The youth movement in Boston appears to be over. Well, sort of. Jackie Bradley Jr., Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, and Will Middlebrooks all played their way out of jobs for the Red Sox. With a year of experience under his belt and a lot of potential yet to fill, Xander Bogaerts appears to be the only survivor of the 2014 youth movement in Bean Town.
Once promising prospects, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Will Middlebrooks did not live up to expectations.
One question mark is second basemen turned outfielder, Mookie Betts. Betts caught the attention of Red Sox coaches and fans after a blazing hot start to the 2014 season in the minor leagues. Betts quickly rose his way to the major leagues in late June and struggled in his first taste of major league action, batting .235 through his first ten games after batting .342 in Double-A and Triple-A. The Tennessee native was sent down to get more seasoning in the minors, and was later called back up to the Red Sox, where he finished the season hitting .291 while playing in the outfield, and some second base while Dustin Pedroia dealt with a left hand injury.
Kooky To Not Start Mookie
After establishing himself as a quality major league player, it remains to be seen whether Mookie will start 2015 on the opening day roster. Betts hit .310 and got on base at a .368 clip out of the leadoff spot in 2014, and is being considered a candidate to be the Sox' everyday leadoff hitter in 2015. While starting Betts in right field seems like the logical solution, the Sox have a dilemma with their overflow of outfielders.
As it stands now in the major leagues, the Sox have Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, Allen Craig, Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Jackie Bradley Jr., Brock Holt and Mookie Betts vying for playing time. And it only continues in the minors. The Sox have third baseman/left fielder Garin Cecchini and the powerful Bryce Brentz. Hanley Ramirez is the only player out of that group guaranteed a starting job after signing a 4-year deal to reunite with the Sox.
After returning from back surgery, Shane Victorino believes he should be the starting right fielder for the Sox in 2015. While this makes sense if Victorino shows he can return to his 2013 form where he batted .294, it's unlikely that the 33-year old can maintain his usual excellence. Making Victorino the fourth outfielder makes sense for the future of the team, although it may not please the "Flyin' Hawaiian" to be relegated to the bench. Trading Victorino after a healthy spring training would be the best option as it clears up spots for Betts and Castillo to start, while Victorino can continue to prove his doubters wrong. Like Victorino, Allen Craig is coming off a down year and doesn't seem to have a place with the 2015 Red Sox.
A hobbled Craig looks to have ran his way out of Boston.
The former Cardinal star joined the Sox a shell of his former self, and it showed as he finished the year batting .128 with his new club. Craig doesn't seem to have a future with the Red Sox unless they decide Napoli is no longer the future at first base.
But seeing that Napoli is a fan favorite and provides a ton of pop, his future with the team looks secure. The Brewers and Marlins have shown interest in Allen Craig, and with a lack of bullpen depth, a trade with one of those teams seems likely. Although GM Ben Cherington has stated his reluctance to deal Craig, who is signed for three more years on a team friendly contract, the need for bullpen help should outweigh what a hobbled veteran can provide for the now offensively robust Red Sox.
Newly signed Cuban defector Rusney Castillo looks to be the future for the Sox in center field, but he may need more time to refine his game after not playing a full season since 2012. Upon his arrival in Boston, many believed Castillo, with a solid combination of speed and some pop, would be able to take over everyday duties in center field right away due to a decent showing in the minor leagues.
Red Sox fans hope Castillo can live up to his record contract.
During August of 2014, Red Sox fans everywhere, well probably just me, checked the Red Sox website daily to check if Rusney was added to the depth chart, as his massive potential would hopefully revive a disgruntled Red Sox squad. However many are not buying into the hype surrounding Rusney, as some scouting reports project him as a fourth outfielder. After investing $72 million into the Cuban, the Red Sox will not settle for a fourth outfielder, but they can afford to be patient with him as they have a wealth of outfield options.
Among other options, Daniel Nava represents a solid fourth outfielder with the ability to play first base. Nava finished the season batting .271 in 2014, after a horrific start to the year saw him hit .149, due in part to a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .167. After hitting a grand slam on the first plate appearance of his career, Nava became a regular for the Red Sox due to his ability to play both corner outfield positions and his knack for getting on base. If Nava doesn't have a future in Boston, he would be a great complimentary piece in a trade.
Super-utility man Brock Holt figures to return to his dominance at almost every position. Not much needs to be said about Holt. He provides a knack for getting on base and some speed. Unless he's traded, Holt will have a place with the 2015 Red Sox, although that place may change daily.
As for minor league options, Jackie Bradley Jr., Garin Cecchini, and Bryce Brentz give the Sox a lot of flexibility when making deals. While Bradley Jr. struggled to hit throughout 2014, his tremendous defense will guarantee his spot in Boston's lineup at some point in 2015.
Garin Cecchini, former third base prospect, shifted to left field in 2014 after the Sox realized he most likely didn't have a future on the team at the hot corner. With the Pablo Sandoval signing, this assumption turned out to be true, and now Cecchini will have a full season in the outfield, after thriving this past season. Cecchini most likely won't see much playing time with the 2015 Sox, but gives the team some insurance, with a ton of upside.
The same goes for right fielder Bryce Brentz. Over the past five seasons, Brentz has hit 83 home runs, and with a power outage throughout the majors, Brentz will most likely see playing time in the big leagues next season. Unfortunately for Brentz, injuries have held him from being called up, and will only be with the 2015 Red Sox as a worst-case scenario.
The Time Is Now
After a disastrous youth movement in Boston this past season, it's clear why the Red Sox want more established players. But when a team has a talent as enticing as Mookie Betts, it's hard to ignore him for long. While Mookie Betts has limited experience at the big league level, he has proved his ability to thrive in the show. The Red Sox have nothing to lose by starting Mookie on opening day, as their wealth of outfield depth can weather any storm that may come. If the Red Sox want to rebound from a dismal 2014 season, the time for Mookie Mania is now.