The Boston Red Sox have started playing Spring Training games, which means the coaching staff led by Alex Cora will be judging the performances of numerous players over the course of the next month before deciding which 26 players will head back to Fenway Park for Opening Day against the Baltimore Orioles.
We all know that Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers will be in the starting lineup come April 1, but what about some of the smaller names? Here are a few positional battles to keep tabs on throughout the month of March.
The Fifth Starter
Chris Sale isn’t going to be rushed back from Tommy John recovery, so he won’t be ready until sometime in the middle of the regular season. Therefore, the rotation isn’t completely filled out yet. Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez, and Garrett Richards figure to be in Cora’s rotation to begin the season, but the fifth starter is up in the air.
It will likely come down to two righties: Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck. Pivetta was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies before last year’s Trade Deadline when Brandon Workman was traded and he only appeared in two games in a Red Sox uniform. Pivetta is still just 28 years old and was acquired by Boston because they believe there is some untapped potential. Houck impressed in his three starts for the Red Sox in 2020, posting a 0.89 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 17 innings pitched. His big league debut was his best start, as he didn’t allow a single run in a five inning performance.
Houck probably has the slight advantage to get the fifth starting spot, but the coaching staff will likely just go with the pitcher that performed better in the Grapefruit League.
Starting Left Fielder
The left field position is an interesting one in Fort Myers, as there might not be a concrete starting left fielder at the end of camp after the team traded Andrew Benintendi to Kansas City. Marwin Gonzalez was brought in at the end of the winter and he has experience playing the outfield, so he is a logical fit but he is seen more as a utility man who jumps around to different spots. Hunter Renfroe also can play left field but he would probably tell you that he’s more comfortable playing the other corner, as he spent the first few years of his career in right field with the San Diego Padres.
Franchy Cordero was acquired from the Royals in the Benintendi trade and he can also play all three outfield positions but he has played center field and right field the most during his major league career. The likeliest scenario would be for Gonzalez, Renfroe, and Cordero to rotate in the corner outfield spots and the guys that are hitting better will get more playing time.
Final Infield Bench Spot
Bench players aren’t usually getting a lot of attention at any point of the season but they are always fighting for their jobs in Spring Training. Cora has said early in camp that he expects to carry a three-man bench to start the season so there are two spots remaining after Kevin Plawecki takes up one of those spots as the backup catcher.
There will need to be a fourth outfielder, which will likely either be Cordero or Renfroe (with the other one starting), so that leaves one more spot up for grabs as the fifth infielder. Michael Chavis and Christian Arroyo look to be the two candidates to fill that final bench spot.
Chavis is a fan favorite who is entering his third season in Boston. The 25-year-old didn’t live up to the hype in his sophomore season after a successful rookie season but that was partly due to the fact that he didn’t find a rhythm in a short 60-game season. The “Ice Horse” hit just five home runs and drove in less than 20 runs last season. Arroyo was once one of the top prospects in the league in San Francisco’s farm system but was lost in the shuffle while being forced to play behind Evan Longoria with the Giants and then Matt Duffy in Tampa.
Chavis has the edge over Arroyo to fill the final spot on the bench because he can play three out of the four infield positions as well as shift over to left field if need be. Versatility has been a theme of importance to Bloom and Cora, as they added the two best utility men on the free agent market in Gonzalez and Kike Hernandez.
(Photo: Mary Schwalm/AP)
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