Perhaps no one on the Boston Red Sox was a more pleasant surprise than centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury in 2011. From his time in the major leagues beginning in late 2007 through 2009 he’d established himself as a solid leadoff hitter, before broken ribs shelved him for almost all of 2010. Last season he came back with a vengeance, posting a .376 on-base percentage that was the best of his career, and unleashing a shocker power surge. The player who’d previously never hit double-digit dingers, suddenly hit 32 home runs. What can Sox fans expect from Ellsbury this time around?
I think it’s safe to say no one should be waiting for a repeat of the home run display. That’s going in the books with Wade Boggs’ big year of 1987—the home runs were fun while they lasted, but it wasn’t what the hitter was ultimately all about. Even if Ellsbury just returns to the norms of his first big league seasons, he’ll be an asset as a leadoff hitter and instigator on the basepaths. Still, even if you allow that he won’t hit 30-plus, or maybe even 20-plus home runs again, there’s still a middle ground between his MVP-caliber performance a year ago and his early years. What is there to say that Ellsbury won’t retain strong power to the alleys? With his speed, the deep right-center area in Fenway Park can turn doubles to triples and even at 12-15 home runs, Ellsbury could easily slug between .475 and .500. What’s to say his OBP’s can’t stay in the .370s, rather than the still-solid .350s? Do that and you have more than a solid leadoff man, you have a perennial All-Star.
Centerfield is a competitive spot in the AL East, as a look at Ellsbury’s positional brethren demonstrates…
New York Yankees: Curtis Granderson—He had his own legit claim to make for MVP last season hitting 41 home runs. While expecting that again is unrealistic, it’s certainly realistic for Granderson to use the short rightfield porch at Yankee Stadium and be good for automatic 30 dingers.
Toronto Blue Jays: Colby Rasmus: A falling-out with Tony LaRussa ended his career in St. Louis at the trade deadline last summer, but don’t forget that Rasmus is only 25 years old, he hit for both average and power in 2010 and started last season doing the same before injuries and the internal issues sunk his season. It would be easy to see him joining the Ellsbury-Granderson class.
Baltimore Orioles: Adam Jones—Still another player who could easily become the best centerfielder in the AL East. After four years in the majors Jones has nice power and does a pretty good job hitting for average. If he masters his plate discipline and his defensive performance becomes commensurate with his talent level, Jones can be a dominating player.
Tampa Bay Rays: B.J. Upton—An overrated player who hasn’t been any good since 2008.