Can Hanley Ramirez transition to left field?


Hanley Ramirez has signed an enormous contract with the Boston Red Sox to play (drum roll, please) left field. Ramirez has never played the outfield during his professional career. Why now?

Apparently Ramirez could see the fiscal writing on the wall and that by expanding his options beyond the infield could dramatically improve his chances of receiving that very nice contractual kiss. The Red Sox, in need of offense, were certainly willing partners and bought into this. Their suggestion? Maybe and maybe not.

In 1959 the Red Sox had a promising young infielder named Carl Yastrzemski. Yaz, as he generally known, was sent off with his huge bonus to play shortstop for the Raleigh Capitals of the Carolina League. The Capitals were the Class B affiliate of Boston and shortstop Yaz soon became second baseman Yaz and then left fielder Yaz.

By 1960 the Red Sox left field occupant, a hitter of some renown named Ted Williams, was preparing to call it a career and Yaz was the heir apparent. I attended opening day in 1961 and Yaz managed a hit and tossed out a runner at home. The infield skills were clearly on display with a charge of the ball and a bullet to home. This was often displayed during his career and became part of the defensive package honored with several Gold Gloves.

Alex Gordon was mentioned on several MVP ballots. Gordon, like Yaz, started in the infield and eventually was shifted to left field. Gordon was a competent third baseman at the MLB level but certainly would not be confused with Brooks Robinson. As a left fielder Gordon has been spectacular with, again like Yaz, a string of Gold Gloves as reward for his defensive prowess.

That returns us to Ramirez and his shift of position.

I have few qualms about his ability to charge the ball and make strong throws. That part of his infield skill set is transferable. But what about the alleys? What about the reads? The jump on the ball? Those will be the issues that will be examined as one of the sub plots of spring training.

Ramirez has Fenway Park and that can be a boom or a bust to a left fielder. My assumption is that any adjustment to left field barriers will be minimal. Lack of a spacious amount of foul territory turf is also a plus. Another plus is having a competent center fielder. A glance at Rusney Castillo’s scouting reports shows that some protection may exist in that area. Nice to have someone capable of getting that gap jump to the right. Time will tell if Castillo is then real deal defensively. If not, maybe Jackie Bradley will return? Bradley certainly supplied the defense in 2014.

With Ramirez I have a happy feeling on the transition to the outfield. In fact after watching Mike Carp, Daniel Nava and Yoenis Cespedes I have no doubt it can only get better. Now if he can stay healthy and get back offensively the Red Sox may get a return on their investment