MLB Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox Preseason Grades: Infielders

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Boston Red Sox Infield

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Red Sox are a bit of an enigma right now.

Their starting pitching was considered mediocre at best heading into Spring Training, but early results have Red Sox fans extremely optimistic. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Ryan Dempster have pitched very well, and John Lackey looks to have recovered adequately from elbow surgery.

The relief corps, which is supposed to be the team’s strength, is a little beaten up right now, and new closer Joel Hanrahan has been hit hard in several outings. The guys that have looked great—like Allen Webster and Alex Wilson—are not expected to break camp with the big league club.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is trustworthy behind the plate, and he heads into 2013 as the reigning Red Sox home run champion. The outfield, on the other hand, is an absolute mess. Jacoby Ellsbury, when healthy, is as good as anyone in center field, but he hasn’t been able to put together two consecutive successful seasons yet in his career. The Red Sox will struggle at times getting production out of their right and left fielders.

So that just leaves the infield.

It’s a pretty solid core group, but again, health will be a question. With three of the four starters dealing with injury issues, the infield could be a disaster. Or it could be very good. Here’s how I rate the Red Sox infield heading into the 2013 season.

(JM Catellier is the author of the book Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructuring the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball and Facebook, and check out his site:

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Pedro Ciriaco: Utility

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off the bench, utility fielder Pedro Ciriaco is an important asset for the Red Sox. He gives solid production at the plate, plays great defense, and can run. Ciriaco can play all four infield positions well, and he would likely be a starter at second base on a lot of other teams. As far as backup infielders go, you won’t get much better than Ciriaco. Grade: A

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Mike Napoli: First Base

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

One thing we know about Mike Napoli is that he’s here for his bat. Not considered a great fielder by any stretch, Napoli will make his mark with this team with his power hitting. The Red Sox will likely be very careful with his playing time, so expect the 31-year-old to get more days off than the average first baseman. But even with limited at-bats, his swing should be a perfect fit for Fenway Park. So far this spring, he looks great—and healthy. Grade: B

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Dustin Pedroia: Second Base

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The class of the league at second base, Dustin Pedroia is the backbone of the Red Sox. He plays harder than anyone on the field on any given day, and he has the numbers (and trophies) to prove that he’s elite at his position. The Red Sox will go only as far as Pedroia takes them. Grade: A

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Will Middlebrooks: Third Base

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

I’m just not sold on 24-year-old Will Middlebrooks—yet. He had a fantastic first half last year before breaking his wrist in August, causing him to miss the last two months. It remains to be seen whether or not Middlebrooks can grind out a full season of positive statistics. Even in the minors, his highest number of games played was just 116. His success will depend on whether or not he can withstand a grueling 162-game schedule. Grade: C+

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Stephen Drew: Shortstop

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Drew will be entering his first full season after returning from a serious ankle injury. Among shortstops, he’s never been a top performer, but he has been durable in the past. A concussion has sidelined the 30-year-old in Spring Training, and at this point there is no timetable for his return. Once back in action, if he can stay healthy, Drew will be a solid stopgap defensively, but expect struggles at the plate from time to time and a lot of strikeouts. Grade: C