FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox have a month to sort through the 75 players they have in spring training and come up with a roster for Opening Day.
Although they have a large number of players new to the organization and a deeper pool of prospects competing for spots, predicting the 26-man roster isn’t that complicated.
The Sox are sure to make most decisions with the idea of keeping as many viable players in the organization as possible. As the roster transitions under Chaim Bloom, building depth is a clear priority. The goal won’t be to pick the best team for the first week of the season but to have the widest base of talent for 162 games.
When the Sox were chasing a championship under Dave Dombrowski, the last few spots on the 40-man roster were largely afterthoughts. They’re precious now.
With that in mind, here’s a prediction on how the Sox will look when they take the field on April 1 against Baltimore.
Starting pitchers: RHP Nate Eovaldi, RHP Nick Pivetta, LHP Martin Perez, RHP Garrett Richards, LHP Eduardo Rodriguez.
Explanation: Matt Andriese could join this group if the Sox open with a six-man rotation. He otherwise would be in the bullpen.
Tanner Houck allowed one earned run over 17 innings in three starts last season. But he’s likely to open the season in Triple A because Pivetta is out of minor league options and the Sox want to give him a chance to start. His future may well be in the bullpen but Pivetta pitched well in two starts at the end of last season and merits a chance to keep that going.
Chris Sale is already on the 60-day injured list. Jay Groome, Bryan Mata, and Connor Seabold are the other starters on the 40-man roster and all need more time in the minors. Mata and Seabold could be factors later in the season.
Relief pitchers: RHP Matt Andriese, RHP Matt Barnes, RHP Ryan Brasier, RHP Austin Brice, LHP Darwinzon Hernández, RHP Adam Ottavino, RHP Hirokazu Sawamura, LHP Josh Taylor, RHP Garrett Whitlock.
Explanation: Brice averaged 11.4 strikeouts last season and the Sox will want to further explore his potential. Colten Brewer and Phillips Valdéz will compete for spots and Brasier probably shouldn’t assume anything.
Whitlock is a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Yankees organization and must stay on the roster to be retained. The Sox used the draft to bring infielder Jonathan Araúz into the organization last season and will want to accomplish that again.
Manager Alex Cora has avoided naming a closer. Barnes could handle the job and perhaps it goes to Hernandez over time. Ottavino will add needed stability to this group.
Catchers: Christian Vázquez, Kevin Plawecki.
Explanation: There’s no competition for these spots barring injury. The prospects in camp need more development time and the veterans [Jett Bandy, Chris Hermann] are Triple A types.
Designated hitter: J.D. Martinez.
Explanation: The percentage of games Martinez has played in the outfield has dropped four years in a row. His level of play on defense has dropped with it. There aren’t many everyday DHs in the game but he’s one of them.
Infielders: 2B-3B-SS Christian Arroyo, SS Xander Bogaerts, 1B-3B Bobby Dalbec, 3B Rafael Devers, 1B-2B-3B-SS-LF-RF Marwin González, 2B-SS-CF-LF-RF Kiké Hernández.
Explanation: Michael Chavis has been on the major league roster since early in the 2019 season. But he has minor league options and could get squeezed out after a terrible 2020 at the plate. The left side is set with Devers and Bogaerts. Hernández will get plenty of time at second base but play elsewhere, too. The Sox have been impressed with Arroyo so far in camp. The former first-round pick is out of options and is a good bet to stick around despite a career .643 OPS in 85 major league games. González will factor in around the diamond.
Outfielders: LF-CF Franchy Cordero, RF-LF Hunter Renfroe, CF-RF Alex Verdugo.
Explanation: Verdugo will get the bulk of the time in center field, although Cordero and Hernández can play there. You could see Hernández in center with Verdugo in right, too. The Sox hope Renfroe is more than a platoon player.
The Sox need Cordero to live up to his talent and believe his extensive injury history is more bad luck to this point. That he is late to camp while on the COVID-19 injured list doesn’t bode well for that changing.