Not including the month of September due to Jacoby Ellsbury’s injury, last season you had a pretty good idea of who would be starting in the Red Sox outfield. What will happen this season? The expectation is that Shane Victorino will stay in right field and the center field spot vacated by Jacoby Ellsbury will go to Jackie Bradley. Then what was Grady Sizemore brought in for?
Well that question will certainly be answered in the upcoming spring training games. Sizemore lead off yesterday against Northeastern and was in left field. Bradley was in center batting ninth. Jonny Gomes started in right field, which he only did twice last season. With Shane Victorino and Daniel Nava not ready for game action yet, John Farrell was seeing what he had. Obviously the Red Sox do not want Gomes in the spacious right field of Fenway and Sizemore seems to fit better in left, if Bradley claims the center field job, as he throws left handed. Victorino should be ready for Opening Day and Nava is battling a small neck issue that is not worrisome yet.
If Sizemore is capable of playing a good left field and comes on strong will this take time away from Nava and Gomes? The platoon of Gomes and Nava worked out well last season, Gomes played against lefties while Nava played against righties. In the postseason Gomes took most of the left field duty and who could forget his home run in the World Series. Sizemore is obviously a wait and see type player as he has not played in a regular season in two years and whether he can hold up a whole season is a real question mark.
Besides Sizemore, who was brought in on a major league contract, the real question mark is whether Jackie Bradley will hold the center field job for the whole season? There is no question he is there defensively, he has great range and some say he is a better defender than his predecessor Ellsbury. His offense is the question mark. He will hit towards the bottom of the lineup so not much pressure will be placed on him to be the table setter that Ellsbury was, but he will still need to bring something to the table. Bradley did struggle in his cup of coffee with the club in April but had a good year in AAA with Pawtucket. The team seems set with Bradley in center but brought in Sizemore in case he struggles and hopes to strike gold with Sizemore off injury and if it doesn’t work out he is only making $750,000.
Also cannot forget that Mike Carp will need at bats off the bench in left field but will likely play more first base this season if Mike Napoli goes through a slump. Carp is also working out at third base this spring which will further his versatility. Last year Daniel Nava learned first base in spring training with the help of Brian Butterfield and Ryan Lavarnway is doing the same this year. Carp provided left handed pop off the Red Sox bench last season and rumors this winter were that he was a wanted man. Those rumors cooled and the Sox should be glad they kept him. If Middlebrooks improves Carp won’t have to play much third base, if he grasps the position but it will certainly help him get some playing time.
So with two bench outfield spots up for grabs who will claim them? My prediction for the start of the season is that Gomes and Nava will be a part of a platoon in left yet again. Bradley will start the year in center and Carp will be on the bench. I see Sizemore getting staying in Florida for extended spring training for the start of the season to get him more at bats, which will lead to an assignment to Pawtucket for in game action. He will contribute to the team this season but they will still start him off slow even though he has looked better than expected so far.