Commentary

Ranking the Red Sox roster

Updated: March 28, 2014, 5:33 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

ESPN formed a panel of baseball writers, analysts and contributors to rank the top 500 players in the majors based on how they're expected to perform in 2014. The Red Sox did not fare all that well (though much better than last season), with Dustin Pedroia as the top-ranked Sox player at No. 20. David Ortiz at No. 39 is the only other Sox player among the top 50.

What you'll find below is a slightly different exercise. I was tasked with ranking each player on the expected Red Sox roster (including one guy, Craig Breslow, who's starting the season on the disabled list) based on their importance to the 2014 team.

Here's my ranking, 26-1. What's yours?

26. Brandon Workman

His stint at the start probably will last only until Breslow is off the disabled list, but his summons into the eighth inning of a World Series game tells you the regard in which he is held here. Look for him to make it back as a starter.

25. Burke Badenhop

Sinkerballer imported from Milwaukee gives the Sox pen a different look in the middle innings; what isn't different is that Badenhop throws strikes (1.7 walks per 9). A 56 percent ground ball rate leads to that pitcher's best friend, the double play (7 in 2013).

24. Mike Carp

A .523 slugging percentage makes Carp an extremely useful weapon coming off the bench, and with the Red Sox outfield requiring some moving around with Grady Sizemore needing some breaks, Carp may see a jump in playing time in left field. It helps that he's not a complainer when he has to sit.

23. Jonathan Herrera

The former Rockies player gives the Sox infield depth at three positions -- second, short and third -- and he impressed teammates with the energy he brought to the field. He hasn't had much exposure at third, but handles the middle spots well and makes good contact.

22. Chris Capuano

The 35-year-old left-hander was unsigned until Ryan Dempster abruptly walked away, the Sox signing him a week into camp. A starter his entire career, Capuano will be the third lefty in the pen, but offers veteran depth in the rotation.

21. Jake Peavy

While Clay Buchholz enters the season as the team's No. 5 starter, he profiles much higher in the rotation. Peavy is not yet 33, but he's logged a lot of mileage on his arm -- just short of 2,000 innings -- and while he was throwing in the low 90s this spring, he's only thrown 200 innings once since 2007.

20. David Ross

Multiple concussions limited Ross to just 36 games last season. New catcher A.J. Pierzynski is unusually durable, raising questions how much Ross will play this season. But Ross was the man behind the plate for all four World Series victories, and he has the trust of the entire staff.

19. Grady Sizemore

His importance may prove much higher by the end of the season. But until he proves he can stand up physically to the everyday grind without breaking down the way he has in the past, Sizemore will remain a question mark, with Jackie Bradley Jr. waiting in the wings.

18. Jonny Gomes

As Gomes likes to say, the stats on the back of his baseball card are only half of the thumbprint he leaves on a season. He played a passable left field, slugged .496 against lefty starters and hit .346 with runners in scoring position. And he made an indelible impact on the team's winning identity.

17. Edward Mujica

Ben Cherington hasn't had much luck trading for relievers (Andrew Bailey, Joel Hanrahan, Mark Melancon), but 5 walks in 64 2/3 innings made Mujica irresistible as a free agent. He'll share the late-inning load with Junichi Tazawa, and he has closer experience.

16. Craig Breslow

In just two seasons, the left-hander sliced two full points off his 3.79 ERA in Oakland with a career-best 1.81 last season. He missed the first month with shoulder tendinitis, then became one of the pen's most versatile pieces, stepping up as late-inning force when Andrew Miller went down.

15. Felix Doubront

The left-hander came to camp in far better shape than a year ago, and may be on the cusp, at age 26, of a breakout season. He made some mechanical adjustments to tighten his delivery, and if he develops some greater consistency in his fastball command, he could be a big winner. And Capuano is looming in his rearview mirror.

14. Andrew Miller

The 6-foot-7 Miller had become a dominant force in the pen, averaging 14.1 strikeouts per 9, when he went down in July with a foot injury that cost him the rest of the season. His slider has become devastating, he held right-handed hitters to a .155 average, and struck out an equal number of lefty and righty hitters.

