The Red Sox don't have many weaknesses in their lineup -- after all, they are on pace to have the greatest offense many of us have seen in our lifetimes. But right field has been something of a sore spot in 2011. J.D. Drew has had an excellent Red Sox career, despite what his many detractors say about his contract, or his effort, or whatever else they have decided is bothering them about Drew that day, but there is no defending him in 2011: he is hitting just .230/.332/.328, well below the expectations for right field, where the AL is hitting .263/.340/.422.
It's not just a slump either, as he looks to have lost a step. He is still drawing walks, but he has had trouble catching up to pitches, and has seen his ground-to-fly ratio climb the last two seasons. His defense is still there, as he knows how to play the tough right field at Fenway, and he is still contributing as an above-average runner on the bases, but the total lack of pop in his bat is keeping him from having any real value.
Is the answer to the Red Sox right field woes sitting on their bench?
While the Sox would love the answer to be Mike Cameron, he too has hit poorly -- he's at .223/.291/.360 in his Red Sox career --and doesn't look like he has recovered entirely from his off-season surgery. Cameron looks tentative in the outfield, something anyone who has watched him in the past is not used to seeing, and he is not having quality at-bats when he gets to play. Darnell McDonald has played even less than Cameron, but there are arguments to be made about not having him on the roster at all: for a fifth outfielder, he is a poor baserunner, and not faster than many of those already in the lineup, and while he can slide in at center, he is not a good defensive outfielder, either.
That leaves Josh Reddick, who hit .230/.333/.508 for Triple-A Pawtucket, and is at .429/.480/.667 with the Sox this year in 25 plate appearances. Both of those samples are small, but there is reason to pay attention to them. In the past, Reddick was impatient, and had an expanded strike zone that would have made the likes of even Vladimir Guerrero weep. Big league pitchers were aware of this, and tore him to pieces -- his career line entering this year was .182/.208/.331. That was over 125 plate appearances, but if you saw him and his approach, you know that bad luck had nothing to do with it, and that it was due to his total inability to hold off on swinging at anything within an astronomical unit of the strike zone.
Between Ryan Kalish moving ahead of him on the depth chart and the Red Sox once again reminding him of how far just a little patience would go on their Christmas card, Reddick seems to get the point all of a sudden. He drew 33 walks in 52 games and 231 plate appearances at Pawtucket this spring, after earning just 25 free passes all year in 2010. He still swings early in the count in the majors, but he has been doing so with pitches that he can do something with. He isn't chasing nearly as often, but is making pitchers pay for pitches they leave in the strike zone. That differentiation of trying to make something happen and letting that something come to you has always been missing from his game, and it's why it was difficult to take him seriously as a future Red Sox outfielder. With that in his bag of tricks, combined with his excellent defensive skills and his power, he merits consideration in the outfield as of right now.
Carl Crawford's stint on the disabled list has opened up a spot for one of the three bench outfielders mentioned above. Reddick is the lone player who might have a future in that group, as Cameron is likely to retire following this contract (or one soon after) and McDonald is likely a career bench player. Reddick should be getting most of these available plate appearances, if for no other reason than to see if there is a chance he could handle splitting time -- or taking all of it -- in right field once Crawford returns.
At this point, Drew makes for a better bench outfielder than either Cameron or McDonald, so the only tough decision here is designating McDonald, as he may be lost to waivers (though if he wasn't last year when he was playing well, he could probably sneak through this year). But if Reddick is doing well anyways, and has nothing left to learn at Triple-A, what role does McDonald have, anyways?