It appears the Red Sox have decided on their five outfielders to begin the season.
Daniel Nava is a front-runner to make the Opening Day roster, according to ESPN.com. The 30-year-old switch-hitter will likely serve as the fifth outfielder in what could be a platoon rotation, and he also may get some reps at first base, allowing Mike Napoli to shift into the designated hitter’s spot while David Ortiz nurses his injury.
Earlier this winter, I wrote about Boston’s platoon possibilities in the outfield, highlighting Jonny Gomes (.385 wOBA against lefties in his career) and Nava (.343 wOBA against righties) as a quality tandem in left field.
But as Red Sox fans have come to find out – and Phillies fans like me have known this for years – newly-acquired right fielder Shane Victorino is pretty dreadful against right-handed pitchers. In fact, over the last three seasons, Victorino has posted just a .698 OPS against righties, relative to an outstanding .943 against southpaws.
Victorino, now 32 years old, is still an asset in the field and on the base paths, but not what he used to be. It would make sense, then, that the Red Sox would look to spell Victorino with a better hitter when tough right-handers are on the mound.
This appears to be Nava’s roll on the team this year, and it makes sense. Nava will never turn himself into an everyday big league player, but his tools and versatility make him an excellent guy to have on the back of a bench. His career .352 on-base percentage is pretty solid, and his high walk rates in both the minors and majors show a refined patience at the plate.
Of course, Nava might not last long on the big league club. David Ortiz’s inevitable return from the disabled list could put Nava’s job in jeopardy, and of course there’s that kid, Jackie Bradley Jr., who may get a chance to play at some point in 2013.
But Nava is the kind of guy that always seems to appear on a playoff roster. He’s not quite Ben Zobrist, but his versatility makes him apt to contribute whenever needed, often in a pinch.