13. Junichi Tazawa

Another impressive strike-thrower (1.6 walks per nine) in a bullpen full of them, Tazawa had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 6, tying a guy named Mariano Rivera for third-best among American League relievers. Tazawa nearly doubled his number of appearances (71 from 37) and has closer potential.

12. A.J. Pierzynski

The Red Sox don't need Pierzynski to be anything more than he has been his entire career: a guy who has caught at least 110 games in each of his past 13 seasons, hits the occasional home run, handles the pitching staff and agitates the opposition. No reason to think he can't be, though he is 37.

11. John Lackey

Lackey's 10-13 record does not reflect the type of season he had, one in which he made a triumphant return from Tommy John surgery, all the more impressive because he did so at age 34. He was stingy with the walks (1.9), summoned 95 mph velocity for a two-month stretch, and was as competitive as ever. From pariah to pitching a World Series clincher, quite the trip.

10. Xander Bogaerts

Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports unearthed this nugget, with the help of STATS, Inc.: Bogaerts becomes the youngest Opening Day shortstop (21 years, 181 days) for the Red Sox since Everett Scott (21 years, 146 days) in 1914. The forecasts for stardom haven't wavered this spring.

9. Will Middlebrooks

The third baseman showed up noticeably stronger and has been very selective at the plate, striking out just three times while driving the ball to right-center. His pull power is undeniable, a right-handed hitter with 25-30 homer potential. Fully healthy after an injury-marred 2013, he vows to be a different player.

8. Daniel Nava

His importance to the club has spiked entering the season. He starts the season as the team's new leadoff hitter because of his high on-base percentage (.385), he may play more right field than ever if Shane Victorino has to play center, and he might play some center, too.

7. Mike Napoli

No one saw more pitches per at-bat (4.58) in the majors last season, which was more than any Sox hitter has seen in the 25 years since they started keeping that stat. That more than offsets the 187 strikeouts, as do the 15 games in which he had multiple extra-base hits, as do the 7 homers and 20 RBIs against the Yankees.

6. Koji Uehara

Uehara turns 39 on April 3, the day before the Sox play their home opener. He gave no evidence this spring that he is feeling his age, which means that Koji Time should be a regular feature of Sox victories again this season. Can he possibly be as good as he was last season? There may be an extra hiccup or two, but the walks will be rare, the strikes plentiful and the high-fives irresistible.

5. Clay Buchholz

Buchholz was a huge reason for Boston's fast start last season, then missed three months with what the Sox called shoulder bursitis but also has been described as a rotator cuff strain. Rest and rehab have restored his strength, and the Sox have brought him along cautiously this spring, but until he approaches that 200-inning threshold, he can't claim ace stature.

4. Shane Victorino

Victorino thumbed his nose at the baseball establishment that declared his career on the decline, winning a Gold Glove in right field, thriving in the No. 2 hole in the lineup and hitting .300 batting right-handed against right-handed pitchers after abandoning switch-hitting in early August. It's a little worrisome that he has played so little this spring; he insists he'll be ready.

3. Jon Lester

The left-hander who came into spring training a year ago apologizing for the previous two seasons can eliminate sorry from his vocabulary after a season that culminated with a dominating October, one in which he went 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA. Lester was the definition of a stopper last season, going 9-1 with a 2.68 ERA in starts after Sox losses. He is the linchpin of this rotation.

2. Dustin Pedroia

All you need to know about Pedroia is that he had 724 plate appearances in a season in which he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb in the season's first game, which meant he played in pain all year. Fully healthy, Pedroia's home runs should spike again, even though he still managed 42 doubles with a bad thumb. His defense at second remains as good as anyone in the game.

1. David Ortiz

GM Ben Cherington had a quick response to the question of why teams are trending away from relying on one player to serve as DH. "Because they don't have David Ortiz,'' he said. The day will come when the Sox no longer have Ortiz to anchor the middle of their lineup, but they're betting that day won't come for at least another couple of years. In Big Papi they trust.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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