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With 10 days to go, what do we know?

An analysis of Red Sox position players as spring training winds down

FT. MYERS, Fla. -- Knowing that spring performance is not nearly as important as past regular season performances, here’s a quick evaluation and report card on the 2005 Red Sox position players based on their Grapefruit League games to date:

1B, Kevin Millar: He was the fans’ choice, and team’s choice, to stay in Boston over ball-hog Doug Mientkiewicz, who was traded to the Mets. Millar is an integral part of the idiot fringe, important friend of Manny Ramirez, and new buddy of David Wells. Not known for his defense at first, he showed up a little heavy this spring, attributing it to the addition of muscle from a vigorous offseason weight training program. So far the extra weight hasn’t paid off. Millar has been slow to take the extra base when given the opportunity this spring, and the added muscle hasn’t given him any more strength at the plate. In 29 spring at-bats, Millar has just two extra-base hits and one RBI (a base hit against Cincy this past Tuesday night), and is batting .241.

Spring grade: C-

2B, Mark Bellhorn: Bellhorn is known as a guy who typically either strikes out (10 times in 31 at-bats this spring) or walks (5 in 31). While he won’t be confused with Pokey Reese, he has made some nice plays in the field this spring. But so far, Bellhorn has had only one breakout game at the plate against the Devil Rays in St. Pete, where he hit two RBI doubles after working the count. If Bellhorn can’t improve his 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, or his .161 spring average (just 5 hits and 8 total bases), look for the surprising Ramon Vazquez to get a few chances to start at second base this season.

Spring grade: D

SS, Edgar Renteria: This new edition is the four-year bridge between Nomar Garciaparra and Hanley Ramirez. He comes to us with a solid clubhouse reputation, a steady glove, and ever-improving bat. So far this spring he has been an enigma. While not making an error, and playing steady at short, Edgar has been disappointing at the plate with just one RBI on a solo home run and two doubles in 32 at-bats (.219 average). Color me concerned about Renteria’s adjustment into the American League as it looks like he’ll get off to a slow start at the plate. Clubhouse intangibles aside, if you’ve got him on your fantasy team (as our sports editor does), you may want to consider trading him for the Cubs’ hot-hitting Nomar Garciaparra if you can.

Spring grade: C

3B, Bill Mueller: Steady Bill Mueller, like Jason Varitek, is a true dirt dog on this team. He even backed out of participating in the “Queer Eye” makeover as he continues to bounce back from surgery. All the guy does is play, but you have to be concerned about his troublesome knee and grateful that Kevin Youkilis is ready to step in if needed. Mueller has only had 18 at-bats this spring but has hit the ball hard on several occasions and played a solid third base (outside of one error on a handcuffed hopper) in his limited time in the field. He’s batting .333 with two doubles and a home run in just eight games. Considering he’s rushing himself back to be ready for Opening Day, you have to be pleased with his progress to date.

Spring grade: B+

C, Jason Varitek: ‘Tek is the new captain of the Red Sox, a role he’s played for a couple of years even though he never had the “C” on his uniform. He was universally named by his teammates (especially the pitching staff) the most important free agent the Sox needed to retain last season. Because he's been working with Schilling and platooning with Mirabelli and the young guys, Varitek has only 21 at-bats in 11 games this March and his five hits have resulted in a .238 average. He has been rock solid behind the plate and working with the new pitchers, but like his partner Doug Mirabelli, he needs to keep working at stopping the opposing speedsters from stealing bases at will.

Spring grade: B

LF, Manny Ramirez: He picked up where he left off as the World Series MVP this spring. He’s batting .400 in 30 at-bats with a .767 slugging percentage. He’s second behind David Ortiz in total bases with 23 and has been spraying line drive rockets all over the field of late. More surprisingly, Manny has been playing an above average outfield, making some tough catches, tracking down some gap shots quickly, while not making an error on the spring. And Manny remains one of the most popular players with the fans, and always looks like he’s having fun on the field and with his fans, a far cry from the guy who wanted to tear up his check and go back to Cleveland just a couple of years ago.

Spring grade: A

CF, Johnny Damon: The “Queer Eye” appearance, the book, movie star aspirations ... there isn’t much more room on the married man’s plate these days. Recently plagued by cellulitis, Johnny pulled up lame on Wednesday with cramps. It’s been a busy spring for the rock star even though he’s only played in eight games to date. In 20 at-bats Johnny has a double as his only extra base hit to go with six total bases and a .250 average. In the field, he’s shown his usual ability to track down most anything that stays in the park. He’s crashed into the wall going after balls, and even showed an accurate, albeit not strong, arm in throwing out Rafael Palmeiro at the plate on Wednesday.

