Predicting Boston Red Sox Depth Charts a Month Ahead of Spring Training
The Boston Red Sox will roll into spring training with one of the best rosters in the league.
That was assured when they went on a shopping spree during the winter meetings. They added lefty ace Chris Sale, slick-fielding first baseman Mitch Moreland and shutdown reliever Tyler Thornburg to a roster that produced 93 wins and an American League East title in 2016.
Before the Red Sox can get going on 2017, they need to narrow down the favorites for their 25-man roster and which players will be on the waiting list to get on it should any spots open up.
With that in mind, let's run through the names Red Sox fans should really know and which ones they should also know.
Starting C: Sandy Leon (SH)
Sandy Leon was barely on the Red Sox's radar this time last year, but he ultimately emerged to rescue their catching from despair. In 78 games, the 27-year-old had an .845 OPS and threw out 41 percent of runners.
According to Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe, Leon is in place as the man to beat for the Red Sox's starting catcher gig this spring. But after slumping to the finish with a .515 OPS in his final 31 games of 2016, he shouldn't be considered a lock to break camp with the gig in hand.
Backup C: Christian Vazquez (RHB)
The Red Sox might break camp with Blake Swihart as their backup catcher, but the job will more likely fall to Christian Vazquez. Whereas Swihart has options left and some development still to see to, Vazquez is out of options and more of a known commodity.
With a .602 career OPS in the majors, the 26-year-old isn't much of a hitter. But Red Sox pitchers have loved throwing to him. And with his 2015 Tommy John operation now two years in the past, Vazquez's arm strength should be all the way back in 2017.
Next in Line
Blake Swihart (SH)
According to WEEI's Rob Bradford, Swihart has been told that he's going back behind the plate after his season-ending injury in the outfield in 2016. For the 24-year-old, that's a move back to the place where he was an elite prospect not too long ago. With a good enough spring, he might turn his spot on the 40-man roster into a spot on the 25-man roster.
Starting 1B: Mitch Moreland (LHB)
Mitch Moreland may be a left-handed hitter with power, but the Red Sox didn't sign him to replace David Ortiz at designated hitter. Having just won a Gold Glove in 2016, the 31-year-old is the obvious choice to be the Red Sox's everyday first baseman.
Starting 2B: Dustin Pedroia (RHB)
No surprise here. Dustin Pedroia has been Boston's everyday second baseman since 2007 and is still going strong. The 33-year-old hit .318 with an .825 OPS in 2016, all while rating as an excellent defender. With Ortiz gone, he's now the team's de facto captain.
Starting SS: Xander Bogaerts (RHB)
No surprise here, either. Xander Bogaerts, 24, isn't going to wow anyone with his defense, but he's a .307 hitter with a .789 OPS over the last two seasons. After hitting for average in 2015 and more for power in 2016, 2017 could be the year he takes an already strong offensive game to the next level.
Starting 3B: Pablo Sandoval (SH)
After he struggled in 2015 and went down with a season-ending injury in 2016, trusting Pablo Sandoval to be an everyday third baseman doesn't seem like the best idea. But the Red Sox are going for it, and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has high expectations for the 30-year-old.
"I think he can come back and be a good, dependable, everyday third baseman for us, from an offensive and a defensive perspective," Dombrowski told ESPN.com's Buster Olney in a recent podcast, via NESN's Darren Hartwell. "I think if he can go out there and hit .270 to .275 and hit 12 to 15 home runs and knock in 70 to 75 runs at third base for us, I don’t think that’s asking too much of him."
Well, if he says so…
Starting DH: Hanley Ramirez (RHB)
Hanley Ramirez wasn't the defensive disaster at first base in 2016 that he was in left field in 2015. But it's no secret by now that he's a bat-only player, so him sliding into Ortiz's vacated shoes is a natural fit. The 33-year-old's offense has been coming and going since 2011, but he's riding some good vibes into 2017. Ramirez had an .866 OPS with 30 homers in 2016, in part thanks to a torrid second half.
Backup INF: Brock Holt (LHB)
I'm labeling Brock Holt as an "infielder," but he's more like an "everything." The lefty swinger has played every position except catcher and pitcher. And he isn't too shabby a hitter, either, posting a .705 career OPS. Even after an injury-shortened 2016, he's the surest thing on Boston's bench.
Backup INF: Josh Rutledge (RHB)
This spot on Boston's bench is more up in the air. But for now, Josh Rutledge has a loose hold on it. Although he doesn't have Holt's versatility, he swings from the opposite side of the plate and can play short, second or third in a pinch.
Next in Line
Marco Hernandez (LHB)
Marco Hernandez was solid in hitting .294 in 40 games with the Red Sox in 2016. But as a generally light-hitting lefty swinger, he's basically another Holt minus the defensive versatility. It'll likely take an injury for him to land on the 25-man roster.
