Red Sox Versatility Should Not Be Overlooked

I have come to the conclusion that versatility is the Red Sox organization’s top strength and it should not be overlooked in 2016. Already we have seen guys step-up to the challenge when injuries and inconsistency arose. Guys like Josh Rutledge, Marco Hernandez, and Heath Hembree have all shown us what “Red Sox versatility” really is and by being key contributors and bright spots in what has so far been a dismal season.Red Sox versatility

Down in Pawtucket the phrase ‘Red Sox versatility’ can be seen in action on a daily basis with guys not only getting reps in at different positions, but also embracing the challenge. One of those guys is IF/OF Sean Coyle. A 3rd round draft pick out of Germantown Academy (PA) in 2010 has been seeing time this season down in Pawtucket at 2B, 3B, and CF. When I asked him about seeing time in the outfield, Coyle responded:

“It’s an easy comp, being an infielder and then going ahead to the outfield. i know Mookie started out as an infielder and then moved to the outfield, anywhere I can go and pick up some AB’s I’m ready to go, I’m ready to play and its kind of a challenge I’ve embraced.”

Having a guy who you can move all around the left side of the infield as well as CF not only helps the organization, but also will help him in the long run. With the way injuries have been taking over the first month of the season for the Sox, you could be seeing Coyle’s versatility at the major league level this season.

It’s becoming more of a common trend to see guys becoming utility-players . Names such as Ben Zobrist, Brock Holt, and Danny Valencia are showing teams that having the ability to play multiple positions can surely strengthen a teams depth, but also gives managers the flexibility to carry an extra pitcher or 2, and we all know you can never have too many pitchers.

 

Mookie Betts Injury Gives Jackie Bradley Jr. Opportunity

Mookie Betts has proven that athleticism is not something he is lacking this season. He has quick bat speed and learned to play center field very well. Tuesday night he made a great catch running full speed but flipped over the bullpen in right center field. The catch did not count as it was a home run after Betts flipped over the wall, but Betts was diagnosed with a concussion. He was placed on the 7 days disabled list on Wednesday and the team called up Jackie Bradley Jr.

Manager John Farrell said Bradley Jr. will be playing center field everyday while Betts is Mookie Betts injuryout. The extent to Betts concussion is not known but the Red Sox should not rush Betts back as it already is a lost season, while Betts has been one of the few bright spots.

Obviously no one wants to wish someone to get injured but Bradley Jr. has to relish this opportunity as it looks like Rusney Castillo will be in right field for the remainder of the season. Bradley Jr. has proven he can hit minor league pitching this season as he has been one of the best hitters in the International League for the PawSox. He has also shown power as of late having two, two homer games in the past week. The defense has never been the question with Bradley Jr. it has always been whether he can hit major league pitching.

With Betts on the disabled list this could be the last test Bradley will get with the Red Sox. When Shane Victorino went down with an injury earlier this season the Red Sox acquired Alejandro De Aza instead of bringing up Bradley Jr. obviously not what he wanted and although De Aza has played well in his stint with the Red Sox, they should be playing Bradley, as De Aza will likely be gone after this season.

With the trade deadline Friday afternoon it is likely now Bradley will be still with the Red Sox after he built up some value at Triple-A. With an outfield likely full for next season unless Hanley Ramirez changes positions, this is will an opportunity for Jackie Bradley Jr. to prove he can be a piece off the bench next season.

Alejandro De Aza Has Been Great for the Red Sox

Initially, Red Sox fans didn’t expect much from Alejandro De Aza. The outfielder was designated for assignment by Baltimore, then traded to Boston on June 3rd for Double-A pitcher Joe Gunkel. Great, we thought: another semi-serviceable yet unspectacular outfielder. We really needed one of those.

Yet, all sarcasm aside, amid the worried din of a spluttering Red Sox season, De Aza has been a tremendous addition; his play on both sides of the ball adding a new dimension to De Azathis Boston team, and inspiring it to a mini resurgence in recent weeks.

Through his first 20 games with the Red Sox, De Aza is hitting .317, getting on base at a very respectable .348 clip, and, somewhat surprisingly, slugging .617. The Dominican has hit 3 home runs with Boston, slashed 4 doubles, and collected 11 RBI. Over the past seven days, De Aza owns a 1.378 OPS, second best in all of baseball, while his average of seeing four pitches per plate appearance would, given enough playing time, rank in the Major League’s top 20.

