Around the Diamond - A Red Sox Infield Preview

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With the start of the abbreviated 2020 Major League Baseball season just days away, the Syndicate’s baseball writers are bringing you an abbreviated preview of the Red Sox major groups.  Check out Evan Bolliger’s preview of the Red Sox starting rotation, Chris Henrique’s piece on the Sox bullpen, and Matt Desrosier’s breakdown of the Sox outfield.  In this installment, I go around the horn to take a look at the Sox infield.

Photo courtesy of bleacherreport.com
The Red Sox infield is a tale of stark contrasts.  On the left side of the diamond the team is set, barring injury, not just for this year but for several years to come.  The situation on the right side is much less clear and will have fans sounding like Abbott and Costello routines - “Who’s on first?  What’s the name of the fella playing second base.”

First Base

When the disappointing Red Sox 2019 came to a close it was anticipated that Mitch Moreland had played his last game in a Boston uniform.  His contract had expired and no one expected the team to bring him back.  But in a surprise move the Sox brought Moreland back in one a one year, $3 M deal.  It is expected Moreland will see the bulk of the playing time at first base in a platoon situation against right handed starters.  That is if he can stay healthy, something with which the 34 year old Moreland has struggled over his Red Sox career.

Moreland was one of the lone bright spots in what was an overall dismal start to the 2019 Red Sox season.  On May 25, Moreland was the team leader in home runs (13) and RBI (34).  Unfortunately, as had been the case in 2018, Moreland struggled with injuries (back and quad) and played in only one more game before the last week of July.  Upon returning to the lineup he batted a respectable .279 in the second half of the season, but the power numbers dropped with only six home runs.

The right handed hitting compliment to Moreland in the first base platoon is less clear.  Michael Chavis logged some time at the position in his rookie season last year, and, if he doesn’t end up with the second base job outright, could find himself wearing a first basemen’s mitt again in 2020.  More on him in a bit.

Another option at first is veteran catcher and Ron Roenicke favorite Jonathan Lucroy.  Lucroy has been working out at first base and could also be an option at first if his bat can return to some of its previous form with the bat.  With the expanded rosters and the requirement the additional player be a third catcher, it is a good bet the non-roster invitee will find his way on to the big league roster to serve as another option behind the plate and at first base.

Second Base

Second base has been a revolving door for the Red Sox over the past few seasons due to Dustin Pedroia’s knee issues.  It looks like that carousel will continue in 2020.  Since 2017, six different players have played at least 25 games at second base.  In addition to Pedroia, Brock Holt (112 games), Alfredo Nunez (98), Chavis (44), Marco Hernandez (38), and Ian Kinsler (36) have logged time at the position.

Offseason acquisition Jose Peraza will be the focal point on the Red Sox infield situation.  The right handed hitting infielder was non-tendered by the Reds after he hit only .239 last season , one which saw him getting optioned to AAA Louisville in August.  If he hits, he likely will be the primary second baseman.  If not, that’s where Chavis comes in.

Chavis burst onto the scene with a splash last season after being called up from Pawtucket on April 20th and added an immediate spark to a Red Sox team off to a lackluster start of the season.  He clubbed six home runs in his first 14 games in the big leagues and was batting a lofty .354 with a 1.236 OPS while filling in at second base, a position he had only played sparingly in the minors.  The league quickly figured out that Chavis was susceptible to fastballs up and in and sliders down and away, and he hit the inevitable rookie skid.  While he continued to crush the occasional fastball left in the strike zone, his overall average plummeted quickly.  Injuries to Moreland and Steven Pearce, coupled with the return of Holt, saw Chavis switch to first base later in the season and likely saved him from being sent back down to the minors.  A shoulder injury ended Chavis’ season on August 11th.

In my mind Chavis is still not a proven everyday big league player.  However, with no option to send him to the minors available this season, I expect he will get his shots at both second base and first base this season.  Expect a lot of strikeouts thrown in with a few titanic bombs.  His glove at second is adequate at best, and teamed with Xander Bogaerts at shorts, that is limited range up the middle to help at bad starting pitching staff.

