The Red Sox are ready to welcome the Oakland Athletics into Fenway Park Monday night, and with them their exciting Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes. The 26-year-old outfielder has gotten off to a quick start in the majors, hitting .253/.341/.494 for the Athletics in his first 91 major league trips to the plate.
During the past offseason, the Red Sox were one of the teams in need of a starting outfielder who took a look at Cespedes. While the Sox would eventually decide on a combination of Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross in right--a platoon which seems like it would be working very well right now were they not both on the field most nights, covering for other injuries--hitting coach Dave Magadan told WEEI's Rob Bradford that he remembers being impressed with what he saw in Cespedes.
"When we saw him it was kind of a controlled environment. He took batting practice. He did simulated games with players who weren't in camp with us. It was impressive because he hadn't really played against any kind of competition for a while, so for him to go out there and pretty much hold his own against guys he had never seen before, faced before was good.
"He probably had maybe 15 at-bats and five or six hits, hitting one home run and put on a pretty good show in batting practice. He can hit a ball a long way, especially at that field where the wind blows in it's hard to hit the ball out. He was driving balls to all parts of the field, out of the park."
So far, the Sox have no reason to regret passing on Cespedes. The Athletics paid a pretty hefty price--$36 million over four years--for the unproven outfielder, and while they've gotten their money's worth so far, the Sox have paid less for more in Sweeney and Ross.
Still, after a few years, that could be a very different story. Neither Sweeney nor Ross seem terribly likely to improve their production by much from where it is right now, while Cespedes could become much more than he is today. Only time will tell, however, and for now, the Sox are content to stand pat.
It's been a bit of a slow start for young Josh Reddick, who seems to be much the same player as he left, if perhaps without the BABIP-inflated average. 14 strikeouts, one walk, and a .289 OBP are perhaps on the extreme side of expectations, but still, he fits the profile.
Reddick has come alive of late, however, as the team has come back East for a 9-game road trip against the A.L. East. After finishing his last homestand with a 2-for-6 night against the White Sox, Reddick picked up five hits in twelve at bats against the Orioles, including his third homer of the season.
He's also struck out just four times in his last eight games, which is always a good sign for Reddick. He's never going to be a walk-heavy OBP guy, but if he can keep making contact then he can put enough balls in play and over the fence to keep his offensive numbers up. It's exactly the sort of thing you don't want to see if you're Clay Buchholz, who's been pitching to contact and, as of this year, homers. Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard, on the other hand, might like their chances against someone who will swing at sliders and curveballs outside the zone.
Moving on to Boston outfielders, Jacoby Ellsbury continues to work towards his return from injury, traveling with the team as he rehabs his shoulder in hopes of a May return.
The situation seems a far cry from what went on in 2010, when Ellsbury was lambasted by the media for his slow, absent recovery from broken ribs. Oh what a difference and MVP-type season (and, I suppose, sitting in the dugout) can make.
According to Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald, every day Ellsbury comes to whatever park the team is currently stationed at and asks, simply, "what do you got for me today?" For now, Ellsbury is confined to working towards full motion in his shoulder. Once he regains that, he could be heading for actual baseball activities.
So far, the Sox have done a pretty good job of surviving in his absence. Marlon Byrd has turned around his season somewhat from the disaster it was in Chicago, and with Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross doing more than their expected share, the Sox rank amongst the best at scoring runs through 21 games of the season.
Still, as much as they've made the wait tolerable, Sox fans would very much like their starting center fielder back. We were quoted timetables of 4-6 weeks about two weeks back, but given how quiet the organization has been about the process, it wouldn't be surprising if that was a bit optimistic. Hopefully the replacements can keep things afloat for as long as necessary.
Finally, David Ortiz is off to perhaps the hottest start we've ever seen out of him. With a 1.098 OPS for the month of April so far, Ortiz' season-to-date outpaces any other single year of his career. How did he get there? "It's just work, man - a lot of work," he told Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal.
The results of that work are obvious so far. Ortiz has been hitting everything, and more impressively, he's hit it everyhwere. Once a slave to the shift, Ortiz has started finding the left side of the park with some regularity, and while it hasn't yet lured the infielders back to the other side of the diamond, Ortiz has been taking advantage of the open space for hit after hit. In fact, through the first month of the season, Ortiz has had more balls fall on the left half of the outfield than the right.
Fellow slugger Adam Dunn is suitably impressed:
"He's staying inside the ball so good, man," Dunn said. "For big guys like us, that's a hard thing to do. You always want to get the head out. His right hand is staying inside, so good. That's why he's able to hit the ball to left, to center, to right. He's in a good place right now."
The days of 2009 seem long gone by now. No longer is Ortiz struggling to keep his spot in the lineup as he was that season, or swinging at pitches in the dirt from southpaws like in 2010. Right now, he's the total package at the plate, and looking worth every bit of the $14.575 million the Sox are paying him.