Columnists, Sports

Going for Two: Red Sox could have best outfield in baseball

Andrew Benintendi, the Red Sox rookie left fielder, is ranked as the top prospect in MLB and homered on Opening Day to give the Sox the win. PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

In the Boston Red Sox’s 5-3 Opening Day win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, a pair of young phenoms who scoured the outfield of Fenway Park were on display for all of New England to see.

Rookie Andrew Benintendi delivered the game-winning blast with a three-run homer in the fifth inning that pushed the Sox lead to five. An inning earlier, Jackie Bradley Jr. robbed Francisco Cervelli of an extra-base hit, showcasing his elite speed by making a tremendous catch out in the triangle of center field. Bradley also stroked a triple in the contest.

The past few seasons for the Red Sox have been characterized as disappointing but hopeful, as they have made the playoffs just once after winning the World Series in 2013. That hope has come from a bevy of young prospects loaded up in the Red Sox farm system. Boston ranked as the sixth-best farm system in baseball going into the start of last season.

While Boston’s young talent certainly has been depleted with Dave Dombrowski shipping off a bevy of prospects for stud Chris Sale and the currently underwhelming Drew Pomeranz, their outfield is a testament to that former strength.

Patrolling the green grass of the Fenway outfield are three of the game’s best young players. Bradley is a 26-year-old and was named an All-Star last year. Benintendi, the left fielder, is a 22-year old and is rated the best prospect in baseball by the MLB. Right field belongs to Mookie Betts, the 24-year old who came in second in AL MVP voting a season ago.

With all of the Red Sox outfielders either in their prime, like Bradley, or in the early days of their careers, Boston is set up to contend for the foreseeable future.

Betts has been the leadoff man for the Red Sox for the better part of his career, but hit third on Opening Day. After batting .291 in two straight seasons with the Sox, the 2011 draft pick exploded in 2016 with a .318 average in a league-high 672 at-bats.

In his appearances at the dish, Betts struck 31 home runs and 42 doubles while leading the Red Sox in hits and runs. A right-handed batter, Betts stroked 214 hits, 13 more than Dustin Pedroia. Betts also tallied 122 runs and was second only to David Ortiz in a slew of categories, including RBIs (113), home runs and doubles.

With Betts again looking to be a part of the MVP conversation, expect the third-spot hitter to be the spearhead for the Red Sox offense that will need a new catalyst with Ortiz’s retirement.

Bradley has been a bit more volatile in his time with the organization. Selected five rounds before Betts in the 2011 draft, Bradley has been shuttled back and forth between Boston and the minors since making his debut in 2013.

While JBJ has been known in and around Boston baseball for his defensive prowess, his once-inability to hit prevented him from being more than a call up for his first three seasons. After hitting .189 in his first year, Bradley saw a heavy increase in his plate appearances a season later, going to bat 423 times compared to just 107 his rookie campaign. Despite this heavy increase in volume, the quick-footed centerfielder hit just .198 on the year and appeared in just 74 games the following season.

However, last season Bradley finally arrived on the scene full-time for the Red Sox. Named an All-Star for the first time in his career, the South Carolina alum played in 156 games and crafted a .267 batting average. His season was highlighted by a 29-game hit streak that extended into late May. A year before that, Bradley showed flashes of brilliance at the plate, hitting .446 in 25 games between August and September.

If Bradley can continue to progress as a hitter and be a serviceable producer in the Red Sox batting order, the centerfielder can round out one of the most fruitful outfields in all of baseball.

That brings us to Benintendi, who many pundits around the league are calling the favorite to win Rookie of the Year. The 22-year old sensation was drafted seventh overall in the 2015 draft and has been one of the main sources of hope for a Sox team that has struggled in two of the last three seasons.

Last year, Benintendi made his debut late in the season, mirroring the September call-ups of former Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury in 2007 and current shortstop Xander Bogaerts in 2013. In his 34 regular season games, the left fielder racked up 31 hits, including 11 doubles, a triple and a pair of home runs. His average was a respectable .295 in 105 at-bats.

In the 2016 postseason, Benintendi came ready to play. In nine at-bats, the young phenom collected three hits, including a homerun, and drove in a pair of runs.

The outfield is clearly the future of the Red Sox, along with Bogaerts at shortstop. With Benintendi and Betts leading the way with their bats and Bradley covering a wide array of ground in centerfield, expect the Boston outfield to win, dance and repeat for years to come.

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