Welcome back to our annual positional preview series, in which we take stock of where the Red Sox stand everywhere on the depth chart for each position. At every spot on the diamond, we will look at where Boston stands on the major-league roster while also looking at their top prospects at the position. We will also take compare how the Red Sox look at the position compared to the rest of the division. Today, we head to the outfield with a look in left.
Verdugo originally came to Boston in something of an impossible situation for him, replacing the best player the Red Sox have developed in a half century following a trade that was, let’s say controversial. While he certainly hasn’t replaced the generational production the team got from Mookie Betts, he’s been a solid contributor in the outfield and looks like a guy who should at least be an average starter for a long time moving forward. Verdugo doesn’t have the kind of power you’d like to see from a corner outfielder, particularly in left field, but he makes a ton of contact that he does a good job of turning into hits while also drawing walks to make him an above-average on-base player.
All of that being said, he needs to bounce back a bit from last season, when he was towards the bottom of his projections with just a 107 wRC+. While Verdugo doesn’t need to be a 35-homer player to be successful, he needs to do better than the .138 Isolated Power we saw from him in 2021. Only entering his age-26 season, there is still enough runway for improvement at this point in his career, which is good news because he’s already moving the wrong way on the defensive spectrum, so he needs to make up for that at the plate.
I guess? What the plan is as far as back ups in the outfield go is totally up in the air, and right now the only backup we know will be on the Opening Day roster is Martinez, who is of course the team’s DH. Alex Cora indicated that Martinez will likely see more time in the outfield this year, though he indicated that could come mostly in right field which just frightens me even more. In left, especially at Fenway, he should be fine, but really he shouldn’t be playing in the outfield more than a handful of times through the season.
Beyond Martinez, the other options here could be Christian Arroyo, who is just starting to play the outfield this spring, or non-roster players like Rob Refnsyder or Franchy Cordero. It’s bleak out here.
If the Red Sox don’t make another move in the outfield in the week we have left before Opening Day, then my only assumption can be that they hope to get Duran up sooner than later. After a rough showing in his major-league debut, it makes plenty of sense to start him down in Triple-A to get him consistent at bats to put whatever he’s been working on this winter to cut down on his strikeouts into action on a day-to-day basis. He won’t have the opportunity to do that in the majors, so I can get behind him starting in Triple-A even if he’s pretty clearly to me the best bench outfield option when it comes down to him versus guys like the aforementioned Refsnyder and Cordero.
Duran is a total wildcard for the Red Sox this year. If he keeps striking out to start the year in Triple-A Worcester, the Red Sox are going to have some issues if/when an outfielder goes down with an injury. But on the other hand, he still has a huge ceiling, and we shouldn’t discount that just based on a tough cup of coffee to end last season. Duran can hit for power while also possessing elite speed, which Cora is hoping he taps into a little more this season. Of all the players we cover in the depth section for this series, he’s probably the most consequential.
Left field isn’t exactly a position littered with top prospects, and even Decker may be shortchanged here if we consider him a pure left fielder, but that’s where we’re counting him for these purposes. Decker was the team’s second round pick in 2018, the same year they drafted Triston Casas. Decker isn’t moving as quickly as his draft year classmate, but he’s not a name to be forgotten. On the negative side, he doesn’t really have the range for center field, which he did play some when he first entered the organization, and he also has some issues tapping into his power on a consistent basis due to deficiencies with his hit tool. But the power is very real, as is his arm in the outfield. It’s a high-risk profile to be sure, but sometimes those pay off.
This isn’t just one of the best names in the system, but it’s one of the potential breakouts from the lowest levels of the system that could put himself on the map in 2021. Garcia got a $350,000 signing bonus out of Venezuela in 2019, and finally was able to make his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League last summer. That debut went quite well, with the outfielder hitting .281/.424/.481. Now, that’s a league that skews towards offense a lot of the time so the numbers can be taken with some grain of salt, but he’s got big power and a developing hit tool, as well as the possibility to play at least some center field. Entering his age-19 season, Garcia is still extremely raw and has a ton of development left, but if you’re looking for a long-term sleeper you could do worse.
Other Prospects of Note
- Tyler Dearden really broke out in the second half last season in Greenville, eventually finishing the season with 24 homers. He had 10 homers in three partial professional seasons before that. He needs to take a big step forward with his hit tool, though, if he’s going to be more than an up-and-down left-handed depth bat.
This is, at least in my opinion, a surprisingly weak group for this division. At the top I think there’s a pretty clear top two between Joey Gallo in New York and Randy Arozarena in Tampa Bay. Counterintuitively given the gap in experience, I actually think Arozarena is the safer play, but if Gallo hits his ceiling he’s the call. I’ll go safety over risk with this one, but it’s basically 1A and 1B. After that, I think reasonably you could put Verdugo, Toronto’s Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Baltimore’s Austin Hays in any order as well. Again, I’ll go safety and put them in the order I have listed here, but Hays being the third best player in this group at the end of the year wouldn’t surprise me too much at all.
- Randy Arozarena, TB
- Joey Gallo, NYY
- Alex Verdugo, BOS
- Lourdes Gurriel Jr., TOR
- Austin Hays, BAL