BOSTON – Admit it: A year ago, you knew almost nothing about Pedro Ciriaco.
Join the club.
The Red Sox had only recently signed Ciriaco to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training, where he arrived as arguably the most anonymous player in the clubhouse. A rail-thin infielder with 31 games of major league experience for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he was a long shot, at best, to make the team.
But by the end of camp, there was Ciriaco, batting .419 with seven doubles and eight stolen bases in 26 exhibition games, the latest player to emerge from the obscurity of a non-roster invitation and unexpectedly push for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Who will it be this year?
While most of our attention in spring training will focus on Jon Lester’s attempt to pitch like an ace again, the health of David Ortiz’ right Achilles, Mike Napoli’s troublesome hips and the coalescence of an overhauled roster under new manager John Farrell, several unexpected story lines are bound to develop, too.
Here, then, are five players worth watching for the next two months in Fort Myers:
• Rubby De La Rosa, RHP
It seems predestined that the 23-year-old will make an impact on the Red Sox.
Acquired as part of the August megatrade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, De La Rosa threw a fastball that reached upward of 100 mph before Tommy John elbow surgery in 2011. Healthy again, he’s eager to make up for lost time with his new team.
But here’s the best part: De La Rosa’s grandmother used to be Pedro Martinez’ nanny. And years later, guess who taught De La Rosa to throw a changeup?
“If he stays healthy,” Martinez said, “that kid can surprise anybody.”
We’ll take Pedro’s word for it.
• Steven Wright, RHP
Six months ago, the Red Sox acquired a 28-year-old knuckleballer who has kicked around the minors long enough that he no longer wears the “prospect” label.
We’re not saying Wright is the second coming of Tim Wakefield, but then, who actually predicted Wakefield’s success? And although the Sox haven’t enlisted Wakefield as a special assistant — like Martinez and Jason Varitek — it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make the drive from his Florida home to JetBlue Park to offer Wright a few pointers.
• Jose Iglesias, SS
His chances of being the Opening Day shortstop were erased when the Sox signed free agent Stephen Drew. And for the first time in three years, Iglesias won’t even be the most talked-about shortstop prospect in camp.
Xander Bogaerts, come on down.
Nevertheless, it’s an important spring for Iglesias, whose struggle at the plate (.313 on-base percentage in the minors) has outweighed even his defensive brilliance. Although he’s only 23, the time is near to either show improvement or fade away.
• Jackie Bradley Jr., OF
The plan called for third baseman Will Middlebrooks to spend most of last year at Triple A. But an injury to Kevin Youkilis accelerated the timetable, and Middlebrooks got called up in May.
Bradley may be similarly ahead of schedule.
Aside from his exceeding talent, the 22-year-old is roundly hailed by Red Sox talent evaluators for his maturity. From his .430 on-base percentage in the minors last season to his pregame routine of aggressively shagging fly balls, Bradley has impressed at every level.
As he heads to his first major league camp, he may prove he’s ready for the big leagues sooner than anyone expects.
• Brock Holt, INF
New closer Joel Hanrahan was the primary player acquired in a December trade with the Pirates, but the Sox view Holt as more than merely a throw-in.
At 24, Holt is only three months older than Middlebrooks. A left-handed hitter with doubles power, Holt made his major league debut last September. And although he was a shortstop in the minor leagues, he also can play second base, a valuable skill considering Dustin Pedroia has spent time on the disabled list in two of the past three seasons.
Will Holt be this year’s Ciriaco?
It seems like there always is one.