Welcome back to our annual positional preview series, in which we take stock of where the Red Sox stand everywhere on the depth chart for each position. At every spot on the diamond, we will look at where Boston stands on the major-league roster while also looking at their top prospects at the position. We will also take compare how the Red Sox look at the position compared to the rest of the division. Today, we cover the third base position.
Third base is not exactly a problem for the Red Sox on their current roster, at least in terms of getting offense out of the position. Devers is arguably the best hitter on the roster right now and certainly one of the best young hitters in all of baseball. He’s coming off a season in which he finished with a 134 wRC+, the second time in the last three years he’s eclipsed the 130 mark. He not only hits the snot out of the ball on a regular basis, but last year he also saw some improvement with his plate discipline, striking out around an average rate while bringing his walk rate up over nine percent, more than a percentage point above his previous career-high.
Of course, with Devers the questions are always going to revolve around his defense. I think I’m among the more optimistic about his defense, but even I have to acknowledge a very real possibility that he will have to move off the hot corner as soon as 2023. To me, he has shown all of the tools to be a perfectly acceptable defender at third base, but the fact of the matter is the mistakes and miscues are still outweighing any of the positives. With his bat, the Red Sox should be doing what they can to make sure he’s on this roster for a long time because he’ll be able to make an impact wherever he slots in defensively, even as a DH, but this is a big year for him if he wants to stay at third base beyond this season.
Yes, Dalbec is the projected starter at first base, and that will presumably be his main job at least until Triston Casas is ready to make his major-league debut. He’ll also be covering third base on days Devers cannot go, at least most of the time. Christian Arroyo could get some time here as well, but Dalbec came up as a third baseman and he’s been getting some time there this year. Devers will, of course, play basically every game barring injury, so this shouldn’t come up too much, but I’d expect Dalbec to play something like 10 games or so at the hot corner. Again, this is barring injury. He’s not the defensive player he was early in his pro career, but he should still be able to play well enough to at least fill in on a part-time basis.
The Red Sox have a pretty good infield projected to start the year down at Triple-A Worcester, with Fitzgerald, Jeter Downs, Yolmer Sánchez, and Jonathan Araúz. The issue is that none of them are natural third basemen. Fitzgerald seems like the best bet to play the most there so he gets his name on this section, but really I could see any of those players coming up in the case of an injury to Devers that requires an injured list stint. My guess is they’d just take whoever is playing the best at that moment, as well could probably play third base in a pinch, possibly excepting Downs.
Jordan is perhaps the most interesting prospect to think about heading into the 2022 season, as he has a ton of potential and is still quite young — he’ll be 19 throughout this entire coming season — as well as a lack of experience as a pro. Drafted in 2020, he didn’t get to play in that first summer as a pro due to COVID cancelling the minor-league season, and last year injuries limited him to only 28 games after spending the first half of the year at extended spring training. All of the reports are high on Jordan, who brings some of the biggest raw power in the entire system, but we have to see his hit tool consistently show up enough in game action for that power to play. We should also mention that while he’s a third baseman now, there’s a good chance he’ll ultimately end up at first base. The good news is that if the power plays like it should with even an average hit tool, he’ll hit plenty to justify a spot in the lineup at first base.
There’s really not a ton of options here as a sleeper, which again is defined as anyone who was never in contention for a spot on our top prospect voting list. That said, Howlett has had his moments in this system and is still only 22, which he will be for basically the entire coming season. He’s another bat-first player with some questions about his defense, though he has a better chance at sticking there than Jordan. Offensively, he’s another power-over-hit kind of player and is coming off a solid season at High-A Greenville in which he finished with an .815 OPS. The ceiling here is probably as a bench bat, but as he’s expected to start the year in Double-A he may not be too far off from that future.
Other Prospects of Note
- Alex Binelas was the more highly ranked prospect to come back to Boston in the Hunter Renfroe trade from right before the lockout, and he fits a similar mold as the other prospects mentioned here. He’s going to have a tough time sticking at third base, he’s got big-time raw power, and some hit tool questions that could hold him back from that power playing consistently in games. He should start this season at High-A Greenville.
There is, I think, a clear top two in this division at the hot corner, and it certainly includes Devers. He’s definitely the best hitter of this group, at least when you consider health concerns. The race for the top becomes closer, though, because new Blue Jays third baseman Matt Chapman is elite defensively. The question is how much he’ll hit coming off a down year. I put Devers slightly ahead, but it’s very close. From there, Josh Donaldson in New York is a clear third for me. On a per-game basis he’s up there with the other two, but entering his age-36 season I have a hard time putting him on that level given the injury risk. That leaves two more spots, with Yandy Díaz as the fourth place from Tampa Bay and then Baltimore’s Kelvin Gutierrez clearly at number five.
- Rafael Devers, BOS
- Matt Chapman, TOR
- Josh Donaldson, NYY
- Yandy Díaz, TB
- Kelvin Gutierreaz, BAL