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Why the Red Sox infield defense might be an issue

Rob Bradford
March 12, 2018 - 12:32 pm

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Spring training is for identifying potential problems. The Red Sox might have found one.

Thus far, the Red Sox infield defense isn't trending in the way the team most likely had hoped. At third base, Rafael Devers continues to be a work in progress. Xander Bogaerts' range isn't going to be classified as anything more than average for a shortstop. Early returns on Eduardo Nunez's range at second base haven't been great. And without Mitch Moreland in the lineup, Hanley Ramirez is still trying to find the defensive groove he discovered two years ago.

It leads to two pertinent questions ...

1. Is Alex Cora contemplating implementing defensive replacements at third or second base late in games?

"Too early for that," the Red Sox manager said when asked about the potential maneuver. "But we need to get better. These four days, like I said before, the schedule didn't help us out as far as working on fundamentals. We're actually going back to the backfields and do things I feel we still need to work on a few weeks ago, but because we have four or five days at home we can concentrate on that. I told them yesterday we hit the fundamentals hard for a few days, then obviously because of schedule we have to back up. But now that we have four days we have to go hard. And they understand. It's kind of like the starters. You take it easy and now we're pushing them along with the position players. We pushed them, we backed up and now we go. Defense is going to be a must the next four days."

2. Would the need for defensive replacements influence how the final roster spots are determined?

"I think the next two weeks will determine that," Cora said. "Like I said before, I'm comfortable with the guys we have."

That led to another important conversation, one involving the Red Sox' young third baseman and his progress.

"Raffy, he's made some strides," the manager said. "There are some things we're going to have to live with. He's 21, but I'm not saying he's going to be horrible at third. He's making steps with making adjustments where we're playing him. I feel he's a third baseman who can play deep, deep as possible because he likes to charge the ball and he has a good arm. So we're trying to push him as far as possible, especially with average or slow runners. He's able to go through it and throw to first base. The other ones we have to make sure where we want him. Do we want him all the way in, or do we want him halfway? For me, I like to either have him in because you get that first hop right away or you play back so you can read it. In the middle of the positioning you get that tricky hop, you're always in between and you have to make decision. That's a tough one. We're still working on him. For him, it's more positioning than actually his base and fundamentals."

Needing to prioritize defense is an interesting dynamic when it comes to locking in on the final roster. Brock Holt can play both third and second, but -- going by what we've seen thus far in spring training -- not to the level of Tzu-Wei Lin or Deven Marrero. Holt would, however, seem to have the upper-hand when it comes to offensive ability. Marrero is the only one of the group who can't be sent to the minors without clearing through waivers.

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