Bailey or Carter's dream will come true
One will win Red Sox's backup first baseman/outfielder job
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- In a matter of days, there is going be a moment to cherish for Jeff Bailey or Chris Carter, two veterans who have taken bus after bus along the Minor League trail and are now tantalizingly close to breaking camp with a Major League team for the first time.
The "Mark Kotsay spot" to be the backup first baseman/outfielder on the Red Sox remains up for grabs entering the final few days of camp. Kotsay, coming off back surgery, is expected to be activated around May 1.
Originally, it was a four-man derby, but Paul McAnulty was reassigned to the Minors a week ago and Brad Wilkerson -- the Major League veteran of the group -- cleaned out his locker a couple of days ago.
Though no official move has been made yet with Wilkerson, the Red Sox gave him a heads-up that he wasn't going to make the team, and the left-handed hitter might exercise the out clause in his contract before April 1. Though Wilkerson was perceived as the front-runner for the spot at the outset of camp, he struggled mightily at the plate, striking out 18 times in 42 at-bats and hitting .118.
"Defensively, we thought he did a really good job," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He had a tough time offensively, and we have a couple of guys in the organization that probably do it better. We have Bails and Carter, who are kind of fighting for the same spot -- they're already in the organization. We'll make a move from there."
Carter smashed his sixth homer of Spring Training on Sunday, a solo shot to right field against the Phillies' Joe Blanton in the second inning. Bailey has also swung the bat well, taking a .357 average into Sunday's contest.
Whichever player wins -- the right-handed-hitting Bailey or the left-handed-hitting Carter -- it will be a feel-good story.
Take the case of the 30-year-old Bailey, who has played 1,111 games in the Minor Leagues, debuting as a professional in 1997 and joining the Red Sox's organization in 2004. Bailey came up as a catcher, but had a mental block when it came to throwing, so he converted to a corner infielder/outfielder. The Red Sox have always liked his bat and his attitude.
Bailey has had some cameos with the Red Sox, playing 30 games and belting three homers.
"He's actually come a long way," said Francona. "He's worked hard this spring. He's so low key. It doesn't look like anything bothers him. Maybe that's part of what we love about him. He handles a lot. He gets called up, he gets sent down, he gets called up. We're not afraid to play him. The guys like him. He knows the staff trusts him. You kind of need guys like that. It's not probably the most glorious position to be in, but he handles it and he actually handles it pretty well."
So forgive Bailey if he might be a little on edge these days.
"There's a little bit of tension, I'm not going to lie," said Bailey, who entered Sunday's game with a homer and seven RBIs this spring. "I put a little more pressure on myself, which is usually not a good thing. What can you do? Just go out and try to do what you do every day."
What would it mean to be at Fenway Park for Opening Day on April 6?
"It would mean a lot," Bailey said. "Making the Boston Red Sox is a big deal."
It would be every bit as big to the 26-year-old Carter, who initially came to the Red Sox as the player to be named in the Wily Mo Pena deal with the Nationals in August 2007. Carter has a career Minor League average of .308 over 610 games.
"It's coming down to the wire," Carter said. "There's nothing I want more. It really could be there for me, and that's exciting."
Carter got a nine-game taste of the Major Leagues for Boston last year, hitting .333 with three RBIs.
While Bailey is laid back, Carter is the fiery type. He has been maniacal about his work all spring, dragging coaches with him to the backfield just about every morning so that he can work on his defense. In particular, Carter has tried to improve at first base.
[First-base coach Tim Bogar] and I have worked every day for at least an hour," Carter said. "I don't want it to be anything where I could have worked harder or done more. I don't want that to be an issue. When it's all said and done, I want it to be, 'Hey, I worked as hard as I could."'
Just as the outfield comes more naturally than first base for Carter, the opposite is true for Bailey.
"First base, I feel pretty comfortable right now. Outfield, still a little shaky," Bailey said. "I'm trying to find the little, small things that will make me relax out there. Get better routes. The mental side of it, where to throw, stuff like that, is not an issue. It's the athletic part, trying to get all that down. I think I have improved. First base, I actually feel really comfortable over there. I've done as much as I can do. We'll find out probably in the next few days."
Bailey and Carter spent nearly all of last season as teammates at Pawtucket.
"It's exciting," Carter said. "[Bailey's] a great guy and he deserves it. I really want it for sure, too. I hope it goes to me, but if he gets it, I'll be really happy."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.