Deven Marrero (RHB)
As a righty swinger with some positional versatility, Deven Marrero has a shot at beating out Rutledge for a spot on Boston's bench. However, he'll need to show that he can improve on major league experience that includes a .503 OPS in 38 games.
Starting LF: Andrew Benintendi (LHB)
Andrew Benintendi, 22, had an impressive debut with a .295 average and .835 OPS in 34 major league games in 2016. But since he's still a prospect, that was just one more reason for executives to vote for him as the game's top hitting prospect. According to MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo, they did just that.
Starting CF: Jackie Bradley Jr. (LHB)
Although he ran out of gas with a .690 OPS in August and September, 2016 was still a big breakout year for Jackie Bradley Jr. He had an .835 OPS with 26 home runs and played strong defense in center field. Once stuck in prospect purgatory, the 26-year-old is now a rising star.
Starting RF: Mookie Betts (RHB)
Next to the top prospect and rising star in Boston's outfield is a superstar. After climbing the ladder in 2014 and 2015, Mookie Betts reached the top of it by producing an .897 OPS with 31 homers and 26 stolen bases and winning a Gold Glove in 2016. He finished second in the American League MVP voting. And oh yeah, he's still only 24.
Fourth OF: Chris Young (RHB)
Chris Young re-established himself as a useful outfielder in 2015 and was better than advertised in the first year of a two-year contract with the Red Sox in 2016. He had an .850 OPS in 76 games, in which he hit both lefties (.999 OPS) and righties (.766 OPS) for a change. He should see plenty of action as a platoon partner for Benintendi in left field, but he can also play center and right in a pinch.
Next in Line
Bryce Brentz (RHB)
Bryce Brentz is a former first-round draft pick who was once a well-regarded prospect. Now he's little more than organizational depth. However, the 28-year-old also has a spot on the 40-man roster and is just a Young injury away from having an opening.
No. 1: Rick Porcello (RHP)
Does Red Sox skipper John Farrell choose the shiny new addition or the reigning AL Cy Young winner as his Opening Day starter?
"We'll have plenty of time to figure that out," Farrell said in December, via ESPN.com's Scott Lauber.
The early edge, however, has to go to Rick Porcello. Everyone may be excited to see Chris Sale in a Red Sox uniform, but Porcello's the incumbent ace and the Cy Young winner. Despite some grumbling over how he earned the latter, there's plenty to like about a 3.15 ERA in 223 innings.
No. 2: Chris Sale (LHP)
If Sale's not the Red Sox's No. 1 starter, then he's arguably the best No. 2 starter in the league. The 27-year-old has put up a 3.04 ERA and struck out 10 batters per nine innings since 2012, a span in which he's been an All-Star and a top Cy Young finisher every year.
No. 3: David Price (LHP)
If Sale as a No. 2 sounds silly, how about $217 million man and former Cy Young winner David Price as a No. 3? He put himself in this position with a slightly disappointing debut year in Boston, but nobody should be too down on him going into 2017. After a slow start, the 31-year-old finished strong with a 3.39 ERA over his final 28 starts of 2016.
No. 4: Steven Wright (RHP)
The Red Sox have three starters for the last two spots of their starting rotation, but Dombrowski tipped his hand regarding where the club is leaning going into spring training.
"We have three guys basically battling for those spots," Dombrowski said on Olney's podcast, via Bradford, "but if everybody is healthy come the start of the season, it’s a great situation to be in because Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz both made the All-Star team last year, and they’re penciled in fourth and fifth."
Locking Wright into the No. 4 spot would prevent a run of three straight lefties. Beyond that, it's a fitting reward for a 32-year-old who carved out a 3.33 ERA in 2016 with a knuckleball that's a GIF to mankind.
No. 5: Drew Pomeranz (LHP)
Pomeranz failed to live up to the 2.47 ERA he had with the San Diego Padres after joining the Red Sox, posting a 4.59 ERA in 14 appearances. However, he continued to show good stuff in striking out over a batter per inning. That reflects the 28-year-old's upside.
Next in Line
Eduardo Rodriguez (LHP)
Eduardo Rodriguez is arguably too good to not have a spot somewhere on the Red Sox's 25-man roster. The hard-throwing lefty excelled as a rookie and erased a rough start in 2016 with a 3.24 ERA in his final 14 outings. And he's still only 23.
But if E-Rod's not going to be in the rotation, it makes more sense for him to get starter innings in the minors than reliever innings in Boston's bullpen. To that end, he has a couple of options left.
Closer: Craig Kimbrel (RHP)
Craig Kimbrel's first season in Boston was rocky, but not rocky enough to bump him from the club's closer role. Despite a pedestrian 3.40 ERA, the 28-year-old still struck out 14.1 batters per nine innings and restricted batters to a .539 OPS.
