COMMENTARY | While the starting lineup is basically set for the Boston Red Sox, there are some interesting roster decisions to be made regarding position players. David Ross should be secure in his role as backup catcher and get the No. 10 spot on the roster but the Sox will likely keep 13 hitters, leaving three roster spots to fill.
Here's a look by position at the relevant spring training position battles:
Catchers: David Ross/Ryan Lavarnway
This isn't much of a competition but Lavarnway is a legitimate player with big-league experience, so I'll mention him quickly. He has potential as a hitter, but the Boston Red Sox specifically signed Ross to work with the starting rotation and for his veteran clubhouse presence. Lavarnway has minor-league options and should start the season in Pawtucket.
Sweeney played pretty well last year before having surgery on his pinky. He doesn't offer much in the way of power or speed, but then again neither does Daniel Nava. Both players have performed decently at the major-league level, although Sweeney's had a lot more opportunity. In his four years getting significant playing time in Oakland, his batting averaged ranged from .265 to .294 and his on-base percentage (OBP) hovered a bit below .350.
Nava has had two opportunities to play for the big-league club (in 2010 and 2012) and has shown that he's a patient hitter who will produce good at-bats. His OBP was right around .350 in his two seasons. To give you a point of reference, Nava's .352 OBP last season was second only to David Ortiz (not counting Franklin Morales, who reached base one out of two times last year).
Nava is out of minor-league options, which is normally an advantage when trying to make a 25-man roster, but Sweeney can opt out of his contract if he doesn't make the opening-day roster, so that basically evens out. Nava has been taking reps at first base this spring in the hopes that his added versatility might provide value to the team. According to Fangraphs, Sweeney is the better defensive player but the two are extremely similar overall. For me, this is a crapshoot. One of these two players should be the primary backup outfielder, but I don't know which one. They should flip a coin.
*Carp can play outfield in addition to first base, and if the Sox keep him that's a bad sign for Sweeney.
Jose Iglesias may be the shortstop of the future in Boston but with the signing of Stephen Drew as the starter and the versatility of Pedro Ciriaco as a utility infielder, Iglesias will likely start the season in Pawtucket. The Sox want him to get regular at-bats in the hopes that he will find a way to become an adequate major-league hitter.
Brock Holt, acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates, is a solid hitter who plays second base. He's a bit more intriguing a prospect to make the team than Iglesias but would have to have a very impressive spring to take the utility infield spot away from Ciriaco. His glove is not great, and he has minor-league options remaining. I project him to begin the season in AAA but to be a good option for the Sox should there be an injury.
Finally, we have Pedro Ciriaco. He's the frontrunner to take the utility infielder role for the Red Sox this season. When pressed in to service last year he performed admirably, hitting .293, stealing 16 bases, and providing a number of clutch late-game hits. I think he's due to regress a bit in terms of batting average but the speed is real, and he's a versatile option who played in the outfield along with second base, third base, and shortstop last year. While he does have some legitimate competition from the likes of Holt and Iglesias, I think he'll do enough in spring training to win the job.
I'll start with Gomez, because I don't think he has much of a shot. He played well last season in his limited time at first and third base, but he has too many players to pass on the depth chart to make the team. He still has options and should start the season in AAA.
Overbay was in line to be the Red Sox's backup first baseman until the acquisition of Carp. Both players hit left-handed and cannot easily be sent to the minor leagues. Carp is out of options, and Overbay can opt out of his deal if he doesn't make the opening-day roster. Carp has the advantage of being able to play left field but had a very poor year hitting last year. Overbay was a bit better in his limited role.
As of right now I would give the edge to Carp to make the team, but I don't think that this spot has been decided yet. Spring training performances may determine who stays with the team.
To sum up, either Ryan Sweeney or Daniel Nava will get the backup outfield spot and Pedro Ciriaco will make the team as the utility infielder. The final roster spot should come down to Mike Carp and Lyle Overbay. This will be an interesting battle to watch as both players are capable of making meaningful contributions. It should also be noted that if Nava excels at first base this spring, the Red Sox could decide to keep both him and Sweeney, with Nava as the second-string first baseman. While these bottom-of-the-roster position battles tend to get forgotten, these players can end up playing an important role as injuries take their toll on a team.
Evan Senie has been around baseball his whole life. He grew up in the Boston area and spent four years working for the Hyannis Mets and the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod baseball league.
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- Daniel Nava
- Pedro Ciriaco
- Ryan Sweeney