Welcome to the 2021 positional preview series. Over the next seven days, we will be looking at each position group — catcher, corner infield, middle infield, corner outfield, center field, starting pitchers, and relief pitchers — throughout the organization. For each installment we will take a look at the projected starter(s), the options to come off the bench, the depth pieces who will be waiting at the Alternate Site/at Triple-A, the top prospect, the sleeper prospect, all the rest of the prospects for each position, and where they stand in the division. Today we look head out to the corner outfielders.
Hunter Renfroe, Marwin Gonzalez, Franchy Cordero
Yes, I’m aware there are only two corner outfield positions. No, I’m not expecting Marwin Gonzalez to stand on Franchy Cordero’s shoulders under a big trench coat Vincent Adultman style, though now that I’m typing it out it’s precisely what I’m rooting for. No, Cordero is likely going to miss a little time to start the season after a delayed start to camp, during which time Gonzalez is most likely to get the majority of the time in left field. It doesn’t look like Cordero will miss too much time so he still deserves mention here, but Gonzalez feels like he does too so they’re both there.
Renfroe, though, is the one who is looking like the best player of the trio in spring. We know spring stats don’t really mean a ton, but we’ve also seen him be very good in real baseball games as well. Unfortunately, we’ve also seen him be quite bad, and that was more recent. Last season he finished with a rough 77 wRC+, though it’s not hard to find reasons to toss aside numbers from 2020. Overall, Renfroe will bring big power, and the question will be how much contact he makes to maximize the power. Defensively, he has been anywhere from solid to great, and the Red Sox seem to lean more toward the latter end of the spectrum given that they appear willing to play him in center field some this year as well.
Renfroe will mostly cover right field, however, with left field being the other two for the most part. Cordero will hopefully play the bigger role in this spot over the entire season as the Red Sox look to unlock the potential that a couple of other teams have been unable to previously. He has an enticing power/speed combination, but injuries and a lack of contact has held him back to this point in his career. That said, he’s still only 26, so it’s far from ridiculous to hold out hope.
And then, as for Gonzalez, well, we’ve talked about him in two of the three previous installments as well. His versatility is his biggest calling card, so while he will probably hold down left field to start, we can still expect him to move all around the diamond through the season to go with a roughly average to bit below average overall production at the plate.
It’s also worth mentioning that Alex Verdugo will likely get a decent amount of time in right field, but for now we’re considering him the starting center fielder so we’ll talk about him tomorrow.
Michael Chavis, Kiké Hernández
Gonzalez can be here too, but as I said he’s probably going to be starting in left to begin the season. That leaves Chavis as the only real depth option there on the bench, though Hernández can play all three outfield spots as well despite being the nominal starter at second base. With him, the defense will be more than fine wherever he is. For Chavis, though, that’s not really the case. I think he has the athleticism to be more than fine in left field, particularly at Fenway, but he’s also not an outfielder by trade so he’s still rough around the edges.
Alex Cora has said he wants Chavis to be concentrating on hitting and not learning the outfield, so it’s possible they will stick to that, but that could be easier said than done given their three-man bench and the makeup of it. I don’t expect him to spend a ton of time here, if at all, but in the long-term it’s probably best for him to add another position to his resumé, and he has spent a bit of time here previously.
Yairo Muñoz, Danny Santana, César Puello, Michael Gettys, Jarren Duran
The Red Sox don’t have tremendous amounts of depth in the corner outfield spots, though they aren’t in a terrible situation either. Muñoz would almost certainly be the first of this group to be called up early in the season, with none of these names being on the 40-man already. He’s the safest bat of the bunch and can more than handle left field. Puello and Gettys are more natural outfielders, but their bats are much bigger questions.
Duran sticks out the most here, of course, given his prospect status. He is a center fielder and obviously that is the plan for him both in 2021 in the minors and long-term. In the short-term, though, it may not be the worst thing to get his feet wet in left field if he does come up at some point in the season. While he has the athleticism to cover center field just fine, and has made some spectacular plays out there, he is also still raw having been an infielder in college. Jacoby Ellsbury has been the natural comp for Duran for a couple years now, and he started his career in left. It may not be Plan A, but don’t be surprised if we see it at some point this summer, especially if Cordero continues his issues making contact.
