Around the Horn: Outfielders

Sox outfield has potential for big things in 2007

The following is the fourth in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position by position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Outfielders.

BOSTON -- For the seventh consecutive season, Manny Ramirez will man the Green Monster and serve as a meaty anchor in the middle of the Boston batting order. The rest of the outfield won't be quite as familiar to Red Sox fans.

Sure, center fielder Coco Crisp is entering his second season with the team. But he fractured his left index finger in the fifth game of the 2006 season and from that point on, the real Crisp -- the one who had become an emerging player for the Indians in recent years -- never really surfaced. After a winter of rest and rehab, the Sox are confident that Crisp's bat will be revived.

For so long, it was second-nature for the Red Sox to look out to right field and see the mud-stained No. 7 jersey and pine-tar covered hat of Trot Nixon. But the Red Sox parted ways with free agent Nixon, their starting right fielder of the last eight seasons.

Nixon caught on with the Indians and he'll be replaced at Fenway by J.D. Drew, a productive left-handed hitter with a good eye and a solid glove in right field.

Though agent Scott Boras announced on Dec. 5 that the Red Sox and Drew had agreed to a five-year contract worth $70 million, the deal still hasn't been signed. Not to worry though, only technicalities stand in the way of Drew's official arrival in Boston.

After Drew's physical, the Red Sox offered some concerns about his surgically repaired right shoulder and have spent the ensuing weeks trying to get additional protection in the contract in case of re-injury. Both the Red Sox and Boras have indicated that the hurdles to get the deal done are hardly major. Drew is all but certain to be with the Red Sox when position players report on Feb. 20.

Outfield depth doesn't figure to be a problem as the Red Sox will have the big bat of Wily Mo Pena coming off the bench. Expect Pena to start against all lefties and play his share of games against righties. Pena's ability to play all three outfield spots will enable manager Terry Francona to keep the right-handed hitter rust-free.

If Boston's outfielders stay healthy, it is, without a doubt, an area of strength for the team. Start with Ramirez, who remains one of the most feared hitters in the game.

Back in December, rumors were swirling that Ramirez was going to get traded. But when hasn't that been the case? Per usual, Ramirez looks destined to be back in the cleanup spot, combining with David Ortiz to form the most dangerous 3-4 combo in the game.

Boston Red Sox
Catchers: Backstops aim to rebound
Corner IF: Duo brings professionalism
Middle IF: Pair of newcomers
Outfielders: Manny is still Manny
Starters: Potential to be dynamic
Bullpen: In search of a closer
DH/Bench: Ortiz tops among DHs

Though a few issues always seem to come up with Ramirez during a long season, Francona has developed a comfort level with the slugger.

"Manny's got great production," Francona said at the Winter Meetings. "I mean, I think it was pretty obvious when we didn't have him on the field, what, the last six weeks, we weren't close to being the same team. See, I also see a different side of Manny, too. I see the guy that shows up at 10:00 in the morning and is lifting every day, you know. So there's a side of him that I do get to see that probably other people don't."

Defensively, Ramirez is better than people think, particularly at Fenway Park, where he is adept at playing the Green Monster. His arm is accurate and his release is quick. Does Ramirez have lapses at times in the outfield? Sure. But the Red Sox have generally been pleased with his glove.

As for Crisp, he came to Boston a year ago to be the leadoff hitter, and countless Johnny Damon comparisons ensued. But Crisp won't have to hear about that any more this year, as shortstop Julio Lugo will take over the leadoff spot. Crisp will probably hit eighth, where he'll be given more freedom to run.

It should become apparent early in the season if Crisp has regained his stroke at the plate. When he is at his best, he crushes early-count fastballs. Defensively, Crisp's strength is speed and his weakness is his arm.

One of the reasons the Sox were most excited about bringing Drew on board is because they feel he has the range of a center fielder but is playing the difficult right field at Fenway.

At the plate, he has sometimes been described as passive. But it's hard to believe Drew could be all that passive and still drive in the 100 runs that he produced for Grady Little's Dodgers last year. Drew should give the Red Sox the productive No. 5 hitter they lacked in 2006.

With Pena, his raw power is beyond question. He also made strides last year with his plate discipline and ability to go to the opposite field. But the jury is still out on whether he can take his game to the next level. The Red Sox would like Pena to pay closer attention to detail on defense, as he was prone to miss a cutoff man or have an attention lapse last year.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.