There’s still a lot of Spring Training (not to mention a lot of WBC) left to be played, but with nearly two weeks of games under our belts and Opening Day roughly four weeks away, it’s not too soon to be talking honestly about the prospective roster.
In the Boston Red Sox’s (honest grammar question — how does one make Sox possessive? Because that just looks wrong.) case, despite the emergence of intriguing figures like Sam Travis, Steve Selsky, Blake Swihart, Deven Marrero or Marco Hernandez to a certain degree, there’s not a lot of wiggle room when it comes to either the starting lineup or the bench.
The only real question marks that I can see in the batting order are who ultimately wins the job at third (though Pablo Sandoval is acquitting himself quite well compared to last spring) and in what order everyone bats — though even that looks to be increasingly set with it likely being something similar to Dustin Pedroia, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, Mitch Moreland, Sandoval (or Sandoval then Moreland), Jackie Bradley Jr. and either Sandy Leon or Vazquez at catcher.
It’s a far cry from last Spring when Travis Shaw turned the tables over at third base (remember when they started running him out in left field just to see what would happen?) and Rusney Castillo proved to be lacking in his ability to complete the then “Big Three” in the outfield.
It’s no secret that I (along with apparently many others) am pulling for Sam Travis’ big league debut as soon as possible, but the harder Hanley hits and the more Mitch Moreland flashes that glove, it’s looking less likely than it did when Hanley was contemplating heading to the WBC with a tight arm last week.
With increasing uncertainty surrounding the starting rotation (Four weeks away, we still haven’t seen David Price, Steven Wright or Drew Pomeranz in an actual game setting…), let’s figure John Farrell keeps a deep bullpen to start the year.
I figure that leaves about four bench slots, one of which automatically goes to a catcher — most likely Vazquez, who has shown some renewed lightning in that arm. This may be the most contested spot on the roster left this spring, with Swihart really doing nothing to sully his chances thus far. But I’m giving the nod to Vazquez as of today (March 7), if for no other reason than he has no options left.
Brock Holt easily grabs the second spot (and if the MLB gave a “10th man” Award, he’d be the obvious leading candidate). He can slide in anywhere on the diamond, bats from the left side, and is getting plenty of extra looks with Bogaerts currently representing the Netherlands in the WBC.
Chris Young too is a lock for the roster as a capable fielder at any of the three outfield spots and an at-times potent hitter.
The fourth and final slot is perhaps the only remaining intrigue.
Josh Rutledge was a nice depth option for the Red Sox when he was healthy last season and can slide in at second, short or third. Because Boston got him back in the Rule 5 Draft, they must keep him on the Major League roster in order to keep him in the organization. So common logic would dictate that he is the natural fourth benchman.
However, it’s not like there’s a current lack of depth in the organization’s infield. As stated above, Marrero and Hernandez, both of whom can also play the same three positions that Rutledge can, have been having great camps. Third-Baseman-Of-The-Future Rafael Devers has also looked great, though he’s still probably some time away from being ready.
Rutledge has struck out four times in six at-bats and has managed one hit — a single. Granted, six at-bats is an extremely small sample size.
It’s telling how Boston is using him even with its starting shortstop on the road for the next two weeks, though that’s in part because Rutledge has been contending with a nagging knee.
Travis, so far, has six RBIs and 1.407 OPS. Marrero and Hernandez have each received more than triple the number of at-bats Rutledge has.
My best guess is that Rutledge doesn’t make the cut.
Hernandez or Swihart each offer multi-position flexibiltiy, and each offer the ability to hit from the left side of the plate — something only of the other bench candidates — Holt — does. Keeping Rutledge (and assuming Vazquez wins the backup catcher slot over Swihart), leaves an right-heavy bench for the Sox.
Travis is the most promising hitter, but he doesn’t offer the flexibility in positions that you’d like to see coming off the bench. Plus, you want him getting regular at-bats, wherever he plays. His MLB debut is likely still several months away
Your most likely bench to start the year is Vazquez, Holt, Young and Swihart (and if not Swihart, then Hernandez).