Tomase: Predicting the Red Sox' opening day roster, version 2.0

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Red Sox spring training never fails to surprise.

Sometimes it's a positive, like the emergence of Raimel Tapia and the eye-opening stuff of right-hander Bryan Mata. Other times it's negative, like the injuries that should sideline James Paxton, Garrett Whitlock, and Brayan Bello to open the season.

With only two weeks until opening day, the roster is coming into shape. Here's one prediction of which 26 men will head north on March 30.

Starting pitchers (5): RHP Corey Kluber, LHP Chris Sale, RHP Nick Pivetta, RHP Tanner Houck, RHP Kutter Crawford

This group represents the closest thing to upheaval in camp. The absence of Paxton (hamstring), Whitlock (hip surgery), and Bello (forearm) considerably alters the makeup of the rotation, though each is expected back sometime in April.

In the meantime, we know that Kluber, the veteran and two-time Cy Young Award winner, will start on opening day vs. the Orioles, followed by Sale. Pivetta had potentially been the odd man out, but now he's back for at least a turn or two after leading the American League in starts.

That leaves the final two spots to Houck and Crawford. The former has struggled to throw strikes all spring, while the latter has pitched quite well, with nine strikeouts to just one walk in 8.2 innings. Ā 

Relievers (8): RHP Kenley Jansen, RHP Chris Martin, RHP John Schreiber, LHP Richard Bleier, RHP Ryan Brasier, LHP Joely Rodriguez, RHP Zack Kelly, RHP Kaleb Ort

Based on track record at least, manager Alex Cora should feel good about his top four options, with Jansen giving him his first real closer since Craig Kimbrel in 2018.

Martin and Schreiber were two of the best in the business last year -- the former after coming to grips with the death of his father. Bleier has posted sneaky good numbers throughout his career, and Rodriguez was a useful long option with the Mets last year, though he struggled in higher leverage situations. Brasier is a survivor.

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With left-hander Matt Dermody sent to minor league camp on Wednesday, that leaves four right-handers battling for the final two spots: Kelly, Ort, Josh Winckowski, and Wyatt Mills.

Kelly and Ort both appeared in Boston last year and showed a little something, while Winckowski represents important starting depth. The Red Sox acquired the sidewinding Mills in the hopes that he can be Schreiber 2.0, but after a strong start to camp, he was rocked in his last appearance vs. the Blue Jays.

We'll go Kelly and Ort, but this could change.

Catchers (2): Reese McGuire, Jorge Alfaro

McGuire impressed offensively after arriving at the trade deadline, hitting .337 in 36 games. He credited the turnaround to getting everyday at-bats. Meanwhile, Alfaro has been one of the revelations of camp as a non-roster invitee, with surprising speed and real power. He may not be the most polished receiver, but he has made the most of his limited opportunities, hitting .700 in four games before joining Team Colombia in the World Baseball Classic.

Connor Wong was supposed to be the backup, but he still hasn't played since suffering a hamstring strain two weeks ago.

Infielders (6): 1B Triston Casas, 2B Christian Arroyo, 3B Rafael Devers, SS KikƩ HernƔndez, DH/3B Justin Turner, UT Yu Chang

This group is awfully light on depth, especially up the middle, at least until shortstop Adalberto Mondesi returns from knee surgery. The starting four infield spots are set, with Casas a possibility to hit leadoff and Devers the linchpin of the lineup.

The real questions come with the double-play combo of HernƔndez and Arroyo, neither of whom has proven particularly durable. If either is hurt, the Red Sox aren't swimming in proven options.

WBC hero Chang gets the nod for the final spot over Bobby Dalbec because he's better suited to play up the middle. The hulking Dalbec has appeared at short this spring, but it's hard to envision him getting reps there during the season unless it's an emergency.

Outfielders (5): LF Masataka Yoshida, CF Adam Duvall, RF Alex Verdugo, CF Rob Refsnyder, LF/RF Raimel Tapia

This group comes with considerable upside, but scary downside. Duvall spent the winter strengthening his legs to withstand the rigors of playing full-time center field at age 34. Yoshida impressed in batting practice and has been one of Japan's best hitters in the WBC, but we still have no idea how he'll handle big league stuff on a nightly basis. Verdugo is the perpetual breakout candidate who very badly needs to show he can take the next step.

For the final two spots, Refsnyder has proven himself a capable right-handed bat with a plus glove in center, while the non-roster Tapia has forced his way into the conversation with a strong spring. Cora would like a left-handed hitting outfielder to take the final bench spot, which leaves the competition between Tapia and Jarren Duran.

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