In terms of prospects, this is certainly the weakest positional group for the Red Sox (except for maybe relievers, for the same reason), but it’s important to remember the context here. Simply put: Corner outfield prospects largely don’t exist. That’s not to say there aren’t any, but by and large corner outfielders end up there because they couldn’t play elsewhere. When most of them were prospects they played elsewhere before moving to the corner outfield spots.
None of that is to throw shade at Decker either, because while he’s not as highly ranked as the other top prospects in this series he still has the potential to be a good major leaguer and he is certainly a name to remember for this summer when the minor-league season gets rolling. A second round pick in 2018, Decker hasn’t gotten a ton of opportunity to prove himself as a pro. Coming from a cold weather part of the country in New Jersey, he was more raw than some of his other prep counterparts, and then he got hurt early in that first pro season, meaning he never really played until 2019. He spent that summer in Lowell, where he was inconsistent but showed flashes of what he could be.
And that is a power-hitting right fielder. Although he was drafted as a center fielder and played there a bit in 2019, he’s going to be in a corner. The good news is he has the athleticism and arm to handle right rather than being relegated to left. Offensively, it’s the power that stands out as his big uppercut swing can lead to long home runs. Like many other prospects in this system, though, the ultimate outcome will rely on how much contact he makes. As I said, he’s still very raw so there is plenty of time to improve — he’ll be 21 all season — but this will be the thing to watch for as the year goes on. Decker will start the season in Low-A Salem.
Again, this was a tough call but Gonzalez is definitely a sleeper name to watch, albeit one who is very far away and will still have plenty of question marks after this season as well. The right-handed bat was part of the 2018 J2 international signing class, receiving a $500,000 bonus (per Sox Prospects). Defensively, his future is not very clear and it probably looks like he’ll be a left field-only player by the time he fully matures. But that’s less consequential because it’s the bat that we’ll be watching. To this point he has only played one summer as a pro, spending the 2019 season in the DSL. He was impressive there, showing off legitimate power potential. He also showed, however, a raw approach and contact ability.
Gonzalez is only 19 years old and will turn 20 in mid-September, so there is a long way to go in this development. He should spend this season on the complex, where it will be less about results and more about making strides with his approach and hit tool. The power will play if everything else shows up to some extent as well, but that’s much easier said than done.
- Tyer Esplin was an overslot high school selection by the Red Sox a few years ago who was young even for a prep player and is still only entering his age-21 season. A right fielder right now, he has the tools to be a good power-oriented bench player with a slight chance at being a second-division starter. He’ll play at High-A Greenville this year.
- Dean Miller is an interesting name to keep in mind this season. He may be more of an organizational player and he’s 23 without having played above the complex, but he has intriguing power and has done nothing but hit between college and his time in the GCL in 2019. He should be in Salem this season, but could move quickly due to his age.
- Eduardo Vaughan was part of the same 2018 J2 class as Gonzalez but is a different kind of player. There’s more athleticism here and more of a hit tool with less power, though obviously given the age he is also still quite raw.
We’re considering Alex Verdugo the center fielder here, which greatly diminishes the Red Sox’s standing in this spot. In fact, they could feasibly be considered worst in the division here, which is pretty wild considering the Orioles exist. Starting at the top, I would probably go with the Rays, though the Yankees are close as well. I’m an Austin Meadows believer, and Randy Arozarena was too good in the playoffs to ignore. On the other hand, Aaron Judge is the best corner outfielder in the division and Clint Frazier has the potential to make New York the clear answer. Toronto with Teoscar Hernández and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. seems like a clear third.
As for the Red Sox, their competition is more with Baltimore, who boast Anthony Santander in one corner and probably Ryan Mountcastle in the other. Honestly, I think I’d have to take that over Boston’s crew, which puts the Red Sox in last here. Not great!