FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Three days in advance of Opening Day, the Red Sox have settled on their 25-man roster to start the season, though they waited until Thursday to make it official after ensuring everyone was healthy.For a team that seemed to have precious few openings when camp started,
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Three days in advance of Opening Day, the Red Sox have settled on their 25-man roster to start the season, though they waited until Thursday to make it official after ensuring everyone was healthy.
For a team that seemed to have precious few openings when camp started, there were two surprise candidates who broke through to win roster spots as non-roster invitees righty Marcus Walden and lefty Bobby Poyner won the final two spots in the bullpen.
"They won it. They pitched well," manager Alex Cora said. "They did an outstanding job throughout Spring Training. It's not about the numbers. You see the stuff and how they went about the hitters, the weapons, the pitches they can use, and we feel they're going to help us out right now."
The rise in status of Walden and Poyner are feel-good stories. Walden is a 29-year-old veteran who has pitched 218 Minor League games over 11 seasons, but this will be his first trip to the Major Leagues. Poyner was behind Robby Scott and Roenis Elias on the depth chart as a lefty reliever when Spring Training began, but the 14th-round Draft pick out of Florida in 2015 vaulted ahead to earn his spot.
Hector Velazquez wouldn't have been seen as a likely candidate to make the team when camp opened, but he picked up steam when Thomas Pomeranz suffered a mild flexor strain in his left elbow on March 2. Pomeranz was officially placed on the disabled list on Monday. Velazquez will start the finale of the four-game series at Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Lefty Christopher Johnson was expected to at least make the team as a reliever because he was out of Minor League options. But with Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright and Pomeranz all opening on the DL, Johnson joins Velazquez in the rotation. He will pitch the opener of a two-game series at Miami on Monday.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of how the Red Sox will start the season.
Catcher (3):Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart
Vazquez and Leon shared the catching duties nearly down the middle last season, but that will change under Cora. Vazquez clearly seems to be lining up to be the primary catcher. The addition of Swihart, who will also play the corner-infield spots and the outfield, gives Cora the ability to pinch-hit for Leon late in games and be more liberal when it comes to pinch-running for his catchers.
First base (2): Mitch Moreland, Hanley Ramirez
The addition of J.D. Martinez means less playing time for Moreland than originally projected. In fact, Ramirez will now be the primary first baseman. But Cora likes to use his bench, and Moreland will get plenty of opportunities on days Martinez plays the outfield and Ramirez slides to DH. The big news here is that Ramirez looks rejuvenated and capable of having a bounce-back season. He will start the year hitting third.
Second base (2): Eduardo Nunez, Brock Holt
For the first time since 2006, someone other than Dustin Pedroia will start at second base for the Red Sox on Opening Day. Pedroia will reclaim his job once he is fully recovered from left knee surgery, which should be at some point in May. In the meantime, Nunez and Holt give the Red Sox a pair of solid veterans to fill in. Once Pedroia returns, Nunez will become a super-utility player.
Shortstop (1): Xander Bogaerts
Bogaerts is healthy again after playing through a painful right hand injury down the stretch last year and it's evident by the way he is ripping the baseball. Nunez and Holt can both play short when Bogaerts needs a rest.
Third base (1): Rafael Devers
Devers appears ready to do damage -- and a lot of it -- at the plate. But his defense remains a concern. Swihart, Holt and Nunez will all see action at third as well. It remains to be seen if Cora will replace Devers on defense in the late innings.
Outfield (4): Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez
Without question, this was the strength of the team even before Martinez signed. Now, it is an overwhelming strength. Look for Martinez to play the outfield at least a couple of times a week, with Benintendi and Bradley sometimes getting a day off against lefties. Benintendi, Bradley and Betts are as good as it gets as a defensive trio. Martinez gives the Red Sox the big bopper they sorely lacked a year ago. Benintendi looks ready to have a monster year.
Starting rotation (5): Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Hector Velazquez, Christopher Johnson
The big three of Sale, Price and Porcello are good to go. Pomeranz and Rodriguez should return from their injuries during the first month of the season. Once the rotation is whole, it should be one of the best in the game. The Red Sox have three off-days the second week of the season, so it's likely Velazquez will only get one turn in the rotation before going back to the Minors or moving to the bullpen.
Bullpen (7): Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, Richard Hembree, Marcus Walden, Bobby Poyner
Kimbrel is as dominant a closer as there is in the game. Cora plans on using him in the eighth inning at times this season if the other team has the meat of their order due up then with the game hanging in the balance. Smith looks like he's ready to be the wipeout righty the team needs now that he's fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. Kelly and Barnes give Cora excellent depth in the righty setup department. And the group will become even more impressive when Tyler Thornburg is activated at some point during the first couple of months of the season. The righty missed all of last season due to surgery to repair thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.