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Right field a sore spot for Phillies, Red Sox

6/28/2011

The Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies begin a three-game series Tuesday in what has been termed a potential World Series preview. Of course, owning two of the better win-loss records in baseball isn't the only thing they have in common. Entering Tuesday, no teams had received a lower batting average from their right fielders than the Red Sox and Phillies, at .220 each. From J.D. Drew and Mike Cameron to Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown, this position has been a relative wasteland for fantasy owners as well.

Boston right fielders, led by Drew, have a .304 on-base percentage, which is incredible since this has always been one of Drew's strengths. The much-maligned Drew has actually been a better player -- in real life and fantasy -- over the years than people think, save for the missed games, but not this season. Ultimately, the Red Sox lead the majors in runs scored, batting average and OPS, and the Phillies are 17th -- pitching overcomes many ills! -- but when it comes to right field, it's a big mess all around.

Let's take a look at the underachievers and their fantasy prospects moving forward, in order of ownership in ESPN leagues. Perhaps those in 10-team standard leagues have little interest in any of the names, but hey, most of us play in deeper formats.

Domonic Brown: I admit it's frustrating, and it's probably time to remind people that most top prospects -- hitters or pitchers -- don't live up to the hype statistically, but it's premature to give up on Brown. Since his two-home run game June 14, he has four hits in 34 at-bats, with nary an RBI or stolen base. Manager Charlie Manuel has played him a few times against left-handed starting pitchers, but Brown isn't hitting right-handers, either. Brown is owned in 12.8 percent of standard leagues, down 5.8 percent in the past week.

My feeling is that at some point, Brown's skills will kick in and he'll be a top-50 outfielder, which is essentially what I blogged upon Brown's recall in late-May. While BABIP doesn't always even out, Brown's .187 mark against right-handed pitching is awfully low. His .143 BABIP at home also seems a bit unlucky. Brown is making contact -- he has five walks and only four strikeouts in two weeks -- and there's little worry about his power and speed potential. Try to be patient. I think the Phillies will be; if a trade for a Josh Willingham type is made, Raul Ibanez is the one likely to sit.

Ben Francisco: He's still owned in 6.8 percent of leagues, which is too much for a bench player hitting .182 since May began. I really expected more from Francisco; he hit 15 home runs and stole 14 bases in 2009, so the skills are there, but now he's relegated to pinch hitting and starting against lefties, and he's not even hitting them.

J.D. Drew: Heck, maybe he's hurt. Wouldn't be the first time. Drew is still taking walks at a high rate, but that's about it. His on-base percentage is higher than his slugging, which isn't a good thing. For those that think Drew hasn't mattered for years, it's not true. He's hit 46 home runs the past two seasons, been valuable in OBP and OPS leagues, and generally done so as a fantasy free agent. I don't think he's simply done at age 35, but the Red Sox seem prepared to explore other options. If you're in an AL-only format, I wouldn't trade for Drew assuming the numbers he generally provides will be there again.

Josh Reddick: Here is one of those younger options. Star left fielder Carl Crawford should come off the disabled list when eligible Sunday, but the way Drew, Cameron and Darnell McDonald have played, Reddick could keep playing and move to right field. Reddick enters Tuesday hitting .414 with a 1.147 OPS in 29 at-bats. It is, frankly, no more telling than the small sample size of his previous struggles in the big leagues, when he hit .169 and .194 with three walks and 32 strikeouts in 121 at-bats the past two seasons. However, Reddick can hit. The Red Sox promoted him even as he hit .230 at Triple-A Pawtucket this year. Then again, with 14 home runs in 52 games, and a strong walk rate, he's not a bad option.

I don't think Reddick is standard-league worthy yet. For one, he might be back in Rhode Island in a week. I do think he'll get a longer look by the Red Sox this week and stick around, but obviously he won't hit .414. His track record shows a .260 hitter with pop. Keep your eye on Reddick in deeper formats; it wouldn't be a shock if he sticks around and produces runs. Even now, I'd take him over Drew.

Who else? Don't worry about McDonald or Cameron at this point. McDonald hit a surprising .270 for the Red Sox last year with nine home runs and nine steals, but his current .109 batting average could get him released. He's 32. Cameron isn't even hitting left-handed pitching. I'd like to recommend Ryan Kalish, and perhaps he's starting next season and flirting with 20 home runs, but he's been out since April with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He might have passed Reddick on the organizational depth chart, but this season, I'd go with Reddick.

As for the Phillies, there have been calls for John Mayberry Jr. to get promoted and take at-bats from Ibanez. Mayberry has looked terrific defensively -- even in center field -- and he hits lefties, but even at Triple-A Lehigh Valley his .655 OPS against right-handed pitching doesn't excite.