Jacoby Ellsbury May Ease Back Into Lineup as No. 9 Hitter After Injury-Plagued 2010

The Tampa Bay Rays used to have the luxury of a pair of speedy outfielders who could run down deep drives on defense and swipe bases at will on offense.

With Carl Crawford‘s move from Tampa to Boston, however, the Red Sox have stolen that advantage from their rivals.

As a result, Terry Francona has had to shuffle both his outfield and his lineup. All of these moves, however, will do nothing but benefit the team.

What are your impressions of the new Red Sox outfield configuration?
–Brad, San Diego

Impressive. Over the years, we have watched the combination of B.J. Upton and Crawford man center and left in Tampa and it has always amazed me how few balls drop in between them. Now, we have created the same thing here in Boston for 2011. Last year, a lot was made of “run prevention.” This time around, you could make that argument that the speed in the outfield will achieve exactly that. You can also bring J.D. Drew into this conversation, because while he does not posses the speed of the other two, he always gets great jumps on balls and is a gifted outfielder.

J.D. Drew’s health is always a concern during the season. Are you worried about Drew’s production for 2011?
–Chuckie, Bridgeport, Conn.

Not really. I know he mentioned the hamstring issue that he has dealt with during the offseason and there always seems to be something that keeps him out some during the season, but you know what J.D. Drew is going to give you. He is going to be consistent — consistently out of the lineup, at times, but consistently productive when in the lineup. His numbers have spiked in contract years, which is exactly where we are in 2011.
 
Could Jason Varitek realistically play into his 40s and continue to be on the Red Sox?
–Gretchen, Worcester

In my opinion, absolutely. The only thing that could get in the way of that would be his knees. I really believe he is as finely tuned an athlete as you will find in the game, especially for his position. He is one of the game’s best back-up catchers, and plays a vital role in the development of the team’s pitchers and young catcher. Prior to his injury last year, his production in diminished playing time was outstanding. The less he played, the healthier he was and the better his production was — a good sign for longevity as a backup in the league.

While there have only been workouts and no games yet, what have you watched so far this spring?
–Lamar, Boston

In the early going, I’ve watched the hitters, as this is the one part of the year when you really see timing become a big factor. During the first few days of live BP, the hitters are a little off — you’ll see a lot of foul tips in the cage and late swings. That, however, changes and improves as Week 1 progresses. This year, I have spent a good amount of time watching the new teammates interacting around the cage. In Carl Crawford’s case, you can see how easy of a transition it is and how glad guys are to not have to worry about playing against him.

The lineup continues to be a daily topic. Is there any scenario in your estimation that Jacoby Ellsbury could start the year hitting ninth?
–T.J., Chicago

Yes. As we start the spring, I think it would be a reasonable assumption that he could. Terry Francona has dropped him down before to get him going before returning him to the top. If you take into consideration how little he played last year, that easing could occur again to begin the season. However, Francona has always said his best lineup has Ellsbury at the top of it.