A day after the Beltre signing, the Sox made another roster move, but without adding any new players. Reported by Amalie Benjamin of the Boston Globe, Francona announced that Ellsbury will be playing left field next year and Mike Cameron will move into the center field slot. I understand why the move makes sense, but worry it is putting Ellsbury in a difficult spot under the shadow of the Green Monster.
Ellsbury is a solid center fielder by most anyone’s standards. He has an extremely quick first step, the reason he is being moved to left field, and has a solid arm. He has made some incredibly athletic plays to rob hits over the past few years and his diving-catch highlight reel is ridiculous. That being said, in many instances Ellsbury is only in a position to dive for a ball because he either was slow to react or he took a funny path to the ball.
In left field, Ellsbury will have have to react quicker to be able to get to a sinking fly ball or turn and play a ball off the monster, which brings me to my next point. Playing the Green Monster is one of the most difficult tasks as an outfielder. There are an infinite number of angles and directions a ball can bounce off the wall, and it takes a special player to be successful at judging the rebound.
Historically, Boston has an impressive list of left fielders that includes Hall of Famers like Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, and Jim Rice. In more recent history, the shadow of the Monster belonged to Manny Ramirez, and Jason Bay. The one link between all of those names? Power with less than stellar speed. The prototype for a Boston left fielder is the opposite of Ellsbury in almost every way, but is that an advantage for him? It could be.
The key for Ellsbury will be his recovery speed. If a ball hits the National League scoreboard and takes and unexpected trajectory towards the foul poll, Ellsbury has the speed to be able to react to the ball and get it in extremely quickly. That quick first step that I mentioned earlier will be a huge advantage, especially in the beginning when Ellsbury is still trying to get comfortable with the Fenway focal point.
It is a long season, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ellsbury move back to center field at some point, but for now, Ellsbury has some big shoes to fill in left field. If he is successful, however, the Sox could have the best defensive team in the history of the franchise.