Setup: Joe Kelly (RHP)
Joe Kelly, 28, took off when the Red Sox finally put him in the bullpen for good, putting up a 1.02 ERA in 14 appearances down the stretch of 2016. He averaged 98.2 mph on his fastball and struck out 21 batters in 17.2 innings. In him, the Red Sox have a potential relief ace.
Setup: Tyler Thornburg (RHP)
After four up-and-down seasons in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, 28-year-old Tyler Thornburg came through with a 2.15 ERA and rate of 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings last season. He was especially good at silencing left-handed batters, who managed just a .413 OPS against him.
Setup: Robbie Ross Jr. (LHP)
Robbie Ross Jr. earned his keep as the Red Sox's go-to lefty in 2016. In 54 appearances, the 27-year-old posted a 3.25 ERA and showed he could do a decent job of getting righties out (.660 OPS) when he wasn't shutting down lefties (.545 OPS).
Lefty Specialist: Fernando Abad (LHP)
After a disastrous stint in Boston to finish 2016, it's somewhat surprising that the Red Sox chose to tender Fernando Abad a contract. Per Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors, that'll require paying him $2 million. At that rate, they might as well use him and see if he can get back to dominating lefty batters.
Middle Relief: Matt Barnes (RHP)
It turns out Matt Barnes isn't the rotation arm the Red Sox envisioned when they drafted him in the first round in 2011. Nonetheless, he proved he can be an effective bullpen arm in 2016. Despite his 4.05 ERA, the 26-year-old struck out over a batter per inning and logged 66.2 innings in 62 appearances.
Middle Relief: Heath Hembree (RHP)
Heath Hembree isn't a dominant reliever, but he did put up a solid 2.65 ERA while pitching 51 innings in 38 appearances last year. The 27-year-old likely doesn't have any upside beyond that. But since he's out of options, the Red Sox might as well stick with him.
Next in Line
Robby Scott (LHP)
Robby Scott made a push for the Red Sox's postseason roster with seven scoreless appearances at the end of 2016. Now he's set to make a push for the club's Opening Day roster, with his best hope being snagging the spot earmarked for Abad.
Noe Ramirez (RHP)
Noe Ramirez has allowed 15 earned runs and seven home runs in only 26 major league innings. But if nothing else, the side-winding 27-year-old is a warm body the Red Sox can put in their bullpen in a pinch.
The Next Wave
C: Dan Butler (RHB)
Dan Butler is on the outside looking in at the Red Sox's catching depth chart. But the 30-year-old earned his invitation to spring training with a strong 2016, hitting .308 with an .851 OPS at Triple-A Pawtucket. If nothing else, he's a dark horse.
C: Jake DePew (RHB)
Jake DePew didn't hit in seven seasons in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, posting a .218 average and .584 OPS in the minors. He does have a 42 percent career caught-stealing rate, however. With an invite to spring training in hand, that arm is set to be on display.
INF: Matt Dominguez (RHB)
Formerly the Houston Astros' starting third baseman, Matt Dominguez joined the Red Sox on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. Although he doesn't have a spot on the 40-man roster, that could change if the stars align just right.
INF: Sam Travis (RHB)
Sam Travis will be ticketed for Triple-A Pawtucket at the end of spring training. But since Baseball America's Alex Speier ranked him as the club's No. 6 prospect at a time when it still had Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, he's now a top prospect worth keeping an eye on.
OF: Junior Lake (RHB)
Like Dominguez, Junior Lake is another guy with major league experience who joined the Red Sox on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. He'll compete with Bryce Brentz for a shot to call dibs on Young's roster spot.
OF: Rusney Castillo (RHB)
Remember Rusney Castillo? The Red Sox took the expensive Cuban out of their plans when they bumped him from the 40-man roster last summer, but he's still around. He might be able to earn his way back into the club's good graces with a strong enough spring.
SP: Henry Owens (LHP)
Since going into 2015 as one of the most well-regarded lefties in the minors, Henry Owens has all but disappeared off the radar. Triple-A and the majors have been harsh to the former first-rounder. But he's still only 24, and he at least has a spot on the 40-man roster. He may yet be heard from.
SP: Brian Johnson (LHP)
Brian Johnson is another formerly well-regarded lefty who's fallen out of favor. He's coming off a shortened season to boot, as he needed to seek treatment for anxiety. But like Owens, the 26-year-old at least has youth and a spot on the 40-man roster going for him.
SP/RP: Roenis Elias (LHP)
Roenis Elias never found his footing after coming over from Seattle in last winter's Wade Miley/Carson Smith trade. He's held on to his spot on Boston's 40-man roster, however, and could serve the club as either a starter or a reliever.
RP: Brandon Workman (RHP)
Brandon Workman showed promise here and there as a starter in 2013 and 2014. Now the 28-year-old is looking to re-establish himself after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015 and struggling in his return in 2016. For now, all he has is his spot on the 40-man roster.