The battle may be between Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo for the center field position in the Boston Red Sox spring training camp. However, some Red Sox fans believe the real confrontation should be between Betts and Shane Victorino in right field.
In our survey, conducted over Twitter (@BoSoxInjection), just under 90% believed that Castillo should start in center, Betts should start in right, and Victorino should start on the bench, to start the 2015 regular season.
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Red Sox manager John Farrell has been well-documented saying that he would like the veteran Victorino, an essential player in their 2013 World Series championship, to play right field. Since the expectation was that Castillo would start in center field, Betts looked to be on the outside, looking in on the starting lineup. Yet, with Betts’ strong spring training numbers, some people have cast doubt on whether Castillo or Victorino should be the one riding the pine.
So far, Betts is hitting .471, with 1 inside-the-park home run, 2 RBIs, and a matching .471 on-base percentage in 34 plate appearances. Last season, he made his mark, granted with a small sample size, with a batting average of .291, 5 home runs, 18 RBIs, and 7 stolen bases in 52 games for the Red Sox.
Not everyone agrees with that assessment. Boston.com published Jeremy Gottlieb’s article on being wary of Betts’ good fortune. According to Gottlieb, “before we coronate Betts and his grand total of 213 regular season major league plate appearances into “can’t miss” status, let’s take a deep breath,” and, as Gottlieb believes, realize that another highly-touted Red Sox outfielder prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. and All-Star Grady Sizemore had great early numbers, “each of which wound up quickly turning into mush.”
"“Any time you can get a No. 1, as I told these guys — not the front office, but the players — any time you can go get a guy in my opinion who is established, who has done it [you do it].” – Shane Victorino"
The 11-year veteran went further, saying, “You’re hoping this guy becomes a Cole Hamels. Hoping. Oh wait, that guy is there now. And even as a hitter. Why would you hope that guy becomes this hitter, when you have it right now?” The article makes the suggestion that since Betts and top catching prospect Blake Swihart were rumored to be a part of what the Philadelphia Phillies wanted in a trade for Hamels, it seems that Victorino was throwing them under the proverbial bus.
Yet, Boston.com sportswriter Steven Silva also tweeted, recently, a picture depicting Victorino acting quite sagely to Betts and the other outfielders:
It’s interesting to see Victorino acting so ‘fatherly’ to the same young man who is competing for his job. He’s helping the same breakout star he seems to want out of Boston, in favor of a former teammate.
Victorino likely feels both selfless and selfish for a good, understandable reason. He wants to keep the MLB spotlight he earned for years; yet, understanding the traditional baseball code, he knows that his responsibility is to pass on his knowledge to the players whom deserve his time.
Feb 24, 2015; Ft. Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino (18) is seen prior to workout drills at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The fact of the matter is that the no-longer-switch-hitting, two-time Gold Glove winner is sounding a bit desperate. By all accounts, Betts is impressing everyone, not just the fans, and Victorino is showing his age. Last season, Victorino hit .268, with 2 home runs and 12 RBIs in 123 at-bats, after suffering another injury in his long career. This spring, in a small sample size of 19 at-bats, Victorino has hit .158, with only a .273 on-base percentage.
He told the media earlier this year that his back is fine, and that he was going back to switch-hitting, after giving it up last year. Yet, from numerous reports, that dream has now faded back to hitting exclusively right-handed. According to FanGraphs.com, Victorino is much better hitting from the left side (.325) than the right side (.241) of the plate.
Victorino is in the final year of his contract. Of course the Red Sox want to win the World Series again, this year, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to create a dynasty. General manager Ben Cherington wants to build a successful team for years to come. So, why would he want to risk giving up players who could continue the success for another ten years, on the off-chance that they actually win in 2015?
Nothing in baseball is guaranteed. Victorino could be right that Hamels would sure up the starting rotation, which may help the team once every four or five days to secure victories. Those wins could help them get into the postseason and win the World Series. The starting rotation could also play to their potential, making Hamels superfluous. The batting lineup could seek hits, but the runs-well could dry up, if any of them (including Victorino) get injured or swing poorly. Betts is not showing signs of anything other than All-Star potential, so far. If we are talking guarantees and hopes, Victorino’s words, at the moment, seem to be the wishing kind and Betts’ bat is providing all of the evidence.
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