Red Sox Spring Training Preview: Outfield Depth Spots up for Grabs
Photo Credit: Barry Chin/The Boston Globe
Spring Training is right around the corner, and the Red Sox have just sent out invites. Over the next couple weeks, I’ll take a look at every position and who Alex Cora and Dave Dombrowski are bringing down to Fort Myers. Today, we’ll take a look at the outfield.
The Red Sox should consider themselves lucky.
Before the 2014 season, things weren’t looking great for Boston in the outfield. MVP candidate Jacoby Ellsbury had just jumped ship and went to the Yankees. Shane Victorino was old and on the decline. Jackie Bradley Jr. had totally sputtered when he came up to the majors the previous spring, and there were major questions about his offensive potential. Jonny Gomes was a fourth outfielder and too old to be a major building block moving forward. They brought in Grady Sizemore, but he was still a major question mark given his injury history.
Since then, the Sox have totally revamped their outfield, with young stars Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts leading the charge from the corners and Jackie Bradley Jr. holding down the center.
The Red Sox now find themselves in a comfortable situation with three de facto starters in the outfield. However, with injuries always a possibility and Bradley Jr’s streaky bat, it’s still important for the Sox to tie down some solid backups.
The only other outfielder on the roster who is making their way down to Florida is Bryce Brentz. Brentz was a high-profile prospect, but after being hampered by injuries and blocked by bigger prospects, he never really got a chance in the MLB.
However, Brentz saw a resurgence last year, hitting 31 home runs in his 121 games in Triple-A, despite not being called up last September. But now with Chris Young gone, Brentz is in a prime position to be the team’s fourth outfielder.
“He has a leg up,” Dombrowski said in December. “We’re not looking to sign somebody at this time.”
Whether that’s the right decision or not, Brentz is going to be Boston’s primary backup outfielder. However, the Sox have seen success with a veteran on the bench in the outfield, like Gomes or Young, in the past. Personally, I wouldn’t want to rely on Brentz, despite his impressive power tool, and would prefer for him to be a fifth outfielder and pinch hitter against lefties.
The Sox did call for a handful of non-roster players to join the team in Fort Myers, including washed-up Cuban superstar Rusney Castillo. When Ben Cherrington gave Castillo $72.5 million in 2014, he was expected to be a five-tool star who would be a centerpiece for the Red Sox moving forward. However, his first 90 major league games in 2014 and 2015 weren’t enough to impress the front office, so he was sent down to Triple-A and never stayed long in the majors again.
Castillo hit .314 with 15 home runs in Pawtucket last season, proving that he had the skills to make it in the majors. However, if the Sox were to add him to the 40-man roster, his $11 million salary would count against their payroll, and could push them into luxury tax territory. While there are financial reasons for Dombrowski keeping Castillo off the roster, an impressive Spring Training could force his hand, especially if the Sox don’t add a big salary, like J.D. Martinez, in free agency.
Steve Selsky, the next man up, is a 28-year-old non-roster invitee who spent a few games with Boston last season. The University of Arizona product had just one hit in his eight games with the Sox last year, but he did hit .314 in a 24 game stint with the Reds in 2016. Selsky could sneak onto the roster if someone else goes down mid-season, but he looks to be one of the odd men out to start Spring Training.
One of the other non-roster players to get the call down to Fort Myers is Jeremy Barfield, a 6-foot-5, 29-year-old drafted by the Athletics in 2008 who has never seen major league action.
In his ten seasons in the minors, Barfield has a .269 career batting average and 146 home runs while jumping between the farm systems for the Sox, Rockies, and A’s. Barfield is coming off of his best season as a pro, with 27 homers, and .293 average and a .957 OPS, so hopefully that momentum carries into 2018. If he continues to hit the lights out this March, he could see time in Boston as a power bat off the bench.
Aneury Tavarez is the final non-roster invitee for Spring Training this year. The Dominican Republic native has spent six seasons working his way up the Red Sox farm system. He doesn’t have the best bat, but considering he averages fewer than seven errors a season, his glove is most likely what got him the nod.
With so many invitees, it’s not likely that anyone got truly snubbed of an invite in the outfield.
Cole Brennan, Lorenzo Cedrola and Danny Mars are the only three outfielders who rank in the Sox’ top 40 prospects on SoxProspects.com, and outside of the 19-year-old Brennan, none of them rank above 27. Dombrowski seems to have made the right calls as far as who gets to go down to Florida, but big decisions lie ahead for who gets to come back to Boston.