Red Sox: Alex Verdugo’s spot will vary in the lineup, on the field

MIAMI, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 15: Alex Verdugo #99 of the Boston Red Sox at bat against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on September 15, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 15: Alex Verdugo #99 of the Boston Red Sox at bat against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on September 15, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Red Sox will be flexible with how they use Alex Verdugo

Alex Verdugo will make his spring debut for the Boston Red Sox on Friday. He’s batting second and patrolling center field but those aren’t necessarily the roles that he’s going to be locked into this season. While addressing the media this morning, manager Alex Cora provided some insight into the flexibility he has with utilizing Verdugo.

Cora isn’t committing to a firm lineup plan but he did confirm that Verdugo will bat near the top of the order. The manager had to stop himself when he started to say he wants the athletic players in the top two spots, implying that certain players (i.e. Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez) aren’t quite as athletic.

"“If you’re going to break it down, we’ll have the athletes… well, top two athletes,” said a smirking Cora. “It all depends. The way I see it, Alex (Verdugo) is going to lead-off or hit second, let’s leave it at that. I don’t want to crush people by saying they aren’t athletic.”"

The Red Sox struggled to find a new lead-off hitter to replace Mookie Betts in the early going last season but eventually solidified the top of their lineup by moving Verdugo into that role. He performed admirably, hitting .289/.344/.416 in 163 plate appearances in the lead-off spot, but he was never comfortable with the role. Verdugo did it because his team needed him to fill that void when they lacked viable alternatives, not because he was ready to embrace it.

Boston’s roster overhaul brought in other players capable of being inserted at the top of the lineup, including Kike Hernandez, who has served in the lead-off role a few times this spring and is back in that spot on Friday.

Hernandez has historically performed significantly better against left-handed pitching, owning a career .263/.345/.474 slash line against southpaws compared to .222/.286/.386 against right-handed pitching. The Red Sox seem unfazed by these wide splits and intend to make Hernandez a fixture in the lineup regardless of who is on the mound. It would make sense to bump him down in the order against right-handed starters though, in which case Verdugo, whose splits are more neutral, may move up into the lead-off spot.

Cora went on to discuss how the flexibility with utilizing Verdugo extends to the outfield alignment. He spent most of his time in right field for the Red Sox last season but with the free-agent departure of Jackie Bradley Jr., Verdugo will be counted on to be part of the solution to replace the former Gold Glove award winner.

This presents a challenge when the Red Sox play at home. Verdugo impressed with his ability to handle Fenway Park’s notoriously difficult right field during his first season in Boston. A strong defensive presence at the position is arguably more important than it is in center field due to the quirky dimensions or Fenway’s right field.

Cora indicated that Verdugo will spend time at both outfield positions this spring, suggesting he plans to use him in right field on occasion this season. Hernandez has been used in the infield this spring with Xander Bogaerts still recovering from a sore shoulder. When the star shortstop gets back on the field, Hernandez will see some time in the outfield and he’s capable of filling in at center, which would allow Verdugo to slide over to right.

The manager also praised the defense of Hunter Renfroe and trusts him to cover right field, even at Fenway. There will be times when Renfroe sticks in right with Verdugo in center when Hernandez is needed at an infield spot.

The versatility of these players provides Cora with a lot of options and he intends to take advantage by getting creative with his lineups and defensive alignments.

"“One thing’s for sure, we’re not going to have a set lineup and we’re going to have moving parts the whole season,” said Cora."

Verdugo was the best player on the Red Sox last season. He hit .308 with an .844 OPS and six home runs while providing a strong defensive presence in the outfield. Verdugo led the team with 2.2 WAR and finished 12th on the AL MVP ballot.

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The 24-year-old will continue to be a key part of the lineup and play a vital role on the field, regardless of which spot Cora puts him in on both sides of the ball.