Tanner Houck: One of the top pitching prospects in the organization, Houck is expected to make his big league debut this year after reaching Triple-A to finish his 2019 campaign. The question is what his role will be.
Houck was mostly a starter in Double-A to begin last year, posting a 3.65 ERA in 15 starts. He was used primarily out of the bullpen when he moved up to Triple-A in July, often logging multiple innings in relief. Houck thrived in that role, owning a 2.05 ERA in 22 innings as a reliever.
The right-hander was shelled this spring, posting a 7.11 ERA and issuing six walks in 6 1/3 innings. He’s not ready to be a starter at the major league level yet but he won’t have the opportunity to be groomed further in that role if there is no minor league season. That may lead to the Red Sox sticking him in the bullpen for this year.
C.J. Chatham: The 25-year old is another top prospect on the verge of breaking into the majors but he’s blocked by Xander Bogaerts at his natural shortstop position. Chatham proved his bat is ready by hitting .302 with a .760 OPS in 20 games for Pawtucket last year. He gained limited experience at several other positions last season and the improved versatility could be the key to finding playing time.
Rusney Castillo: Is this the year that Castillo finally makes it back to the big leagues? He’s been far too productive to be stranded in Triple-A but his burdensome contract has kept him from being added back to the 40-man roster. The Red Sox made drastic sacrifices to get their payroll in order and dip below the luxury tax threshold and they won’t allow Castillo’s contract to jeopardize that.
It’s unclear what ramifications a shortened season will have on the luxury tax. MLB is still haggling with the players over whether salaries will be prorated based on the number of games or if they will split revenue. Boston expects to be under the tax when the season begins but how far under will depend on how much money goes to the players. Castillo deserves a roster spot if he can be added without risking the payroll entering tax territory.