With pitchers and catchers officially reporting to spring training yesterday, Red Sox camp is finally in session and it didn’t take very long for manager John Farrell to make some headlines. In an interview yesterday, Farrell gave a vote of confidence to veteran outfielder Shane Victorino.
"If Shane Victorino is fully capable and fully healthy, he’s our right fielder. I mean, that’s pretty simple. He was one of the best right fielders in the game two years ago.When you come back from injury, you shouldn’t have lost your job because of an injury. He’s rehabbed it successfully to date, and going forward we’ve just got to monitor the recovery. We have a full spring training to do that, and probably into the first part of the year."
While this seemingly clears up any questions about Boston’s early-season lineup, it’s worth noting that there’s no guarantee that Victorino will actually stay healthy. Victorino, who came to Boston on a 3 year/$39M pact in the 2012-13 offseason, played in just 30 games last season en route to a .268/.303/.382 slash line, a far cry from his elite 2013 season when he hit .294/.351/.451 with 15 home runs and 21 stolen bases to go with Gold Glove defense in right field.
His 2013 success showcases Victorino’s ceiling to be one of the better right fielders in baseball. When healthy, he has provided a bit of all five tools and shown to be an incredibly valuable player. Now 34 years old and returning from a season-ending back surgery in August of last season, Victorino will once again need to prove his worth to the Red Sox. Young phenom Mookie Betts excelled in a stint with the Red Sox last season, slashing .291/.368/.444 in 52 major league games and will likely be chomping at the bit to receive some well-deserved MLB playing time.
On the surface, this announcement by Farrell precludes Betts from receiving playing time right away next season. However, Betts could still find himself in the Opening Day lineup. If Victorino injures himself again, or the Red Sox determine that Cuban import Rusney Castillo is in need of some time at Triple-A Pawtucket, then Betts will be the man for the center field job. Plus, there’s still the chance that the Red Sox will trade Victorino once/if he proves his health. There are a number of avenues for Betts to receive big league experience, but for now we should simply be happy that Victorino has come along so well and should be ready to start the season in the lineup.