From the outset of camp, it looked like Pedro Ciriaco had locked up Boston's utility man bench spot. But that didn’t stop Brock Holt from trying to win the job and make the organization think twice before sending him down to minors. The infielder apparently did a pretty good job too, as he made it to the last wave of cuts and was optioned to Triple-A on March 28.
“I know going in there, they told me I'd have a shot to make the team as a utility guy, and I was looking forward to that chance,” Holt said at media day for the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox on April 2.
“I went in there, and Ciriaco had a good camp as well, and he kind of established himself last year when he went up and did well. I knew going into it that it was kind of a long shot, but I'm happy to be here in Pawtucket, and I'm ready to get going and hopefully be back up there soon.”
That goal was nearly achieved before the minor-league season even began, as Holt was seen in the Red Sox locker room before Wednesday's game against the Yankees. He was likely there in case Dustin Pedroia's thumb injury in the opener proved worse than initially expected, as Holt made it to nearby Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for Pawtucket's Opening Night on Thursday.
Holt came over from the Pirates during this offseason in the deal headlined by closer Joel Hanrahan. The rumors were swirling before the deal, but Holt was just as surprised as anyone that he was included when the trade was finalized.
“I knew Hanrahan was getting dealt,” the 24-year-old said. “And I knew someone was probably going with him, but I had no idea my name was being tossed around. But when they told me, I was excited about the new opportunity, and I'm glad to be here.”
Meeting his Red Sox teammates was just one of the new experiences for Holt, the 24th-ranked prospect in the system according to SoxProspects.com, this spring.
“It was my first time being in big league camp,” said Holt. “I wasn't ever in big league camp with the Pirates. So to be in that atmosphere, around guys like that -- working with Pedroia and guys like that -- helped me out a lot. It gave me some confidence going into this year.”
The former ninth-round pick in 2009 is not a complete stranger to the major leagues, achieving relative success in 24 games with Pittsburgh last season. He began the 2012 season in Double-A, but after batting .322 there, then .432 in 24 Triple-A games, the small-statured infielder put up a line of .292/.329/.354 in 65 at-bats with the big league club.
As the numbers show, he’s a strong contact hitter and has decent plate discipline, though he lacks much pop, topping out at three home runs in his best season so far in minors. One National League scout referred to Holt as “hitterish,” explaining that he’s the kind of player that tends to show up in the box score with a couple hits and a walk on any given day. Holt, who is listed at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, also brings a reputation as the kind of “dirt dog” player that fans love.
Holt began his season with Pawtucket well in Thursday night’s Opener, going 2 for 4 with an RBI and a walk in a 10-inning victory over the Yankees’ affiliate. He batted leadoff and played shortstop, but don’t expect that to be his permanent position on the team. One of Holt’s strengths is his ability to play multiple positions at an average-to-better level. He’s played mostly second base and shortstop throughout his minor league career, the former being where scouts like his defense best, and he mixed in a new position this spring.
“I've been at short a lot of the time in the minor leagues, but I was at second a lot of the time this spring,” he said. “And I actually played a few games at third, and I hadn't done that before. So that was kind of a new experience, and it went well. As long as I'm in the lineup, it doesn't really matter where I'm at, just as long as I'm in there.”
“Between third, short, and second, he's going to get playing time,” said Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina, who is starting his first year with the team. “I know he's probably more comfortable playing short; he's played a lot of second base, but I think shortstop is his natural position. The big league team had him bouncing around up there during some camp games, and we'll see how it plays out.”
The lack of big league depth on the major league roster at the third base position has made it necessary for the team to investigate its options there. Right now, Ciriaco would be the main backup to Will Middlebrooks, but it’s not his strongest position. In fact, beyond Middlebrooks, Drew Sutton was the only other natural third baseman in camp this spring. For this reason, Holt saw some time at the hot corner, and will continue to do so with the PawSox.
“There's no doubt he's going to be seeing a lot of time on the left side of the infield,” said DiSarcina. “I think the transition going from second to short to third, it's difficult because you're bouncing around. We'll try to get him over [at third] as much as possible. Drew Sutton's going to be our third baseman, and we'll try to give him blows and get Brock over there. Get him used to the angles, and used to how quickly the ball gets on you down there. He's definitely got the arm strength to play third.”
Holt said the only goal he has for the season right now is to stay healthy. While some might be bitter about being sent down after feeling so close to making the team, Holt is taking it in stride, and not worried about the pressure of being just a call-up away from The Show.
“I'm just going to enjoy my time here and play the game like I'm capable of doing,” he said. “[If I] play my game, I think everything else will take care of itself.”