Red Sox Infield Preview: Who Captures Third Base Job In Spring Training?

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The Boston Red Sox have some pretty high expectations for the 2017 season, but that doesn’t mean the team doesn’t have anything to improve upon.

Boston beefed up its rotation by trading for lefty Chris Sale in the offseason and boasts one of the most talented groups of starting outfielders in Major League Baseball, but things get a little dicier in the infield. Between the return of Pablo Sandoval and the Red Sox’s need to move someone to designated hitter to fill the hole left by David Ortiz’s retirement, the club has some work to do before Opening Day.

Still, the Red Sox seem to have the pieces for a successful season, so let’s look at how they might fit together.

First base
Hanley Ramirez manned first base pretty admirably in 2016 despite it being his first time ever playing the position, but the power hitter will be doing a lot more work at DH in 2017 to make up for the absence of his buddy Ortiz. The Red Sox signed free agent Mitch Moreland to do most of the work at first, but Ramirez still will get some reps there. Moreland, a left-handed hitter, actually fared well against southpaws in 2016 with the Texas Rangers, batting .277 with a .479 slugging percentage.

Moreland, 31, also won a Gold Glove at first base last season, so defensively, the Red Sox seem to be in good standing at the position. There likely will be a transition period while Ramirez gets used to being a mostly full-time DH, but Boston might not have to worry too much after the Dominican Republic native batted .286 with 30 home runs and 111 RBIs last season.

Second base
The Red Sox have been fortunate since drafting Dustin Pedroia back in 2004, as they haven’t had to worry about second base much since he made his major league debut in 2006. The 33-year-old hasn’t slowed down at all since then, either, as he batted .318 with 36 doubles, 15 home runs, 74 RBIs and an .825 OPS in 2016.

Pedroia did that on a bad knee, too, and he underwent arthroscopic surgery in the offseason. That could be a hindrance for Pedroia early in the season, but generally, the Red Sox don’t need to worry too much about his injuries. He’s had multiple surgeries in his career and has played hurt in different seasons, all while maintaining his consistency.

Third base
The hot corner is where the Red Sox really have issues. Pablo Sandoval reported to camp eight days early and in considerably better shape, but Boston isn’t ready to give him the benefit of the doubt after he missed most of 2016 with a shoulder injury and batted .245 with a .658 OPS, both career lows, in 2015. He’ll still have to compete with Brock Holt for the starting third base job, and there’s really no clear front-runner. Holt batted .255 in 2016 and was average to slightly above average in his time at third, so it’s really anyone’s position right now. Boston also has Josh Rutledge, who can play second, third and shortstop, off the bench.

Shortstop
Xander Bogaerts isn’t going anywhere, and the Red Sox should expect the same solid play from him in 2017. But the 24-year-old does have some kinks to iron out. Bogaerts had a good 2016, but it certainly wasn’t his best. His defense regressed — though he still was above average — and he lacks the range that the best shortstops in the league have. He didn’t cost the Red Sox any defensive runs in 2015, but that number ballooned to 10 in 2016. And after an extremely strong start to the season at the plate, Bogaerts slowed down big time, turning in a .219 average in August and a .236 average in September.

The Aruba native improved in other areas, though, which should give the Red Sox hope that Bogaerts simply has some rust to shake off. Bogaerts still batted .294 despite his late-season struggles, and his OPS jumped from .776 in 2015 to .802 in 2016 thanks to a serious power surge. Bogaerts hit 21 home runs last season — compared to just seven the season before — and earned an All-Star nod and his second straight Silver Slugger Award.

The prospects
The good thing about the Red Sox having some questions at first and third base is that their two best infield prospects happen to play those exact positions. Rafael Devers, who’s the Red Sox’s No. 2 prospect and MLB’s No. 17 prospect, will start his season playing third base in Double-A Portland. The 20-year-old is an advanced hitter for his age and already is showing some impressive power. Devers batted .282 with 11 home runs, 71 RBIs, 32 doubles and eight triples in Single-A Salem in 2016, but his defense isn’t the prettiest. He’s sort of a long shot to make the jump from Double-A this season, but Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada both did it last season, so you never know.

Sam Travis is more likely to make his major league debut in 2017, as the 23-year-old first baseman and Boston’s No. 4 prospect was enjoying success in Triple-A Pawtucket before tearing his ACL in May. Travis’ recovery has been going well, and he’ll get to prove himself in spring training. Travis was batting .272 with 10 doubles, six home runs, 29 RBIs and 47 hits in 47 games before his injury.

Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images

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