Who is the Right Man for Right Field in Boston?

Playing left field, Carl Crawford. Playing center field, Jacoby Ellsbury. Playing right field… uh…

With the departure of the $70 million mistake known as J.D. Drew, the Red Sox right field position is wide open. Every other spot in the lineup is pretty much set, but the great unknown near Pesky’s Pole is still up for grabs. Four candidates, one position.

Ryan Kalish

Kalish has long been considered the right fielder of the future, but has also found himself stuck in Pawtucket or on the bench the past couple of years thanks to the need for more fine-tuning, as well as the logjam created by Drew. Because of that blockade, and the fact that he turns 24 on Wednesday, you wonder if he’ll even make the 25-man roster because he needs more finishing; and if he does, how Bobby Valentine will work him into games, whether as a DH for David Ortiz’s days off, or as a backup outfielder like Darnell McDonald.

Darnell McDonald

McDonald, 33, is the other “in-house” option the Sox have in right. After toiling as a minor league journeyman, he’s been the fourth outfielder and defensive replacement for the Sox since 2010, and has filled in admirably when starters are injured or need a rest. Is he ready for the next step, or do you keep him in the fourth outfielder role? No matter which route the Sox take, they’d better hope he can put up numbers more akin to 2010 (.270-9-34 in 117 games, 80 starts) than 2011 (.236-6-24 in 79 games, 40 starts).

Cody Ross

The 31-year-old Ross has the most game experience of the four candidates, and knows a thing or two about big game performance, after winning the NLCS MVP in 2010 with the Giants. He is also the most statistically accomplished, with a career stat line of .260-100-371. Ross has proven his worth over the past seven seasons with the Marlins and Giants, but then there’s…

Ryan Sweeney

If the Red Sox wanted Sweeney, 27, in addition to Andrew Bailey when they traded Josh Reddick to Oakland in December, you had to figure they see something in him that the naked eye doesn’t. He’s even listed as the top right fielder on the Red Sox depth chart. But his numbers make you wonder if their vision is a little blurry. He has a higher career batting average (.283) and on-base percentage (.342 compared to Ross’s .323), and in the Bill James-influenced Red Sox scouting department, those are two very critical factors. But in most every other category Ross has the advantage. In fact, Ross had as many home runs in 2011 as Sweeney has in his career – 14.

The picture becomes clearer the more you think about it. Eventually, the battle appears to come down to Ross and Sweeney. Then again, it might not be a battle at all. Given the split in offensive numbers – average and OBP in favor of Sweeney, home runs and RBIs in favor of Ross – it sounds like the makings of a platoon between the right-handed Ross and the left-handed Sweeney.

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  • Matt Sullivan

    It’s pretty clear that Boston intends to platoon Sweeney and Ross in RF once Crawford returns from the DL. Kalish was injured almost all of last season and is starting the year on the DL. After he recovers from neck surgery, he will go to AAA because he has options and he needs to play everyday after missing last year.

    While Ross might look better by stats like HR and RBIs, Sweeney is the LHH and will therefore get more of the playing time. Against righties, Ross is a below average hitter and since that is 75% of all pitchers, he is the 4th outfielder more or less if you are going by playing time. However, with David Price, Matt Moore and CC Sabathia in the division, his dominance of lefties is a big factor and will keep him playing at least one or two times a week.

    Kalish could replace Sweeney by year’s end, but at this point, i’d say it is a long shot. Even if he does, he gets platooned with Ross facing LHP. It will be 2 men for RF for Boston this season. McDonald will likely be gone after Crawford returns. Sad though that may be, he can’t hit RHH at all (career 60 wRC+) and Ross is a better defender.