Boston Red Sox

WORCESTER - Triston Casas, Jarren Duran and Jeter Downs ahead of the WooSox game against Rochester on Wednesday, September 22, 2021.

  • After what felt like an impossibly long offseason, Red Sox baseball officially returns on Thursday. The abbreviated 19-game Spring Training schedule begins with a St. Patrick’s Day matinee against the Twins at JetBlue Park.

    In those 19 games, the Red Sox have a number of questions to answer regarding their roster. While some of the holes could be filled by remaining free agents, in-house options can’t be ignored.

    Who on the roster has the most to gain over the next three weeks? Here are the players to watch as Opening Day approaches.

  • 1B Triston Casas

    WORCESTER – Triston Casas steps up to the plate during the final home game of the inaugural season at Polar Park on Sunday, September 26, 2021.

    Casas is a non-roster invitee to Red Sox camp, but may end up with more eyes on him than any other player. The 22-year-old has been the top prospect in the Sox’s system for some time, and is expected to make his debut at some point this season. There’s currently a need at first base, so the quicker Casas is ready, the better. Spring training will serve as a barometer as to just how close he is.

    At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Casas won’t just give the Red Sox their first baseman but should add powerful left-handed bat to the middle of the lineup as well. The 2018 first-round pick slashed .279/.394/.484 last year with 14 home runs in 86 games mostly at the Triple-AAA level.

  • INF Jeter Downs

    FORT MYERS, FLORIDA – MARCH 14: Jeter Downs #20 of the Boston Red Sox in action against the Minnesota Twins during a Grapefruit League spring training game at Hammond Stadium on March 14, 2021 in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    Downs was one of the three players acquired in the Mookie Betts trade, and at 23-years-old could be due to make his MLB debut this season. Although he’s primarily a shortstop, he can play second base as well.

    The situation at second base is similar to the one at first, To start the year, it will likely be filled by a platoon of Hernandez and Christian Arroyo. Yet if Downs can have a strong Spring Training then get hot to start the season in the minors, he could potentially enter the equation this summer.

  • OF Jarren Duran

    Jul 17, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Jarren Duran (40) runs to first after hitting a single against the New York Yankees during the second inning at Yankee Stadium. The hit was the first of his MLB career in his first ever plate appearance. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Jul 17, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Jarren Duran (40) runs to first after hitting a single against the New York Yankees during the second inning at Yankee Stadium. The hit was the first of his MLB career in his first ever plate appearance. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Another top prospect in the system who made his debut last season, a lot could be asked of Duran this year. Right now, the outfield is lefty-heavy with Duran, Alex Verdugo, and Jackie Bradley. Kiké Hernandez should also be in the rotation, but he could factor in at second base as well.

    With Bradley expected to be a platoon player, Duran’s role could be a regular one. The good news is that in the minors last year, he actually hit significantly better against lefties (.296 average) than righties (.243). At the same time, his power numbers were better against right-handed pitchers.

    That success didn’t translate completely in the majors, where he hit .215 in 33 games. Yet a well-rounded bat like the one he’s shown he could be would be incredibly valuable in this lineup. Spring Training will be a chance to see if he’s improved at the plate against MLB pitching.

     

  • RHP Garrett Whitlock

    Jun 27, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Garrett Whitlock (72) delivers a pitch during the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park.

    Whitlock was a breakout star for the Red Sox last year in the bullpen. However, it’s worth remembering the reason he was in the bullpen is the Rule 5 pick was coming off of Tommy John surgery, and the team wanted to be careful with his innings.

    Now two years removed from the procedure, Whitlock – who was a starter throughout his time coming up in the Yankees’ system – should be ready to handle an extended workload. The Red Sox are thin both in their rotation and the bullpen, so Whitlock could land anywhere. Where will he end up? Spring Training should help give us a clearer picture of his future.

  • RHP Matt Barnes

    Jun 6, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Matt Barnes (32) pitches against the New York Yankees during the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Jun 6, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Matt Barnes (32) pitches against the New York Yankees during the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    As mentioned above, the Red Sox’s bullpen is thin as things stand right now. It’s only going to get thinner without a closer. Barnes, who signed a two-year extension last summer – was great through the first half of last season earning himself an All-Star nod. However, he posted a 6.48 ERA and 1.62 WHIP over his final 22 appearances after the break. He made just one appearance in the ALDS, and was left off the ALCS roster.

    Barnes will look to return to his early-season form from that woeful second half this year, with the closer role open for the taking. Spring Training will be his first chance to show he’s bounced back.