Admittedly, a Line Drive Percentage of 25, down from 32% with the Orioles, coupled with a high .354 Batting Average on Balls in Play, means De Aza is likely to cool off as pitchers and defenses adjust, but, for little more than $3 million in remaining salary, his production has been a real bargain for the Red Sox. Ben Cherington should be commended on a great business move, in which he extracted brilliant value from an asset simply discarded by a rival team.

This, somewhat inevitably, brings us to Hanley Ramirez, the injured superstar De Aza has replaced in the Red Sox’ outfield. Though it may be difficult for traditionalists to swallow, statisticians will tell you that De Aza has already been more valuable to Boston in one month than Ramirez has been in the entire first half. After all, De Aza has added 1 Win Above Replacement, as measured by Baseball-Reference, compared to Hanley costing the Sox -0.1 WAR. I don’t agree entirely, but the stats essentially tell us that Ramirez, earning $14.75 million more than De Aza this year, has thus far contributed less to the Red Sox’ overall success than has Alejandro, which is a particularly startling revelation.

With Ramirez expected to return very soon, the Red Sox will once again face a logjam in the outfield, with Jackie Bradley Jr and Mookie Betts also playing well; Rusney Castillo and Allen Craig still languishing in Pawtucket; and Shane Victorino and Daniel Nava working their way back to health. However, I strongly believe that all great teams work on a meritocracy, with the best-performing players deserving the opportunity to play. For the Red Sox, such a system would have to include De Aza, who has been one of the team’s most consistent players in June.

Ultimately, some solution will be found in the outfield, where the Red Sox have eight viable options for four big league roster spots. As the deadline approaches, De Aza’s value may best lie as a stealth trade chip. Though unlikely to be dealt as a stand alone asset, it would be great if the Red Sox could include Alejandro in an inventive deal for pitching, having seen his stock rise from Baltimore castaway to big league desirable. Perhaps that’s where his future lies, but, right now, let’s just enjoy De Aza for what he is: a very solid ballplayer with a decent array of respectable tools.

Manuel Margot Impressing Early On This Season

Manuel Margot

The Red Sox have had a problem developing outfielders, as of late, who will make an impact on their teams for years to come. In the last year we have seen the Sox move Mookie Betts, a lifelong infielder, to the outfield. Thankfully he looks to be sticking there and making a big impact on this team. Brock Holt, who is now playing right field in the interim, was also an infielder who the Sox moved to the outfield. Hanley Ramirez, a ten year big league veteran of shortstop and third base, was signed to play left field. Ramirez has been the best Sox Manuel Margotplayer so far this season, but could be out for a while after a shoulder injury during Monday’s game while running into the left field wall.

The Red Sox could have a hot outfield prospect on the cusp of the major leagues in a year or two. Manuel Margot, a 20 year old who started this season in High-A Salem, was signed as an international free agent in the summer of 2011.

Margot spent a majority of last season in Low-A Greenville, but did get a last season call-up to Salem. With Salem he impressed in 16 games with a stat line of .340/2/14. As players move up the ladder in the minor leagues, it is always good to see a player start off strong once they reach a new level.

This season Margot has been a player who has been on notice. Last week it was rumored the Phillies sent Charlie Manuel to scout Margot. The Phillies remain very interested in trading Cole Hamels, and may have gotten the picture that Mookie Betts and Blake Swihart are really off the table. Margot is the Red Sox 6th best prospect according to MLB.com, so the Phillies have gone down the line and are looking at what the Red Sox have in their arsenal.

The attention Margot has gotten has been well deserved. Margot did not strike out in a game until April 29th and throws in an element of speed with 11 steals in 13 tries as well as 3 triples. The power has not come for Margot as of yet, but sometimes power comes in the upper minors for most players—Bryce Brentz is an example of that. Don’t be surprised if Margot is in AA-Portland sooner rather than later.

