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A Homegrown Red Sox Outfield May Be Coming Soon

The Red Sox need outfielders for 2013, but beyond next season, help is on the way. We take a look at the possibilities for the future apart from free agents.

Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

The off-season is just getting started and already the Red Sox seem to be connected to every free agent starting pitcher, shortstop, first baseman and outfielder. After their first losing season in over two decades, the Red Sox certainly need to sign some a few players this winter, so the rumors are not surprising. With the financial breathing room that the Mega-Trade has given the team, they can be in the bidding for anyone on the market right now, and we should expect a lot of tire-kicking over the next several months.

The outfield is definitely going to be a focus. 2012 Starting right fielder Cody Ross is a free agent and would-be 2012 left fielder Carl Crawford was shipped to Los Angeles, leaving two-thirds of the outfield open. Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is not a lock to remain on the team either. He will be a free agent after the coming season and he is therefore prime trade bait for the Sox. It is very possible that the Red Sox outfield will feature an entirely new cast in 2013.

The decision to sign outfielders might seem easy, but the issue is complicated by the impressive store of minor league outfield talent currently in the system. The Red Sox may be looking at a fully home-grown (and therefore cost-controlled) outfield as soon as 2014. Given that there is both top-tier talent and a deep pool of players in the mix for these future spots, an all home-grown outfield need not be a mere cost shaving solution. It could be a highly productive group, featuring elite skill sets on both sides of the ball. As such, Boston may shy away from committing more than one to three years to players they sign for the outfield this off-season.

What will this home-grown outfield look like? Here are few possibilities for your all homegrown 2015 Red Sox outfield:

Best-Case Scenario:

RF: Bryce Brentz

CF: Jacoby Ellsbury

LF: Jackie Bradley

Though it seems less and less likely that Jacoby Ellsbury will remain with the Red Sox past this year, this homegrown outfield is too good not to consider for just a minute. Signing Ellsbury to a long-term deal would probably make this an expensive group, even with pre-arbitration players at both corners as well. There is also an issue with just how these guys would line up. As the lone veteran, Ellsbury would stay in center almost automatically, but you could easily argue that Brentz and Bradley should be flipped. Brentz is a former college pitcher and his arm makes sense in right, but Bradley has center fielder range and that would be somewhat wasted in front of the monster.

These are champagne problems, though. Having an outfield with these three guys could be pretty exciting regardless of where they line up or what the budget is. Brentz is the biggest long shot to be star, but his substantial right-handed power is a nice compliment to this group of speedsters. He will have to continue to improve his game the way he did in 2012 to be a lock for a starting job in 2014 or even 2015, but his power is too good to ignore (think Will Middlebrooks power). He has the potential to be very similar to Josh Reddick, assuming we don’t deal him for another relief pitcher in decline, or course.

This outfield could reasonably arrive as soon as 2014 if Brentz and Bradley continue their tear through the minors. 2015 is more likely however, giving the youngsters time to workout the kinks in the high minors just a bit longer.

Young Guns (the 2015 Remake):

RF: Bryce Brentz

CF: Jackie Bradley

LF: Xander Bogaerts

This could very well be the starting outfield line up in 2015. It also has the potential to be even better than the previous group, thanks to one Xander Bogaerts.

You have here three of the Red Sox top ten prospects (per Sox Prospects) and three potential impact players. Brentz (#6) is expected to start 2013 in AAA and is the closest to the majors, but both Bradley and Bogaerts will be close behind in AA and are more highly touted prospects. Bogaearts is currently at shortstop and while I think the Red Sox will stick with him there as long as possible, a corner outfield spot is likely in his future. The consensus in the prospect world seems to be that his bat can handle a move to a corner spot, but his shortstop defense is going to be lacking. He would then be a natural fit at third base, but with Will Middlebrooks holding that job down in the near future, bumping Bogaerts to left or right field is certainly something that may happen in a year or two.

There is no question about Bradley’s ability to be a good defensive center fielder and his progress next year will almost certainly effect the decision to sign Jacoby Ellsbury long-term. This alignment is not quite as defensively stacked as the first, but it would still be solid in the field, with a lot of throwing ability in the corners. At the plate, this group could dominate with a mix of big time power from Bogaerts and Brentz and elite speed and on-base skills care of Bradley.

Ryan Kalish and Jerry Sands Live!:

RF: Ryan Kalish

CF: Jackie Bradley

LF: Jerry Sands

Though it may seem like it, I have not forgotten about Ryan Kalish. It was not that long ago that Ryan Kalish was presumed to be the Red Sox right fielder of the future. His 2010 debut was not statistically impressive, but he did manage to endear himself to fans and impress manager Terry Francona and some of the veterans on the team with his skill and maturity. After losing almost all of 2011 to injure and struggling in irregular playing time in 2012, Kalish has gone from prospect to something of an afterthought, falling behind players like Brentz and Bradley in projections like this. It also doesn’t help that the player he came up with, Josh Reddick, just put up a very exciting and productive season with baseball’s Cinderella A’s. Kalish’s stock is at an all time low. However, he is still just 24 (he will be 25 for the 2013 season) and he is by no means done. If his lack of power and weak success on contact is coming from the lingering effect of his many injuries, he could be a breakout candidate in 2013. It would not be shocking to see him win a spot in Spring Training and hold it down all year if given the chance.

