The long winter offseason has finally reached its finale, with under a week remaining until the games count. For the most part, the Red Sox have all bases covered (no pun intended) when it comes to the 25-man roster. However, a few spots have remained up for grabs throughout the spring and now is crunch time for the decision-makers on who stays with Boston, and who goes to Pawtucket. New manager, Alex Cora, has been very vocal in displaying his ideas for the lineup and roster come opening day, which gives us helpful insight trying to decipher who’s going to make it. Going position by position, we will attempt to determine the 25 chosen ones who have survived to make the opening day squad.
The first name in this category, is the only easy one. Christian Vazquez has earned this starter’s job over the last couple seasons. Always known for his prominent strength defensively, Vazquez picked up the slack with his bat in 2017 at the perfect time. The Sox have been searching for a consistent starting catcher for roughly a decade now, and young Vazquez seems to have a handle on the position for at least the next few years to come. Next comes the tale of long lost 2011 first rounder, Blake Swihart. The high school shortstop turned catcher has made three previous attempts at being a mainstay in the show, but injuries and inconsistency have plagued him. Now, out of minor league options and having a spectacular spring, Blake Swihart’s name is almost a guarantee on the roster, come opening day. You have to give the kid credit, he has attempted to transition to the outfield (which resulted in a broken leg) and has even given the middle infield a try, to see if his high schools skills could give him a shot at those positions. Nonetheless, Swihart has still shown enough with his bat and behind the plate, to earn the back-up catcher’s job, at least to begin the season. The third and final member of this group, may just be the 25th name of 25 on the roster. It looks as if Sandy Leon will barely make this team, strictly because of his history as Chris Sale’s personal catcher. Alex Cora has already mentioned the team won’t use Leon as the personal catcher for Sale, but it is still possible on opening day that Sandy is manning the backstop. He is a borderline major league quality player, whose defence will once again help him find his way onto a roster.
Going clockwise around the infield, the starting lineup looks fairly set at all four positions. Mitch Moreland is a gold glove winner and is in search of his fourth consecutive twenty home run season, which makes him a virtual lock to start at first base for the majority of the season. Dustin Pedroia had his knee cleaned up in the offseason, and is expected to miss a couple months recovering from the surgery, which is why he obviously won’t be on the opening day roster. No fear though, as re-signee Eduardo Nunez will have no problem stepping in for Pedroia at second base for the time being. Nunez also suffered an injury to his knee last season, which prevented him from making an impact in the ALDS. Now that he’s healthy and being offered a starting job on a contending team, expect Nunez to be a large contributor for the runs manufacturing by the Sox. Completing the double play tandem, is Xander Bogaerts, who is in line to start his fourth straight opening day as the Red Sox shortstop. The all star and two time Silver Slugger winner will look to improve on continuing his hot start, into the second half. The last three seasons, he has seen his statistics all take a massive drop-off after the all-star break, which has been a big factor in the playoff demise for Boston. Rounding out the starting infield, is 21 year old Rafael Devers. Immediately upon his call-up in July of 2017, Devers began hitting moonshots off major league pitching, just as everyone had expected. Also as expected, his defence was below average, as he made 14 errors in just 149 chances. This placed him second in all of the American league behind Nick Castellanos of the Tigers, who made just 4 more errors than Devers in over 350 chances (200 more than Devers). By this metric, Devers was clearly the worst defensive third baseman in the league. However he is young, and has shown promise near the end of last year and in spring training that his glove is coming around to match his bat. The bench is where this positional aspect gets interesting. Hanley Ramirez is a lock to split time at first base and DH, but the backup infielder for the other three positions remains a question. It has come down to a tight race between long time fan favourite and super utility man Brock Holt, and defensive specialist Deven Marrero. Simply due to his strong spring (.345 BA), Brock Holt has earned this spot, and with Marrero being traded to Arizona, Holt has all but secured his place on the team. He provides more versatility off the bench by playing all four infield positions and doing it well, and certainly offers more offensively than Marrero could have.
