With Jacoby Ellsbury off to the evil empire, the Boston Red Sox will have a void to fill left by the speedy center fielder.
The Red Sox have had a steady center fielder on their squad for most of the 2000s, dating back to Johnny Damon, who also left for the Bronx. Coco Crisp was the next to take over, but was overshadowed in the 2007 playoffs by the up-and-coming Ellsbury, who helped Boston win its first of two World Series with him patrolling center.
With Jacoby gone, the next Boston center fielder appears that he may be ready to take over the starting job. Jackie Bradley Jr. surprised everyone last spring training by batting .419 and making the big leagues right out of camp, but was unable to produce on a regular basis at the MLB level, batting only .189 in 37 games. Bradley, who will turn 24 in April, has all the tools Ellsbury has (disregarding Ellsbury’s 32 HR outburst in 2011) and can hopefully stay healthier than Ellsbury could in the past. Bradley is #51 on Keith Law’s top 100 prospect list, which is down from #40 last year, but seeing regular playing time should give him a boost in confidence and allow him to get into a groove.
Shane Victorino will be back in right field, coming off a year in which he hit .294 with 15 home runs in 122 games. The 33-year-old had a slew of injuries that had him on and off the field and kept him from hitting from the right side of the plate for the latter part of the season, but solidified a spot in Red Sox nation with his grand slam in the ALCS and bases clearing double in the World Series clinching game 6. The Flyin’ Hawaiian may have lost a step on the base paths, but still provides excellent defense in right, which he proved by winning his fourth gold glove last season.
Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, and Mike Carp will all see time guarding the green monster in left, with Nava most likely getting the majority of the starts. Nava can play all three outfield spots if need be, while Gomes and Carp are less versatile. Nava put up his best season so far, batting .303 with a .385 obp; the best numbers of the trio. Together, the three combined for 34 home runs and 161 RBIs while splitting time between the outfield, as well as some occasional 1B starts for Carp and Nava. All three are capable of 10-15 home runs and I believe that Carp’s power numbers could spike if he sees a bit more regular playing time.
The wild card of the gang is the newest acquisition, Grady Sizemore. The surprise signing which took place recently may end up being forgotten in a few months. However, if Sizemore is able to show some of the skills that he had with Cleveland in his prime, he could end up being a key piece of this roster. Considering there is not much immediate help down on the farm if any outfielders get hurt, Sizemore may get a chance to prove himself. Although he hasn’t played a game in over two years and could potentially be wearing quite a thick coat of rust, he was once a premier outfielder and 30-30 talent for the Indians. Like I said, we may never get a chance to see him play, but this signing was a low risk with a potentially high reward.
Although the Sox outfield may be slightly less impressive on paper than it was last season, there is no reason to believe that they aren’t capable of putting up similar production. Bradley has plenty of upside and if he is able to hit the ball to the opposite field to utilize the monster, something Jacoby was not great at, he could be a very successful hitter at Fenway. While Grady Sizemore was not exactly that big free agent name Sox fans were looking for, writers may want to be ready to cast him as their vote for Comeback Player of the Year if he shows promise in Fort Myers.