The Boston Infield: Change is Here by Eno Sarris January 27, 2015 It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions to begin. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here. The Boston infield practically has to hand out name tags this spring. Even the guys that are returning to their old positions are probably hoping for different results this year. There’s opportunity here in droves — with a nice home park and a lineup that could mash, the park and team effects line up well. Considering there probably isn’t a player that will cost top-50 prices in the bunch, you could call this a list of sleepers, even. Catcher Christian Vazquez Ryan Hanigan First Base Mike Napoli Daniel Nava Second Base Dustin Pedroia Mookie Betts Shortstop Xander Bogaerts Hanley Ramirez Third Base Pablo Sandoval Brock Holt Ryan Hanigan will play the part of the steady vet, framing and walking his way into real-life value. He’s no mixed-leaguer, and even with batted ball luck, it’s hard to call him a great mono league draft. That’s because he’s paired with Christian Vazquez behind the plate, and the younger player is the one that people are getting excited about. But with not much more power than Hanigan, and a similar skillset (defense is his primary calling card), Vazquez isn’t a great option either. Steamer does project Hanigan into a better weighted offense (92 vs 85 wRC+), so maybe the deep league redraft play is to go with the veteran and hope the youngster needs more seasoning. At first base, Mike Napoli is a little closer to mixed-league relevance, but he’s not a lock. By unadjusted Steamer rankings, he comes in 20th among first baseman, meaning there might be a few third basemen you’d want to play over him at the corner infield position. Of course, Napoli’s projected isolated slugging percentage (.200) would be the second-worst of his career. He is 33, so that makes sense, but he was bothered by foot and finger issues last year that may be suppressing his projections. One last health go of it, and Napoli may be more like a top 15 first baseman. (He’s always much better in OBP leagues.) Dustin Pedroia maybe deserves a piece of his own, but it’s hard to know what to say about him other than to point to his thumbs over and over again. His hands have cost him 38 games over the last three years, but he’s mostly played through the pain. That has to be behind the power outage the last two years, but it’s hard — even with offseason surgery — to put a period on the end of the sentence that has been his hand and wrist problems. Is it over? Will he be healthy? Then he’s a great bounce-back candidate. It’s tempting to re-up him anyway, with him for all the counting stats that come with his place in that lineup. A better year for Boston would mean more runs and RBI than his current projection — add those in to your projection, keep the power numbers low, and you’ll bake some upside into your valuation while improving your chances of owning him. Some people aren’t very impressed with the freshman season Xander Bogaerts put up, but maybe they didn’t notice that he was 21 years old. And that he was fairly close to league average in walk rate (6.6%), strikeout rate (23.2%), and power (.123 ISO). It makes sense to mention those three aspects of his game in a positive light since he bettered all those rates significantly in the minor leagues. Based on aging curves and past work, you can easily dream on him. Just from watching him in the second half last year, when he was hitting for more power and more contact, it’s easy to side with the fans and add a few numbers to Bogaerts’ projection here and there. Even without doing so, he’s a top-ten shortstop by Steamer. Pablo Sandoval is finally going to play in a hitter’s park, and it might just be glorious. Maybe not in the power department — Sandoval is a better lefty-swinger and Fenway is actually not so nice for homers for lefties — but more in the batted ball luck department. He’ll love hitting doubles in that park, and may see a better BABIP than his .313 number. Steamer only projects him for a .312 number, but if you believe he’s uniquely suited for that park, you might want do push that north and give Sandoval a .300 average. The elephant in the room is health — this portly fastball pounder may not age well. There you have it. Behind the stars, there’s depth built in, and much of it comes from star power. Mookie Betts can fill in for Pedroia if another health issues crops up. Hanley Ramirez can play a little short (or a lot) if Bogaerts takes a step back. He might be able to play third, too. There’s enough age here to see Brock Holt sneaking back into waiver-wire relevance, too. And we have to sneak in a mention of Allen Craig here, despite the fact that he’s not listed as a backup at first, since he probably should be listed for more than 35 plate appearances there. Between his foot injury — Lisfranc injuries are huge deals and have ended careers in other sports — and the crowded depth chart, he’s only down for 209 plate appearances this year. The thing is, it’s either 400-500 or almost zero, as I see it. Either he gets traded, or he shows he’s healthy and someone gets traded in front of him, or there’s barely room on a 25-man roster for him. Seriously, he’s right-handed, and Brock Holt plays every position on the diamond. It’s probably between Nava and Craig for the final spot on the roster, so this is worth watching, sort of.