The Unknowns of the Opening Day Roster
ProBaseball-fans.com Boston Red Sox Correspondent Elizabeth Dreeson brings us her latest update on Red Sox Nation.
With only a week to go until Opening Day against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox have been blessed with minimal problems to consider compared to other teams. They have so much depth in their minor league system, that a few small injuries to the team do not significantly affect it as a whole. There are two major injuries that will require two players to sit out on Opening Day. Julio Lugo recently had surgery on his right knee to repair a torn meniscus, and will be out for another three to four weeks. Luckily, Lugo’s absence does not create too much of a void in the middle of the infield. In fact, it may lessen it seeing that his all but certain replacement, Jed Lowrie, is more defensively competent.
Jed Lowrie came up permanently in the middle of the season last year when Julio Lugo was out with knee problems (and then hamstring problems later on). Lowrie truly stepped up to the plate and provided solid defense. Even though his batting average was a mere .258, he was playing with a minor wrist injury through September and October. Julio Lugo was determined to show the Red Sox that he is still the player that the Red Sox thought him to be when he was signed to a three year $36 million dollar contract after the 2006 season. He was very impressive for the first half of the spring, and he was working hard to improve his defense. Now that Lugo is out for approximately another month, Jed Lowrie will be the starting shortstop on Opening Day. The competition for the starting shortstop job was very stiff before Lugo experienced the knee pain during the April 13 game against the New York Yankees. Although young, Jed showed the Red Sox that he is reliable, and has shown consistency throughout the spring.
George Kottaras essentially secured the backup catcher position when the Red Sox released Josh Bard a little over a week ago. Although Bard was batting .419 during the spring, his acquisition was more of a precautionary move for the Red Sox in case an agreement with their regular catcher, Jason Varitek, was unable to be reached. Although Kottaras’ batting average has been merely mediocre, he has shown talent when catching Charlie Zink, a knuckleball pitcher in Triple AAA Pawtucket. In general, catchers are mostly appreciated for their contributions behind the plate, not next to it.
With Mark Kotsay unavailable for Opening Day because of recent back surgery, there is an open spot on the roster. At the beginning of the spring, Paul McAnulty, Brad Wilkerson, Chirs Carter and Jeff Bailey were all strong candidates for the backup spot. It is now done to Chirs Carter and Jeff Bailey. Bailey, the veteran of the two, has been in the minors since 1997, and has played in over 1,000 minor league games. He appeared in 30 games with the Red Sox between 2007 and 2008, and belted three home runs. Chris Carter is a very promising hitter, but his defense has hindered him from competing at a Major League level. This spring, Carter has dragged coaches out to the practice fields for early morning fielding drills nearly everyday. The decision may come down to how their bats would fit in the lineup—Carter is left-handed and Bailey is right-handed.
Another roster spot that was opened up was the utility infielder role now that Julio Lugo is out for an extra month. The most likely candidate for that roster spot is Nick Green. He has really progressed as a hitter, and shows great potential for the future. He is also quite defensively versatile, and can play anywhere around the infield.
There is so much depth in both the starting rotation and the bullpen, that almost anything can become successful. Josh Beckett is set to be the Opening Day starter, which will be his first Opening Day start on the Boston Red Sox. Beckett has had a very successful spring, and resembles his 2007 form. Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, who just recently returned from the World Baseball Classic, and Tim Wakefield will follow. Brad Penny will most likely make the start on April 12, unless the Red Sox decide to take a more conservative approach with him. He has looked great in his two Spring Training starts, and feels pretty healthy. If he does not make the start, Clay Buchholz will most likely get the ball. Justin Masterson will remain in the bullpen, though he is capable of making the start. Buchholz had a very humbling season in 2008, and has worked a lot on the mental portion of pitching. He has talked to veteran pitcher John Smoltz and has felt very inspired by him.
The Red Sox do not have too much to worry about when it comes to their Opening Day roster. They have an abundance of talent, and it will be great to watch some of the minor leaguers grow in Single-A, Double-AA, and Triple-AAA. All the position spots are filled with players who have either re-gained or maintained their health, and the lineup does not need much tweaking.
By: Elizabeth Dreeson
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