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Previewing the position groups: Infielders

A look at the players who will be spending their time on the dirt.

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

We have reached the week where baseball is getting underway, which is surprising to me that we have gotten that far. But behind my skepticism that this season will work along with my moral questioning of whether an attempt should even be made, there is genuine excitement to see baseball on my TV again. It will be different, but ultimately it is still baseball with Red Sox players. And with that, it means we must be re-introduced to the Red Sox roster after a long hiatus. That’s what this position preview series is for. We’ll look at catchers, infielders, outfielders, starting pitchers and relief pitchers, ultimately covering everyone on the 60-man player pool. Today, we look at the infielders.

Starters

Xander Bogaerts

Bogaerts is the best player on the Red Sox. I don’t think this is a particularly controversial stance, though I suppose some people may fight for the man who stands to his right. As much as I love the third baseman, though, Bogaerts is flat-out better. Even if his defense is below-average for a shortstop, which I believe it is, it’s not to the extent where you can’t play him there. He makes the plays he’s supposed to, with his weakness really being not making the tough plays as often as you’d like. He more than makes up for it with the bat, though, coming off a season with a 141 wRC+. Bogaerts hits for power, draws walks, makes contact, and is among the best two-strike hitters in the game to boot. He’s the face of the franchise and should be for a long time. I hope.

Rafael Devers

I may not believe Devers is the best player on the Red Sox, but he’s the most fun. It’s not all about the boyish smile, either, though that certainly doesn’t hurt. Devers was always destined to be a great hitter, and he realized that potential last year at the ripe age of 22. There aren’t many players in the game who hit the ball as hard on as consistent of a basis as Devers, and he pairs that with an ability to make contact with just about anything thrown his way. More walks would be nice, but given his style I wouldn’t want him tinkering with his approach too much. Take him for what he is, which is one of the most exciting young hitters in the game who also showed rapid improvement in the field last season as well.

Mitch Moreland

Things get more interesting as far as battles for playing time when you get to the right side of the infield. The Red Sox decided to bring Moreland back as a free agent, which admittedly was at least partially due to his fit with the roster and his leadership ability with a couple of young first basemen adjusting to the position on the roster. He will play, though, and I suspect he’ll get a chance to run with the long end of the first base platoon. My expectation is the leash will be short, but keep in mind he did have a 125 wRC+ against righties last year. He can still do damage with the right matchups.

Boston Red Sox Summer Camp Workout Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

José Peraza

I would argue that, again in terms of playing time dispersement, second base is the most interesting position on the Red Sox roster. I would like to see Michael Chavis get the chance to run with the playing time against righties, but as of now it seems like Peraza is going to get more of the time. (Against lefties, I’d expect to see Chavis at first and Peraza at second.) With Peraza, there is some upside here, albeit limited. There isn’t a lot of power in the bat, but he makes a good amount of contact and has the speed to take advantage of it. This style inherently lends itself to needing luck on your side, but Peraza has had two seasons as a pro where he’s gotten it and finished as an above-average regular, so it’s not absurd by any stretch to give him a chance as a starter.

Bench

Michael Chavis

As I said, I would like to see Chavis as a starter, and even if he isn’t technically one I think he’ll start the year as the “bench” player we’ll see the most. He’ll start against lefties, as alluded to above, and should get some time at second as well. Chavis is a boom-or-bust type of player, and we saw both versions as a rookie last year. On the positive side, he has about as much power as anyone else on this roster. He hit some absolute moonshots last year. Unfortunately, he also showed a massive hole in his swing on high fastballs, and if there’s no improvement here he’ll get eaten alive until he’s out of the league. Chavis has shown enough of an ability to adjust in the minors that I still give him the benefit of the doubt, but he’ll have to earn his role rather than having one handed to him. In the long run, that could be for the best.

Tzu-Wei Lin

Lin has had an absolutely fascinating career as a pro, coming over as a high-money amateur from Taiwan then struggling for the most part in the minors before coming out of nowhere to break out and make his major-league debut in 2017. Now we’re here in 2020 and he is out of options and needing to prove he is indeed a major-league player. He’s playing for his own future in this league as much as he is to help the Red Sox win this year. The good news for Lin is that he has a relatively high floor given his ability to play good defense all over the diamond including in the outfield. The bad news is the jury is still out on his bat, which has showed flashes but lacked consistency.

Jonathan Araúz

The Red Sox haven’t had a whole lot of Rule 5 players they’ve tried to sneak through a season in the recent past, but Araúz is just that. The former Phillies and Astros prospect doesn’t have high-minors experience, but he’s impressed both back in March and in this summer camp. Don’t expect him to play a big role this year, but I think the team likes him enough to give him a chance to stick around all year, which would mean he sticks around beyond 2020 as well.

Depth

Bobby Dalbec

Dalbec may have been in the conversation for the Opening Day roster in a better world, but he missed the start of camp after testing positive for COVID. He won’t be there for the start of the year, but he’ll get his chance at some point and is already looming large right behind Chavis on the depth chart.

Yairo Muñoz

Of all the players I project to start the year off of the active roster, Muñoz is the guy I think who has the best chance to actually make it, at least among position players. The former Cardinal was signed just before the transaction freeze back in March, and he is another versatile player who can play infield and outfield. There’s probably a bit more upside with the bat here than with Lin, too, though there’s also more downside and also he doesn’t need to stay on the active roster. If the Red Sox decide to only carry two catchers, I suspect he’d be the beneficiary of that decision.

Marco Hernández

Hernández has been a bit forgotten with all of the other middle infielders battling for a spot here, but it wasn’t all that long ago that he was seen as a strong bench player in the near future. Shoulder injuries have derailed things, but perhaps this extended layoff will help him get back to his old self.

C.J. Chatham

Chatham isn’t as exciting of a prospect as Dalbec and doesn’t have as clear of a path to playing time with so many middle infielders already vying for time, but if there is underperformance Chatham should and probably will get his chance. There’s not a huge ceiling here for the infield prospect, but he has good enough contact skills and enough defensive versatility to turn into a strong option off the bench.

Jeter Downs

The top prospect that will be on the Red Sox player pool this year is Downs. I’m not sure what the chances are we actually see him in the majors this year, particularly with rosters getting smaller as the year goes on, not expanding, but he is certainly a guy to watch for 2021. Even if he doesn’t play, it makes sense to keep him developing with Red Sox coaches throughout the summer.

Josh Ockimey

I get the sense that I like Ockimey more than a lot of Red Sox fans, but there is a real potential here for a role. I’m not sure if modern roster construction has room for someone like Ockimey, but he can legitimately hit very well against right-handed pitching. The issue is that he is rough against lefties and also can’t play anywhere but first, and even there he’s not that great.