As in 2014, the Red Sox are placing a lot of weight at key positions on unproven players. In no area is this more obvious than the outfield. The Red Sox are still asking the same question of just how good Jackie Bradley Jr. is as they were in 2014, and Rusney Castillo takes Xander Bogaerts' place as the other position player expected to play at the capability of a starter despite never having shown that ability in the major leagues.
Even with Mookie Betts in the outfield, the Red Sox don't have a whole lot of options in the entire organization to step up and fill a weakness should Castillo and/or Bradley flame out. In the absolute worst-case scenario, where both prove incapable, Chris Young can only step in for one of Bradley or Castillo and, as a righty, more strongly profiles as a platoon partner for the left-handed hitting Bradley. Beyond Young, Brock Holt certainly has experience in the outfield, but given his value as a swiss army knife, limiting him to just one position stretches out his value as a player way too thinly. Additionally, Travis Shaw played 30 innings left field last season, but at the end of the day, he's much more defensively experienced playing the corner position in the infield.
Not much exists in depth in the minor leagues. There's Allen Craig who's practically stuck in purgatory with his piles of cash, a lengthy contract and his non-presence on the 40-man roster. There is the former first-round pick Bryce Brentz, who at 27 years old, looks more and more like a player whose shot clock to make an impact on a major league roster is ticking down. Injuries have not been Brentz's friend, to say the very least, and it's had an impact on his performance. He hit just .232/.308/.382 with Pawtucket last season.
With a quick scroll down the current Pawtucket Red Sox roster, you'll stumble across the name of Ryan LaMarre, a 27-year-old outfielder with a career minor league slash line of .261/.340/.372 and a total of two hits in 25 at-bats in the major leagues. There's Chris Marrero, a 27-year-old who hit a career .277/.342/.439 in the minors. And then there's Aneury Tavarez, a 23-year-old prospect who has six games in Triple-A and struggled in Portland last season.
In reality, the only outfielder in the system who could make an impact at the major league level is 2015 first round pick Andrew Benintendi. Benintendi brings an advanced approach to the plate while possessing an above-average hit tool. Dan Farnsworth of FanGraphs recently ranked Benintendi as the top prospect in the Red Sox farm system and identified him as a prospect who could, "move quickly through the system, with his power likely being the last tool to fully develop as he hits his way into the upper minors."
The issue with Benintendi is that he's only played 19 games above Low-A. He figures to start the season in High-A Salem before making his way up to Portland at some point this year barring some unforeseen development or an injury. But if Benintendi made it all the way to the major leagues this season, it would be an incredibly surprising development.
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According to SoxProspects, the next highest ranking outfield prospect for the Red Sox is Luis Alexander Basabe, a client of Xander's brother Jair Bogaerts, who is 19 years old, finished the season in Lowell and is a long way from the big leagues. Suffice to say, unless Allen Craig somehow finds the Holy Grail and/or fountain of youth this offseason, there's little help the farm system can offer the Red Sox in 2016.
At this point, the Red Sox might find their outfield depth through their non-roster spring training invites. Depending on how the outfield market shakes up, there will likely be some veterans looking for an opportunity to make a major league roster who will accept a spring opportunity with the team to be around in case the worst-case scenario occurs in the Red Sox outfield.
I'm sure on Yawkey Way, Dave Dombrowski and company are hoping that no such scenario occurs. That nothing goes awry with the team's outfielders, who establish themselves as foundational pieces of the team. If Jackie Bradley reaches his potential at the plate, he could become one of the most dynamic players in the game. If Rusney Castillo matches his performance with the pure quality of his raw tools, he could be a poor-man's Hunter Pence (if you swapped out the latter's scooter for a massive, flashy convertible).
But rarely do things work out like everyone hopes and plans. The odds say that one of the two outfielders don't quite live up to the expectations of being a starter at the major league level and that Chris Young will likely see more playing time than anticipated. At that point, the Red Sox begin to really fall short on depth. The answer as to who can slide in will likely come in Spring Training and in the early parts of the season, but until then, the team will be desperate for more depth should injuries or outfield DEFCON occur.