Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Scott Lauber: Five Boston Red Sox players to watch

It’s become common across Major League Baseball for teams to carry players on their active roster out of Spring Training that nobody could have possibly expected to be there. The Boston Red Sox experienced this a year ago, when Jackie Bradley Jr. made his way into the Opening Day lineup after having never played in a game above Double-A. It may have just been temporary – and likely only because David Ortiz wasn’t yet ready to go – but Bradley still surprised all with his performance in Spring Training.

With the start of Spring Training just two weeks away, Scott Lauber of The Boston Herald notes that much of the attention grabbing headlines will center around potential contract extension talks with Jon Lester and Ortiz. There should also be some intriguing battles for a spot on the active roster as well, as Lauber points to five players to watch in the coming weeks. His list includes:

Doubront is likely a borderline candidate for the list. His place in the Boston rotation is likely safe for the time being but he won’t be pitching without pressure as he tries to hold off the upcoming group of young arms within the organization. Doubront is coming off the strongest season in his young career in 2013, posting an 11-6 mark with a 4.32 ERA and 1.429 WHIP in 27 starts. Owens could also be a question mark, simply because he’s likely further away from being Boston-bound than the others and there are multiple arms ahead of him who are already on the 40-man roster. The remainder of Lauber’s list, however, a case could be made for.

Vazquez has done nothing but impress as he’s worked his way up Boston’s minor league system and appears ticketed for Triple-A to begin 2014. Part of the reason behind the team’s thinking this offseason was that they didn’t want to get tied into a long term deal with a free agent catcher – ultimately whey they allowed Jarrod Saltalamacchia to leave and why they only gave A.J. Pierzynski a one year deal. Vazquez had a solid 2013 season with Double-A Portland and had a strong showing in Spring Training last year. If he’s able to continue that growth with Pawtucket then he could easily leap frog over Dan Butler and Ryan Lavarnway into Boston’s plans for 2015.

For many of the same reasons it’s going to be a key time for Butler as well if he’s going to figure into the mix behind the plate long term.

Wilson had been the team’s first call for bullpen reinforcements last season, as Lauber notes, and pitched decently until he sprained a ligament in his thumb in July that ultimately ended up requiring surgery in October. Wilson’s work was largely overshadowed on the year by Drake Britton and Brandon Workman’s respective development. Lauber’s not giving up hope:

With six seats in the bullpen already occupied (not including Britton and Workman) and an extra starter in the rotation, Wilson is bound for Triple-A, assuming he’s healthy. But if 2013 taught the Red Sox anything it’s that the composition of a bullpen is always changing. Bet on seeing Wilson (and Rubby De La Rosa, for that matter) back there at some point this season.

As for Brentz, he makes an interesting case as he would have likely seen time in Boston last season if not for shooting himself in the leg last January. Literally. He was cleaning his gun at home and it went off, forcing him to miss all of Spring Training and slowing him at the start of the season. He’d hit .264/.312/.475 with 17 HR in 349 PA. Brentz never received a call to Boston, despite already being on the 40-man roster and one has to wonder just how much more time the organization is going to give him as those 40-man spots become more valuable. He’s still just 25 and could develop, but he’s going to need a strong 2014 to work his way into Boston’s plans beyond this season.

There are seven other outfielders on the team’s 40-man roster right now. Only Alex Hassan would appear to have a less secure hold on their spot on the roster.

Tags: Alex Wilson Boston Red Sox Bryce Brentz Christian Vazquez

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