Jerry Sands is in the same boat as Kalish in many respects. He was once a well regarded prospect but underwhelming results at the major league level have diminished his status. Unlike Kalish, however, Sands is fairly immobile and he may be bound for first base rather than the outfield as a result. Joining the Boston organization can only help him, though. Fenway plays to his strength while minimizing the damage his lack of range can do. Like Kalish, he may seem a long shot to win a job in the future, but he could change that perception very quickly if he ever gets the chance.

This outfield might seem distinctly less exciting than the other two, but if it happens it probably will not be. Kalish and Sands do not get the prospect love they once did in large part because they are now more known quantities. Bryce Brentz and Jackie Bradley have yet to fail the way these to players have, but they have also never been similarly tested. Kalish and Sands look like role players now, but they once looked like impact players. The early results may not be all there is to these two. If they did win starting jobs at any point in the near future, it would be because they are more like the players they once seemed then we now believe.

All Wild Cards OF:

RF: Brandon Jacobs

CF: Juan Carlos Linares

LF: Alex Hassan/ Jeremy Hazelbaker

First, let me just say that there is almost no chance that this would ever be the starting outfield line up for an extended period of time. The improbability that all four of these players would become major league regulars at the same time, on the same team, in a city as baseball crazed as Boston is enough to turn Arthur Dent into a couch. While each of the other three lineups has a real shot at happening -- either through design on desperation -- this one is more or less procedural. These three guys may factor into the 2014 or 2015 outfield in some way. One of them might even be a breakout star (cough Jacobs cough) at some point, but all three? Never gonna happen.

Each player is worth mentioning, though. Before struggling in 2012, Jacobs was right there with Xander Bogaerts in the top prospect conversation. He destroyed South Atlantic League (A) pitching in 2011 to a tune of .303/.376/.505 in 2011 despite a very raw approach. He is extremely athletic and he will be just 22 in 2013. Every part of his game needs work, but he is still a player you can dream on.

Juan Carlos Linares has a far lower ceiling than Jacobs but he also has a higher floor. He is old for a prospect; he will be 28 in 2013, but he has good defensive tools and a right-handed bat with some pop so a bench role is very realistic, whether with Boston or elsewhere. He lacks discipline at the plate but he has improved his contact abilities as he has progressed through the minors. Combined with his glove and his power, that might be enough to get him to the big leagues. Becoming a star is a big long shot, but he could emerge as an average everyday player.

Even making the major leagues might be a long shot for Alex Hassan. The Milton, MA product is more organizational guy than prospect at this point, ranking 47 in Sox Prospects rankings. He is too defensively limited to play anywhere but left and his bat doesn’t really live up to corner outfield standards. He is intriguing to me though because he has a fantastic eye at the plate. His .377 on-base percentage last season at AAA is the second lowest mark he has had at any professional level. That is even more impressive when you consider that like Bryce Brentz, he was a two-way player in college, originally being drafted as a pitcher. He has an awkward looking swing that doesn’t generate much loft or put any charge in the ball, so his batting average on balls in play can be problematic. He is not unlike Daniel Nava in many respects and like Nava, he could thrive with the right opportunity, but he remains a fringe player and we should probably hope that opportunity doesn’t arise.

Jeremy Hazelbaker may not be a Red Sox farm hand for much longer. He will likely be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft and after a strong 2012 season, it would hardly be surprising to see another team further from contention give him a shot. Despite good speed, Hazelbaker is not a great fielder and doesn’t project to play center at the major league level. He added some much need pop to his bat in 2012, but he still remains too light-hitting to be much of a corner outfield option. Further progression in his power and pitch recognition is the key to a starting job for him, but it will most likely need to come somewhere else.

Further on Down the Road:

RF: Keury De La Cruz

CF: Manuel Margot

De La Cruz and Margot are too far away to factor into this conversation (though in all fairness De La Cruz finished at Salem just like Brandon Jacobs), but both players could impact the team at some future. Of the two Margot is the most interesting. He was just 17 in 2012 playing in the Dominican Summer League. He was named a DSL All-Star with a .285/.382/.423 batting line and 33 stolen bases and 9 times caught stealing in 260 at bats. At that level, stats are tough to make sense of, but scouts like this kid too, so there is probably something there. He has good center field skill for his age by most accounts and he doesn’t seem likely to grow out of the position. He won’t arrive anywhere near early enough to factor into the Ellsbury decision, but he could put pressure on Jackie Bradley as he approaches free agency.

Prospect writers talk about impact talent and depth when they are ranking farm systems and in both respects, you have to admire the job the Red Sox have done in developing outfielders over the past few years. Some of the players mentioned here may well be overrated and other might surprise us all. It follows that some of these players will find themselves with other organizations in the near future as well. However, the Red Sox have a very good chance of developing their entire 2015 outfield in house. When they do sign additional talent, this farm system talent will mean depth and backup plans. If everything goes right for a few of these players, the Red Sox may have the one of the most cost-effective outfields in the game very soon.