The Boston Red Sox were already concerned with slugger David Ortiz’ slow recovery from the Achilles injury that has sidelined him since last August. Now, after a MRI over the weekend revealed inflammation in both heels, Ortiz is unlikely to start the season on the active roster. This could prove to be a huge blow to a lineup that is already expected to be deficient in power.
So, with Ortiz on the shelf for an undetermined period of time (he’ll test his injured heels again in about a week), the Red Sox will be looking for someone to step up and fill the void at the designated hitter position. When it comes to DH, the Red Sox don’t really have a depth chart, so the roster opening created by Ortiz’ injury will have an immediate impact on competition in camp.
Boston had hoped that catching prospect Ryan Lavarnway would be able to transition to a full-time DH at some point, but he’s having a dreadful spring thus far. Lavarnway has just three hits in 21 preseason at-bats (.143) and has yet to hit a home run. Backup third baseman Mauro Gomez would be another option, but at the plate, he’s doing almost as bad as Lavarnway in camp (4-24, .167).
Mike Carp and Lyle Overbay are battling for the backup first base job, but the Ortiz news means that, theoretically, they could both end up making the roster. After a rough start, Overbay has been fairly productive in spring training games, while Carp hit his first homer of the spring in Monday’s contest against the Miami Marlins. Carp probably has the edge right now since he can also play the outfield, but Overbay would be a more prototypical DH-type.
The wildcard in all of this is 22-year-old Jackie Bradley Jr. The top prospect in the organization, Bradley has certainly earned a spot on the big league team. But that doesn’t mean he’ll get one. Red Sox manager John Farrell has stated that anything is possible regarding Bradley Jr., but the rookie would benefit greatly from playing every day in the minors rather than sitting on the bench in Boston. The Ortiz injury could change that line of thinking.
It isn’t all that far fetched to think that the Red Sox could make Bradley Jr. a starter coming out of camp. If they move Jonny Gomes to DH as a fill-in for Ortiz, Bradley Jr. could be the starting left fielder. And he would be, without a doubt, the team’s best option at that position. The real question would be what the Red Sox would do when Ortiz returns to the lineup.
Bradley Jr. is hitting .519 this spring. He has 14 hits in 27 at-bats and an absolutely ridiculous OPS of 1.321. In Grapefruit League action, Bradley Jr. leads the Red Sox in nearly every offensive category.
The Red Sox need to think long and hard about their options before considering sending Bradley Jr. down to the minors. Although every decision can’t be made strictly on spring training stats, the young outfielder has proven that he can play at the highest level. Not only is a he a much better defender than any other left field option, the Red Sox offense desperately needs the kind of production that Bradley Jr. can provide.
(JM Catellier is the author of the book Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructuring the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball and Facebook, and check out his site: www.fixingbaseball.com)