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2023 Positional Preview: It’s Christian Arroyo’s Time. Finally.

The former first round pick finally has a starting spot.

Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

The Starter

Boston Red Sox Spring Training Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Christian Arroyo will turn 28-years-old in May. In baseball player terms, that’s supposed to be your prime, your peak, the year that you’re at the height of your powers. A 28-year-old baseball player is often looked at as a veteran, someone who’s been around the block, someone who knows how to handle himself and knows how to achieve success

And yet, to me, Christian Arroyo, soon-to-be 28-year-old, still feels damn near like a rookie. This isn’t necessarily his fault. As I’ve previously documented, Arroyo’s career has been snake-bitten to the point where he’s probably considered keeping antivenom in his locker. And so, despite having been a first-round pick 10 years ago, he’s played just 229 career games, compiling a 2.2 bWAR.

What would you even say is the highlight of Christian Arroyo’s career? He hit a home run in the ALCS once, but it came only in the third inning, when the Red Sox were already leading 6-0. By WPA, his most valuable performance last year came in a June game against the Guardians, in which he had three hits, one homer, and three RBI. That’s not bad! But, again, it was a June game against the Guardians, which isn’t exactly the stuff you dream about in the backyard. He did once hit a 7th inning grand slam while the Sox were down by three runs — which is very much the the stuff you dream about in the backyard — but the fact that he began that game on the bench so Marwin Gonzalez of all people could start at second base should tell you all you need to know about how Christian Arroyo’s career had gone up to that point.

The fact is that Christian Arroyo’s career has not gone as planned so far. That is not to say that he doesn't have talent. Indeed, on a per-game basis, he compiled the third-highest bWAR on the 2021 postseason team, behind Xander and Kiké, but ahead of even Rafael Devers. He’s always possessed the ability to put together an above average/fringe All Star-type season at second base, something along the lines of a .270/.330/.450 season with 15-20 bombs. The universe just hasn’t aligned itself in a way to make it happen.

But as of today, he finally has two things he’s never had at the same time before: health, and a spot in the everyday lineup of a Major League team.

What’s he going to do with that?

The Bench

Boston Red Sox Spring Training Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

The identity of the backup middle infielder on the 2023 Boston Red Sox is still unknown. Yu Chang and Niko Goodrum are the leading candidates to grab the spot, with Chang seemingly having the upper hand thanks to the fact that he’s already on the 40-man roster. Neither player projects to ever be anything other than a backup middle infielder, though, rendering discussion of them, sadly, kind of sad.

Adalberto Mondesi, on the other hand, is the opposite of sad — when he’s actually on the field, anyway. A former top prospect and the son of a big league All Star, Mondesi is an athletic freak — a guy with tons of speed, tons of power, and the slickest glove of anyone likely to field a ground ball for the 2023 Red Sox. But he’s also currently injured, which, unfortunately, is very much Adalberto Mondesi’s thing. He’s played just 358 games since debuting as a 20-year-old in 2016, with his career-high being the 102 games he played in the Before Times of 2019. And even when he has been healthy, Mondesi has failed to live up to his prospect pedigree, owing to poor plate discipline combined with a lot of swing-and-miss. Post-prospect players are always intriguing—especially when they come with Mondesi’s raw tools—but, while we can hope for something special out of him when he returns to the field, we certainly shouldn’t plan on it.

Minor League Depth

Has Enmanuel Valdez just flown under everyone’s radar this whole time? After arriving in the Christian Vazquez trade, named him just the 17th-best prospect in the Red Sox system, calling him someone with the “ceiling of a bat-first utility player.” He’s generally considered to lack a Major League-caliber glove for the infield, with average power and a below average hit tool. But Valdez has been one of the best players in the early going of Spring Training so far, with his Soto-esque home run (and Youk’s accompanying call) perhaps being the highlight of Red Sox camp:

This is a guy who put up a mediocre .731 OPS in Worcester after the trade last year, so we probably shouldn’t get too excited. But on the other hand, he’s a relative unknown who’s come out of nowhere to mash in Spring Training — getting excited about guys like him is one of the most fun things there is about being a baseball fan.

FanGraphs Projections

Divisional Rankings

Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images
  1. Tampa Bay Rays — Brandon Lowe
  2. New York Yankees — Gleyber Torres?
  3. Boston Red Sox — Christian Arroyo
  4. Toronto Blue Jays — Whit Merrifield/Santiago Espinal
  5. Baltimore Orioles — Adam Frazier

This is one of the most fluid position groups in the AL East. If he’s healthy, Brandon Lowe is clearly the best of the bunch. But he’s recovering from something called a “stress reaction in the lower back” which sounds as ominous as it does made up.

Neither the Yankees, nor the Blue Jays really know who is going to play the most games at second base this year. In Toronto, it looks like some combination of old guy Whit Merrifield, underwhelming All Star Santiago Espinal, and post-prospect Cavan Biggio will get the reps. In the Bronx, Gleyber Torres’ up-and-down early career mean the starting position is still unsettled between him, DJ LeMahieu, and the Oswald[o]s Cabrera and Peraza — and there’s been plenty of rumors about a possible trade that could clear the logjam.

Maybe it’s just the optimism of a sunny, 44-degree day in March that’s getting to me, but I think Arroyo can stand out in this group.