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First in a series examining the Red Sox roster for 2017.

Hanley Ramirez played shortstop for the better part of 10 seasons in the major leagues, so the idea that he could play first base wasn’t some kind of desperate gamble by the Red Sox. He knew the territory.

But the Sox also claimed Ramirez was prepared to play left field in 2015 and that was a disaster. He put only minimum effort into learning the position, played it poorly, and then injured his left shoulder crashing into a wall.

When spring training started, every grounder Ramirez took was closely monitored. Reporters watched to see how diligently he worked with infield coach Brian Butterfield. Manager John Farrell was asked daily how the transition was going.


In retrospect, the skepticism was badly misplaced. Ramirez adapted so well that not once all season was he taken out of a game for defensive purposes. He also emerged as one of the team’s most reliable hitters and played a significant role in the Sox winning 93 games and their first American League East title since 2013.

“For me, it was like being back home,” Ramirez said in the final week of the season. “I was comfortable.”

Ramirez hit .286 with an .866 OPS, his best over a full season since 2009. He had 59 extra-base hits, 30 of them home runs, and drove in a career-best 111 runs. Outside of Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, no American League first baseman had a better offensive season than Ramirez.

Ramirez was adequate defensively, which was far better than what was expected given his lack of experience at the position.

According to Fangraphs.com, Ramirez had the fifth-highest defensive rating among American League first basemen. He also played the fifth-most innings and was charged with only four errors.

The Red Sox were careful to protect Ramirez, playing him close to the bag and giving second baseman Dustin Pedroia responsibility for making most of the plays on the right side. As the season went on, Ramirez gained more confidence playing off the base. That allowed Pedroia to play a step or two over to his right.


As the Red Sox prepare for 2017, Ramirez could return to first base or replace David Ortiz as the designated hitter. In his career, Ramirez has hit .331 with a robust 1.014 OPS in 155 career plate appearances as a DH.

Ramirez, who has two years and a vesting option remaining on his contract, has repeatedly said his preference would be to DH.

What’s more likely is a hybrid job. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said he liked the idea of using several players to DH. Ramirez is sure to be one of them.

There is ample first base depth beyond Ramirez.

Travis Shaw has played 155 games at first base the last two seasons, starting there 127 times. He is a strong defensive first baseman — much better than he is at third base — and could fit there if Ramirez becomes the primary designated hitter. But Shaw hit .194 with a .619 OPS in the second half of last season. Proving he can consistently hit at the major league level will be a bigger challenge than finding a place defensively.

Pablo Sandoval has played 63 games at first base in his career, none since 2012. If Yoan Moncada becomes the starting third baseman, which is certainly a possibility at some point in 2017, Sandoval could get some time at first base. Sandoval is under contract for three more seasons and $53 million. He has to play somewhere, or at least get a chance to.


Brock Holt didn’t play first base last season. But he does have 16 games of experience at that position. The Sox also could consider seeing how Blake Swihart looks there.

The first baseman of the future could be 23-year-old Sam Travis, a second-round pick in 2014. Travis was 15 of 32 with two doubles and 13 RBIs in 18 spring training games with the major league team last season. He then hit .272 with a .765 OPS in 47 games for Triple A Pawtucket before suffering a season-ending knee injury in late May.

Travis required surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament, but should be ready for spring training. Because of their depth, the Sox can afford to be patient with Travis and allow him time to develop at Triple A.

Nick Longhi is on track to start the season with Double A Portland, impressive for a 21-year-old. The Red Sox invested $440,000 to sign Longhi after he was selected in the 30th round of the 2013 draft out of Venice (Fla.) High School and that has paid off. But Longhi has only 10 home runs in 1,087 minor league at-bats and may not project to be an AL East starter.



Primary 2016 starter: Hanley Ramirez.

Expected 2017 starter: Hanley Ramirez.

Major league depth: Travis Shaw, Pablo Sandoval, Brock Holt,

Prospects to watch: Sam Travis, Nick Longhi.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.