Rusney Castillo

Time to revisit Red Sox outfield competition

Rob Bradford
March 12, 2015 - 8:40 am

BRADENTON, Fla. -- It was two years ago Wednesday that the conversation really amped up. That's when Jackie Bradley launched the first pitch of a game against Miami's Kevin Slowey over the left-center field fence, kicking off a three-hit day for the then-22-year-old. "It doesn't seem too long ago," said Bradley, who ended up hitting .419 with a 1.120 OPS that 2013 spring training, going on to also hit a home run off of Cliff Lee. "I can't be too long ago if I remember it that well." It was why Mookie Betts' three-hit performance exactly two years later offered the parallel when analyzing competition for the Red Sox' starting outfield spot for Opening Day. It's not apples to apples since Betts has 52 major league games under his belt, where Bradley hadn't touched the majors. So to suggest that since Betts (who is hitting .400 thus far this spring) is willing his way to the top of the Red Sox' Opening day with his spring training performance, he will suffer the same early-season fate as Bradley's 2013 probably isn't fair. "We view spring training as having to being taken in its proper context," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "Now you're talking about two completely different individuals and how they deal with the challenges and how they adapt. Now you're getting into personal profile, not just a broad brush." But, much like it did thanks in part to that March 11 day in 2013, it seems like the Opening Day conversation is starting to take shape. Besides Betts' performance, another aspect of the current equation that is helping define the competition is Rusney Castillo's health. While the outfielder is progressing from his left oblique injury, each passing day without Castillo in game action makes it more and more difficult to envision him on the Opening Day roster. "We've got to wait and see when he's first back on the field how much of the schedule remains and how many at-bats that might translate to. We haven't determined that yet," said Farrell when asked if there would be enough time for Castillo to catch up with his competitors by the opener. "Never been to spring training with him. Typically, you try to get your regulars anywhere from 55-65 [at-bats], somewhere in there. We know there are exceptions to that -- David [Ortiz], for one, two years ago. Until he gets back in game situations, we'll see where the timing is." Farrell continued to be optimistic regarding Castillo's progress, pointing out that he is hitting off a tee while also taking soft toss. The manager does warn, however, that playing -- not talking -- will be the only way to evaluate the player. "Watching it play out on the field," said Farrell when asked about determining Castillo's readiness. "There's really no conversation that can be had to replace a guy throwing 3-2 sliders." (When discussing the possibility of starting the season in the minors, Castillo told such an assignment wouldn't alter his plan, attitude or perspective. To read the outfielder's comments click here.) Then there is Bradley, who got the start in center field for the Red Sox against the Pirates Thursday, entering the game hitting .385. It would seem that his best chance at cracking Sox' Opening Day roster would be if Allen Craig was to be dealt, with Bradley presenting the best defensive option if Shane Victorino's health took a turn for the worse. As for Victorino, the right fielder seems to have gotten past the soreness that kept him out for a few days, getting the start and leading off against the Pirates. "Let'€™s face it, every athlete is a competitor and wants to be on the field," Farrell said. "I think a veteran has a little better ability to differentiate between soreness and pain. There'€™s some soreness they'€™re going to play with. Our history with Vic has been short-lived. Two years ago he didn'€™t get a hit in spring training and he opened up with three line drives base hits in new york. Last year he was start and stop, start and stop until we were breaking camp that day. He felt it again in the hamstring. In some ways we'€™re still getting to know him as a spring training type of player."