How will Red Sox handle glut of outfielders?
Hanley is a lock for left field, but other two spots are up for grabs
With the start of Spring Training just a couple of weeks away, anticipation is building for the 2015 season. MLB.com is going around the horn to break down each area of the Red Sox, continuing with the outfield.
When it comes to the outfield, the Red Sox currently have a complicated-yet-intriguing puzzle. Boston has plenty of options, but no clear-cut way of how they all fit.
There is but one certainty at this point: Hanley Ramirez will be in left field on Opening Day, and he should be at that position nearly every day, provided his health holds up. Ramirez is expected to hit cleanup for the Red Sox.
Adding Ramirez's big bat to a lineup that struggled mightily in 2014 can only be considered a positive. The only unknown is how well Ramirez will patrol left field, given he's never played the position in the Major Leagues.
To ease his transition, Ramirez has already spent plenty of time this offseason taking fly balls. And he is slated to arrive at Spring Training a couple of weeks early to work with coach Arnie Beyeler. Given Ramirez's athleticism, and the fact that JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla., has a replica Green Monster, it stands to reason that he will be able to make the adjustment.
Now, for the rest of the outfield. In Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino and Allen Craig, Boston has four players who have the ability to be primary starters. There is also Daniel Nava, who has been an effective on-base presence as a platoon player.
The Red Sox are enthusiastic about how smooth Betts looked at the plate and in the field when given the chance in the second half of last season. He also projects rather nicely as a leadoff hitter.
"I can't really worry about it," said Betts. "That's [general manager] Ben [Cherington] and [manager] John [Farrell's] job. I just know I can go in ready to play and help the team out in any way."
Betts could play center or right -- but his athleticism seems to make him a better fit for the former.
Considering the Red Sox invested $72.5 million in Castillo, they will do their best to get him into the everyday mix, be it in center or right. After some ramping up in the Minor Leagues, Castillo got acclimated late in the 2014 season and played 10 games for Boston, belting two home runs in 36 at-bats.
It has been said that Castillo could emerge into a Victorino-type of player. But where does that leave Victorino, who still has one year left on his contract? Injuries left Victorino out of the mix for most of 2014, but he is confident that he's healthy coming off back surgery.
It could be that the Red Sox pick their spots with Victorino early, giving him a full chance to get healthy. The ultimate competitor, Victorino is going to want to play from the outset.
"I think a motivated Shane Victorino out to prove something is a very good thing, for him and the Red Sox," said Cherington. "So I'm just excited to see him."
Craig has become a bit of a forgotten man, not just because of the glut in the outfield, but because he's coming off the worst season of his career. Craig was acquired from the Cardinals last July 31, and Boston fans haven't seen how productive a player he can be when he is healthy and confident.
Farrell will try to get Craig some reps in other places besides the outfield when the opportunity presents itself, trying to mix him in at first base, designated hitter and perhaps even third base. The one comforting thing is that Craig vowed he won't make waves about his role.
"Obviously, I know I'm a good player and that I've been an everyday player. But I'm here to contribute in any capacity that the team needs me," Craig said. "I've always been a team guy, and that's just the way it is. I'm going to play as hard as I can and do the best that I can."
The Red Sox will take stock of what they have as camp evolves. If everyone stays healthy, Cherington will probably have to make a move or two.
"We'll see where we are at the end of Spring Training," Cherington said. "I think I'd rather have more possibilities than not enough, at least at this point. We'll see how it all comes together. There will certainly be an opportunity for everyone in Spring Training, and we'll see where we are at the end of March."