Roster Roundup: Outfield

As we continue our reassessment of the Red Sox roster, we turn from the infield to the outfield. Unlike the infield, we don’t know who is going to play where. We don’t really even know who the starters are.

Let’s start with what we do know.

Hanley Ramirez is going to start in left field. It’s where he was signed to play. He can’t really be expected to play any of the other outfield positions. And oh yeah, he can hit the snot out of the ball. Aside from an injury that affected his 2011 and 2012, he has always been a much better than average hitter.

And sure, he’s thirty and he’s getting paid a ton of money, but he’s also one of those elite guys who got to the bigs at a very young age and is likely to be effective relatively longer than most.

In short, we don’t have to worry about left field for a while.

We can be pretty sure that Rusney Castillo is going to be starting somewhere. They didn’t pay him 7/70 to sit on the bench. It’s going to be right or center and I rather suspect it’s going to be center, but that depends a bit on who is playing right.

Which brings us to Shane Victorino and Mookie Betts.

My sense is that Shane Victorino is going to have a hard time staying healthy enough to play every day. Maybe that’s wrong. Victorino sure thinks it’s wrong and is coming to camp planning on being the starting right fielder. Good. I want him to think and act like he is going to go out and kick the shit out of everything.

But…he played 30 games in 2014, 53 in 2012, and 101 in 2011. Even in 2013 he only played 122. That looks like a guy whose body is starting to break down and since, when healthy, he still has the skills to be a tremendous asset, I want to take steps to make sure he’s healthy.

That means he’s the bench guy, Betts starts in right, Castillo in center, and Vic gives them each more time off than normal. Betts is still adjusting to the majors. It looks like he played about 150 games in 2014, but that was the first time he played more than 127.

Mostly, I think young guys are going to benefit from more time off, not just because they don’t play 162 in the minors, but because they need to slow the game down a little bit and time off to think should help that.

Also, Castillo hasn’t played a full season since I don’t even know when, and it stands to reason he could use a bit more time off than a normal guy.

I think we could plan on having Castillo and Betts each playing five days a week and Victorino playing four.

If the starters are Betts and Castillo, there’s some notion that Betts should play center and Castillo right because Castillo has the better arm. I think most of this sentiment is coming from the fact that Betts was moved off short because of his arm and I’m not sure it translates that well.

Regardless, if they decide Victorino is going to be the starter, he’ll go in right and Castillo in center with Betts going back to Pawtucket so he can play ever damn day.

And there are the bench options. Allen Craig is likely to be backing up left as well as first. At least, he is unless there is some way he can be slipped through waivers to Pawtucket.

But basically, the backup options other than Victorino are Allen Craig and Daniel Nava. They don’t need all three, and if Brock Holt is on the roster, the chances are decent that they’ll go with just Vic and one of Craig/Nava.

My guess is that the Sox would be best off going with Castillo and Betts with Vic and Craig. Going with Castillo and Vic with Craig and Nava would allow the team to keep more talent in the organization and that’s something they try to do.

Regardless, the team should be getting better than average offensive production from all outfield positions while having some decent depth.

It’s a good thing.

2013 Red Sox Preview: Outfield

The Red Sox are a team in transition and I don’t think there is any portion of the team that is more emblematic of that fact than the outfield.

The Red Sox have six outfielders on the 40-man roster, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonny Gomes, Alex Hassan, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, and Shane Victorino.

It’s not even hard to imagine a scenario where none of them are on the 40-man this time next year. It’s unlikely, just because it requires both Gomes and Victorino to be traded in the middle of contracts, but they’re the kind of guys who come and go. Hassan and Nava are just guys. They have their strengths and weaknesses but their strengths include the fact that they’re cheap, so you don’t have to worry about getting too much from them. Kalish has one option left, and he’s going to miss much of the season, so he’s going to enter next offseason as a guy with no option, and, seemingly, no ability to stay healthy.

And Ellsbury, of course, is expected to leave as a free agent.

That said, I think the Sox have done a decent job at maximizing their options for the 2013 season.

It starts with Jacoby Ellsbury. Two of his last three seasons have been absolute disasters and in the third, he finished second in the MVP voting. I have no idea what the Sox are going to get from him in 2013. If he’s healthy, he will likely be a player who has a lot of value at the trade deadline. Of course, that also means he’ll have a lot of value on the field at the trade deadline and the team will have to make a decision.

The Sox can make that decision on the merits of the season and whatever trade offers there might be, because Shane Victorino can play center just fine, especially when you consider that if the Sox are playing him there, Ellsbury is playing elsewhere, and the Sox chances of being competitive are significantly lower.

And, the Sox can make the decision on the merits because Jackie Bradley, Jr. looks like he could handle the major leagues now on defense, and isn’t that far away at the plate. Everyone’s expectation is that Ellsbury leaves as a free agent and Bradley takes over in 2014. Again, the presence of Victorino means they wouldn’t have to rush Bradley if he’s not ready at the start of 2014.

I’m convinced that this flexibility was a huge factor in the Sox signing Victorino in the first place.

For now, at least, Shane Victorino is the right fielder and he’ll probably do just fine. The lowest his OPS+ has been in his career is 91 and it looks like a hand injury is the only reason it hasn’t been over 100 for five straight years. He says it isn’t a problem, and if he is correct, I would expect him to be a solid contributor. That said, hand injuries can sometimes linger.

As it stands now, left field will be patrolled by some combination of Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava. Neither of them is anything special, but in a straight platoon, they could be very effective, as Nava sported a .797 OPS (OBP heavy) against right handed pitchers in 2012, while Gomes has an .894 OPS and .382 OPB against lefties in his career. For a team that struggled so much to simply get on base last season, a high OBP platoon from left, while not ideal, is a pretty decent plan C.

The bench will presumably include the off side of the platoon plus Ryan Sweeney, who isn’t much offensively, but can play a decent center.

The prospects for the future are intriguing.

It starts, of course, with Jackie Bradley, Jr. about whom, I have yet to see a report that doesn’t leave me drooling to see him in CF as soon as possible. What I read suggests that he is going to be an excellent all around defender with a strong arm and a bat that profiles as a leadoff hitter.

I don’t know what to think about Ryan Kalish. He has talent, but he can’t seem to stay on the field long enough to let it show. He’s going to miss most of 2013 so there is simply no way the Sox can go into 2014 with any expectation that he’ll be more than a part time contributor. Since he’s out of options after 2013, he’ll have to either make the roster or be exposed to other teams. I rather suspect that if he doesn’t make the roster, exposing him to other teams won’t be a worry.

Bryce Brentz is a guy who never seems to rank all that high as a prospect, based on the fact that he has some work to do at the plate, especially in regards to discipline. And yet, no matter where he goes, he seems to perform pretty well. Not excellently, mind you, but pretty well. If he has another .800+ OPS season, this time at AAA, it’s hard to imagine that he doesn’t come to camp in 2014 with a decent chance to make the big league team.

In an ideal world, Brentz would make some improvement at the plate, Kalish would finish 2013 strong, Bradley would continue to impress, and the Sox would come into 2014 looking for a way to fit them all onto the roster with Shane Victorino.