Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
In recent days, a new variable has entered the competition between Jackie Bradley Jr. and Grady Sizemore: what if Shane Victorino is unable to play on Opening Day? If Victorino had to start the season on the disabled list due to the soreness and nagging side injuries he has been dealing with throughout this spring, then Sizmore and Bradley could both start the season on the 25-man roster and the competition could work itself out. However, that plan can be put to sleep now as Shane Victorino has made light of his current situation and promised to be starting in right field on Opening Day next Monday.
When healthy last season, Victorino was one of, if not the most valuable player on the Red Sox. In addition to playing elite defense and winning the Gold Glove in right field, Victorino was also handy with the bat; he slashed .294/.351/.451 while riding a late-season power surge to 15 home runs to go with his 21 stolen bases. That performance may have been somewhat buoyed by luck, but last season’s .321 BABIP is not too far above his career average of .299. Even if Victorino does regress a bit in 2014, his talent is clear and he has the potential to be a jack-of-all-trades at the top of the Red Sox lineup.
With Jacoby Ellsbury now in New York, Victorino is prepared to take on an even larger role as that jack-of-all-trades commodity. It’s likely that Victorino will find himself in the leadoff spot at least against left-handers and he could even make the case to become the full-time leadoff hitter, though Daniel Nava is likely the better choice against righties. Victorino will also likely see some time in center field, with neither Sizemore or Bradley really at the point of being an everyday player at this stage in their respective careers, at least to start the season.
Therefore, while it would be nice to see the center field competition work itself out, it’s clearly more valuable to have Victorino in the lineup. It will be interesting to see how Victorino takes on this greater role with the team, and the fact that he’ll play Opening Day is reassuring. Both he and manager John Farrell seem to be clear in their message to fans regarding Victorino’s health: don’t worry about a thing.