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Stars, positional battles highlight Red Sox roster

Boston heads to camp with elite outfield, rotation, but questions remain in bullpen, infield
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

The Red Sox should have some heated competition for roster spots in Spring Training, particularly in the bullpen. Things could get more complicated on the position-player front if president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski makes an acquisition or two (J.D. Martinez, Eduardo Nunez?) between now and Opening Day.

In the meantime, here is our first projection of what the 25-man roster will look like when the season starts on March 29 at Tropicana Field. As a qualifier, only players who are currently in the organization will be included in these projections.

The Red Sox should have some heated competition for roster spots in Spring Training, particularly in the bullpen. Things could get more complicated on the position-player front if president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski makes an acquisition or two (J.D. Martinez, Eduardo Nunez?) between now and Opening Day.

In the meantime, here is our first projection of what the 25-man roster will look like when the season starts on March 29 at Tropicana Field. As a qualifier, only players who are currently in the organization will be included in these projections.

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Catcher (3): Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart

Yes, the Red Sox could very well open the season with three catchers. The reason is that Swihart is out of Minor League options and has the versatility to also play the infield and outfield. Vazquez and Leon split the position almost equally last year, but the feeling is Vazquez could emerge into the frontline catcher under new manager Alex Cora. Swihart is finally healthy again, and is confident he can put himself back on the radar. Leon's top value to the team is that ace Chris Sale loves throwing to him.

• Sox set sights on World Series under Cora

Video: Cora on the Red Sox lineup, outlook for 2018

First base (2): Mitch Moreland, Hanley Ramirez

Moreland was streaky in his first year with the Red Sox, but the club liked enough from him to bring him back on another two-year contract. The left-handed hitter is an excellent defender at first and was a positive influence in the clubhouse. Unless the Red Sox get Martinez, Ramirez figures to get most of his at-bats at designated hitter. But after offseason surgery on his left shoulder, Ramirez is healthy enough to play first base again, something he did just 18 times last year. Swihart is another player on the roster who can play first.

Second base (2): Marco Hernandez, Brock Holt

For the first time since 2006, the Red Sox will have an Opening Day lineup that does not include Dustin Pedroia. The good news is that the second baseman should only miss the first few weeks of the season following left knee surgery, In his absence, the versatile Hernandez -- who had last season cut short due to a subluxation of his left shoulder -- might win the starting job. But that could change if Holt rediscovers the batting stroke he lost the last couple of years as he battled concussions and vertigo. Deven Marrero, a strong defender, could compete for a roster spot also. He hit left-handers well last year.

Shortstop (1): Xander Bogaerts

Bogaerts is looking to bounce back from a tough second half, when he played through a painful right hand injury sustained when he was hit by a pitch in July. When healthy, Bogaerts is one of the best offensive shortstops in the game. Hernandez and Holt can both fill in for him when he needs a rest.

Video: Outlook: Bogaerts needs power rebound to be elite

Third base (1): Rafael Devers

Everyone is enthused to see what the ultra-talented lefty slugger can do in a full season, after he clocked 10 homers in 222 at-bats last year. One thing Devers will work on throughout Spring Training is tightening up his defense. Holt, Hernandez and Swihart can all play third base as well.

Outfield (4): Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, Bryce Brentz

Without question, this is the strength of the team. Benintendi, Bradley and Betts represent one of the most dynamic outfield trios in the game, and they even have an entertaining Win Dance to boot. The new addition is Brentz, who replaces veteran Chris Young. The right-handed hitting Brentz played all of last season in the Minor Leagues after being designated for assignment by Boston at the end of Spring Training. He wound up having his best professional season, belting 38 homers to go with 108 RBIs and an .854 OPS at Triple-A Pawtucket. Brentz will be called on to start against lefties. Swihart can also play the corner outfield if needed.

Video: Outlook: Benintendi brings power, speed to lineup

Starting rotation (5): Sale, David Price, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello, Steven Wright

Wright, the knuckleballer who missed most of last season due to left knee surgery, will likely open as the fifth starter in place of Eduardo Rodriguez, who had right knee surgery in the winter. Once Rodriguez returns -- which could be in mid to late April, Wright could be headed to the bullpen. The Red Sox are excited about the front end of the rotation, particularly if Price stays healthy.

Video: Outlook: Sale's strikeouts make him a top starter

Bullpen (7): Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, Robby Scott, Brian Johnson, Brandon Workman

The closer is the one spot not up for grabs, as everyone knows Kimbrel is one of the best in the game. However, there will be plenty of jockeying position for the other roles and for the final roster spots. With Addison Reed now with the Twins, Smith could have the inside track on being the primary setup man. Kelly is the hardest thrower in Cora's 'pen, and adapted well to life as a full-time reliever last season. All of Boston's best relievers are righties.

Video: Outlook: Kimbrel could reach 40 saves in 2018

Side-armer Scott is likely to win the job as the lefty specialist unless the Red Sox add a free agent or make a trade. Johnson is out of options, and will likely transition to the bullpen to see if he can help in that role. Look for righty Tyler Thornburg to make an impact early in the season, but he could start the season on the disabled as he recovers from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.

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

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