Pop quiz: as of today, who is the backup middle infielder on the Boston Red Sox?
Kiké Hernadez and Christian Arroyo have both filled that role in the past — but both have been promoted to staring roles this season, thanks to the departure of Xander Bogaerts and the injury to Trevor Story. Adalberto Mondesi would seem to be a strong candidate — he’s an athletic freak with a great prospect pedigree! — but he’s currently doing his Adalberto Mondesi thing, which is to say, he’s currently injured. Hey, what about Justin Turner! He’s played up the middle before, right? Well, yes, that’s technically true — but’s it’s also true that he’s played a grand total of 7 innings in the middle infield since the start of 2015. So that’s not ideal.
The unfortunate reality is that, if the season opened today and Christian Arroyo got hit in the wrist in his first at-bat (a thing that, uhh, tends to happen to him), the man who would assume his spot in the lineup and in the field would appear to be. . . Bobby Dalbec, the only healthy player on the current 26-man roster (outside of Hernandez and Arroyo) who has played both middle infield positions in the last 12 months.
That’s not ideal! And it’s also, almost certainly, not the plan. This means that, in all likelihood, one of two players who almost no one is talking about is going to make the Red Sox Opening Day roster: Niko Goodrum and Yu Chang.
Yu Chang you already know about (or maybe you don’t—there were many, many people who were already checked out on the Red Sox by the time he got into 11 games for the team last season.) A 27-year-old infielder from Taiwan, Chang was once projected to be a starting shortstop at the big league level, though not necessarily an above average one (he was once rated as high as the 6th-best prospect in the Cleveland Guardians farm system). He is still a strong defender, with good range that makes up for a mediocre arm. But he has not hit at the big level at all, compiling a career .213/.279/.360 line with 14 total homers in 538 career plate appearances. His 11 games for the Red Sox last season were extremely underwhelming, as he struck out 7 times and recorded just 3 hits in 20 at-bats.
Goodrum is new to the Red Sox organization, but not to Major League Baseball. He’s played over 400 games throughout his career and, early on, it looked like he’d be a useful player, one who could put up close to league average production at the bat while playing all over the field defensively. That hasn’t happened, though, and his rookie year, in which he hit .245/.315/.432 with 16 home runs, remains the high water mark of his career. He’s become a strikeout machine, and one who doesn’t perform well enough in any other aspect of the game to get anything other than a minor league deal.
Is there anyone else who is even an option? Down in Worcester, Enmanuel Valdez and David Hamilton are the likely starters at second and short, respectively. Valdez hits the ball hard, but is viewed as a below-average defender who, if he ever hits enough to stick in the bigs, will do so as a corner outfielder. Likewise, Hamilton is also viewed as a future outfielder, though if he ever makes the move, it will almost certainly be to center field, as he’s an absolute burner who stole 70 bases for Portland last season. That speed is the only thing that earns him a professional contract, as he is projected to be a well below average hitter. Ryan Fitzgerald rounds out the uninspiring Worcester options. He played 36 games at short and 25 at second for the WooSox last year, but a .219 batting average at the AAA level with a .304 OBP isn’t too promising, despite the 16 homers he hit.
Then there’s Connor Wong, who actually split his college career between catcher and shortstop. He’s a great athlete who’s capable of playing in the infield in a pinch (in fact he did play in the infield for the Boston Red Sox just last year — five innings at second and one at third). But if he is to have a future in the bigs, it’ll be as a catcher, and the Sox are highly unlikely to mess with his development at this point.
So there you have it: it really is down to Goodrum and Chang. If you’re like me, there are only two kinds of players you like to watch in Spring Training: the big offseason acquisitions and the prospects. Goodrum and Chang are neither — in fact, they’re the type of guys who usually make me groan when I see their names pop up on a Spring Training lineup.
But one of them is going to line up on the first baseline on Opening Day. Get well soon, Adalberto.