Carl Crawford's recent wrist surgery makes it very likely that he will start the season on the DL. That will likely give more playing time to both Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross, but it also opens the door for unheralded Cuban free agent outfielder, J.C. Linares, to make the opening day roster.
The 27-year-old non-roster invitee defected from Cuba after the 2009 season, well past the age most international prospects make that move.
Linares is flying well beneath the hype surrounding Yoenis Cespedis, Jorge Soler and other higher-profile Cuban ballplayers. “I was working out in the Dominican Republic when the Red Sox started showing interest," Linares said. "That excited me because I’ve always been a Red Sox fan. When that opportunity arose, there was no doubt that it was the team that I wanted to sign with.”
The Red Sox did indeed sign him in July of 2010, and sent him to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League in August. After just four games there, he went to Double-A Portland to finish out the season.
He started 2011 at Triple-A Pawtucket, and although he hit only .233, that represented a very limited sample of only 17 games. He tore ligaments in his ankle in May. When he came back from rehab he went to the team's Florida Instructional League.
According to CBSsports.com last October, Linares impressed the Red Sox brass. “No surprise, he raked,” said Red Sox vice president of player development and amateur scouting Mike Hazen.
Linares can play all three outfield positions and is known for his excellent defense, according to bosoxbanter.com.
In a NESN interview with Heidi Watney last March, Linares described his escape from Cuba, where he had been paid the equivalent of $8 per month to play ball. He and his family made their way through alligator-infested waters to board a boat, which broke down in the middle of the trip. He and his family went two days with no food, but they eventually reached safety in the Dominican Republic.
According to Mike Andrews of ESPN.com, his decision to leave was fueled by the fact that he did not make the final cut for the Cuban team in the 2009 World Baseball Cup.
In 2006/7 Linares posted a stat line of .345/.467/.586 with 16 HR, good for fifth in the league. He led the league in slugging (besting Alexei Ramirez) and was second in total bases.
In 2007/8 he hit .308/.438/.536 and won a Gold Glove. The following year he fielded .988 and won another Gold Glove, batting .325 with 63 RBI in 68 games.
Scouts say he has above average range and solid defensive instincts with good speed. He is a contact hitter with decent bat speed, although he tends to be pull-happy at the plate.
Do not be shocked if you see Linares at Fenway this spring.