One of the questions which needs to be answered for the Red Sox this spring is who’s in centerfield? Mookie Betts was the Red Sox every day center fielder last season. Betts played very well there especially for someone who is a natural second baseman. Betts is above average defensively and is on the cusp of becoming elite offensively. With that said, Jackie Bradley, Jr. is arguably the best defensive center fielder in Major League Baseball. Bradley played the majority of the first half of the 2015 season in AAA working on his swing. In the second half of the year, he spent the majority of the time with the big league club. He dazzled in all three outfield positions and he was also very solid at the plate. So, who’s the best option in CF heading into 2016?
The argument for Betts in center is that he moved to this position two years ago and is now at a point where he can play the position very well. Moving from an infield position to the outfield is never easy. See: Hanley Ramirez – 2015. Betts has the range, the arm, and now has the awareness to play the position on a regular basis. Moving him to another position would be another adjustment. Who knows how long it will take to make that adjustment? The most likely position that Betts could move to would be right field. At Fenway Park, you need a right fielder who has good range and has an adequate arm. Betts has both. However, he has never really played this position. The common thought is that if he can play center, he should be able to play right. But, who really knows?
The argument for Bradley is very simple. He’s the best player at the position. Why move the best center fielder in baseball to a corner outfield position? Bradley’s strength is his outfield defense so it makes sense to put him in the premier outfield position where there is the most opportunity to make plays. Bradley is a game changer on defense. He can win games with his range and his arm. Granted, he can play any outfield position, but should that matter? Would the New York Giants put Willie Mays in a corner outfield position? How about Ken Griffey in Seattle? While Bradley is not at that level, he’s definitely an elite defender.
The question with Bradley is can he hit well enough to be an every day player? If he hit like he did last year, he should play every day. He hit .249 with 10 home runs and 43 RBI in 74 games. If he can hit .250 with 15+ home runs and 70+ RBI over a full season with that type of elite defense, he should be in there because he’ll win games with his glove. The other factor here is that John Farrell stated that Chris Young will play against all lefties. Does this mean Bradley sits against lefties? Or will it be Rusney Castillo sitting? It probably depends on who is hitting better at the time. Bradley is not a liability at the plate against lefties. Despite be left-handed, his career batting average is .038 points higher against lefties than against righties. Last year, Bradley batted .306 with a .918 OPS against lefties. In other words, he’s not one of those lefties that you sit because he can’t hit left-handed pitching.
In summary, this is a good problem to have. The Red Sox actually have four outfielders who are capable of playing centerfield. What this means is that they’ll have an elite defensive outfield no matter who plays where. Having said that, a good defensive outfield starts with the guy in the middle and the best guy is clearly Bradley.
Bradley in center. Betts in right.