Leading up to the start of Spring Training, the Around the Horn series is examining each of the Red Sox's positional groupings heading into the 2019 season. Our latest installment examines the corner infield.BOSTON -- At one corner of the infield, the Red Sox have a platoon made up of
Leading up to the start of Spring Training, the Around the Horn series is examining each of the Red Sox's positional groupings heading into the 2019 season. Our latest installment examines the corner infield.
BOSTON -- At one corner of the infield, the Red Sox have a platoon made up of gritty professionals Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce, who complement each other just about perfectly.
At the other corner is Rafael Devers, who has perhaps the best chance of being a breakout player for the 2019 Red Sox.
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Both corners should represent a source of power for a lineup that again hopes to be one of MLB's best.
Here is a closer look:
First things first
Moreland will be the primary starter at first -- if only because the Red Sox will face more righty starters than lefties. The left-handed hitter likes to swing for the fences and that pinch-hit, three-run rocket he hit at Dodger Stadium to help turn Game 4 of the World Series around might still be going.
While Moreland's bat can be streaky, his value hardly stops with his bat. Moreland is one of the best defenders at his position and you won't see him finish a game with a clean uniform very often.
The 33-year-old is entering his third season with the Red Sox, and the final year of the two-year deal he signed last winter. Over the past two seasons, Moreland was better in the first half than in the second as he dealt with nagging injuries. The issue in 2018 was a balky left knee. Moreland, who is known for his high pain threshold and willingness to play through health maladies, is feeling good entering Spring Training.
"It's been feeling pretty good," Moreland said of his knee. "Looking good right now."
What team wouldn't love to have a backup player emerge into a World Series MVP? That was symbolic of how deep the 2018 Red Sox were, and what a big role Pearce played after he was acquired from the Blue Jays.
Pearce did two things down the stretch last year that made him a perfect fit. He raked lefties, and wore out the Yankees. If he keeps doing those two things, the Red Sox will be more than happy with the right-handed side of their first-base platoon.
"Obviously it worked pretty great for us last year," Moreland said. "We're excited about the year, and excited about getting going again. Especially us getting back together as a group. It makes you want to get started again."
Though Pearce doesn't have quite the same reputation defensively as Moreland, he made a plethora of tremendous plays late in the regular season and into the playoffs. In particular, Pearce's ability to stretch to his absolute limit saved many an infielder from a key error.
At the hot corner
Before making too big a deal about the inconsistency of Devers last season, you should remember he was 21 years old. Without question, youth led to some of his inconsistency at the plate and in the field. And Devers is now candid about the fact that his immaturity also contributed to three stints on the disabled list.
"I feel healthy right now," Devers said. "I think I'm in a good place. Last year, I had a lot of injuries and I think it was a product of the weight. Thankfully, I feel much better now and I've been focusing a lot more on it this offseason."
Devers hired a personal trainer and looked leaner when he attended the team's Winter Weekend event in Connecticut earlier this month.
"Just basically eating healthy," Devers said. "It was one thing I didn't do last year and it bit me. But on top of that, I'm just trying to fortify my muscles more so that I can avoid any injuries in the future."
The 22-year-old has plus power, and the fact he hit 21 homers last year while not being the best version of himself could bode well for what is ahead. Though Devers has good reaction time at third base, he needs to make a significant improvement in making the routine play.
The security blanket(s)
If Devers should falter or sustain another injury, the Red Sox are fortunate to have Eduardo Núñez back for another year. The three-run rocket Nunez hit off the bench in Game 1 of the World Series was a tone-setter for the eventual champions.
Nunez himself played through discomfort in his right knee for much of the season and had a disappointing .677 OPS, his lowest since 2014. With a better foundation below him, Nunez should get back to being the type of weapon he was after the Red Sox acquired him from the Giants in the second half of '17.
The right-handed-hitting Nunez will be able to give Devers a break against the toughest lefties. And if one solid professional isn't enough at third, the Sox have another one in Brock Holt, who can play anywhere but pitcher and catcher.
The farm has some corner options
The two top hitters in the farm system are both corner infielders. Michael Chavis hoped he was ready to complete his development last year, but a 75-game suspension for PEDs likely cost him his Major League debut. Chavis hit well in the Minors after his return, and he's determined to make up for lost time. The right-handed hitter has always been known for his bat. Chavis can play third and first, though he has a lot more experience at the former.
Bobby Dalbec is another big right-handed hitter who will be making his first appearance in Major League camp as a non-roster invitee. Last season was a huge one for him, as he was voted as the organization's top Minor Leaguer on offense and defense. Like Chavis, Dalbec has spent most of his pro career as a third baseman, but he's starting to mix first base in.
First baseman Sam Travis was once considered a top hitting prospect for the Red Sox, but his stock has dropped the last couple of years. The 25-year-old needs to prove himself this year, or else he could be forgotten.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.