It should be a simple question to answer, even in general terms. But Brock Holt had to stop and think about it.
“What position do I play? I guess I play baseball,” he said.
Holt has started 26 games at third base for the Red Sox, 18 in right field, seven at first base, seven in left field, two at shortstop, and one in center field. He also mixed in two innings at second base.
Through it all, Holt has hit .327 with a .371 on-base percentage and 25 extra-base hits over 61 games. Among the team’s position players, only Dustin Pedroia (3.1) has generated more wins over a replacement than Holt (2.2).
Holt also has played every inning of every game since the Sox called him up from Triple A Pawtucket May 17. No other player in the majors has done that.
“Brock has been our best player to date,” righthander Jake Peavy said. “Is it even close?”
The Red Sox didn’t see this coming. Holt was obtained from the Pittsburgh Pirates before the 2013 season, a minor piece of a larger deal involving relievers Joel Hanrahan and Mark Melancon.
The Sox wanted another player to balance the deal and picked Holt off a list presented to them by the Pirates.
“One of our scouts, Nate Field, really liked him,” player personnel director Allard Baird said. “But it wasn’t like we focused on getting him.”
Holt hit .203 in 26 games in the majors last season and a modest .258 for Pawtucket with little power. When rosters expanded in September, Holt wasn’t called up until the final two weeks of the season and played in only three games.
The Red Sox then traded for utility infielder Jonathan Herrera in December, an even more damning sign they didn’t think much of Holt.
“That was kind of a tough day for me,” Holt said. “You wonder where you stand when something like that happens.”
Holt wasn’t particularly impressive in spring training. He was sent back to Pawtucket to start the season and started hitting, motivated by what was essentially desperation.
“I knew I had to show them something,” Holt said. “I’ve never been given anything in my career. I’ve always had to prove myself.”
Holt played well during a seven-game call-up in April but was again demoted when Will Middlebrooks came off the disabled list.
“It’s hard when you get sent back. I tried to be confident in my abilities and felt like everything would work out if I played the way I could,” Holt said. “That was the focus.”
The Sox, by then, were coming around to the idea that Holt was more than organizational depth.
“He showed us something in April and then when he went back, he didn’t let it affect him,” Baird said. “He kept playing.”
Holt returned in May, was moved into the leadoff spot May 23, and hasn’t been out of the lineup since. In that time he is hitting .325 with an .833 OPS. His 71 hits are the most in the majors during that period. Holt’s 84 total hits rank third among rookies this season.
Holt also ranks among the rookie leaders in batting average, on-base percentage, doubles, triples, runs, and stolen bases.
A lefthanded hitter, Holt has hit lefties (.343 with an .872 OPS) better than righthanders (.316 with an .808 OPS). Holt is 16 plate appearances shy of qualifying, or he would be sixth in the American League in batting average.
“He’s been such an important part of our lineup,” manager John Farrell said. “We found out a lot about his defensive versatility and he’s been exceptional getting on base.”
Holt has never played so many consecutive games in his career; at 5 feet 10 inches, 185 pounds, it can be wearying.
“There are days when you don’t feel your best. You tell yourself to suck it up and get through it,” he said. “But it’s been fun. I wouldn’t want it any other way but being in the lineup every day playing.
“I’m not going to say I need a day off. It’s fun and fun moving around the field and being in there every day. It’s a good feeling.”
Said teammate John Lackey: “The guy is a baseball player. Goes out there every day, plays wherever they put him and has a great approach at the plate.”
Circumstance created what NESN announcer Don Orsillo calls “the legend of Brock Holt.” If not for injuries and underperformance by others, Holt might still be stuck in the minors. Holt could well have been taken off the 40-man roster had the Red Sox needed to make a move early in the season.
“It really is about opportunity,” said All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who played with Holt in Pittsburgh in 2012. “I always thought he was a guy who would be able to show what he could do if he got the chance. When he was with us, I saw a player in him. He can play ball. The dude grinds.”
The Pirates were willing to let Holt go, in part, because they had a similar player in Josh Harrison, who has started games at four positions this season.
“I love seeing what Brock is doing in Boston. I was watching ESPN one night and he was at first base. That shows you how far he has come,” said Harrison, who made the All-Star team this season. “I pull for guys like that. We’re not the biggest guys but we have the skills.”
The 43-52 Red Sox haven’t given up on the idea they can get back into contention before this season ends. But realistically, the remaining 67 games will be about figuring out who is part of the future.
In a season where so much has gone wrong for the Red Sox, is Holt a good story or something more than that? If so, where on the field will he play?
Farrell has mentioned defensively versatile two-time All-Star Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays as a model. Holt, who came up with the Pirates playing second base, said he would let others decide that for him. For now, he is content to play every day.
“We’ll continue to evaluate that. But you can’t argue with the results,” Baird said. “He has that baseball character; he finds a way. It’s pretty impressive.”
Holt had his first five-hit day in the majors on Sunday at Houston with his parents, wife Lakyn, and a dozen or so friends in the stands at Minute Maid Park. He then boarded the team charter and flew back to Boston, turning down a chance to spend a few days with his family in Texas.
For Holt, one highlight of the All-Star break was a midafternoon snooze on the couch with his dog, a chocolate lab named Tank.
“Man,” he said. “I needed the rest.”