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SoxProspects News

February 25, 2010 at 7:00 AM

2010 Organization Outlook: MLB roster battles

With spring training officially underway, it’s time for the first edition of another SoxProspects preseason feature, the Organization Outlook. While the Prospect Previews give an in-depth, individual analysis of the top Sox prospects, here we give a top-down view of what you might see in the system this year.

But first, since the major leaguers are the only players for whom spring training is officially underway down at the Fort, we’ll start with a quick look at the roster battles we can expect in big league camp this year. The Sox lineup has undergone some significant changes, but barring injury the only battles this spring will come at the back ends of the bench and bullpen. (Yes, there is also the matter of the overcrowded rotation. We’ll take the cheap “it will work itself out” route for now.)

The following assumes a roster of 12 pitchers and 13 position players.
^ = left-handed; # = switch-hitter; each X = an option remaining; oaw = requires optional assignment waivers

Bullpen - ONE spot open
Assuming: Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Hideki Okajima^, Ramon Ramirez, Manny Delcarmen, and Boof Bonser are in; the “six starters” situation is resolved without moving someone to the bullpen
40-man: Scott Atchison (X,oaw), Michael Bowden (X), Fabio Castro^ (X,oaw), Gaby Hernandez (XX), Ramon A. Ramirez (X), Dustin Richardson^ (XXX), Junichi Tazawa (XXX)
NRI: Fernando Cabrera, Robert Manuel (XX), Joe Nelson, Brian Shouse^, Jorge Sosa
The Rundown: Based on what we have heard from the Red Sox, we can likely eliminate Bowden and Tazawa, who are presently ticketed for Pawtucket to provide rotation depth and get some more seasoning. Because they have options remaining, Hernandez, Ramon A. Ramirez, and Richardson would have to be truly dominant this spring to win the spot. Don't discount the non-roster invites, Shouse and Nelson in particular. As a sidearming lefty, Shouse could be the middle-inning lefty the club hoped Javier Lopez would be last year. Nelson was available when the Sox instead went and signed Atchison and Castro in December, so the fact that he fell into the club’s lap in early February does not seem to say much for his chances of making the roster. The Sox liked Atchison enough to sign him prior to 2008, but they sold his rights to Japan, where he had a very good 2009 season. Castro, meanwhile, seems destined to play the swingman role in Pawtucket. Although Cabrera was impressive in Pawtucket in 2009, he wasn't as effective in his limited opportunities in Boston. Also, keep in mind that veteran pitchers like Atchison, Cabrera, Nelson, and Shouse may have opt-out clauses that allow them to become free agents if they are not on the major league roster on certain dates – Cabrera had such a clause last year but chose not to exercise it. Still, it is probably a safe bet that most of these pitchers will be on the Pawtucket roster when camp breaks, with players like TJ Large, Chad Paronto, and Scott Patterson fighting for jobs in Pawtucket or Portland, but available in case of injury.
Prediction: Shouse. The front office is probably being honest when they say that they don’t “need” to have a second lefty in the bullpen. That said, the team has shown an affinity towards having such an option, so unless Shouse is downright terrible in March, he seems to have the inside track, with Atchison and Nelson likely the last two men out.

Bench - ONE infield spot open, with a premium placed on ability to back up shortstop.

Assuming: Jason Varitek#, Jeremy Hermida^, and Bill Hall fill three of four bench spots; Mike Lowell is traded (no, it might not happen before April 4, but if he stays, he obviously gets this roster spot).
40-man: Aaron Bates (XX), Tug Hulett^ (X), Jose Iglesias (XXX), Jed Lowrie# (XX)

NRI: Lars Anderson^ (XXX), Yamaico Navarro (XXX), Angel Sanchez (X,oaw), Gil Velazquez (XX)
The Rundown: Much will swing on what the Red Sox think of Hall's ability to back up shortstop, as there is no clear backup to Marco Scutaro at this time. Eliminate Anderson and Navarro, who are in big league camp to soak in the experience, and Iglesias, who has a long way to go at the plate and is being groomed for 2012. Lowrie is a fit in terms of positional flexibility, but the Red Sox probably need to let him play regularly in Pawtucket, even if only to prove to potential trade partners that he can handle playing every day. Bates would seem to have at least an outside shot with no bench backup for Youkilis, but Varitek essentially fills that spot thanks to the ability of Victor Martinez to move over to first. The battle will probably come down to Hulett and Sanchez, as Velazquez is more of an organizational soldier who is back because he does not seem to mind playing in Pawtucket. Hulett is more versatile, playing second, short, and third, and is the better hitter, although both he and Sanchez have had their best seasons at the plate in the California and Pacific Coast Leagues, both notorious for being hitter-friendly. Hulett also has the benefit of being left-handed, as the entire Boston starting infield bats from the right side. Sanchez’s only clear advantage is that he is a defensive wizard, although he hit well last year and is coming off a strong winter in Puerto Rico.

Prediction: Hulett. The reality is that this could be a very temporary assignment for whoever breaks camp with the major league club, part of what makes the possibility of Lowell staying with the team for a month or two a bit more palatable if the front office cannot solicit an attractive enough offer. Lowrie can slot right in if he shakes the rust off and proves he can play every day. He is easily the best option on this list if he’s healthy.