The outfield is by far the easiest to project of the five categories, with all four positions locked up. Andrew Benintendi will now enter his second full season in the majors, with a year and half experience under his belt. He looks more and more accustomed to playing under the shadow of the Green Monster, and it’s safe to assume he’ll be there for many years to come. Somehow Jackie Bradley Jr. wasn’t named a finalist for a Gold Glove in 2017, but he still produced a solid year on both sides of the ball. Merely an average hitter, he provides a decent bat at the bottom of this top-heavy Red Sox lineup. He found his name tossed around in trade rumors over the winter and is nearing contract time. So you can bet Jackie is motivated to show his bat is a threat for 162 games, not just moments here and there. A big key to the 2018 Red Sox is the “bounce-back” of Mookie Betts. Considering his career as a whole, yes 2017 was a down year for Betts. However, this “down year” still resulted in finishing sixth in MVP voting, despite a significant drop-off from his MVP-caliber, 2016 stats. He will continue to be the best right fielder defensively in baseball, and if his bat returns to the form of two seasons ago, he may find himself back in the MVP hunt. The shiny move of the offseason was signing coveted outfielder/designated hitter J.D. Martinez. He’s coming off a season in which he hit 45 home runs, whereas the Red Sox as a team only hit 168. This is a match made in heaven for both sides, and the only loser from J.D. playing DH at Fenway all year, is the windshields of the cars parked near Lansdowne Street.
The Red Sox starting rotation is simple to predict until you reach its fourth member. Chris Sale has earned the right to start opening day for the first time as a member of Boston, as he begins his crusade towards a Cy Young. David Price will follow Sale, as he pitches with a chip on his shoulder trying to return to healthy and dominant form in 2018. 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello will take the ball third, as he attempts to rekindle some of the magic that pushed him beyond the likes of Verlander and Kluber to win that award. Then things become foggy. Drew Pomeranz will almost certainly begin the season on the disabled list, and Eduardo Rodriguez is a strong possibility to join him. The options for the fourth starter got even slimmer this week, when Steven Wright was suspended 15 games by the league for violating their domestic violence policy. This leaves the only option as Hector Velazquez, who did make three spot starts for the Sox in 2017. Velazquez was solid over those starts while posting a 2.92 ERA, which should be enough to earn him a start or two until Rodriguez is healthy. Rounding out the rotation, appears to be Brian Johnson who is another former top prospect nearing his last chance to earn his spot. Johnson was given a shot in 2017 to start five games for Boston, the most memorable of which was a complete game shutout in his Fenway debut in last May. Until Pomeranz and/or Rodriguez return, Johnson will get his fair shake at winning a starting job, by the sounds of things.
As we close out the final roster prediction, we look at the last few spots available out in the Red Sox bullpen. The locks for the bullpen are very clear, Joe Kelly will begin the season setting up for Craig Kimbrel. Carson Smith will also compete for eighth inning time and high-leverage situations in his first full season with Red Sox. Tyler Thornburg was acquired at the end of 2016 to possibly set-up, or at least pitch some crucial middle innings. After he missed all of last year with an injury, he is unlikely to start the season on the roster. Matt Barnes was a John Farrell favorite in the set-up role last year, but likely will be relegated to middle inning duties under Alex Cora, along with Heath Hembree. Bobby Poyner put up immaculate numbers this spring, and appears to have earned Thornburg’s spot in the bullpen until he returns healthy. When left-handed reliever Robby Scott was demoted on Saturday, Poyner’s place on opening day became even more likely. With one spot remaining for someone who can provide length out of the bullpen, three options arise to me. Aforementioned starter, Hector Velazquez, former Mariners starter Roenis Elias, and the 2010 second round selection by the Sox, Brandon Workman. Workman held this role last year, but was shaky in September and into October and that has carried over into the spring. Velazquez is mainly a starter and that is where he has had success as pro. Elias has struggled for the most part since coming over to Boston, and despite a strong showing in spring, he has work to do to make this team at any point this season. Of these three mediocre options, I would say Brandon Workman is the best and is also the most likely to win it. Whether Workman stays in the big leagues or not once everyone is healthy, will strictly be based off his performance until then.
Love the Sox takes? Really hate them? Wanna talk baseball? Let me know on twitter! @jprincipe8