The Red Sox will break camp in a month with 25 players heading north to Boston. We begin a daily look at each position on the club, from the projected starters to their backups. Our first installment examines first base.
The sure thing: Between 2007 and 2009, for a variety of reasons, Kevin Youkilis progressively saw less time at first base and more at third, by all accounts his favorite position. Last year it was almost an even split due in large part to Mike Lowell's injuries. And when Lowell was traded (for a day or so) to Texas back in December and the Adrian Gonzalez-to-Boston rumors ran rampant, it appeared as if the transfer of Youkilis across the diamond would be complete in 2010. All this happened a year after he nearly packed up his first baseman's mitt to make room for Mark Teixeira, who came close to signing with the Red Sox before the 2009 season.
As we all now know, none of that ever happened. The Lowell saga continues as the Red Sox begin exhibition play and could result in the team breaking camp with two Gold Glove third basemen, including expected starter Adrian Beltre. Meanwhile, Youkilis has been anchored (again) to first. For now.
Even if Youkilis would rather be making the throws than receiving them, the club can feel good about keeping him right where he is.
"I love to be comfortable wherever," Youkilis recently told reporters. "I love third, I love first — put me out there. Somebody always says, 'What would you choose?' I say it'd be the hardest choice. But I would choose whatever would make the team better."
The soon-to-be 31-year-old, who won a Gold Glove at first base in 2007, led American League first baseman in a handful of defensive categories last year, including some of the trendy metrics that may have had a hand in the club's new defensive-minded approach. But that comfort level Youkilis strives for may now be translating a bit more to the offensive side of things.
After hitting .291 as a first baseman between 2006 and 2008, Youkilis upped his average to .325 there in 2009. It marked the first time he had a higher mark at that corner of the infield since he became a fixture in the Red Sox lineup in 2006.
"I always joke around, but I'm kind of serious in the fact that we play the field so we can hit," Youkilis said. "That's one of the things I always joke about, but it's a little bit true."
Other options: As long as Lowell is around, he will be groomed to take some time at first, either to give Youkilis a rest or to move him to third base and spell Beltre. Lowell has never played a major league inning at first.
Bill Hall and Victor Martinez could get some playing time at first, too.
Former top prospect Lars Anderson remains one to watch, as well, despite a 2009 campaign which saw his numbers take a nosedive. Anderson is still only 22 and some expect his power to come eventually. He hit just .233 with nine home runs in 119 games at Double-A Portland last year.
If all else fails: Those Gonzalez rumors will just bubble back up if Lowell is traded and Beltre struggles, or if there is some combination of injuries that causes the Sox to need another bat at a corner spot. There should be many more first basemen than third basemen to target at the deadline, and in Youkilis the Sox have plenty of flexibility.
NESN.com will be previewing the 2010 Red Sox by position.
March 5: Second base