For a few seasons now I've been been periodically ranking the current "importance" of each player on the Red Sox roster, counting down from 25 to 1. The exercise is a blast for me (even with the inevitable gripes about it being in gallery form), and each season's first edition, which usually runs in the weeks leading up to spring training, can sometimes provide clarity regarding the overall roster picture.
When putting together the version that ran Wednesday, which includes plenty worth debating, including my choice of Dustin Pedroia as No. 1, there were a couple of items regarding the composition of the roster that really jumped out to me.
For one, the Red Sox are extraordinarily deep in relief pitching, to the point that they should still have an excellent bullpen even if a couple of pitchers endure more than the usual volatility. I suspect this depth means John Farrell is being encouraged to have a very short leash with his starters. I also think it means Andrew Bailey is elsewhere by April 1 in the Bronx.
The lack of star power compared to recent Red Sox teams isn't exactly a news flash. Three years ago, I ranked Adrian Beltre No. 11 in February. If he were still here, he might rank No. 1 on this year's team.
But the overall roster depth is understated. There was a pretty compelling group of players that didn't make the top 25. For the sport of it, let's rank our 10 honorable mentions here. Thanks for playing along.
26. Daniel Bard
Well, John Farrell's report after visiting with Bard was encouraging, and I suppose it counts for something that Bard has recovered from lost seasons before to pitch very effectively. But until we see him on the mound again, throwing to live batters and maintaining that old arm slot that Farrell says he has rediscovered, the images of last year's disaster linger. We can hope for the best, but it's foolish to expect it before he's thrown a pitch with a purpose.
27. Rubby De La Rosa
That he has Pedro Martinez in his corner -- and helping him master a changeup -- is reason enough to be giddy about his potential, but it's also worth noting that the 23-year-old righthander who came over in the Dodgers blockbuster has already had some success in the majors, whiffing 60 in 60.1 innings for the Dodgers in 2011. I'll bet you he'll be much higher on these rankings at season end.
28. Ryan Lavarnway
Three Red Sox players since 1965 had an OPS below .500 in 150 or more plate appearances. George Scott in 1968 (387 PAs, .473 OPS, and yes, Boomer made a heck of a recovery), Marc Sullivan in 1987 (173 PAs, .435 OPS, position: catcher/Haywood's boy), and Lavarnway (166, .459 last year). While the similarity to Sullivan's '87 season is striking, I'll buy the party line that he was simply worn down at season's end. But he's 25, and it needs to happen soon.
29. Jose Iglesias
You know the deal. His defense is spectacular. His bat is salami. And the former does not justify the latter's place in the lineup. As much as we look forward to watching his spectacular nightly feats with the glove, the reality is that Iglesias, who has a .589 OPS in 783 Pawtucket plate appearances, needs to prove he can hit Triple A pitching first.
30. Jackie Bradley Jr.
In 2006, 22-year-old Jacoby Ellsbury put up an .821 OPS at Double A Portland in 225 plate appearances. The next season, he bounded from Portland to Pawtucket to Boston, starring in the 2007 World Series. In 2012, the 22-year-old Bradley put up an .809 OPS in 271 plate appearances. I'm not saying he'll travel along the same accelerated path this year. But I have tremendous respect for this kid's ability and work ethic, and I'm not about to suggest he can't get to Fenway before September.
32. Clayton Mortensen
According to FanGraphs' pitch-type data, Mortensen threw his changeup 25.5 percent of the time at an average velocity of 81.4 miles per hour. I'd have guessed 65 percent of the time at 65 miles per hour. His change is mesmerizing, and it served him well for the most part last season (3.21 ERA, 8.8 K/9) during his 26 big-league appearances. Pretty good guy to have as an extra arm.
33. Alex Wilson
Big righthander converted to the bullpen last season at Pawtucket and could get his shot if attrition claims approximately a half-dozen relievers ahead of him on the depth chart. Whiffed 9.7 batters per nine innings last season, but allowed too many baserunners (1.50 WHIP).
34. Brock Holt
Acquired in the Joel Hanrahan trade, the 24-year-old infielder has hit .317 with an .808 OPS in four minor league seasons. His glove may not play at shortstop, which could hamper his chances of having Willie Bloomquist's career.
35. Ryan Sweeney
He says he's done punching doors. Now, if he could just hit a few more baseballs off the Fenway walls.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.