If J.C. Linares thought he was competing for a job with the Boston Red Sox in spring training, then Tuesday’s news must have come as big surprise to the rookie. The Red Sox sent the 28-year-old Cuban defector to their minor league camp in a somewhat surprising roster move considering Linares’ résumé.
With a muscular build (5’11”, 190 lbs.), Linares has been compared in stature to Kirby Puckett. His compact right-handed power swing would seem to be a good fit for Fenway Park. He also has plenty of experience playing all three outfield positions, which is an asset that the Red Sox are currently lacking.
Linares is not a conventional-type rookie, having already played eight seasons with La Habana in the Cuban National Series. The Red Sox signed the international free agent in 2010, and after battling injuries in 2011, Linares finally had the opportunity to play a full season last year. With Boston’s Double-A club, Linares was batting .333 through 58 games when he was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket. There, he finished the 2012 season with a .316 batting average—tops among all Red Sox minor leaguers.
In Grapefruit League action this spring, Linares outplayed all Red Sox outfielders with the exception of fellow rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. In 12 preseason games (22 at-bats), he batted .364 and posted an OPS of .920. As far as spring training stats go, he currently leads all Red Sox outfielders in RBI, is fourth on the entire team in hits, and has one of the four homers hit by an outfielder thus far.
The demotion doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Red Sox. Considering his age and experience, playing every day at the Triple-A level won’t benefit Linares like it would a true rookie. If the Red Sox wanted more time to evaluate guys like Ryan Sweeney and Daniel Nava for possibly filling roster spots as spare outfielders, they might have been better served letting Linares continue to compete while they did so.
(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)