When the Red Sox signed shortstop Marco Scutaro to a 2-year deal in the beginning of December, I was more than skeptical. I didn’t see what the intrigue of a career .263 hitter with solid range and throwing ability was. After the first few weeks of the season, my lackluster impression was only made worse as I watched the ‘defensive stopper’ commit 3 errors and botch a few other seemingly easy plays. However, after seeing Scutaro settle in a bit at the plate and in the field, I am beginning to come around.
On Tuesday morning, Amalie Benjamin of the Boston Globe wrote a great article about Scutaro’s success as a lead-off hitter. Since Jacoby Ellsbury went down with his side injury, Scutaro has taken over as the team’s lead-off hitter and has an on-base percentage of .354, which has helped get the Red Sox offense going in recent weeks. No one expects Scutaro to hit .300+ and provide a power spark, but his ability to make contact and get on-base has been critical to getting Dustin Pedroia and the meat of the lineup at-bats with runners on base.
Defensively, Scutaro has begun to look more comfortable and stable on the left-side of the infield and has made a few great individual plays as well as has played a critical role in many clutch double-plays. I am still not convinced he is an elite shortstop, but he has proven his range and arm strength, especially on his mid-air, across-the-body throw to Kevin Youkilis in Tuesday night’s game. If he can continue to gain confidence and become the vacuum cleaner the Sox expected from him at shortstop, it will begin to pay dividends in relation to the ‘run-prevention strategy’ we have all heard so much about.
The most impressive characteristic of Scutaro’s personality is his flexibility and team mentality. When being asked about what happens when Ellsbury returns, Scutaro said, “I’m pretty clear he’s the one. He’s a really good leadoff guy. He’s going to be the leadoff guy. When he comes back, I’ll probably go to the nine hole. I don’t really care.’’ It’s not his praise of Ellsbury I found impressive, it is his mentality of moving around in the line-up where ever he is needed. Scutaro wants the team to win and trusts his manager’s judgment on where to hit, whether it be 1st, 9th or anywhere in between.
If you know me at all, you will know I harp on the intangibles in the game of baseball. Chemistry, leadership and a team mentality are almost as important as the talent of the players on a team. Every player in the majors is talented and is there for a reason, but it is the ability to play with and for each other that allows a team to rise to that next level. My pre-season opinion of Scutaro was based on his numbers and watching him play in Toronto and did not factor in his team-first mentality. It’s a long season, but thus far I have been wrong about the 5’9′ 180 lb infielder and hope I continue to be proven wrong into October.