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Red Sox 2010 Roster Preview: Left Field, Jacoby Ellsbury

Jacoby Ellsbury enters his fourth season with the Red Sox and the team hopes that he can further establish himself atop the lineup and provide strong defense in the field as well. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Roaming the outfield for the Red Sox are players with a lot of speed, leadership, and experience. But, can everyone avoid injuries? Health has been an issue for the Red Sox in recent years, especially if you look at who’s standing in right field.

Over the years, the Sox outfield has changed tremendously. Manny Ramirez is a couple years removed, Johnny Damon hasn’t been around since 2005, and Coco Crisp and Jason Bay never got fully comfortable in Boston. After this season, it’s looking like the outfield could be much different as well, but that is just how the business goes. Red Sox Nation will miss Bay and his power, but with the team’s new style of play there isn’t much need for home runs anyway.

Now the Red Sox have the perfect weapon standing atop the lineup in Jacoby Ellsbury. He fits in perfect for the defensive scheme the Sox are trying to implement this season, and it just happens that he is coming off one of his best offensive seasons of his young career. If the Red Sox want to play the role of the small ball/defensive team, then it will all have to start with Ellsbury at the top of the lineup. He will also need to make those Web Gems on a daily basis if he really wants that first Gold Glove.

Jacoby Ellsbury – LF

Arguably the fastest man to have ever put on a Red Sox uniform, Jacoby Ellsbury is back this season, but he has made a couple of changes: his position (he’s now in left field), and his uniform number (he switched to Jerry Remy’s No. 2). You’ll be quick to notice that he will be manning the left side of the outfield this year, while newcomer Mike Cameron will stay at his regular position in center. This move will not affect how he does offensively, but it could boost how he does defensively.

Defense

Ellsbury has been in the majors a couple of years now and it is known throughout the league that he doesn’t have the strongest arm (and who needs one when you’re one of the fastest guys in the league?), so a shift to left field could be beneficial. He will not have to make many long throws as the right and center fielders do but one thing he has to learn is “The Wall.” He is going to have to learn how to play balls off the Green Monster and play them well, because if he doesn’t, there will be a lot of angry fans at Fenway Park.

The focus this offseason was to improve defense and if Ellsbury can’t play the ball off the Monster, like we have seen some players on other teams, then there might be a problem. In his career, he has made many outstanding plays in the outfield and I expect the very same this season. Last year he even set the franchise record for games and chances without committing an error (232 games and 554 chances).

Offense

As for his offense, I think it will be very similar to last year, but there may be a dip in his stolen bases. He set the Red Sox record for stolen bases in a single season with 70, and he has also led the American League in steals for two straight years. In today’s game, it is not easy to steal 70 bases, so I look for him to swipe about 63-65 bags and maybe get caught seven or eight times during the season. His home run totals have been pretty consistent, as he hit nine in 2008 and then eight in 2009. I think he will hit about the same, but maybe a breakout year with 12 home runs will be in the mix.

His .301 average was fairly strong, but the Sox are going to need him on base more often this season because they took a step back offensively by letting Jason Bay go. I think he’ll hit .310 and secure himself atop the lineup and be that lead-off batter that the team so desperately needs. A total of 55-60 RBI’s will not be out of the question, while somewhere in the 90’s for runs scored won’t be either. His on-base-percentage will improve too, as it should be somewhere around .365.

At 26 years old, I think that Ellsbury is turning the corner and becoming the lead-off batter the organization envisioned him to be a couple of years ago. There were serious questions regarding whether or not he was a patient-enough batter to get on base, but last year, he really showed a huge improvement from 2008. If he is able to get on base and stay there, then there is always the possibility of a stolen base or two which greatly helps the Red Sox as they become a small-ball team.

The offense and the game all start off with Ellsbury and if the team is successful, then much recognition should be paid to him. What makes the Yankees offense so great is that they have someone like Derek Jeter atop their lineup who can consistently get over 200 hits a season and it all starts at the top. So, if the Red Sox really want to play small, defensive-oriented baseball, then Ellsbury will really need to step it up and put the offense on his shoulders in order for them to succeed.

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