The Boston Red Sox made several big moves this offseason, including the acquisition of a top-flight closer and the signing of a true ace. However, one under-the-radar signing is paying dividends as the situation in left field would be bleak without it. Rick Rowand expains why Chris Young is the answer in left field while Brock Holt and Blake Swihart are on the mend.
Chris Young was signed by the Boston Red Sox to a two-year contract during the offseason to be the right-handed backup outfielder to compliment left-handed ubersub Brock Holt. He was brought in because of his experience playing all three OF positions and because of his pronounced splits – .224/.293/.413 vs. RHP .267/.365/.480 vs LHP. That all changed when presumed starter Rusney Castillo was sent down to AAA Pawtucket to learn how to hit a baseball with some sort of consistency just prior to the start of the season. With the Castillo demotion, Young and Holt were given the reins in left field.
Until he went on the disabled list with a concussion on 5/20, Brock Holt had started the majority of the games in left (29) while also seeing time at second base, shortstop and third base. Young started 14 games in left, while also playing one game in right and pinch hitting numerous times.
Christian Vazquez was called up to start at catcher in April after he had shown that he was physically capable of being the everyday catcher in AAA. When he came back to Boston, the Sox sent Blake Swihart to Pawtucket to learn to play left field as injury insurance and to provide them with more versatility.
Unlike Hanley Ramirez, Swihart seemed like a good choice for a position switch because of his overall athleticism and it turned out that he was, on defense anyway. As he played 13 games until he too went down with what could be a season-ending injury on June 4. According to Dr. Chris Geary – Orthopedic Surgeon and Head of Sports Medicine at Tufts – based on the description of the injury the Red Sox made public, Swihart could easily miss six to eight weeks, not including a rehab stint.
That was also the day that backup catcher Ryan Hanigan went down with a neck injury that landed him on the 15-day DL. For those who haven’t been keeping score, the Red Sox lost both their backup catcher and their backup to the backup catcher, and their backup left fielder on the same day.
Even though Holt has resumed “normal baseball activities,” i.e, throwing, catching, and hitting, he is still feeling the effects of the concussion and has not been cleared to begin a rehab assignment.
Because of the injuries to Hanigan and Swihart, Rusney Castillo and Sandy Leon were promoted to Boston to backup Vazquez and Young. Until Holt returns to the field, Young has been named the starter in left with Castillo as his backup. And the bench is exactly where Castillo should remain if he’s not in AAA.
Even though Young isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire against right-handers (.224/.296/.510 vs .414/.485/.690 against lefties), his four home runs this season have all come against righties, as well as eight of his ten doubles. His career HR/FB% splits are nearly identical, 11.1% vs. LHP vs. 11.4% vs. RHP, so with the steady playing time, Young should be able to improve on his home run total against lefties. And pray that Young isn’t the next victim of the wall just outside the LF foul line (can someone in HR print something about not running into that wall please??). With Vazquez as the catcher and the current state of the pitching, the Red Sox can’t afford to have Castillo as the primary left fielder. He hasn’t shown the ability to hit major-league pitching at this point in his career and there’s nothing to show that the light switch will suddenly be turned On.
Rick Rowand has written about Boston’s young stars, David Ortiz’s career, Brock Holt’s aura, and Boston’s new starting third baseman.
Follow Rick on Twitter @rrowand.