Boston Red Sox spring training workouts are set to begin when pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, Fla. on Feb. 14. Full squad workouts begin on Feb. 19.
Ahead of spring training, we're assessing the Red Sox's situation at each position for the 2024 campaign. We'll break down the players expected to play the position for Boston in 2024, followed by a confidence grade. These positional outlooks will be updated as moves are made in the offseason.
In this installment of the series, we focus on the outfield.
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When the Red Sox signed Yoshida as a free agent out of Japan last offseason, rival executives highly scrutinized the move. They blasted Boston for what they considered to be an overpay at five years and $90 million.
The skepticism made sense. After all, the 5-foot-8 and 175-pound Yoshida joined the Red Sox with zero big-league experience and there were serious questions about whether his elite bat-to-ball skills would translate to MLB. His defensive shortcomings were also well-documented.
Yoshida went through a brief adjustment period to open the season but it didn't take long for him to find his footing. He silenced the critics with a stellar first half in which he slashed .316/.382/.492 with 10 home runs. On April 23, he provided Boston with one of its top moments of the 2023 season when he blasted a solo homer and a grand slam in the same inning vs. the Milwaukee Brewers.
After the All-Star break, Yoshida's production fell off a cliff. The 30-year-old slashed just .254/.278/.386 in the second half with 45 strikeouts and just seven walks. In all likelihood, the grueling 162-game schedule wore Yoshida down over the final couple of months. Between the schedule and the travel, the MLB season is far more demanding than the Nippon Professional Baseball campaign.
As evaluators warned, Yoshida's defense left plenty to be desired. As Boston's primary left fielder, he was worth -8 outs above average and -4 defensive runs saved. While his fielding never seemed to outright hurt his team, it was easy to see why his defensive prowess was in question when the Red Sox paid him $90 million.
Entering Yoshida's second MLB season, the Red Sox will have to decide whether he should spend most of his time in left field or as the team's primary designated hitter. The DH role is currently up for grabs with the departure of veteran slugger Justin Turner, who signed with the AL East rival Toronto Blue Jays. Yoshida is a strong candidate to fill that role with the newly acquired Tyler O'Neill as a defensive upgrade in left.
Yoshida will play a key role in any success Boston has in 2024. If he can adjust to the grind of the MLB season, there's no reason to believe we won't see more of the first-half version of Yoshida this time around. Managing his workload -- which could mean more time at DH -- will be key.
Duran finally broke out for Boston last year after two disappointing big-league seasons.
The speedy outfielder showed off his electrifying skill set with 34 doubles, two triples, eight homers, 40 RBIs, 24 stolen bases, and an .828 OPS in 102 games. Many of those doubles would have been singles for 99 percent of players in the league. Duran wreaked havoc on the basepaths, adding an element to the Red Sox offense that it has missed over the last several years.
Unfortunately, Duran capped a month-long slump with a season-ending toe injury on Aug. 20. It was a brutal end to an otherwise promising season for the former top prospect.
Assuming he can stay healthy, Duran will play a key role in any success Boston has in 2024. Finding consistency at the plate will be his biggest challenge. Although last year marked an encouraging bounce-back campaign, he'll have to prove his mid-season slump wasn't regression to the mean.
Duran is slated to be the team's starting center fielder -- that is, if he remains on the roster through spring training. The Red Sox and San Diego Padres reportedly have discussed a potential trade involving Duran in recent weeks.
The Red Sox acquired O'Neill from the St. Louis Cardinals early in the offseason in exchange for right-handed reliever Nick Robertson and minor league right-hander Victor Santos. It was a low-risk, potentially high-reward move for a Boston club that needed right-handed hitting.
O'Neill broke out with a .286/.352/.560 slash line, 34 homers, and 80 RBIs with the Cardinals in 2021. He also earned his second consecutive Gold Glove award that season while finishing eighth in National League MVP voting.
Since then, the 28-year-old has been plagued by injuries. He's played in only 168 games over the last two seasons and has seen his offensive numbers nosedive. Between 2022 and 2023 he has slashed.229/.310/.397 with 23 home runs and 79 RBIs.
Obviously, that makes health the No. 1 concern with O'Neill. He may be best suited in a platoon role, which could help him stave off injury while mashing left-handed pitching -- something the Red Sox could have trouble with in 2024 with such a left-handed-heavy lineup.
O'Neill can play all three outfield spots but we'll likely see him most in left field. That would allow Yoshida to DH with the better defender in his spot.
Abreu came to Boston from Houston as part of the 2022 Christian Vazquez deal. The 24-year-old saw solid albeit unspectacular results with Double-A Portland after the deal, but he found something at the plate upon his promotion to Triple-A Worcester.
Last year at Worcester, Abreu posted a .274/391/.539 slash line with 22 homers and 65 RBIs in 86 games. Those eye-popping numbers earned him a call-up to The Show in late August.
His minor-league success translated to the majors. He was one of Boston's best hitters over the final month of the campaign, hitting .316/.388/.474 with six doubles and two homers in 28 games.
Abreu figures to have an expanded role with the club in 2024. At least, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner hopes so.
“I’m looking forward to Wilyer Abreu having 400 at-bats,” Werner said at the team's Winter Weekend event last month, per MassLive.com. “There’s a lot to be excited about. We admit that our pitching wasn’t strong last year but I expect improvement. I expect the people who are on our team and we have a young core — will be a step closer to being excellent.”
If Abreu picks up where he left off in 2023 and carves out a consistent role in the outfield, he could quickly become a fan favorite. The left-handed-hitting prospect is a deep sleeper for the AL Rookie of the Year award this year.
Refsnyder has served as a solid fourth outfielder through two seasons in Boston. After signing an extension with the club last year, he enters 2024 set to take on the same role.
The soon-to-be 33-year-old, who primarily hits against left-handed pitching, saw his offensive production regress in 2023. His OPS dipped from .881 in 57 games two seasons ago to .682 in 89 games last year.
Refsnyder is a well-respected clubhouse presence and a nice fill-in when the starting outfielders need rest. That said, he's a cut candidate heading into the 2024 season. The Red Sox could still look to add a right-handed hitting outfielder in free agency such as Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, or Tommy Pham. If they do, Refsnyder's spot on the roster will be in jeopardy, especially with promising outfield prospect Ceddanne Rafaela waiting in the wings.
Rafaela debuted with the big-league club in late 2024 after multiple years as one of the most hyped prospects in the organization. The 23-year-old Curacaoan impressed both at the plate and in the field in the minor-league ranks. He's already considered an elite defensive outfielder, and he posted an .880 and .870 OPS in 2022 and 2023, respectively.
His promotion to the majors served as a reality check. Rafaela's high chase rate became even more of an issue with Boston as he had 28 strikeouts and only four walks in 28 games. He slashed .241/.281/.336 with two homers.
The Red Sox could look to give Rafaela more time in the minors this year to work on his approach at the plate. We'll almost certainly see plenty of him at the big-league level, but he remains a work in progress at this stage. Defensively though, he's already an upgrade over any other outfield option on the roster.
Outfield confidence grade: C+
While there's undoubtedly talent within this group, there are serious question marks with each player.
Can Masataka Yoshida last a full season, and is he better off at DH? Can Jarren Duran stay healthy, and is he capable of producing last year's numbers consistently?
Is Tyler O'Neill another injury waiting to happen, and was that 2021 season a fluke? Was Wilyer Abreu a flash in the pan? Will Rob Refsnyder even be on the Opening Day roster, and can Ceddanne Rafaela solve his alarming chase issues at the plate?
These questions keep the outfield confidence grade out of the B range heading into the new season.