Boston Red Sox: 5 Under-the-Radar Players to Watch in Spring Games
You really have to strain your eyes to find roster spots on the Boston Red Sox that are up for grabs this spring. That doesn't bode well for the less heralded players in their star-studded camp.
Still, some of them are worth knowing anyway.
We’re going to look at five under-the-radar players in Red Sox camp who are worth monitoring in exhibition games as potential 2017 contributors. These are guys who:
- Are not projected starters.
- Are not presumed favorites to win assorted position battles.
- Are not among the club's top 10 prospects, as ranked by Baseball America.
- Are either on the 40-man roster or in camp as non-roster invitees.
In short, these are players who are inconsequential now but who could be heard from later.
Now, then. Let's get to it.
Luis Ysla, LHP
Barring any injuries, the Red Sox's bullpen depth chart looks all set for the regular season.
Craig Kimbrel will close. Tyler Thornburg and Joe Kelly will set up. Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree and Robbie Ross Jr. will handle middle relief. Fernando Abad will be the left-handed specialist.
Still, no bullpen survives a 162-game season unscathed. This spring is a chance for hopefuls to make impressions that could be remembered when spots inevitably open up.
Which brings us to Luis Ysla. The left-hander was acquired in the first trade that Dave Dombrowski made after becoming Boston's president of baseball operations, coming over in the deal that sent Alejandro De Aza to the San Francisco Giants in August 2015.
A starter for most of his first three pro seasons, Ysla was used exclusively in relief at Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket in 2016. And while he only put up a 3.99 ERA in 40 appearances, he held right-handed batters to a .228 average and struck out 62 batters in 56.1 innings.
These numbers reflect two realities: Ysla doesn't have to be a specialist, in part because he has legit stuff. For the latter, he relies on a fastball that SoxProspects.com opines has "plus-plus" potential thanks to 94-97 mph velocity and late life.
The 27 batters Ysla walked last year confirm that his control still needs work. Nonetheless, it's not hard to imagine an arm like his ending up in Boston's bullpen at some point in 2017.
Robby Scott, LHP
Ysla may be an intriguing candidate to crack the Red Sox bullpen down the line. Robby Scott, however, would already seem to have first dibs on one job in particular.
If there's a weak link in Boston's projected bullpen, it's certainly Abad. The veteran lefty had an up-and-down track record before 2016 and didn't live up to his early success with the Minnesota Twins after the Red Sox acquired him. He put up a 6.39 ERA and generally struggled in 18 appearances.
That made Scott's emergence in September feel like a breath of fresh air. The 27-year-old left pitched in seven games, allowing six hits, two walks and no runs in six innings.
Scott, who is also on the 40-man roster, is not a relief ace by any means. He only works in the upper 80s with his fastball, forcing him to rely on command and movement to get batters out.
That much he can handle, though. Particularly against left-handed batters. He held them to just a .147 average at Triple-A Pawtucket last season and yielded just three singles to lefties in his brief major league run.
Because the Red Sox are on the hook to pay Abad $2 million this season, they're not going to be in a rush to hand his roster spot to someone else. But as somebody who was undrafted out of college and signed out of independent ball in 2011, Scott has faced longer odds.
Steve Selsky, OF/1B
Every team needs a fourth outfielder. The Red Sox have a good one in Chris Young, who can play all three positions and who's been an above-average hitter for the last two seasons.
In case something should happen to Young, however, Steve Selsky is a name to keep in mind.
The Red Sox filled their 40-man roster when they claimed Selsky off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds in January. He's a 27-year-old with just 24 major league games to his name, all of which came last year. He thus doesn't look like much more than organizational depth.
Selsky does have some attractive qualities, though.
One of them is a Young-like ability to crush left-handed pitching. Selsky had a .937 OPS against lefties at Triple-A last year before tallying five hits in 10 at-bats against them in the majors.
Another is Selsky's versatility. He can play left field and right field, as well as center field in a pinch. The other position where he has the most experience is first base.
In short, picture Young except with an ability to spell Mitch Moreland at the not-so-hot corner.
It will more than likely take an injury to Young for Selsky to find his way onto the Red Sox roster. But keep in mind: Young is going into his age-33 season and was limited to 74 games by a hamstring injury last season. He's not made of iron.
Matt Dominguez, 3B
Although the Red Sox have arguably the best roster in the American League, it does come with one big question: What if Pablo Sandoval doesn't work out at third base?
Matt Dominguez may be the answer if he doesn't.
The Red Sox picked the 27-year-old up on a minor league contract with an invite to spring training in December. Given that Dominguez has played in a total of five major league games over the last two seasons, the move understandably didn't nudge the needle that much.
But it wasn't that long ago that Dominguez was the starting third baseman for the Houston Astros in 2013 and 2014. He wasn't good at his job, but he at least flashed decent power in hitting 37 home runs.
It wasn't booming raw power that made those homers. Most of them (22) came at Minute Maid Park, which was no accident. Dominguez's swing is generally good for getting balls in the air to his pull side, which worked well in tandem with the short porch in Houston.
Ergo, it might work well in tandem with the Green Monster at Fenway Park. If not for the long-term in 2017, then perhaps long enough for the Red Sox to find a more suitable answer for the Panda conundrum on the trade market.
Or, the job could pass to another guy in camp with the Red Sox…
Marco Hernandez, INF
When you have Brock Holt, you don't need another lefty-hitting utility player.
But that doesn't mean Marco Hernandez has no shot at breaking camp with the Red Sox.
Initially acquired as the player to be named later in the trade that sent Felix Doubront to the Chicago Cubs in 2014, Hernandez has caught the attention of the big club in the last couple seasons. He's hit over .300 with Triple-A Pawtucket and .294 in a 40-game stint with the Red Sox last year, all while moving between second base, third base and shortstop.
Working against Hernandez is the reality that he can't be the right-handed complement for Holt on Boston's bench. That puts him below Josh Rutledge on the pecking order.
However, it's a testament to Hernandez's ability that Red Sox manager John Farrell is open to defying convention.
"In combination with Brock, the right-handed hitter complements that pretty well," Farrell said, via Christopher Smith of MassLive.com. "So never want to rule anything out, or say that that roster spot is set. So Yeah, Marco's got the ability to open a lot of eyes and force his way to the big leagues based on his skills."
There's also the possibility of Hernandez breaking camp with the Red Sox as a starter. If the Sandoval experiment fails, it's possible the Red Sox would favor Hernandez as a solution rather than roll the dice on Dominguez or sacrifice Holt's versatility.