Spring grade: B

RF, Trot Nixon: Trot’s back, and his back problems seem long gone and hard to find. Unfortunately, after a hot start to the spring, Trot was stricken with a case of the flu, which slowed his momentum. In 24 at-bats Trot is slugging .583 with a couple of home runs and a double in his seven hits and a .292 average. He’s also been a patient presence at the plate with six walks. More importantly, Nixon’s played an outstanding right field, making a remarkable diving catch in right center in one spring game and an over-the-wall grab of a home run in another. He’s playing the outfield with abandon, just like the old days. What a difference a full season of Trot Nixon will make to this team if he can stay healthy.

Spring grade: A

DH/1B David Ortiz: Despite a nagging sore shoulder, Big Papi just keeps getting better with age. He has been all-world this spring, leading the team with a .848 slugging percentage, 28 total bases, five home runs, and 12 RBI in 33 plate appearances. He’s even looked pretty good at first base in limited field action, and is having a ball with Manny, Renteria, and the rest of the guys. When the Sox have needed a big hit, Big Papi has been the guy to deliver on an offensive unit that has been underperforming all spring.

Spring grade: A+

The major reserves

Outfield, Jay Payton: While Payton has cooled down of late after his red-hot start to spring, he continues to lead the team with a .438 batting average in 32 plate appearances. He’s scored seven runs, trailing only David Ortiz, while his 14 hits also lead the Sox. If any of the outfielders goes down with injury, or needs a day off for any Hollywood appearances, Payton will make Fenway fans forget about Gabe Kapler and Dave Roberts with his both his bat and his hustle. He’s a better center fielder than right fielder, and has had a little trouble hanging onto balls that he’s been able to track down.

Spring grade: A

3B/1B, Kevin Youkilis: Youk leads the team with 37 at-bats on the spring. While he has played most of his time at third, he’s seen some action at first base as well. He’s made a couple of errors but has been primarily been steady at third base. Youk has six RBIs with 10 hits and a .270 average this spring.

Spring grade: B+

2B, Ramon Vazquez: Like Payton, Vazquez has been a pleasant surprise this spring. Two of his eight hits have been home runs, resulting in a .467 slugging percentage (OK, one of the long balls may have been wind-blown against the Cards). He’s appeared in 14 games and has committed one error, has one stolen base, and has made a handful of nice plays around the bag. More than just a defensive replacement for Mark Bellhorn, look for Vazquez to get an opportunity to start every now and then if Bellhorn struggles either at the plate or in the field.

Spring grade: B+

Outfield, George Lombard: The man with the most interesting background on the team keeps fighting to make the major league roster. Lombard’s biggest asset has been his speed, leading the team with three stolen bases. He’s also been able to stay out of double plays by using his running back wheels to hustle up the first base line on a couple of occasions. He’s appeared in a team-high 17 games and has a triple among his seven hits and .269 average. Even with Adam Hyzdu off to San Diego, it remains to be seen whether Lombard will survive as the team’s fifth outfielder this season, but his speed is needed after the loss of Dave Roberts.

Spring grade: B-

1B, Dave McCarty: With Roberto Petagine down with injury, McCarty may be the last man standing for the final roster spot, as he has played some outfield this spring in addition to filling in at first base. McCarty has just four singles in 25 at-bats for a .160 average. He also has six walks and seven strikeouts and, hey, he can pitch if needed.

Spring grade: C-

SS, Hanley Ramirez: On a younger team, Hanley Ramirez may be starting at shortstop in the major leagues right now. He had a terrific spring, slugging .500 with a .389 average in just 18 at-bats. He always seemed to be in the center of the rallies that the young guys started late in a couple of games. And he made all the routine plays at short with ease and a steady glove while displaying some serious deep-in-the-hole range, most memorable was his catch-step-and-throw triple play in a win over the Phillies on the first weekend of Grapefruit League action. In addition to fitting in nicely with the veterans on the team, the athletic Ramirez looked to be a mentor to the other young guys in the dugout in his time here, signs that his maturity issues are behind him and he has the makings for being a leader on this team for years to come -- when his time comes.

Spring grade: A

We’ll take a look at the pitching staff tomorrow.

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