Football season is over, Tom Brady has won his fifth Super Bowl ring, and pitchers and catchers have reported to Fort Myers. In other words, baseball season is finally here! That being said, I wanted to kick off a Red Sox season full of articles by talking about what might just be the team's biggest strength. The outfield.
While this is the second straight year that we are going into the season with an excessive amount of hype surrounding the Red Sox outfield, we actually have valid reasons to be excited this year. An outfield of Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts is bound to take the league by storm. Although we got to see a preview toward the end of last year, it is almost time to see a full year of what we all hope is the outfield of the future. And believe it or not, I think that they’ll exceed the sky high expectations that the fans and media have already set. Let’s break it down player by player:
There’s not much left to be said about Markus Lynn Betts that we haven’t already heard. He’s widely viewed as the best fielder in all of baseball leading the major league's in 2016 with 32 Defensive Runs Saved while taking home the Gold Glove for American League Right Fielders. As far as offensive value goes, he has a smooth swing, and lightning quick hands. He can hit for average, he can for power, and he is the clear choice to begin the year hitting 3rd in the batting order. Mookie Betts is far and away the best offensive weapon on this roster and he remains among the best in all of baseball. The only part of his game that I can imagine will improve this year will be his arm strength. We’ve seen a huge improvement in his arm strength over the last two years as he has converted from second base; however, it shouldn’t surprise you to see a jump in the number of outfield assists. I don’t think he’ll be content with being the runner-up for the AL MVP award for a second straight year.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
JBJ is the true X-Factor in why this outfield is deceptively good. While Jackie’s outfield assist numbers will likely decrease from season to season, that is not due to any lack of arm strength. By the mid-way point of last season, teams had essentially given up on sending their runners on a ball that was hit Jackie’s way. At this point, Jackie’s scouting report says in big letters that those who run on him have a similar survival rate as the members of my many childhood attempts at the computer game Oregon Trail (approximately 0.1%). And he’s not just an arm out there either. Jackie can cover as much ground as any Center Fielder in baseball. From an offensive standpoint, I don’t believe that he’ll be able to put together another season of 26 HR’s and 87 RBI’s. That being said, there's no reason that he can’t sit in the 9 hole and hit .270. That’s all we ask for out of a guy who is as streaky a hitter as we’ve ever seen. Regardless of what he did last year, I’m not ready to rely on Jackie as an offensive force. He’s just not the type of player that he is.
If you read my articles, tweets, or listen The 12-34 Podcast, then you’re probably aware that I have the biggest man crush of all-time on Andrew Benintendi. But contrary to popular belief, the hair is not a factor. I love Andrew Benintendi because of all that he has to offer to my favorite baseball team. His swing has zero holes in it (the polar opposite of Travis Shaw’s), he can hit the ball to all fields, he has the range and speed of a Center Fielder, and on top of that he has put on about 20 pounds of muscle this offseason. If Benny can continue to hit the way that he proved capable of last season then I’d be satisfied. But if he can do it while adding some additional power to the repertoire, then maybe some offensive regression from Jackie Bradley Jr.wouldn’t be so bad. Overall, I am predicting a very good year for baseball’s top prospect, and it’s only in small part because I’m still not over the video him curling chains.
As a complete unit, the Red Sox have 3 capable center fielders patrolling their outfield. All offseason I’ve heard about their offensive potential, yet the vast majority of fans have failed to realize the defensive threat that is posed by this tremendous trio. The balls that dropped in front of Brock Holt, Chris Young, Blake Swihart, Bryce Brentz and Ryan Lamarre last year will not be dropping in front of Andrew Benintendi. Those who dared to run on JBJ and lived to tell the tale will likely not be testing their luck the second time around. And Mookie Betts is going to do what Mookie Betts does, which is absolutely everything. It’s always fun to salivate over the unlimited offensive potential of the Betts-Bradley-Benintendi outfield, but when you factor in the defensive force that they should prove to be, you might just discover that they’re even better than you thought they were.
PS- The wait is over. Baseball season is back. Get excited.