The first line of defense: a depth evaluation


The Red Sox are generally regarded to have some of, if not the best depth in baseball entering the season. Boston has a stacked farm system, full of talent just short of Major League-ready, as well as a number of veterans stashed at Triple-A Pawtucket, putting them in a favorable position (compared to most other teams) when a big league player inevitably goes down with injury. We all know about that depth as a whole, but today we’ll be taking a look at some of the more prominent names among those players– the first players who will be up in the event of a Major League injury– and break that depth down position-by-position.


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Both of the two veteran catchers on the Red Sox active roster– A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross— are merely place-holders for prospects Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez, who should inherit that position in a few years. However, while Vazquez could be ready of a cup of coffee by the end of the year, he will likely not be on the first line of defense at the beginning of the season. That role will be occupied by Ryan Lavarnway, who has bounced between Pawtucket and Boston over the last three years. He is yet to achieve sustained Major League success, but he did take strides at the plate last year (.299/.329/.429 in 82 plate appearances). Though he isn’t a great defensive catcher, he does bring some versatility as he is able to fill in at first base in a pinch. He isn’t a sexy option, but he’s a fine player to have as the third catcher on the roster.


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The first line of defense in the infield is a bit of a one-size-fits-all situation. No matter which player on the Red Sox’ infield goes down, Brock Holt will be able to fill their shoes defensively. The utility man would be able to play at least Major League average defense at second and third base, and could likely fill in at shortstop if necessary. Holt was competing with Jonathan Herrera for the utility infielder job this spring, and while Herrera won the Major League job (primarily due to his superior defense at shortstop), Holt would likely pack a greater offensive punch in the lineup. He has spent only a limited amount of time in the majors, but his minor league slash line of .308/.373/.409 suggests that he could one day develop into a solid utility infielder.


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While Lavarnway and Holt are fairly easy choices to be promoted in the case of an injury, the outfield is where things become less certain. Any of Bryce Brentz, Corey Brown, or Alex Hassan could see the promotion if an outfielder in injured in 2014. Of course, the real first line of defense is already in the majors as Jackie Bradley Jr. is in Boston with Shane Victorino on the disabled list. However, in this situation the second line of defense would likely come down to Brentz and Hassan, as both players are already on the 40-man roster. From that point on, it’s pure guesswork, but Alex Hassan may be more likely to see the promotion as he fits better into the Red Sox’ offensive philosophy. Hassan has always been a patient hitter– his minor league slash line is .290/.400/.437– and his skill set may transition to the major leagues better than Brentz’s.


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Like in the outfield, the first line of defense is already in place right now as Brandon Workman found himself on the Opening Day roster after a trip to the disabled list for Craig Breslow. However, the second line of defense would likely come down to Drake Britton, Rubby De La Rosa, Tommy Layne, or Allen Webster. Any one of those pitchers would likely head to the Boston bullpen, with either Workman or Chris Capuano transitioning to the rotation, so the Red Sox’ may be best served with a pitcher with relief experience. Of those pitchers, Layne and Britton have the most experience in relief at the Major League level but Britton’s high ceiling may give him the edge over Layne. The 24-year old had a decent showing in 21 Major League innings last year, posting a 3.86 ERA and showing his potential to become a late-inning reliever at the MLB level before too long.