Welcome to Over the Monster’s One Big Question series. For those unfamiliar, this is something of a season roster preview where over the next 40(ish) (week)days we’ll be taking a look at each player on the 40-man roster prior to the season. If changes are made to the roster between now and Opening Day, we’ll cover the newly added players. Rather than previewing what to expect in a general sense, the goal of this series is to find one singular question — sometimes specific, other times more general — for each player heading into the coming season. We’ll go alphabetically one by one straight down the roster, and you can catch up with the series here. We kick things off today with Jonathan Arauz.
The Question: Is there really a chance for Jonathan Arauz to stick on the roster all year?
Every year there are a handful of interesting players to watch in spring training. While for most players this is just a chance to get the body ready for the coming season and we, both fans and media, have a tendency to overrate results, for some it really does matter. For the Red Sox in 2020, perhaps no player has more at stake than Jonathan Arauz.
He is as close to an unknown as will be present in camp for Boston, and he is playing for a shot at the Opening Day roster. Arauz, of course, was selected by the Red Sox in this past December’s Rule 5 Draft, which means he has to stay on the active roster (or injured list) all year. If he is removed at any time, he is returned to the Astros organization. Which, well, it brings us to the obvious question: Is there a legitimate shot he can do that?
First, a little bit of background. Arauz was a fairly well-regarded prospect coming out of Panama, signing for $600,000 in the summer of 2014 with the Phillies. He wouldn’t be in that organization for long, however, as he was part of the package that was sent to Houston along with Ken Giles in a seven-player deal. He has steadily made his way up the ranks since then, posting varying levels of production along the way. Last season, his age-20 season, he split time between High-A and Double-A for a combined line of .249/.319/.388.
This is part of what makes him such a complicated and interesting case coming out of the Rule 5 Draft, having only 28 games under his belt above High-A and never having reached Triple-A. He seems to clearly be a draft-and-stash type player, meaning he is a guy that teams try to keep on a minimal role for a year before giving them some more development time in the minors the following season. That is harder to do with position players compared to pitchers, and it is that much more difficult on a Red Sox team that should be aiming to compete for a playoff spot.
Baseball America, following this year’s Rule 5 Draft, looked at the eleven players taken in the major-league portion and tried to determine their chances of sticking with their new clubs. For Arauz, they said it was “unlikely.” In fact, none of the eleven players were given better than 50/50 odds for sticking. Similarly, FanGraphs says the probability of Arauz sticking is low. It is worth noting that this is very common, as many more Rule 5 players are returned to their teams than those who stick around for an entire season.
That said, it is clearly not impossible that he sticks around as the Red Sox wouldn’t have taken him — and had him eat up a spot on the 40-man all winter — if they thought he had no chance to stick. So, the first step to answering this question is just figuring out what kind of player he can be in 2020. At just 21 years old, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he is still quite raw. Scouts generally like his chances to develop a solid-average hit tool, but it’s been inconsistent to this point in his career. There is also a belief by some that he can tap into solid — below-average, but not non-existent — power, but again that has yet to show up. On the other side, he has a good glove with an arm that can play all around the infield.
So, that sort of sets the table as a guy who can fill in as a utility man, but one that you really don’t want to give a lot of time to. On the surface, that doesn’t really sound like someone a team like the Red Sox — who, again, should be aiming for contention — would be able to afford to carry. Thinking about it a little more, though, and I find it easier to talk myself into this working if he shows a bit with the bat in camp.
There’s a couple of important points here. The first is that two-thirds of the position where he could reasonably fill in — shortstop and third base — have players that should be playing basically every day if healthy. At third base, they also have Michael Chavis and Bobby Dalbec who could fill in if an injury does occur. Second base is clearly more of a question mark, but the Red Sox signed José Peraza, who they presumably expect to get the bulk of the time. They also have the aforementioned Dalbec, who could be ready sooner than later, potentially taking over first base with Michael Chavis getting time at second base. To put it more simply, they have guys who can play every day at the keystone position while keeping Arauz in a less-exposed bench role. In case of an injury, if they still don’t want him to start there they have Marco Hernández and C.J. Chatham in the minors who could theoretically take that job.
Of course, he has to make it to that bench role, too. He is not the only infielder in a crowded scene vying for an Opening Day gig. The way I see it, Arauz, Hernández, Dalbec, Chatham, Tzu-Wei Lin and outfielder Marcus Wilson are realistically fighting to join a bench whose only certain player at this point is Kevin Plawecki. Now, we don’t know how many players will be kept on the bench this year — remember, active rosters are being expanded to 26 — but my guess is they’ll stick with a four-man bench and go with a 13-man pitching staff. In that case, there are six players fighting for three spots. Given that Arauz can’t be stashed in the minors (neither can Lin, as he is out of minor-league options), he probably has a leg up here. I’m not ready to make any sort of roster projections at this point, but I will say it doesn’t seem all that far-fetched that he beats out three of the other five names mentioned there.
That’s not the end of this, though, because the roster is not complete. The Red Sox might trade guys currently on the roster and they may add players. For example, there is a chance they add a left-handed first baseman to complement Chavis and Dalbec. They could also add a bench outfielder, given that J.D. Martinez, Lin and Wilson are the backups right now. Those moves would obviously take away available positions on the roster and complicate matters for Arauz. My guess, based on nothing but gut feel, is that they add one more player to the mix and shrink the available bench spots by one. This is in addition to any possible starter replacement in the event they trade Mookie Betts or Jackie Bradley Jr. or whoever else.
So, this is a long way of saying I don’t know. I will say that, when I started thinking about this question, I was pretty firm in my belief that he had no chance. Looking into it a little more, I’m more optimistic. I still probably put the chances at lower than 50 percent — again, it is really hard to stick as a Rule 5 player — but the Red Sox infield situation is just murky enough and the extra roster spot could provide just enough additional flexibility to make it work.