On February 18 the Red Sox camp will begin when pitchers and catchers officially report. Despite coming off back to back last place AL East finishes, this Red Sox team will come to camp with a nearly set roster. Very unusual for a franchise coming off those poor finishes.
But if someone offered you a hundred bucks if you could name the Opening Day roster for Boston right now, you could have a really good shot at the cash by naming this 25 man roster:
C Blake Swihart
1B Hanley Ramirez
2B Dustin Pedroia
SS Xander Bogaerts
3B Pablo Sandoval
LF Rusney Castillo
CF Jackie Bradley Jr.
RF Mookie Betts
DH David Ortiz
Despite the entire roster seemingly being set (barring a spring training injury), that does not mean there are not questions. surrounding this squad. Let's take a look around the diamond with some thoughts and opinions on those questions.
There are three candidates for two jobs. The catcher, who at this point seems like the odd man out for Opening Day, was a year ago the expected starting catcher: Christian Vazquez. Vazquez came up with an elbow injury which required Tommy John surgery. So the pivotal question for the catching position may well be how soon can Vazquez recover from surgery and as importantly can he still throw like a Howitzer?
Red Sox management has repeatedly stated its intent to be cautious with Vazquez and the plan is to let him get back to form by playing at AAA to begin the season. But if he shows up in Fort Myers and seems perfectly healthy can he regain the starting role.
Of course, now matter how the Vazquez situation plays out, Blake Swihart is certainly capable of grabbing the number one in his own right. His defense is not on par with Christian (most MLB catchers are not), but Swihart showed signs in late 2015 of how special he could be on offense.
Ryan Hanigan likely backs up one of the young catchers until the time comes, maybe by mid-season, when the Sox go with both of the youngsters.
Okay this question may be the biggest question of all for this team:
Can Hanley Ramirez play an acceptable level of first base?
If the answer is something resembling yes, the pieces of the 2016 puzzle fit together much better. But can Hanley do it? Hey look, I was sure he could handle Left Field, so maybe I will pass on this question. If it works the Sox have another potential big bat in the lineup, and a natural fit to be the 2017 DH after the retirement of David Ortiz. If Ramirez completely fails the Sox have some other options, but what in the hell do they do with Hanley? Release him with 66 million or so still owed to him?
The next best option is Travis Shaw. In his rookie season, Shaw in only 226 at bats hit 13/36/.274/.331/.822. Shaw is likely to make the team with his ability to play first, third, and will try leftfield in camp. Even if Ramirez plays first, Shaw should find playing time.
By July or so there could be another candidate to play first: Sam Travis. The 2014 draftee from Indiana Univ., is expected to start the season at AAA after splitting '15 at Salem and Portland. His numbers at each stop were incredibly consistent, at Salem he had 246 at bats in 66 games, and in AA he had 243 AB's in. 65 games. Here were his lines:
Salem. 5/40/.313/.378/.845 with 15 doubles and 4 triples
Port. 4/38/.300/.384/.821 with 10 doubles and a triple.
Travis is not considered a power prospect (maybe 15 per year) but is a hitter. First base could be a Travis/Travis platoon before the year is out.
The only question here is can Dustin Pedroia stay healthy for a complete season? If he does this is his job. The de facto captain is signed through 2021, and although I would be willing to bet his hold on this job does not last that long, a contending Sox team surely is easier to envision with Pedey in the lineup.
If another injury does occur, super sub Brock Holt likely is next man up for second base.
Another straight forward question: will Pablo Sandoval come to camp in shape and play like San Francisco's Pablo? Or is his career in steep decline at only the age of 30? I think of the Hanley/Pablo dual busts of 2015, Sandoval is more likely to bounce back. But if he doesn't the only internal options are likely Holt and/or Shaw. Another candidate could be Deven Marrero, but can he hit enough for a corner position?
One other Sandoval note. If Ramirez flops at first, would the Sox try to flip Pablo to first and try Hanley at third? Doubtful, but maybe in desperation.
In the next post I will examine the rest of the lineup and the pitchers.