With the departure of a certain right fielder, along with all of the other issues that come with that, there is also a Mookie-sized hole at the top of the lineup that’s in need of filling. Although in stature it may be a small hole, in production it’s rather large. So, who can step up into the leadoff spot for the Red Sox? Let’s take a look at a few options.
The most obvious, and most likely, option for the Red Sox leadoff spot is Andrew Benintendi. Last year Benintendi spent 48 of his 138 games in the leadoff spot, and although the season as a whole may have been a bit of a struggle for him, batting leadoff was actually relatively successful. Half of his homers came from the batting first and it was the only spot in the lineup where Benintendi had a double-digit walk rate. On the base paths, he was most productive from the leadoff spot as well, swiping 5 of his 10 bases in games he was the leadoff man as well. His batting average from the two-hole was 40 points higher than his average batting leadoff but his OBP was 10 points higher from the leadoff spot, so his ability to get on base was not hampered in the slightest by the decrease in hits.
The biggest mark against Benintendi in the leadoff spot is that while his overall stat line batting leadoff hasn’t been terrible, he’s struggled mightily in the first at-bat of the game. The first time through the order in games he was leading off Benintendi slashed .119/.229/.143 with only one home run. After his first at-bat of the game, his slash line boomed .295/.390/.477 which is what makes his overall line more palatable. Fellow OTMer Jake Devereaux and I have spoken about Benintendi on the Over The Monster Podcast and we both feel like he’s due for a rebound to more of his 2018 self and hitting from the leadoff spot could be just the spark he needs to get jump-started out of the gate.
Although Verdugo won’t be ready for Opening Day, he’s another possible source for leadoff at-bats. Last season Verdugo spent 26 of his 106 games hitting second and did the majority of his damage from that spot. Joc Pederson and A.J. Pollock handled the leadoff duties for the Dodgers pushing Verdugo to the two-hole, but Verdugo was much more productive from the top of the order than he was from the lower spots. Seven of his 13 homers came from the second spot and he tallied a 116 wRC+ there as well. Verdugo could be effective at a few different spots in the order and given the construction of the first 5 or so he’s probably more likely to hit at the bottom of the order than the top, but if Benintendi struggles out of the gate, Verdugo could settle in as the leadoff hitter when he returns from his back injury.
If the Red Sox feel inclined to buck the traditional leadoff hitter style there are a couple of names that come to mind as potential options. Rafael Devers spent the majority of last season hitting from the second spot in the order and coming off a .361 OPB he would be a decent option to turn to. If the Red Sox felt like getting even wilder, Michael Chavis hit leadoff for 4 games in 2019 and in an extremely small sample size slashed .278/.316/.311 and hit 2 homers. His strikeout issues would need to be reined in significantly though, so this option is not very likely. Lastly, by season’s end, it’s entirely possible that Jackie Bradley Jr. has been traded and Jarren Duran has torn up the minors enough to gain promotion to Boston. Duran’s been tearing up spring training and has the kind of hit tool and speed combo to excel as the leadoff guy. It’s a long shot it happens in 2020, but there’s a clear sequence of events that are not unlikely to happen to potentially lead to the Duran outcome.