Red Sox's Cloudy Outfield Picture Clears Up After Castillo, Bradley Jr. Cuts

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2015

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The Boston Red Sox's outfield crunch was billed as one of the spring's hottest storylines. In the end, it wound up less an epic battle and more a peacefully negotiated ceasefire.

On Thursday, Boston optioned Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley Jr. to Triple-A Pawtucket, per MLB.com's Ian Browne. So now it's (essentially) official: Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Shane Victorino will be in the Red Sox's Opening Day outfield, with Allen Craig and Daniel Nava likely coming off the bench.

John Bazemore/Associated Press

Ramirez was a foregone conclusion from the moment Boston signed him to a four-year, $88 million contract in late November and announced plans to slide the career shortstop out to left field.

The rest of the picture was about as clear as pine tar.

There was Castillo, the Cuban phenom Boston inked for $72.5 million last August and who impressed in a late audition last year, collecting 12 hits in 36 at-bats, including a pair of home runs.

There was Betts, the 22-year-old up-and-comer who posted a .291/.368/.444 slash line in 52 games in 2014.

And there was Victorino, the veteran, coming off an injury-marred season but vowing in January, per the Boston Herald's Scott Lauber, to remind the Red Sox why he belongs squarely in the conversation.

Rusney Castillo will get reps in Triple-A but should expect a call-up sooner than later.
Rusney Castillo will get reps in Triple-A but should expect a call-up sooner than later.Keith Srakocic/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

Then Castillo strained his oblique while taking a swing March 3 against Boston College and wound up missing a significant chunk of the exhibition slate.

He returned strong, hitting .310 with two home runs and five RBI in nine Grapefruit League contests, but it was simply too late to crack the 25-man roster.

Instead, Boston will wisely send the 27-year-old to the farm to get at-bats and prepare for an inevitable call-up.

General manager Ben Cherington certainly spoke like a man who expects to see Castillo at Fenway in the near future, per ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes:

One of the things we told [Castillo] in our conversation is that from the day he signed to now he's done everything we asked him to do. He's done everything within his control and only confirmed for us why we signed him in the first place. This is a long-term investment, a long-term proposition, and we expect it to work out well, for him and the Red Sox. We certainly see him as a major league player. It's just not going to be on Opening Day, 2015.

The road ahead is less clear for Bradley, a defensive whiz who owns a .196 batting average in parts of two seasons with the Red Sox. In February, Red Sox manager John Farrell called Bradley "the best center fielder in baseball," per WEEI.com's Rob Bradford, but added that he's "working to establish himself" with the bat.

Bradley had a solid spring, going 17-for-45 with three doubles, but it wasn't enough. Now, Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe notes, "Bradley may have no future with the Red Sox other than as a trade chip."

So what to make of the group that will jog out between the lines on April 6 in Philadelphia

Ramirez remains a work in progress defensively, though there were no major red flags in spring. Assuming he stays healthy—he missed 110 games in the last two seasons combined with the Los Angeles Dodgers, remember—he'll provide an offensive boost. 

Put simply: Expect Ramirez, a pull-happy right-handed hitter, to do frequent battle with the Green Monster and win his share.

Shane Victorino battled injuries last year but won a Gold Glove in 2013.
Shane Victorino battled injuries last year but won a Gold Glove in 2013.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press/Associated Press

Betts, meanwhile, has been among the spring's biggest revelations, hitting .451 with 12 extra-base hits in 51 at-bats.

Ramirez paid the youngster the ultimate compliment and compared him to—who else?—himself, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. 

"He can lead off. But he can hit homers," Ramirez told Rosenthal. "And he can drive runs in. And steal bases. He's a five-tool player."

Victorino is the most likely to be supplanted once Castillo is ready. A balky hamstring limited the 34-year-old Flyin' Hawaiian to 30 games last year.

Then again, in 2013 he hit .294 and won his fourth Gold Glove, so don't count him out just yet.

In fact, don't count out anyone. Boston may have sorted its crowded outfield for now, but expect this storyline to simmer all season.

The battle may be over, but the war is just getting started.

All statistics current as of April 2 and courtesy of MLB.com.

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