After the pitching staff and the outfield, the Boston Red Sox' middle infield has the most question marks heading into the 2022 season.
Xander Bogaerts is expected to be the team's starting shortstop again next year, but his future at the position is uncertain. The three-time All-Star can opt out of his Red Sox contract after the 2022 campaign. And even if he stays in Boston, Bogaerts may have to consider a switch to second base sooner rather than later.
Speaking of second base, that spot would belong to either Christian Arroyo or Kiké Hernandez -- unless Hernandez sticks in the outfield -- next season. There's still a chance the Red Sox add another middle infielder this winter, however, with slugger Trevor Story being the latest star free agent to reportedly pique Boston's interest.
Looking beyond 2022, the Red Sox have a handful of promising middle infielders in the system. They're unlikely to make an impact on the major league club any time soon, but the future seems bright.
Here's a closer look at Boston's middle infield situation for 2022 as well as the distant future.
2021 stats: .295/.370/.493, 23 HR, 79 RBI (144 games)
Contract status: Signed six-year, $120 million contract in April 2019. Player option for 2023 season
Outlook for 2022: Bogaerts is coming off his third All-Star season and barring any surprises, he'll be Boston's shortstop again in 2022. But as his range continues to decline, there's been some talk about the 29-year-old moving over to second base in the not-so-distant future.
That may come into play next offseason when Bogaerts can opt out of his Red Sox contract and become an unrestricted free agent. The two-time World Series champion reportedly plans on declining his player option but hopes to finish his career with Boston. If he isn't open to switching positions, that could make signing him to an extension or re-signing him in the offseason complicated.
For now, Bogaerts is set to be a key contributor again in his ninth year with the Red Sox. There's a real chance it's his final one.
2021 stats: .262/.324/.445, 6 HR, 25 RBI (57 games)
Contract status: One year, $581,500. Arbitration-eligible through 2024
Outlook for 2022: Arroyo was a pleasant surprise in 2021 as the team's primary second baseman. At least, when he was able to take the field. The 2013 first-round draft pick played in only 57 games due to a myriad of injuries.
The Red Sox could look to upgrade at second base heading into 2022. If they do that, whether it be via trade or free agency, Arroyo will find himself either in a bench role or off the roster by Opening Day. Utility man Kiké Hernandez could take over at second as well depending on how the team approaches its outfield situation with Jackie Bradley Jr. now back in the mix.
2021 stats: .190/.272/.333, 14 HR, 39 RBI (99 games with Triple-A Worcester)
Contract status: Signed $1.8 million contract after 2017 MLB Draft
Outlook for 2022: Downs will spend most of 2022 attempting to prove that his rough 2021 campaign in Worcester was just an off year. The top middle infield prospect, who was acquired in the 2020 Mookie Betts trade, struggled mightily at the plate and fell to No. 6 on Baseball America's Red Sox prospect rankings.
If Downs turns it around and tears it up in Triple-A, perhaps we'll see the 23-year-old make his MLB debut at some point late in the 2022 season. That appears to be a long shot at this point, however.
2021 stats: .325/.412/.516, 14 HR, 62 RBI (97 games between Low-A Salem and High-A Greenville)
Contract status: Signed $2.7 million contract after 2020 MLB Draft
Outlook for 2022: Yorke's surprise performance at the plate earned him Red Sox Minor League Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2021. The 2020 first-round pick has surged all the way to No. 4 in Baseball America's Sox prospect rankings as a result.
Only 19 years old, Yorke still has a ways to go before he reaches The Show. He'll look to be promoted to Double-A in 2022 and prove his torrid pace in 2021 is sustainable at the higher levels. His MLB ETA seems to be in 2024/2025.
2021 stats: .275/.377/.440, 3 HR, 17 RBI (26 games with FCL Red Sox)
Contract status: Signed $6.64 million contract after 2021 MLB Draft
Outlook for 2022: Widely expected to be the first overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, Mayer fell in Boston's lap at No. 4. The left-handed-hitting shortstop is such a coveted prospect that he's already taken over slugging first baseman Triston Casas for the top spot in Baseball America's rankings.
With his smooth glove and steady bat, Mayer's consistent MLB comps have been veteran shortstops Brandon Crawford and Corey Seager. The soon-to-be 19-year-old put that skill set on display with the Florida Complex League Red Sox and didn't miss a beat in his first taste of pro ball. He'll look to rise up the Sox' minor league system in 2022 and could find himself in the majors as early as 2024 if all goes according to plan.