Jacoby Ellsbury takes his shiny new ring and shiny new contract to don what are ostensibly shiny new pinstripes, leaving the Boston Red Sox with a differently named center fielder on opening day for the first time since Coco Crisp played there in 2007. But the old out/new in truism certainly applies here as Ellsbury leaving creates new opportunities for fantasy baseball enthusiasts at a position I’m not finding particularly deep in 2014.
Jackie Bradley is the heir apparent in center field, but his hold on a starting job isn’t ironclad. After hitting an uninspiring .189/.280/.337 in 2013, Bradley was sent back down to the minors where he slashed a more respectable — and expected — .275/.374/.469 with ten home runs and seven stolen bases over 80 games played. But it seems as though expectations were duly tempered after his brief cup in 2013, with Oliver projecting .254/.329/.419 over a full season while Steamer has him at a similar output with just 92 games played. Even with a starting gig, Bradley is probably best used as a fourth or fifth outfielder in fantasy circles, but he’s certainly a keeper stash to see if he inches towards his projected upside.
Bradley, still 23, could conceivably give way to Shane Victorino should he struggle out of the gate, and it’s also probably worthwhile to keep an eye on his output during Spring as it will no doubt contribute to either the narrative that he’s arrived or he’s still over-matched. But chances are, Bradley is your starting center fielder for the Boston Red Sox. So get a friggin helmet.
Spelling Bradley in center, as stated before, could be Shane Victorino — but he’s likely to be your regular right fielder. Keep an eye on reclamation project Grady Sizemore, however. Sizemore could conceivably push Bradley for at bats if he shows a strong spring, but it’s really difficult to recommend drafting him as he hasn’t been a regular for five seasons and you know all about his well documented injuries. It is interesting to note that the Oliver projection for Sizemore is marginally better than that of Bradley — although the likelihood of Sizemore getting 600 at bats seems incredibly slim. But still, if you’re a Bradley owner, you want to keep a pulse on Sizemore.
Daniel Nava enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2013, going from bench/role player to fantasy relevant after hitting .303/.385/.445 with 12 home runs and 77 runs scored. Many point to his inflated .352 BABIP as reason for regression but if he can maintain that 26% line drive rate, it’s entirely possible he can keep up that pace on batted balls. A question for fantasy owners will be playing time as the Sox also need to find time for Jonny Gomes to get his bat in the lineup, and with David Ortiz around, it’s not going to frequently be in the DH role.
Nava is a switch hitter, but he is much more effective against right handed pitchers, so a modified platoon with Gomes is likely to play out. That’s not to say that Nava will sit with lefties on the hill, as he can capably play all three outfield positions and even picked up eight starts at first base last year. Still, Nava should settle in as a bench stash or fifth outfielder for most competitive rosters. As for Gomes, he’s not likely to get many more than 300 plate appearances, so the only way he would be useful is in plug-and-play daily leagues when a lefty is starting — and even then, the projection systems don’t like him for much more than .250/.340/.420 with a dozen or so home runs.
Shane Victorino ought to fill the right field slot for the Red Sox, assuming his body can hold up over the course of the season. 2013 was another quietly solid performance at the dish for Victorino, producing 15 home runs, 21 stolen bases and a .294/.351/.451 slash line over 532 plate appearances. Hamstring issues limited him to 122 games, and if you draft Victorino, you almost certainly need a capable replacement stashed away for those days when he’s unavailable. Most projection systems like Victorino to come close to repeating his 2013 output with perhaps a slight dip across the board on his slash line, but he should be very useful as a third outfield in competitive standard format leagues.
Mixed in here somewhere is Mike Carp, who might play a little left, a little right, a little first, and maybe DH once or twice. Or get traded. This is life as Mike Carp. He managed to get 243 plate appearances last year, and he likely did more with them than anyone expected, slashing .296/.362/.523, whilst giving the Seattle Mariners heartburn. But yeah, that .385 BABIP isn’t likely to repeat and Carp probably won’t crack 300 plate appearances again in 2014.
Also on the 40-man roster is Bryce Brentz and Alex Hassan, but they’re both likely headed for AAA — and if you want to quibble about outfield details, it’s more likely that Hassan becomes a first baseman. Corey Brown is a non-roster invitee and figures to get a look in Spring too. A former Athletics and Nationals farmhand, Brown has shown power, and sometimes tremendous power, at several stops through the minors, although in very brief stints at the major league level, he has looked a lot like a Carlos Peguero type — lefty masher with contact problems. It’s not impossible he breaks camp with the Sox, but it’s not very likely he sees much more than pinch hitting duties.
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