Three veterans you may have forgotten were on the Red Sox but could play a role in 2020

John Tomase
NBC Sports Boston

An All-Star catcher, a 19-game winner, and a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder. Don't feel bad if you forgot they were on the Red Sox.

It's been a while.

As baseball ramps back up for the start of "spring" training next week and the start of the season next month, it's worth revisiting the Red Sox roster for the first time since March.

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Three veterans could play pivotal roles in the truncated 2020 season or no roles at all, but it's worth getting reacquainted with catcher Jonathon Lucroy, right-hander Collin McHugh, and outfielder Kevin Pillar.

Start with Lucroy. The non-roster invitee was a force in Milwaukee under the tutelage of current Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke. In 2014, he hit .301 with 13 homers and a league-leading 53 doubles, making his first All-Star team and finishing fourth in the MVP voting.

He was an All-Star again in 2016 before being dealt to the Rangers at the deadline, thus beginning the nomadic portion of his career, which has also taken him to Colorado, Oakland, Anaheim, and the Cubs. A .274 lifetime hitter, the 34-year-old hasn't produced at everyday levels since 2016, but he's hoping offseason neck surgery will restore his bat speed and make him a dark horse in the race to back up starter Christian Vazquez. Veteran Kevin Plawecki started camp in that role.

With rosters expanded to 30 players to open the season and 28 thereafter, there could be room for a third catcher, and Lucroy's history with Roenicke makes him an intriguing possibility.

"He called me and he wanted me to come," Lucroy said earlier this spring. "It was a big thing. 'You have an opportunity here, you can come here and have an opportunity to make the team.' Right now that's all you can ask for as a guy in my position, so that's what I wanted to do."

He could be catching McHugh, an early March addition who wasn't expected back much before July anyway as he recovers from a right flexor strain. McHugh went 19-7 with the 2015 Astros to finish fourth in the AL Cy Young voting and as recently as 2018 posted a 1.99 ERA in 58 relief appearances.

McHugh went 4-5 with a 4.70 ERA in 35 appearances (8 starts) last year, shutting it down for the final month because of the elbow injury, which was addressed with a non-surgical procedure in December. According to a source, he is throwing off a mound and will be evaluated next week as he ramps up intensity.

If he's ready to go when the season opens on July 24, that would be a boon to a Red Sox rotation that currently features only three battle-tested arms in left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, and left-hander Martin Perez. If McHugh isn't ready, the Red Sox will turn to someone like soft-throwing Ryan Weber or an opener.

"It's the Red Sox," McHugh said after signing. "It's one of the most storied franchises in all of sports. I'm a huge baseball fan, so it's kind of a pinch-me moment to realize you're playing for this team that has been around for so long and had so many players go through here. You see your jersey hanging in your locker, and you start thinking through all the numbers and all the guys who put that uniform on. For me, it's a really cool opportunity and I'm hoping I can make the most of it and help this team win some ballgames."

That leaves Pillar. A high-flying, death-defying, fearless center fielder in Toronto, where he battled new teammate Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier for AL East defensive supremacy, he's actually coming off his best offensive season, which included 21 homers, 88 RBIs, and a couple of low MVP votes with the Giants.

Pillar never walks, which depresses his offensive value, but there's no questioning his glove, which should play in either center field in relief of Bradley, or right field in place of Mookie Betts, where Pillar's arm strength is a plus.

"I still have expectations for myself to go out there and be a guy who can play every single day," Pillar said at his introductory press conference in Fort Myers. "That's the way I'm going to treat this spring training. No different than any other spring training, I'm going to prepare myself to go out there and play as many games as possible."

Three veterans you may have forgotten were on the Red Sox but could play a role in 2020 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

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