If you are a Red Sox fan who does not closely monitor the farm system and happened to watch Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay, chances are you were saying, “Who are these guys?”
In a 7-7 tie at Port Charlotte, the Sox did not start any of their regulars, and among the nine in the lineup, only Darnell McDonald and Kelly Shoppach are slated to make Boston’s Opening Day roster. Yet the names that dot the box score are worth noting since some are minor leaguers who can help the Red Sox at some point this season, and others are promising prospects who are climbing the organizational rankings.
Let’s begin with Pedro Ciriaco, who led off the game against Kyle Farnsworth with a double, and ended with two runs. The versatile Ciriaco – who played shortstop, second and third on Saturday and proficiently plays those positions – is hitting .400 (16-for-40) this spring with a 1.054 OPS.
The 26-year-old Ciriaco was a signed by Arizona as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2003 and was a top prospect in the Pirates organization, appearing in the Futures Game in 2010. He made his major league debut with Pittsburgh in 2010, when he tallied six at-bats, and then hit .303 (10-for-33) for the Pirates last year after spending much of the season at Triple-A Indianapolis.
Ciriaco was a mostly anonymous minor league free agent signing by the Red Sox in the off-season, but he has captivated the attention of Bobby Valentine with his versatility, his speed and his bat. With Carl Crawford scheduled to open the season on the disabled list as he continues to rehab his surgically repaired wrist, Ciriaco could make the Opening Day roster in a utility role.
Three other candidates for the final roster spot appeared in Saturday’s starting lineup.
Nate Spears, who was a favorite of Terry Francona, is reminiscent of David Eckstein. A fifth round pick of Baltimore in 2003, the 26-year-old Spears has spent the last two years in the Red Sox organization (at Portland in 2010 and Pawtucket last season) and can play three infield spots.
Mauro Gomez, a powerful right-handed hitting first baseman/DH who was an international free agent signed by Texas out of the Dominican Republic in 2003, has three home runs and nine RBI this spring with a .350 average (7-for-20) and a 1.150 OPS. Gomez slugged 24 home runs and knocked in 90 at Triple-A Gwinnett in the Braves organization in 2011. Gomez had a two-run single in Saturday’s game.
If Ciriaco does not get the final roster spot, chances are Jason Repko will. The 31-year-old right-handed hitting veteran who proficiently plays all three outfield spots and has plus speed was 2-for-4 with a run on Saturday. Valentine likes Repko’s defense and speed, but he also values the 1999 first round pick of the Dodgers’ fundamentals and bunting ability.
Since he plays solid defense, has speed and handles the bat well, Repko is a valuable player to have on any team. He has played in parts of six major league seasons with the Dodgers and Twins.
Two of the top prospects in the Red Sox organization played on Saturday, too.
Brandon Jacobs is an outfielder who was slated to play football as a running back at Auburn University until the Red Sox drafted him in the 10th round in 2009 and lured him with a $750,000 signing bonus. Last year, the now 21-year-old Jacobs had 17 home runs and 80 RBI at Single-A Greenville and is climbing the Red Sox minor league ladder. Primarily a left field who is average on defense, Jacobs will likely open the 2012 season at Advanced Single-A Salem (Va.).
Sean Coyle had an RBI single on Saturday. The 20-year-old second baseman was a third round pick out of high school in 2010 and often draws comparisons to Dustin Pedroia because of his build, demeanor and talent. Coyle belted 14 home runs and collected 64 RBI while batting .247 at Greenville last season. He is projected to play at Salem in 2012.
Two interesting catching prospects also saw action on Saturday. Dan Butler, who joined the Red Sox as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona University in 2009, is highly regarded for his defense and game calling abilities. The 25-year-old right-handed hitter batted .313 in the Arizona Fall League last year after opening the regular season at Salem and ending it at Double-A Portland. Butler is expected to open the 2012 season as the starting catcher for the Sea Dogs.
The other catcher who appeared on Saturday is Christian Vazquez, a ninth round pick out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in 2008. The 21-year-old Vazquez can also play third base, but he has a strong arm and is a solid defensive catcher with power at the plate. Last season at Greenville, he batted .283 with 18 home runs and 84 RBI.
Though Blake Swihart, who was Boston’s first round pick out of high school last summer, is a highly regarded young catcher, Vazquez has upside and could draw more attention with a strong performance this season at Salem.