By Jeff Louderback
Cleared to start baseball activities, Mike Napoli fielded 50 ground balls at first base during Red Sox spring training camp on Sunday. The right-handed hitting Napoli is slated to play first base when left-handers are on the mound, and there is competition for the role of a left-handed hitter who can play first base or left field when a right-hander is on the hill.
Lyle Overbay, a 36-year-old veteran of 12 Major League seasons, is the leading candidate to see time at first base and in left field (where the right-handed hitting Jonny Gomes will start against lefties). Overbay is a plus defensive first baseman who has never played in the outfield in the big leagues but saw 30 games there in the minors. The left-handed hitting Overbay has expressed a willingness to play left field when needed.
Switch-hitting outfielder Daniel Nava saw action at first base in college, but in his professional baseball career he has solely played in the outfield. The soon-to-be 30-year-old switch-hitter is taking ground balls at spring training camp.
Left-handed hitting Mitch Maier, who was a first round pick of Kansas City in 2003, has experience in the outfield and at third base in the majors. He is taking grounders at first this spring as well and like Overbay is on a minor league contract.
Minor league free agent Mark Hamilton (a 28-year-old left-handed power hitter who can play first base and left field) and the right-handed hitting Mauro Gomez are also vying for the backup first baseman’s job. Gomez is below average on defense at first base and third base, and he cannot play the outfield.
When you see Red Sox games in Boston, Overbay or Nava will likely see time at first base and in left field. Both players could make the opening day roster.
The Red Sox have reportedly spoken internally about acquiring Mike Carp, the 26-year-old left-handed hitting first baseman/left fielder who was recently designated for assignment by Seattle.