With spring training set to begin later this month, the Boston Red Sox look to rebound from a subpar campaign in 2014.  Boston restocked its roster this offseason and upgraded its lineup for 2015.

For the most part, the Red Sox are not expecting any major position battles heading into the season.  They have a number of incumbent starters returning and also added several new players to fill needed roles.

As is the case every year, though, there are still a few things Boston must iron out before Opening Day.  Below are three spots likely to be determined by spring training performances.


The Outfield

All signs indicate that Hanley Ramirez is a lock to be the Red Sox’s regular left fielder in 2015.  Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com recently reported that the former shortstop is working out in the outfield in the Dominican Republic and that Ramirez intends to report to Fort Myers, Florida, two weeks early to prepare for his new position.

Via McAdam, Ramirez said:

I’ve been working on balls [hit] over my head and [moving] side-to-side, and hitting the cutoff man. I think if I put in all the work in that I need to put to get better, it’s not going to be that hard. …

There’s just a couple of plays that I have to work on specifically and that’s what we’ve been doing right now.

After Ramirez in left, Rusney Castillo and Mookie Betts appear slotted to play center and right.  However, there is a $13 million wrench that could be thrown into the equation: Shane Victorino.

The 34-year-old veteran is entering the final season of a three-year, $39 million contract with Boston.  Victorino missed most of 2014 due to injuries, but if he’s healthy and ready to go, it’s hard to justify sitting him, especially considering Castillo and Betts have only 62 games of major league experience between the two of them.

Per Rob Bradford of WEEI (h/t Michael Hurcomb of CBSSports.com), Red Sox manager John Farrell spoke last month about Victorino’s potential playing time.

“That’s going to be dependent on what his capabilities are from a physical standpoint,” Farrell said. “We’re a better team if he’s on the field every day as was the case in 2013. That’s not to take anything away from anyone else on our roster. He’s doing everything he can right now to be a player of that capacity.”

Should Victorino look good this March, it’s going to create quite a conundrum for Farrell.  Boston didn’t sign Castillo for $72.5 million last summer to have him ride the bench, and Betts is the guy the Red Sox want as their leadoff hitter, which makes it extremely difficult to take him out of the lineup as well.

Chances of winning one of the three outfield jobs: Ramirez 95 percent, Castillo 85 percent, Betts 75 percent, Victorino 40 percent, anyone else 5 percent.


Opening Day Starting Pitcher

This is a two-horse race between Clay Buchholz and Rick Porcello.  Buchholz is by far the longest-tenured member of the rotation, and his seven seasons in Boston should give him the inside track on beginning the year as the Red Sox’s No. 1 starter.  

Unfortunately, Buchholz is an enigma.  In 2013, he went 12-1, made the All-Star team and posted a 1.74 ERA along with a 1.02 WHIP.  Last season, Buchholz finished 8-11 with a 5.34 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP.  This dramatic swing is representative of his entire career in Boston, and it’s hard to predict what sort of numbers he’ll put forth in 2015.

On the other hand, the 26-year-old Porcello may just now be entering his prime.  Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe writes:

Opposing hitters have a .710 OPS against Porcello since the start of the 2013 season, a sharp drop from the .769 it was over the first four seasons of his career.

That has led to a similar decline in his earned run average, from 4.59 in 2012 to 3.43 last season. Porcello was 15-13 in 2014 and threw a career-best 204 innings. His three shutouts — the first three of his career — were the most in the American League.

Abraham also notes that Porcello expanded his repertoire of pitches in recent years to include a four-seam fastball and improved curveball.  Based on talent alone, Porcello is probably the best option to start the Red Sox’s first game of the year.

However, pitching on Opening Day is an honor often bestowed upon players with a history of service to their organization.  Provided Buchholz throws well in spring training, he should be the one to get the nod.

Chances of starting on Opening Day: Buchholz 55 percent, Porcello 45 percent.


The Back End of the Rotation

Following Buchholz and Porcello, there is no clear pecking order throughout the remainder of Boston’s staff.  Ever since the flurry of moves the Red Sox made during the winter meetings in December, the assumption is that Joe Kelly, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson will occupy the third, fourth and fifth spots in the rotation.  What order they will pitch in remains unclear.

Of the three, Masterson could be the one whose position is most in jeopardy.  The righty was downright awful last season, putting up a 5.88 ERA and 1.63 WHIP.  If Masterson gets roughed up in Fort Myers, there are other candidates available to jump in and steal the No. 5 starter gig.

Brandon Workman started 15 times for Boston in 2014, but he struggled mightily and finished with a 1-10 record and a 5.17 ERA.  Despite his poor showing, the 26-year-old is hoping to regain a similar role in 2015.

Per ESPNBoston.com’s Kyle Brasseur, Workman said: “I’m going in there looking forward to competing, hopefully winning a spot. I’d like to be in the rotation. I’m hoping I can win a job in the starting rotation but we’ll see how that goes. I’m doing everything I can right now to prepare for it and get ready to put myself in a good spot to compete for that job.”

The newly signed Alexi Ogando started 18 games for the Texas Rangers in 2013 while posting a 3.11 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP.  Ogando battled elbow troubles in 2014 and appeared solely out of the bullpen. Bradford quotes Farrell as saying the Red Sox intend to use Ogando as a reliever.

Also on the 40-man roster is Matt Barnes, rated the No. 7 overall prospect in the organization by SoxProspects.com.  Last season, the 24-year-old Barnes started 22 games in Triple-A Pawtucket with a 3.95 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP.  Barnes would likely have to put forth a dominant effort this spring in order to have any shot at cracking Boston’s rotation to begin 2015.

Chances of landing a spot in the rotation: Miley 90 percent, Kelly 90 percent, Masterson 80 percent, Workman 30 percent, anyone else 10 percent.


Statistics via Baseball-Reference.com and contract information from Spotrac.com.

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