Utility players are often the forgotten men on any baseball team. You rarely see them on the field, coming into games only as defensive replacements, as pinch hitters/runners, or to give a day off to a regular. Often AAAA level players – replacement level – they usually feature either a good glove or a good bat, rarely both. But sometimes teams are able to catch lightning in a bottle when a starter gets injured and a replacement is needed to play for a significant number of games.
Such was the case for the Red Sox in 2014 when various injuries gave Brock Holt his chance to show what he could do at the major league level as a super utility player. In 2015, Holt was named to the opening day roster and even made the All Star Team as a utility player.
No doubt the Red Sox envisioned Holt filling his role once again in 2017, but he has been on the shelf, and will be for the foreseeable future, with vertigo. Many have speculated that the condition was caused by the concussion he suffered in 2016.
With Brock Holt on the DL, the Red Sox have had to look elsewhere for a reliable utility player who does more good than harm on the field and at the plate. And it looks like they have found such a player in the person of Josh Rutledge. While he hasn’t played every position but catcher and pitcher (a la Holt), he has played all the infield positions save shortstop (the position he came up with in the Rockies organization) for the Red Sox this season. He’s played short in 127 games at the major league level, 126 with the Rockies and one with the Sox in 2016. The majority of his MLB experience over the past three seasons has been at second (47) and third (36).
Barring injury, Rutledge probably won’t get a chance to play outfield this season. The Sox have that covered with the quartet of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi, and Chris Young. However, if Rutledge does make an appearance in the outfield, he would be following in the footsteps of Holt, who made his outfield debut in MLB.
Another product of the SEC, Rutledge was drafted by the Rockies in 2010 out of the University of Alabama and was with the organization through the 2014 season. He played parts of 2012, 2013 and 2014 in Denver and was traded to the Angels after the season.
Rutledge has had two stints with the Red Sox. The first came when he was traded to Boston as part of the Shane Victorino deal in July of 2015. He played in 39 games with Boston and was DFA’d after the season and started the 2016 season in Pawtucket.
Rutledge declared as a free agent at the end of last season and elected to sign a minor league deal with the Rockies, but the Red Sox ended up reacquiring him in the Rule 5 Draft. Thus began his second stint as a Red Sox, and so far it is working out well for both Rutledge and the team.
While Rutledge will never hit for any power – he only has 20 homers in his entire major league career and 34 in the minors – he does provide a steady presence at the plate hitting .269/.352/.321 in 88 PAs this season while filling in for an injured Dustin Pedroia (12 games) and Pablo Sandoval (13 games).
With Pedroia on the DL, Rutledge has provided a steady – and at times very good – glove in the middle that the Sox miss with Pedroia out. And he can be the right-handed bat at 3B until Sandoval learns to play defense and hit the baseball again – If he ever does.
Will he become Holt v.2.0? Probably not. But he’s what the Red Sox need right now. Which is an insurance policy for Pedroia, Sandoval and Xander Bogaerts. With Sam Travis being sent down to Pawtucket to make room on the active roster for the return of the Laser Show, Josh also becomes the primary backup for first baseman Mitch Moreland.
After reaching base five times on Saturday night against the Detroit Tigers, maybe Rutledge 1.0 is enough.