I think the majority of Red Sox Nation would like to see either Jeremy Reed, Coco Crisp or Torii Hunter roam centerfield for the Boston Red Sox in 2006. But if those options fail (which they very well might), I think our very own Adam Stern would be our next-best candidate.
Stern will be 26 at the beginning of the 2006 season, so he's still a young-pup. He saw his first action above Double-A when he was picked in the Rule-V draft by the Red Sox. Before the draft he spent four years in the Atlanta organization after being drafted out of the University of Nebraska. He made a name for himself in 2004 while playing for the Greenville Braves in the Southern League (AA). He batted .322/.378/.480, hit a career-high eight home runs, and stole 27 bases in 394-at bats.
Stern, to stay a Boston Red Sox, had to spend the entire season on the major league roster in 2005 and did just that, despite spending time on the disabled list. Stern appeared in 36 games, mostly as a late-inning defensive replacement and as a pinch-runner.
When he got to the box, however, he struggled. He had just two hits in fifteen at-bats, averaging out to a unspectacular .133 batting average. His first hit was actually a home run against the World Champion Chicago White Sox.
His time in Pawtucket was a completely different story, though. In 81 at-bats (still a small sample size, but more than in Boston) he hit the ball well, amassing a .321 batting average and .385 on-base percentage. If he stayed on pace for a whole season, he could have very-well hit fifteen or sixteen home runs with 100 RBI in Pawtucket.
There were many assumptions made about Stern's skills last season. In fact, I made some assumptions that were very premature after watching him struggle. But in fifteen at-bats we really can't come to any conclusion. No one in the history of baseball has mastered big-league pitching in just fifteen at-bats. So I don't think we should jump all over him for hitting .133 in so little at-bats.
Despite his troubles at the plate, Stern has excellent defense in the outfield and adjusted very well to playing at Fenway Park. As one of the toughest outfields in the league, Fenway usually gives even the veterans a tough time. Stern, however, had no problems with Fenway's tricky dimensions. He was errorless in 46 innings, including 27 innings in tricky right field where he spent most of his time. Two of his defensive highlights, as you may remember, was when he made two fantastic grabs in a rain-shortened game against the White Sox on August 14 (If you want a refresher, check out his RedSox.com page).
To be simple about Stern's speed: he's a burner. He can run with the best of them and he has shown that throughout his career. He displays that in the outfield and on the basepaths. There were a few times last season where he cost the Sox an out or two on the basepaths, but that can be contributed to his eagerness to produce. Next season he should be a little more settled in the major league scene and has learned from his mistakes.
He doesn't have Reed's potential. He doesn't have Crisp's doubles-power. He doesn't have Hunter's home-run ability. But I wouldn't mind seeing him become our starting center fielder when 2006 rolls around.