Editor's note: The Red Sox will break camp with 25 players heading north to Boston. We begin a daily look at each position on the club, from the projected starters to their backups. Our latest installment examines right field.
The other outfielder
J.D. Drew was the last position player to show his face at the Red Sox player development complex late last week. By around noon on Saturday, he had made his presence felt. In a big way.
With fans and media members mingling near the clubhouse, Drew, hitting with most of the regulars on an adjacent field, rocketed a ball off of the facing of the clubhouse, far beyond the 330-foot sign down the right-field line of the field. Enterprising reporters walked it off and estimated Drew's blast, which narrowly missed reaching the roof, at 450 feet, or more.
Sure, it's only batting practice on Feb. 19, but the shot had people turning their heads toward Drew, which hasn't been a common act this offseason. With the signing of Carl Crawford and the return of Jacoby Ellsbury, Drew has been somewhat of a forgotten man in the Red Sox outfield, with the exception of a WEEI.com interview in which he said his left hamstring was giving him some problems.
It was nice to see some positive attention for the senior member of the bunch, who is entering the last year of his contract with the Red Sox. He said not long before that first big batting practice session that the hamstring feels fine and he's ready to try to improve upon 2010.
"It was a long process through the offseason to get that thing feeling better, but it seems like it's finally turned the corner," Drew said.
Drew, now 35, had his lowest average (.255) and OPS (.793) since 2002 last year. He did manage 22 home runs and 68 RBIs — tied for his high with the Red Sox — but had his share of struggles. The hamstring issue first popped up midseason and never was quite right. Lefties limited Drew to a .208 mark.
It is that last item that has Drew knowing he will get some days off from time to time. Backup Mike Cameron owned a 1.128 OPS vs. lefties in 2010 (.866 for his career), while Drew was at .611. It doesn't take a guy with 11 years of managerial experience, like Terry Francona, to see the merit of a time-sharing situation. Drew is the starter, but Cameron (and Darnell McDonald, who also hits lefties well) will get plenty of time in right.
Drew, for one, feels that the flexibility in the outfield will help out everyone involved.
"I think [Cameron] is going to play a huge role out there," Drew said. "His ability to play all over and do the things he does is going to be huge. I completely understand that and I think those are things that every guy's going to need from time to time. For him to fill in for [Ellsbury] or Crawford or me will be huge.
"[Francona] been real good about that in the past, buying days when we need them."
Somewhat lost in the cavalcade of injuries last year was the fact that Drew played through pain many times. With his fellow outfielders down for the count, he appeared more than all but three other players on the team, one of them being a designated hitter. His numbers surely suffered a tad because of it.
The last time Drew had a "down" year in a Red Sox uniform, he rebounded to become an All-Star. That might be a stretch for 2011, but at least he will be utilized in a way that should make his production increase. Drew remains a fantastic defensive right fielder, and he will turn some heads with an improvement offensively. In a very minor way, he already has.
Cameron has been told by Francona that he will get "a lot" of repetitions in right field this spring. The last time Cameron played right field was in 2005, when he had that awful collision with fellow New York Met Carlos Beltran. Cameron called that a "learning experience" and doesn't seem to be bothered by the idea of playing the position again.
McDonald got into 34 games (20 starts) in right field last year.
If all else fails
There is a pretty good fall-back plan in the system. His name is Ryan Kalish and he very well could be the starting right fielder for the Red Sox in 2012. Much can change before then, but he would be a wonderful fit out there. The only issue with handing him the keys right now is that the organization wants to give him a little more time to develop at the Triple-A level.