FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Boston Red Sox outfielders Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo each stand shorter than 5-feet-10 and between them have played in only 62 big league games.
Along with veteran Jackie Bradley Jr., who has played 164 games over the past two years, they will try to fill a tall order for the team — starting in center field.
“I don’t look at it as a competition,” Betts said Sunday. “I just look at it as going out and playing the game. Everybody will get their time. I just look at it as getting ready for the season.”
Opening day is more than a month away and the Red Sox have their final workout of the spring Monday before they start playing big league exhibition games. They take on Boston College and Northeastern University on Tuesday.
Red Sox manager John Farrell said he’s not close to deciding who will be in center field on April 6 when the Red Sox open the season in Philadelphia.
“It will take all of camp to determine that,” Farrell said.
Castillo is a Cuban who left his homeland last summer and signed a $72.5 million, seven-year deal with the Red Sox. He spent a little time in the Gulf Coast League last summer but given his international experience, he was ready for the big leagues in September. He played in 10 games, hitting .333 with two homers.
“He’s right in the thick of things,” Farrell said.
Farrell plans to give all the outfield candidates playing time during spring training. He’s seen progress with Castillo since last fall.
“The one thing that shows up is just more fluidity,” Farrell said.
Castillo is not only is adjusting to big-league baseball but he has to do while learning a new country, language and culture.
“His English continues to improve,” Farrell said.
Farrell said he is getting to know Castillo more as person as well as a ballplayer.
“Coming to find out there’s a highly intelligent guy here and that he’s gained a level of comfort even though there’s been a short period of time,” Farrell said.
Farrell understands the transition has to be tough for players in Castillo’s situation.
“I can’t talk about it personally,” Farrell said. “You can see different guys that have transitioned to the States maybe more readily than others. Rusney seems to be settling in fine. I think that can never be under estimated, particularly the initial language barrier.”
Farrell has traveled to Latin America countries and knows a little bit about the feeling of being adrift in a place where one can’t understand basic conversations.
“I empathize with that and make sure we go to additional lengths to make sure that Rusney or any other player coming from Latin America or Asia, that we go through the extra steps to make sure they feel comfortable,” Farrell said.
Left fielder Hanley Ramirez, a native of the Dominican Republic, went through those adjustments as a young player and has observed Castillo in camp.
“He’s a great kid,” Ramirez said. “He’s doing everything he can to adjust to a different country. (David Ortiz) and I have been helping him out a little bit every day.”
Betts is feeling more and more comfortable in the outfield, having been moved from second base last year. He was promoted to the Red Sox in June for his first taste of the majors.
Farrell noticed his defense getting better as the 2014 season progressed.
“It improved each of the three times he was brought back to the big leagues,” Farrell said. “And we anticipate that to continue to refine itself here in camp.”
Between the start of exhibition play and opening day, Betts knows he can earn himself a starting job. What can he do to make that happen?
“Just be myself,” Betts said. “I may not be a starter. I just know I can’t try to be anybody else but me.”
He’s leaned on veterans such as outfielder Shane Victorino for advice. Victorino’s best advice was simple.
“Don’t force anything,” Betts said. “Just let it happen. Be natural out there.”
One of the subtle adjustments for Betts was to adjust his throwing motion from that of a second baseman to that of an outfielder.
“I kind of did it myself,” Betts said “Just trying to lengthen out my arm,” he said.
He did that by doing a lot of long toss, baseball lingo for throwing balls great distances.
“That’s all you got to do,” Betts said.
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