Red Sox: What is Chris Young’s role for 2017 season?

Feb 27, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Chris Young (30) doubles during the third inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Chris Young (30) doubles during the third inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Hanley Ramirez’ ailing shoulder has left the Boston Red Sox without clarity on how they can utilize Chris Young this season.

It’s clear that the Boston Red Sox are best served by putting Chris Young in the lineup against left-handed pitching. What’s less clear is who he’ll replace.

It seemed fairly straight forward when the roster was being pieced together over the winter. Gold Glove winner Mitch Moreland was brought in to upgrade the infield defense, although his career splits pointed to a likely platoon situation. The plan was for Hanley Ramirez to replace him at first base when there was a southpaw on the mound, allowing Young to slide into the vacated DH spot.

Plans don’t always work out as expected and this seems to be one that may not pan out. Ramirez has been bothered by shoulder soreness that has prevented him from playing in the field this spring. Apparently the issue doesn’t hinder Ramirez at the plate, only when he throws, which has relegated him to DH duty.

It’s unclear if Ramirez will be ready to man first base by the time the season opens next week – or if he’ll be able to play the position at all this season. With Ramirez locked into the DH role for the foreseeable future, where does that leave Young?

It’s a question the 33-year old has been asking himself, as he discussed with WEEI’s Rob Bradford.

"“You think about it, for sure,” said Young regarding the possibility that Ramirez remains at DH due to his shoulder. “But you have no control over it. I can control what I can control. That’s all I try and focus on. I try and stay ready and be prepared for whatever situation comes my way, which is the same thing I did last year. Last year I didn’t know how things would fall into place, and they fell into place alright. Unfortunately I got hurt and that kind of changed the plan, but before that I was able to earn my way into the lineup. My goal is to earn my way and to show I can help the team in whatever aspects they need and stay ready.”"

Unless the outfielder learns how to play first base, it’s unclear where opportunities will come. Ramirez made the transition from left field to firs base, but he worked at it all spring. A similar move doesn’t seem to be in the cards for Young, at least not anytime soon.

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If at-bats aren’t available in the DH role, Young’s playing time will need to come at the expense of one of the outfielders. Which of the star-studded trio do you sit in favor of Young?

It won’t be Mookie Betts. Sure, the MVP candidate could use the occasionally break, but as long as he’s healthy he’ll be in the lineup most of the time.

Could the Red Sox sit one of their left-handed outfielders against lefties?

Jackie Bradley struggled against left-handers last season to the tune of a .244 average and .673 OPS. However, he hit significantly better against southpaws the previous season and his career splits don’t hint at the need for a platoon role. Taking him out of the lineup also sacrifices on the defensive end. While Andrew Benintendi is certainly capable of sliding over to cover center field, he’s not the wizard with a glove that JBJ is.

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Benintendi hit a mere .179 against lefties in his time with the Red Sox last year, although it came in a minuscule sample size of 28 at-bats and he was successful against left-handed pitching in the minors. Besides, are the Red Sox really going to put the Rookie of the Year candidate in a part-time role?

The upside at the plate is higher with Young facing lefties. That’s what the Red Sox signed him to do and he lived up to the task last season by hitting .329 with a .999 OPS against left-handers.

Bradley and Benintendi probably won’t produce quite as well against lefties, so the lineup would be stronger with Young replacing one of them. Is that advantage worth the cost of losing Bradley’s defense or toying with Benintendi’s development?

Manager John Farrell will be tasked with juggling his outfielders when a left-handed pitcher is on the mound. Maybe this means only starting Young when facing a pitcher deemed to be a “tough lefty.” That way the Red Sox won’t necessarily have to bench one of their star outfielders every time they face a lefty, although it won’t leave many opportunities for Young. How is he ever supposed to find a rhythm at the plate with such sporadic playing time?

None of the available solutions work as perfectly as the original plan of platooning Moreland. Hopefully Ramirez’ shoulder will allow him to play some first base at some point this season, allowing Farrell to pivot back to that preferred option. In the meantime, how much playing time Young will receive remains a bit of a mystery.

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