COMMENTARY | The Boston Red Sox will start gearing up for spring training in just a few short weeks.
Although their roster appears to be mainly set, the team still has some questions entering the 2014 season, especially in determining who will be their leadoff hitter.
Since becoming a regular late in the 2007 season, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury served as the Red Sox's primary leadoff hitter. However, a replacement is now needed in light of the seven-year free-agent contract he signed with the New York Yankees earlier this offseason.
The team's No. 1 hitter may not be officially determined until much closer to the season. However, there already are several candidates who should be considered frontrunners. They include:
Outfielder Shane Victorino: In 2013, his first season with the Red Sox, the 33-year-old switch-hitter was incredibly productive, hitting .294 with 15 home runs and 61 RBIs while playing a mean right field.
He primarily hit second but could be moved up a slot in 2014.
According to NESN.com's Ricky Doyle, Boston manager John Farrell said earlier this offseason that Victorino was one of the options that first came to mind when thinking about his options to start the lineup.
Although Victorino had just 25 walks last year, a low total for a typical leadoff hitter, his career .342 OBP is similar to Ellsbury's .350.
He also has the speed desired at the top of the order, with his 21 stolen bases in 2013 being the most of any player returning from last season.
If he does win the role, he will bring experience with him, though not a ton of success, as he has hit .249 with a .317 OBP in 216 games while hitting leadoff in the past.
As things stand, the versatile veteran is probably the best bet to lead off for the Red Sox but until the regular season arrives, nothing is set in stone.
Outfielder Daniel Nava: Another intriguing option is the 30-year-old switch-hitter.
He is not a classic speedster, having stolen just four bases in seven attempts during his career. However, his ability to get on base at a steady clip would make him a great fit. In parts of three seasons with Boston, he has posted an impressive .369 OBP.
His best season came last year, as he hit .303 with a .385 OBP, 12 home runs and 66 RBIs in 134 games.
On the downside, he has played much better as part of a platoon. He has lit up right-handed pitchers to the tune of .292 with a .390 OBP during his career but has seen that slip to .223 and .307 against southpaws. A more consistent split would be important for any hitter starting off the dynamic Boston offense.
Having started his professional career in the independent leagues, Nava has consistently proved others wrong on the way to his current major league success. It wouldn't be a big surprise to see him flourish if he was given an opportunity to be Boston's primary leadoff hitter. He has gotten better with each season thus, so another jump forward in 2014 wouldn't be out of the question.
Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.: Currently looking like Ellsbury's replacement in center field, the 23-year-old could also be a dark-horse candidate to take over his spot in the lineup as well.
Receiving his first major league exposure last season, Bradley struggled to adapt, hitting just .189 in 37 games. Fortunately, with the team flourishing around him on its way to winning the World Series, during his stints in Boston, he wasn't burdened with the same pressures that some rookies face.
Despite the inauspicious start in the bigs, he may be the most natural leadoff hitter on the team. He has shown a rare plate approach since being a first-round pick of the team in 2011, hitting a combined .297 with a .404 OBP in 218 minor league games.
Expecting Bradley to start the season at the top of the Boston order may be too much to expect right now. After all, it would be great to have him settle in and simply get comfortable if he is indeed going to be a starter. However, given his ability to be a constant presence on the bases, he could be a perfect fit as the Red Sox's next leadoff hitter if he taps into his full potential.
Bradley may be young and inexperienced but has to start somewhere. As long as Boston believes he can handle the rigors of playing full time in the majors, it may not be long before he is serving as the catalyst for their lineup.
In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written extensively for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports (particularly the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots). He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can also follow Andrew on Twitter: @HistorianAndrew.
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- Boston Red Sox
- Jacoby Ellsbury
- Shane Victorino
- leadoff hitter