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Dark horses could emerge from roster crunch

Battles in Red Sox's bullpen and at backup infielder will come down to wire
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Grapefruit League action is set to start for the Red Sox with Friday's home game against the Twins. That means that manager Alex Cora can start his evaluation process for the 25-man roster that will take the field on March 29 for Opening Day at Tropicana Field against the Rays.

With the recent additions of slugger J.D. Martinez and super-utility player Eduardo Nunez, Boston's roster will be very hard to crack.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Grapefruit League action is set to start for the Red Sox with Friday's home game against the Twins. That means that manager Alex Cora can start his evaluation process for the 25-man roster that will take the field on March 29 for Opening Day at Tropicana Field against the Rays.

With the recent additions of slugger J.D. Martinez and super-utility player Eduardo Nunez, Boston's roster will be very hard to crack.

The starting nine is all but set, and catcher Sandy Leon and first baseman Mitch Moreland are virtual locks for two of what will likely be four bench spots. Brock Holt and Blake Swihart, who both have strong versatility on defense, are the favorites for the other two spots.

Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

As always, however, Spring Training provides a chance for some dark-horse candidates to emerge.

Here are three to keep an eye on:

Marco Hernandez: At one point, Hernandez looked like a strong candidate to be the temporary starter at second base with Dustin Pedroia all but certain to start the season on the disabled list. But that changed when Nunez resurfaced last week. Now Hernandez needs a big camp to make the team. It's certainly possible, as Hernandez was strong in Grapefruit League action this past year, and showed some promise during an early-season callup. However, Hernandez's 2017 season ended on May 3 when he suffered a separation of his left shoulder. Hernandez has versatility on defense -- he can play second, short and third. He also has good instincts on the bases and a nice line-drive stroke from the left side.

To make the squad, Hernandez would have to demonstrate he is healthy again. If he makes the team, it would come at the expense of Holt or Swihart. The fact that Swihart is out of options actually boosts his odds of making the team.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Deven Marrero: Boston's first round pick in 2012 is finally out of options. This will force the Red Sox to take a close look at him this spring. The right-handed hitter, who is mainly known for his defense, mashed against lefties (.291, 4 homers, 13 RBIs, .944 OPS in 61 plate appearances) albeit in a small sample size. Marrero can play second, short and third.

If Marrero makes the team, he would probably have to beat out Holt, a left-handed hitter who has struggled with his bat and his health the last two years.

 Video: BOS@HOU Gm 2: Marrero robs Reddick with a tough grab

Austin Maddox: The Red Sox have a lot of competition in the bullpen, and Maddox certainly has a case based on how well he performed in his first taste of the Majors last season. The power-righty allowed one run in 17 1/3 innings, and he cracked the American League Division Series roster. The reason he faces an uphill climb is because he still has options, and several of Boston's other bubble candidates -- including Brian Johnson, Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree -- are out of them.

Video: Maddox on the Rookie Career Development Program

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

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