We have reached the week where baseball is getting underway, which is surprising to me that we have gotten that far. But behind my skepticism that this season will work along with my moral questioning of whether an attempt should even be made, there is genuine excitement to see baseball on my TV again. It will be different, but ultimately it is still baseball with Red Sox players. And with that, it means we must be re-introduced to the Red Sox roster after a long hiatus. That’s what this position preview series is for. We’ll look at catchers, infielders, outfielders, starting pitchers and relief pitchers, ultimately covering everyone on the 60-man player pool. Today, we look at the outfielders.
It’s hard to say this is really a big season for anybody, because with a 60-game schedule it seems unlikely there’s going to be all that much to read into as fans. That being said, Benintendi is at a crossroads in his career. In fairness to him, it’s not as if he is in danger of falling out of the league anytime soon. At the very least, we know he can be a very, very solid player. The question is if he can take that leap into being in the All-Star conversation on a yearly basis. The Red Sox need someone to step up in Mookie Betts’s absence, and while no one is expected to do that on their own a step forward from Benintendi would be a hell of a first step.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Speaking of big seasons, Bradley has the unfortunate reality of being a free agent this winter. Usually that’s a good thing for a player, but this is not the winter you want to be relying on MLB owners to be spending money. That being said, it is still going to be fascinating to see how teams view him as an elite defensive player but one who is aging and is just so frustrating at the plate. We all know how streaky Bradley can be, and it is possible to see literally any version of him during this shortened 60-game season. Whatever he does will certainly have a big impact on the Red Sox’s ultimate record at the end of the year, but it will also play a big role in what kind of interest he generates this winter and what kind of contract he ends up signing.
Verdugo certainly has a hell of a task on his plate for this season, coming in as the first player in the Mookie Betts trade package to play in the majors. Oh, and on top of that he will be the first player to man right field after Betts. Have fun with that! There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Verdugo as he has shown a strong bat throughout his professional career and looks to carry that over to the majors. Anyone expecting him to be Betts is going to be disappointed, but he’s a high-contact, high-OBP guy with solid pop. That’ll play.
Martinez is hopefully going to be the DH more often than he plays in the outfield, but wherever he plays in the field his bat is going to be a welcome sight. Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are seemingly the darlings on this team, and for a very good reason, but Martinez is still probably the best hitter on this team. Last season was a bit of a down year for the slugger, and even with that he was the 16th best hitter in all of baseball by wRC+ with a mark of 139. He is an absolute machine at the plate, and while I am still a bit worried about those back spasms that plagued him throughout last season, as long as he’s healthy I expect nothing but elite production with the bat.
It’s a little misleading to say that Pillar is the only outfielder on the Red Sox bench, because guys like José Peraza, Tzu-Wei Lin and Yairo Muñoz can play in the outfield, too, even if they are going to see the bulk of their time on the dirt. Pillar is the only pure outfielder, though, and if someone goes down with an injury (knock on wood), he’ll be the guy to jump into the starting lineup. The former Blue Jay and Giant is known for his defense, and when he plays he’ll either be in center or right and he’ll be a huge asset out there. The bat is the bigger question. Most of his at bats should come against lefties, which will help, but he’s a low-OBP player who needs to tap into some of that power he found last year to be an asset with the bat. Expect Pillar to spell all three outfielders against left-handed starters — the entire Red Sox outfield is built of lefties — with Bradley probably getting the most sits.
The Red Sox don’t have a whole lot of outfield options in the depth portion of their 60-man player pool, either. Andreoli is one of two players here with major-league experience, though he’s mostly been stuck at Triple-A for the last few years. In the minors, the points in his favor have been an ability to play all over the outfield and his ability to draw a walk. That he’s a local kid from Shrewsbury helps, too.
Puello is the outfielder on this list with the most major-league experience. He was once a fairly well-thought of prospect in the Mets system, but things never quite panned out there. He’s bounced around a few organizations the last few years and has spent some time in the majors at every stop, but his contact issues have held him back.
The most exciting non-starter among player pool outfielders is also the one with the least amount of experience. Duran hasn’t played above Double-A and struggled a bit at that level last year, which would likely point to him not playing in the majors this year. That said, he impressed back in March and has had some memorable moments in this camp as well. If he does make the majors, it could simply be because of his speed, which is probably tops in the entire organization.