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Last year some of the biggest stories on the field for the Red Sox involved the outfield, specifically due to the offseason acquisition of Carl Crawford and the spectacular comeback season for Jacoby Ellsbury. Currently there are seven outfielders on the 40-man roster, all of whom will likely make an impact on the team at large in the 2012 season.
One of the largest disappointments in the history of the Red Sox, Crawford did not fit in Boston as former general manager Theo Epstein had foreseen upon signing him to a seven-year, $142 million contract. In his years before Boston, Crawford was a speed demon for the rival Tampa Bay Rays, consistently batting close to .300 and at the top of the leader board in stolen bases every year. However with Boston, Crawford couldn’t make the necessary adjustments offensively posting just a .255 average, with only 18 steals mostly due to not getting on base.
Another problem was his inability to settle into a concrete spot in the lineup, batting at the top and bottom throughout the season. Never truly being comfortable and getting into a rhythm in a new city where the lights are much brighter certainly threw him off his game. But that doesn’t mean his fate as a member of the Boston Red Sox is sealed by any measure.
It’s hard to imagine Crawford performing as poorly as he did last season, though this offseason doesn’t offer much hope. A nagging wrist injury might keep him off the field come Opening Day, to which the other outfielders on the roster will need to step up their game in his absence, until he returns to being the everyday left fielder.
The man who effectively did it all for the Red Sox in 2011 should be primed for another great season this year. Ellsbury fell just short of the American League MVP honors but made an impact on the league nonetheless. He batted .321 and stole 39 bases, but most surprisingly found a significant power stroke.
At the top of the Boston order Ellsbury hit 32 home runs and drove in 105 runs, while scoring 119 himself. He was certainly the best all around offensive player in the league by many standards. It should be interesting to see how new manager Bobby Valentine utilizes him the lineup. He’s already said things will be different and he’ll be playing with the order, and considering Ellsbury’s power it wouldn’t be absurd to consider moving him to bat third. Either way it will be fun to see him penciled in everyday next year as the starting center fielder for the Red Sox.
Darnell McDonald was huge for the Red Sox when they dealt with their injury plagued 2010 season, as he effectively appeared out of no where and contributed by playing in 117 games. Last year he followed it up with a weaker performance, which could partially be due to less playing time. However now that former right fielder J.D. Drew is gone, the Red Sox will need to utilize McDonald and other right field options throughout the season. He brings solid defense and a right handed bat to the team and should see a good amount of playing time.
Boston signed Cody Ross as a free agent this winter in what I saw as a great signing. He comes relatively cheap, signing for one season at $3 million. He played primarily in left field for San Francisco last year but has consistently played some time throughout his career in right field. At the beginning of the season, I expect the Sox to use him in left until Crawford returns, but after that he could settle in as the starting right fielder.
When Boston traded for Oakland closer Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney came along for the ride to join the Sox outfield. In 2009 and 2010 he hit over .290 with the Athletics, but tailed off last year, batting .265 in 108 games. Similarly to Ross, he played more left than right field, and could substitute in for Crawford at the beginning of the season.
When the 22-year old Ryan Kalish played 53 games with the Red Sox in 2010, there was great hope for a major success story in the works. He showed the type of stuff as a youngster that could be the making of a star, but first he needs to get back on the field. Neck surgery kept him away from baseball last year for the most part, but he could make some notable appearances this season, especially with the need for help in the corner outfield spots. If he is healthy and playing at a high level, he’s an easy candidate to get some playing time in right field.
Not exactly the most buzzed-about outfielder on the Boston roster, Che-Hsuan Lin could see some action in center field because of his terrific defensive ability. While he won’t be bringing ‘Linsanity’ to Boston, he’s still someone to keep an eye on should there be any injuries in spring training.
No matter how things play out the Red Sox have a good strength in depth with regards to their outfielders. Sweeney and Ross would be starters for most teams and will likely platoon the outfield, while Kalish has all the potential in the world to be ready to make an impact this season. And the entire group is led by Ellsbury, who should come close to repeating his 2011 performance again this year.