How Alex Cora is projected to use his roster this season

Just who will make up the bullpen - and who stays and goes at catcher - were Cora's biggest decisions to make in spring training.

Alex Cora Red Sox Manager MLB
Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora looks over the lineup before the team's spring training baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, in Sarasota, Fla. –The Associated Press

The Red Sox open the 2019 regular season on Thursday in Seattle.

According to The Athletic‘s Chad Jennings, the Red Sox “all but set their roster” on Saturday with two more rounds of cuts.

Between now and Thursday, the Red Sox must make their final decisions and manager Alex Cora must set his lineup, pitching rotation, and bullpen for Opening Day.

Here is what experts predict the Red Sox’ lineup, starting rotation, and bullpen may look like this season:

The lineup

The Athletic‘s Chad Jennings: Andrew Benintendi LF, Mookie Betts RF, Rafael Devers 3B, J.D. Martinez DH, Xander Boegarts SS, Mitch Moreland 1B, Jackie Bradley Jr. CF, Christian Vázquez C

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Cora already telegraphed the most eye-catching lineup change for 2019 in December when he announced he would move American League MVP Betts to the second spot in the lineup, allowing Benintendi to lead off. Betts hit first in every game he started for the Red Sox in 2018.

Jennings left the ninth spot in the lineup open in his rundown, given that Dustin Pedroia will remain on the injury list to start the season. Jennings said that Cora has made it clear there will be no set second baseman to start the season, so it remains most likely Brock Holt and Eduardo Núñez will split time while Pedroia is out. Tzu-Wei Lin has options remaining for major league stints throughout the season, too.

On Sunday, Jennings noted the Red Sox have largely deployed Núñez on the left side of the infield and Holt on the right in spring training games.

MLB.com’s Ian Browne: Christian Vázquez and Blake Swihart at catcher over Sandy Leon.

The Red Sox can not keep three catchers on the roster this season as they did for much of last year. On Thursday, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported the Red Sox are discussing trades involving Sandy Leon, but the team reportedly put Leon on waivers Sunday. If no team claims Leon, the Red Sox may assign him to the minor leagues.

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Browne noted that Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce will platoon at first base, likely with Pearce starting against left-handed pitchers and Moreland getting most at-bats against right-handed starters.

The Boston Globe‘s Peter AbrahamBenintendi, Betts, Devers, Martinez, Boegarts, Moreland, Pedroia, Bradley Jr., Vazquez

Abraham reported Cora regards Vázquez as the primary catcher.

“The three are really good. We’re very comfortable with all of them. We’ll take two,” Cora said. “I don’t think one hit or two hits makes a difference. It’s just a matter of where we are as a group.”

Abraham noted that while Swihart has a higher ceiling than Leon, Leon is popular with several of the starting pitchers, including Chris Sale.

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Abraham also predicted Pedroia will hit seventh in the lineup when he joins the Sox in the regular season.

“He wasn’t supposed to start right away at Arizona State or get to the majors or win an MVP,” Abraham wrote. “Doubt him at your own peril.”

The Boston Herald‘s Michael SilvermanDevers could hit third in the Red Sox lineup in 2019.

Silverman reported Cora is moving farther toward slotting Rafael Devers third in the lineup after first proposing the idea to the young third baseman in December.

“It’s a big job but it’s one that I’m ready for if given the opportunity — I’m just ready for whatever position they put me in the lineup, the best feeling for me is just to be in the lineup, period,” said Devers. “Yeah, Mookie and Benny are two guys that get on base a lot and having the protection of J.D. behind me leads to a lot of chances.”

The starting rotation

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The Boston Globe‘s Peter Abraham: Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, David Price, Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez

The Athletic‘s Chad Jennings: Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez

MLB.com’s Ian Browne: Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez

Browne noted Thursday that Cora may utilize a reliever as a sixth starter during the team’s 11 game road trip to start the season.

The Boston Herald‘s Jason Mastronado: Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez

The bullpen

The Boston Globe‘s Peter Abraham: Abraham reported on March 21 that Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Heath Hembree, and Tyler Thornburg appear to have locked down their spots. On Monday, that list expanded to include Brian Johnson, Hector Velazquez, and Brandon Workman.

Some factors Abraham reported Cora considered when making final bullpen decisions before the regular season:

  • Some of the relievers have been working on particular pitches or sequences, potentially detrimental to their stats.
  • The coaching staff may plan for specific matchups during the 11-game West Coast road trip.
  • A No. 6 starter is reportedly slotted in for April 7 against the Diamondbacks, and the team could option Hector Velazquez to the minors and reactivate him to make that start.
  • Hembree, Johnson, and Workman would require waivers if they are taken off the roster.
  • Most of the starters will reportedly work with a six-inning, 90-95 pitch count to start the season.

The Athletic‘s Chad Jennings: Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman, Brian Johnson, Tyler Thornburg, Hector Velazquez, Colten Brewer

Jennings reported Sunday that Velazquez likely beat Marcus Walden and prospect Darwinzon Hernandez for a long-relief spot, and Brewer beat Bobby Poyner for a middle relief job.

The Boston Herald‘s Jason Mastronado: Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Heath Hembree, Hector Velazquez, Brian Johnson, Darwinzon Hernandez, Tyler Thornburg

Mastronado noted Hembree as having performed well this spring (2.2 innings pitched, 3 appearances, 3.38 ERA) but said the last few spots in the bullpen appear to be wild cards. Johnson has battled through illness, Velazquez has given up 19 hits through 10.1 innings pitched this spring, and Brandon Workman may require a stint on the injured list.

“Any lefty who can throw 95 mph is going to sell tickets and turn heads,” he wrote of Hernandez. “He also has a wipeout breaking ball. If he can control his stuff, and his emotions, he’s going to get a chance to get outs for Cora and might just make it too difficult to send him back down to the minors.”

The Athletic‘s Jen McCaffrey: 2018 draft pick Durbin Feltman could reach the Red Sox bullpen by the end of the season.

McCaffrey’s profile of 21-year-old Feltman, who signed with the Red Sox last summer after three seasons at LSU, paints a picture of the right-handed pitching prospect’s development.

Feltman advanced through three minor leagues fairly quickly last season, with four appearances for Short-Season Lowell, seven for Single-A Greenville, and finally to Single-A Salem for eleven appearances. Overall, he had a 2.31 ERA and 0.986 WHIP in 23.1 innings pitched.

“If he keeps doing the things that he did in big league camp and dominates wherever he goes, there’s a chance we might need him and we know what to expect,” Cora said.

McCaffrey reported that Feltman, whose fastball tops out at 98-99 miles per hour, will likely start the season with Single-A Salem or Double AA Portland.