Margot has grabbed the attention of the Red Sox and could continue to grab the attention of other major league teams in the match-up for a trade if the Red Sox continue to look towards improving their rotation. Obviously the Red Sox like what they have in Margot and developing an outfielder has been somewhat of a problem in years past. With a full outfield right now—and for years to come with Ramirez, Betts and Castillo likely penciled in—don’t be surprised if he is tossed around in trade rumors come July.

Jackie Bradley Jr. Hitting Well in Pawtucket

Jackie Bradley Jr.

Although it is only seven games into the season, something seems a little bit different about PawSox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. this season— he is hitting well.
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Starting off this season in the Minors for the first time since 2012, the outfielder is swinging a hot bat, regardless of the sample size. To date, he has 35 at-bats on the year and has collected 13 hits (.371 average) with four doubles and a jackie bradley jr.walk. He leads the team in total bases with 17.

Sure, this is based off of a small sampling, but any signs of life from Bradley at the plate could pay off in a huge manner for the Red Sox this season. Defensively, he probably should have won the Gold Glove last year, but at the plate he had quite the slump in the summer months.
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With Rusney Castillo day to day, the right-handed Bradley—who hits lefty—could find himself with a huge advantage granted that the only thing Castillo has yet to do is play on an every day basis. If Bradley is able to keep stringing hits together like his early scouting reports indicated, he could leave the Boston Red Sox with some tough decisions to make.

The Red Sox will need to see more than eight games from Bradley before they call him up given that he is a lifetime .196 hitter in 164 big league games. If he continues to do what he is doing, or close to it for a month or so, and Castillo cannot keep up, then Bradley might just force his way up to Boston.
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Of course injuries could help Bradley’s case as a call-up as well, but it seems unlikely that they will call him up to do anything less than play on an everyday basis. After all, he still has a few more days before he turns 25.

The Untouchable Mookie Betts

mookie betts

In recent months, we’ve heard a lot about the so-called contest between Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo to be the Red Sox’ starting center fielder. I appreciate the talent of both players, and I respect the heavy stake placed in Castillo by the Boston front office. But, quite frankly, I don’t see a fair comparison between these guys. In my mind, Betts is clearly the better player at present and, moving forward, has a much brighter future. Accordingly, as the Red Sox embrace youth, Mookie Betts should be the poster boy, standing front and center. Ultimately, he should be untouchable.Mookie Betts

I love Betts’ energy and agility. Like all great ballplayers, he is always so alert and alive on the field, proactively pushing the envelope and making things happen. Betts has the kind of mercurial instinct and youthful exuberance that sets the tone on a ballclub, providing it with life and animation. He’s just a fun guy to have around.

At the plate, Betts reminds me of a young Dustin Pedroia; both players compensating for a lack of height and bulk by mastering a lyrical swing that emits one rasping line drive after another, hammering ball after ball into the gaps and off the walls. Betts has such good timing, and the ball jumps so aggressively off his bat, that he’s become something of an extra-base hit machine, firing doubles and triples into the outfield and igniting panic among opposing teams.

This spring, Mookie has been fantastic, showing real growth and development before our eyes. Every day, he becomes more accustomed to the leadoff spot, showing an increased appreciation for his role as an on-base instigator, whilst his play in center field continues to improve handsomely. Through eight Grapefruit League games, Betts has 12 hits, including 4 doubles and 2 triples, good for a .462 average and a startling 1.231 OPS. Admittedly, this is a very small sample size, but the guy just has a tremendous feel for the game. He’s ready to take the Major Leagues by storm.

Of course, you’d like to see Betts draw a few more walks, and use his game-altering speed to more devastating effect on the bases, but those facets of his game will develop naturally with experience. Mookie has a precocious array of skills and, throughout his professional career, they have been honed with an abundance of game time. The more Betts plays, the better he becomes, which is why the Sox must give him the starting job he has earned, and allow him to continue building from his impressive opening salvo last year.

Aged 22 and cost-controlled until 2021, Mookie Betts is, in my opinion, the definitive nucleus around which this new-age Red Sox team should be built. In the next few years, he will grow into a brilliantly dynamic Major League player, before maturing into a perennial All-Star. Accordingly, for Boston, it makes zero sense to have him play the next season or so in Pawtucket; nor to trade him away and watch as he becomes an elite performer someplace else. Mookie Betts is the present and the future. He, surely, is untouchable.