Editor’s note: Red Sox pitchers and catchers report to spring training Friday. NESN.com will analyze Boston’s roster in four installments (outfield, infield, bullpen, starting rotation) in the days leading up to the players’ arrival.
The Boston Red Sox have a boatload of outfielders at their disposal.
The Red Sox?s outfield production was among the worst in Major League Baseball in 2014, particularly early in the year, when the unit reached historic lows. Boston thus prioritized solidifying the outfield before and after last season?s non-waiver trade deadline, in turn creating a fascinating storyline.
The Red Sox?s offseason maneuvering has done little to iron things out, as Boston is prepared to enter spring training with a logjam despite trading outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to land pitcher Rick Porcello from the Detroit Tigers. The Red Sox have an obvious area of depth from which to deal if they decide to dive back into the trade market, but it looks like they?ll enter camp with an eye toward assessing the current group.
Whose job(s) to lose?
Starters: Hanley Ramirez (left field), Rusney Castillo (center field), Mookie Betts (right field)
Bench: Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava
Hanley Ramirez, one of the offseason?s most surprising free-agent signings, essentially replaces Cespedes. Ramirez has never played the outfield in his 10-year career, but the Red Sox couldn?t pass on the opportunity to boost their offense. Ramirez will patrol the territory directly in front of the Green Monster.
The most interesting question centers on Shane Victorino?s role in relation to those assumed by Rusney Castillo and Mookie Betts. Victorino was one of Boston?s most valuable players in 2013, especially defensively, before injuries limited him to 30 major league games in 2014. If healthy, Victorino should contribute. The 34-year-old, who is entering the final year of a three-year contract, just might need to do so off the bench.
Castillo and Betts are two relatively unknown quantities, but their respective ceilings should give them the inside track on starting gigs. The Red Sox certainly didn?t give Castillo a seven-year, $72.5 million contract to sit on the bench several times a week. And Betts, while only 22, showed enough last season to warrant consideration as Boston?s leadoff hitter to open 2015, provided he has a productive spring.
That leaves Allen Craig and Daniel Nava to battle for the final outfield bench spot, assuming Jackie Bradley Jr. and Bryce Brentz begin the season at Triple-A Pawtucket. Craig, an All-Star in 2013, has more upside. But Nava, a switch-hitter, is a better fit given his previous success in a bench role and his production from the left side of the plate.
In the mix
Allen Craig, Jackie Bradley Jr., Bryce Brentz, Quintin Berry
Craig has said all the right things, but the 30-year-old is in a unique spot. The Red Sox could include him in a package to address another area before Opening Day, though his remaining contract (owed $26.5 million over the next three seasons) and his poor 2014 limit his trade value.
Bradley is a stud defensively but a work in progress offensively. Brentz has immense power and probably would compete for a major league role if not for Boston?s excellent depth. Berry is a veteran with big league experience and excellent speed who could enter the picture down the stretch, though the Red Sox would need to clear a spot on the 40-man roster before calling him up.
Also, don?t forget utility man Brock Holt — a human Swiss Army knife — can play the outfield, too.
Prospects to watch
Bradley, Brentz, Henry Ramos, Manuel Margot
Bradley and Brentz will be just a phone call away if anything happens in the way of injuries, etc. They?ll likely join The Show at some point in 2015.
Ramos was having a breakout 2014 at Double-A Portland before a broken leg derailed his season. The switch-hitting outfielder hit .326 with two homers, 23 RBIs and a .799 OPS in 48 games with the Sea Dogs. Ramos could take the next step during his age 23 season and propel up the prospect rankings.
Margot is the Red Sox?s No. 3 prospect, according to SoxProspects.com. He trails only Blake Swihart and Henry Owens, both of whom are positioned to debut in 2015. Margot, who was named the organization?s Minor League Baserunner of the Year, has impressive tools that make him worth monitoring as he looks to advance beyond Single-A this season.
Simply put, the Red Sox?s outfield wasn?t good last season despite a few positive developments, including Betts? emergence, Holt?s surprising play and Nava?s second-half rebound. Boston?s outfield finished with a 7.4 WAR collectively — good for 15th in the majors — and the situation became fluid due to a lack of production.
Now the Red Sox?s outfield is primed for a major turnaround based the talent within the group. Ramirez is an All-Star-caliber player when healthy, Castillo looked dynamic in his first taste of the majors and Betts has star potential.
There are some red flags defensively, with both Ramirez and Betts having limited experience in the outfield. But offensively, the outfield could be a strength in 2015.
A little competition never hurt.
Thumbnail photo via Joy R. Absalon/USA TODAY Sports Images