Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images
Everyone loves a good Spring Training battle, and there’s been some great stories in past years for the Sox: Jackie Bradley Jr surprising everyone and making the Opening Day roster in 2013, Blake Swihart proving he could be a utility player in 2018, and Dice-K Mania in 2007. Spring Training 2021 isn’t exactly shaping to have too many exciting storylines. It’s of course always possible that prospects like Jarren Duran, Triston Casas and Jeter Downs could absolutely shove their way into the discussion, but probably unlikely given the current roster construction and not wanting to push prospects too fast (adversely affecting confidence and/or service time). And there will be 1 or 2 pitching spots up for grabs, but 95% of the roster is pretty set (barring of course injuries which are almost guaranteed to pop up somewhere). Let’s start by taking a look at the guarantees:
You can pretty much pencil in Christian Vazquez at catcher, Rafael Devers at third base, Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, JD Martinez at DH and Alex Verdugo at one of the outfield spots. Kiké Hernández seems to have the inside track on most of the at bats at second base, plus filling in occasionally in the OF. And Hunter Renfroe and Frenchy Cordero will likely get most of the at-bats at the other two outfield spots. Finally it looks like Bobby Dalbec will go into 2021 as the everyday first baseman, as long as he doesn’t look completely lost in Spring Training.
Kevin Plawecki settles in as the backup catcher, with maybe a few extra at bats thrown in to see if his 2020 line (.341/.391/.463) is a show of progress or just a fluke. Christian Arroyo can back up second, third and in a pinch shortstop. With Marwin Gonzalez, you have a guy who has significant past experience at (deep breath) first base, second base, shortstop, third base, right field and finally left field (whew). It’s likely with versatile guys like Gonzalez, Arroyo and Hernández, the Sox will open with a 3-man bench.
Chris Sale opens the year on the DL, with a likely return hopefully in the dog days of summer, so a couple guys all bump up a spot. Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, Garrett Richards and Martin Perez will look to improve on a very disappointing 2020 Red Sox rotation.
Ignoring roles for right now, as those will likely be fluid through most of Spring Training, we can pretty much lock down the 9 guys expected to be there on April 1st (again assuming a 3 man bench allowing for 14 pitchers). Matt Barnes, Adam Ottavino, Ryan Brasier, Hirokazu Sawamura, Matt Andreise, Darwinzon Hernandez, Josh Taylor, Austin Brice and Garrett Whitlock are all expected for a variety of reasons. Whether because of Rule 5 (Whitlock), needing lefties (Hernandez, Taylor), lack of Minor League options (Brice), recent free agent signings (Sawamura, Andriese) or they are just the most experienced relievers on the roster (Barnes, Ottavino, Brasier).
So where are the battles? As long as everyone plays up to at least the lower end of expectations, and there are no injuries, the 12 hitters are likely set. This means that Michael Chavis (Yea Ice Horse!) either goes to AAA or becomes trade bait to a team that needs a power bat or loses someone due to injury in Spring Training. Chavis can absolutely play his way into Christian Arroyo’s spot, or convince the team to open a 4th bench spot, but where he has two minor league options and Arroyo doesn’t, Arroyo will likely be given every opportunity to stick. The only other battle is for the last spot in the rotation. Possible choices include Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck, Bryan Mata, Connor Seabold, Garrett Whitlock and Matt Andriese. Whitlock and Andreise likely provide more value out of the pen. Putting the added pressure on a Rule 5 pick like Whitlock wouldn’t be the best idea as he’s never pitched above AA and is coming off Tommy John surgery in 2019. Andreise hasn’t pitched over 100 innings in the majors since 2016, and would likely be a better fit as the long man and spot starter out of the bullpen. As for the rest, Nick Pivetta has the inside track on grabbing the 5th spot in the rotation. While Houck had the better 2020 season, he has 2 options remaining and Pivetta has none. Similar to Chavis, Houck (or Mata, or Seabold) would have to significantly out-pitch Pivetta for the Sox to risk losing him to waivers.
So why pay attention to Spring Training games? Well first off, I don’t know about you but I’m currently looking at a big pile of snow out my front window, so watching the Sox work out and play games in 80 degree Florida weather sounds like a nice escape. There’s also always the excitement in getting your first look at some new guys who have a chance to make their Major League debuts in 2021 such as Jarren Duran, Bryan Mata, Jeter Downs, Connor Seabold, Durbin Feltman, etc. And of course, there’s always the chance some guy is going to absolutely light it up in Spring Training and not only throw this entire article off, but give the Red Sox management a few difficult decisions to make.
My Projection for the 2021 Opening Day Roster:
Vazquez, Dalbec, Hernández, Bogaerts, Devers, Verdugo, Cordero, Renfroe, Martinez
Plawecki, Gonzalez, Arroyo
Eovaldi, Rodriguez, Richards, Perez, Pivetta
Barnes, Ottavino, Brasier, Sawamura, Hernandez, Taylor, Andriese, Whitlock, Brice