Shortstop

We now get over to the left side of the diamond, which is one of the Red Sox strengths.  Bogaerts established himself in 2019 as one of the top shortstops in the game.  He signed a six-year $120 M contract extension at the beginning of the 2019 season which looked like a good deal at the time.  As the season progressed, it began to look like an absolute steal. 

Bogaerts was the team’s most consistent offensive weapon, leading the team in RBI (117) and OPS (.939) , and coming in second in home runs (33) and doubles (52).  He has also continued to grow defensively, and while he doesn’t possess either an above average arm or range, he emulates his boyhood idol Derek Jeter in making all the routine plays.  Bogaerts also became a leader off the field, and was credited in part with the blossoming of Rafael Devers as a major league player.

Photo courtesy of forbes.com

Third Base

To say Devers had a breakout season in 2019 would be a massive understatement.  Devers vaulted into the major league upper echelon of hitters and is poised to become one of the game’s great young players. 

Devers got off to a rough start to the season, and early on there was speculation he may return to the minors for additional seasoning.  Through May 2nd, Devers was batting a respectable .298, but had no homers and only ten RBI in 31 games.  He also committed nine errors, including an error in the ninth inning that night that led to a blown save in the first game of a weekend series in Chicago. 

Devers hit his first home run the next night, and it seemed to flip the switch on the season.  Over the remaining 121 games he played, Devers batted .314 with 32 homers and 105 RBI.  He also turned things around defensively, making only 13 errors over that same span.

The other key date for Devers’ 2019 season is June 25th.  It was on that date that Devers was inserted permanently into the second slot in the batting order behind Mookie Betts.  Devers clubbed 19 of his 32 home runs from the two-spot, and his at-bats became must-see viewing.  Devers ended the season with 359 Total Bases, which led the MLB, and his 54 doubles also led the American League.

It’s hard to imagine Devers could have a better season than he did in 2019.  It doesn’t help that he will no longer have Betts getting on base in front of him, but pitchers will not be able to pitch around him with JD Martinez and Xander Bogaerts behind him in the order.  He is a true hitting savant, and has shown no holes in his swing for pitchers to exploit.  Even his outs tend to be rockets if he gets his bat on the ball.  If he can put together another season close to what he accomplished in 2019, the Red Sox would be wise to lock up Devers with a long-term contract extension.

Utility

Jonathan Arauz (pronounced a-ROWS) was acquired by the Red Sox via the 2019 Rule 5 Draft out of the Houston Astros minor league.  As a Rule 5 player, Arauz cannot be optioned to the minor leagues and must remain on the Red Sox major league roster for the entire season or be returned him to the Astros.  Arauz has impressed in both Spring Training and Summer Camp, and looks to be a good bet to stick with the big club.

Arauz has only played a handful of games above A ball (all at AA), but by all reports has not been intimidated in major league camp.  He is a big league caliber defender and can fill in at second, short and third.  The shortened season definitely works to his and the Red Sox advantage in terms of keeping him long term.

Tzu-Wei Lin and Marco Hernandez

Lin and Hernandez are both non-roster invitees who have a chance to stick in a reserve role.  Neither player has options available and would have to clear waivers to be assigned to the player pool if they don’t make the major league roster.  Lin appears to have the inside track at the roster spot due to his versatility in both the infield and the outfield.  Hernandez has fallen out of favor with the team, having been released in the offseason twice before returning on minor league deals.

Bobby Dalbec

Dalbec is a player to watch.  It was expected he would have started the season at Pawtucket and could have found himself called up later in the season if he performed well.  He will now miss that opportunity for seasoning at the AAA level, but he will be part of the player pool working out in Pawtucket to be ready in the event of injuries.  If Moreland once again can’t stay on the field, and the Sox drop out of contention, Dalbec’s time at first base could come sooner rather than later.


Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_SYN

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Around the Diamond - A Red Sox Infield Preview
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