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 center.
When Enrique Hernández was first signed by the Red Sox prior to last season, it was widely acknowledged that the biggest advantage to that signing was the versatility Hernández would bring. Being able to play all over the diamond was something Boston was clearly looking for in 2021, and Hernández was to be the posterboy for that. And if he did stick at any one position, second base seemed to make the most sense. That is, until he started to play center field and it was clear how much better it made the team. By the midway point of the year he was cemented in that spot, and it’s the same deal for 2022.
Defensively, Hernández was exactly what Boston needed out there. Whether or not he was as good or better than Jackie Bradley Jr. was up for debate, but he was undoubtedly a net positive, and by a wide margin. Offensively, he added a jolt for the offense too, especially as the season went along. In the second half he really started to thrive in the leadoff spot, and ultimately hit .250/.337/.449, getting to the 20-homer mark and finishing with a 110 wRC+. He’s not a superstar, but he’s an above-average starter and a perfect fit for this roster offensively and defensively.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley still appears to be in a position to play nearly every day, but he’ll be moving over to right field with Hernández in center. Again, there’s an argument to be made for who is better, but Hernández will be playing more often so you want him sticking in the more important position. Plus, Bradley’s range and arm in Fenway’s right field should be incredible. What’s more questionable is the offense, but we’ll get more into that later today with the right field preview.
We talked about Duran last week when we talked about the left field depth situation (link at the top of the page), so I won’t rehash all that in this space too. Information about what he needs to do offensively can be found at that link. Instead I’ll just add that his defense is still a bit of a question too. He certainly has the athleticism and then some to play center field long term. His arm isn’t a strength, and he needs to work on his instincts and jumps in the outfield after coming up as an infielder in college. I think he can get there, but it’s an open question.
Other players who could fill in here include Rob Refsnyder and Franchy Cordero, though they would play a corner with Bradley shifting to center if the situation arose.
We should start by noting that we are judging specific positions largely on Sox Prospects’ projected rosters, so Gilberto Jimenez will be included with the right fielders.
Bleis is arguably the most exciting prospect in the Red Sox system right now, and certainly among the lower levels. He is the biggest signing they’ve made on the international market in a few years, and his pro debut in the DSL included flashes that have the Red Sox brass excited. Bleis is still raw, but he’s a very athletic outfielder who should stick in center and boasts big power potential. He’s probably going to be at extended spring training until the FCL starts up in the summer, but once those rookie games start going he’ll be a name to look for in the box scores on a daily basis, as he has as much potential as anybody in the system to make a big jump up both the organization list, and national ones.
McDonough isn’t so much a center fielder as he is a super utility player, but Sox Prospects has him slotted in as a starting center fielder for High-A Greenville so we’ll roll with that. McDonough was Boston’s third round selection in last summer’s draft and put up an .888 OPS at Salem in 27 games. There’s not a ton of power here, but he can put the bat on the ball, has a solid approach, can run the bases and play both middle infield and the outfield. The ceiling isn’t huge, which keeps him off the radar to an extent, but he has the skills a team would be looking for in a utility player, and could surprise people with how quickly he moves.
Other Prospects of Note
- Eduardo Lopez was the team’s top international signing back in 2018. He hasn’t performed as hope, missing chunks of last season with an injury. This is a big year for his prospect journey.
This is a good position in the division, especially with Baltimore having the rare chance of faring well in this discussion. That said, after a breakout 2021 Cedric Mullins is not in the top spot, instead taking number two. That’s less a slight against him, though, and more a compliment to George Springer. He missed a bunch of time with injury last year, but when he’s healthy he’s one of the best in the game, putting up a 140 wRC+ last season. Hernández falls in next at three, while Kevin Kiermaier in Tampa Bay gets the nod over New York’s Aaron Hicks. Kiermaier gets the edge for his defense, along with Hicks’ injury history.
- George Springer, TOR
- Cedric Mullins, BAL
- Enrique Hernández, BOS
- Kevin Kiermaier, TB
- Aaron Hicks, NYY