the prospects, the free agents with an emphasis on those who best fit as well as some trade candidates. Then at the end I’ll pick what I think the most likely scenario is. Today we will go over the infielders.

Starters

First Base

Michael Chavis

For now, Michael Chavis is likely the starting first baseman. There were real growing pains for the rookie in 2019, but he came up earlier than expected and made an immediate impact in the major leagues. His ceiling is limited for now thanks to his issues making contact, but the power is more than enough to make him a viable major-league starter with the proper adjustments at the plate. He is no lock to enter the year as the starter.

Second Base

Marco Hernández

Just like at first base, second base is a bit up in the air. Right now, I think Hernández is the favorite in the clubhouse, particularly if Chavis is at first. The latter could also start at the keystone position, as could Dustin Pedroia if he ends up being healthy. Tzu-Wei Lin could be a sleeper to re-emerge in the spring as well. Of course, an outside target is another very real possibility.

Shortstop

Xander Bogaerts

The right side of the infield may be up for grabs, but the left side is perhaps as stable as any team’s in baseball. Bogaerts has turned himself into a legitimate MVP-type player, or at least a tier below that. The defense is probably average-at-best, but his bat is elite and he is a no doubt starter here for the foreseeable future.

Third Base

Rafael Devers

Devers took The Leap in 2019, showing off the massive potential with the bat that we were anticipating throughout his minor-league career. Like Bogaerts, his defense is a bigger question than his offense but Devers made strides with the glove last year and is good enough to stick there for at least a few more years.

Depth

Sam Travis

Travis is no lock to be on the team as the season starts next season since he will be out of minor-league options. That said, while he’s disappointed for most of his professional career he showed more pop than ever in 2019. He’s best utilized as a platoon option off the bench who can play at first base and in left field, but the Red Sox have a few bat-first players from the right side either on the roster or on cusp of joining the roster.

Tzu-Wei Lin

I mentioned Lin above, and he has become something of a forgotten man of late. The utility man was the only position player on the 40-man roster that didn’t get the call in September when rosters expanded and took a step back in his time with Pawtucket. The defense is still plenty valuable as is the versatility, but he needs to hit at least a little to be a viable bench piece.

Prospects

The prospects below are listed in the order in which they are ranked on Sox Prospects.

First Base

Triston Casas

Casas is the clear top prospect in the organization. His overall ceiling is of course limited as a first baseman, but he should provide defensive value there and his bat can be a real difference-maker at the highest level.

Pedro Castellanos

Castellanos has long showed power potential in batting practice but has not been able to translate that into games. That started to change in the second half last year and he’s a potential sleeper to watch in 2020.

Josh Ockimey

Ockimey is who he is at this point, which is to say a left-handed bat who can’t hit left-handed pitching and who will strike out a lot but can be a very capable power-hitting platoon bat.

Devlin Granberg

Granberg is a solid enough bat who has always been on the older end for his levels. He can play some outfield too and is a potential bench piece in a couple years.

Second Base

Cameron Cannon

Cannon was the team’s first pick in 2019 who struggled some in his first taste of professional ball. He can play both second and third base but his bat is going to be better than the glove at either spot.

Daniel Bakst

Bakst hadn’t played much at all over the last two years before being drafted by the Red Sox this past summer, but the former Stanford Cardinal put up an .866 OPS in the GCL and is another sleeper to watch next year.

Third Base

Bobby Dalbec

Is perhaps the most well-known Red Sox prospect at this point given how close he is to the majors. The slugger is a good defensive third baseman, but with Devers at the hot corner we’ve seen Dalbec get some time at first base as well.

Ceddanne Rafaela

Signed out of Curacao two summers ago, Rafaela has been solid in his first two years as a pro and his athleticism has him creeping up Red Sox system rankings.

Brandon Howlett

Howlett was one of the prospects about whom I was most excited in 2019. He showed some flashes that made him a hot name last winter, but he lacked consistency in an aggressive assignment to Greenville just one year out of high school.

Danny Diaz

Speaking of disappointing 2019s, Diaz was struggled so mightily in Lowell last year that he got sent back down to the DSL to try and figure things out.st

Nicholas Northcut

Northcut was one of the most talented draft picks from 2018 but he also struggled to get going in Lowell.

Shortstop

C.J. Chatham

Chatham, like Dalbec, is on the cusp of his major-league debut and should be up in the majors at some point in 2020. He is also adding to his versatility, getting time at second base as well as some chances in the outfield.

Matthew Lugo

Lugo was the team’s second pick in 2019 and is the most well-regarded. The nephew of Carlos Beltrán, Lugo is a potential all-around player who is very far away from his full potential at this point.

Antoni Flores

Flores was perhaps the most disappointing prospect in 2019, though given his young age there is still plenty of time to recover from a rough summer.

Ryan Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald doesn’t have a huge ceiling, but the former Indy Ball signee plays good defense and has a solid hit tool that gives him a real chance at a future bench role.

Brainer Bonaci

Bonaci was signed for $290,000 in the summer of 2018 and showed off a very solid bat in his first taste of pro ball in the DSL this past summer.

Free Agents

You can see the full list of free agents, which I will not list out here, on MLB Trade Rumors.

Best Fits

First Base

Matt Adams, Justin Smoak, Mitch Moreland, Justin Bour, Brad Miller, Eric Thames

Second Base

Brock Holt, Starlin Castro, Howie Kendrick, Scooter Gennett, Jason Kipnis, Jonathan Schoop

The Red Sox seem extremely likely to look at at least one infielder in free agency this year. Theoretically, they can grab either a first baseman or a second baseman and move Chavis to the other spot, which is a nice advantage to have. Signing or trading for one of each would also be a possibility, depending on price. Any first baseman they’d target would most likely be a lefty (or a switch-hitter like Smoak) since Chavis and Dalbec both hit from the right side. Someone like Miller could be extra intriguing as someone who has played both spots.

Trade Targets

First Base

Trey Mancini, BAL; Danny Santana, TEX; Christian Waker, ARI; Jake Lamb, ARI; Garrett Cooper, MIA; Brandon Belt, SF

Second Base

Hanser Alberto, BAL; Niko Goodrum, DET; Whit Merrifield, KC; Jurickson Profar, OAK; Chad Pinder, OAK; Rougned Odor, TEX; Brandon Drury, TOR; Derek Dietrich, CIN; Jed Lowrie, NYM; Greg Garcia, SD; Esteban Quiroz, SD

Some of these names are surely more realistic than others, but there are plenty of versatile options that would be considered third-tier players who could be available. Names like Goodrum and Dietrich could be extra intriguing since, like Miller mentioned above, they could play both first and second base.

Most Likely Scenario

First of all, I think Brock Holt is going to be back. As I’ve mentioned in the past I have gone back and forth on this one many times, but ultimately right now I am not sure what his value is going to be with the extra roster spot. I think the Red Sox will be willing to get close enough to his top offer that he’ll stay in the city with which he’s become so connected. I also think they’ll get a cheaper first baseman, and a buy-low on Justin Smoak could be the best option there. He’s going to be 33 in a few weeks, but just one down year isn’t enough to totally throw away his talent.

This scenario would keep Bogaerts and Devers on the left side with Hernández, Chavis, Holt and Smoak splitting time on the right side.