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In the outfield, Sox go deep

Scouts noticing team’s position of strength

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / March 9, 2011

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JUPITER, Fla. — The Red Sox are already receiving inquiries about Mike Cameron’s availability in a trade, but don’t expect them to move him. At the same time, scouts are becoming ever more curious about Juan Carlos Linares, the 26-year-old Cuban outfielder who may be one of the most intriguing players in spring training.

Cameron and Linares are examples of the quality outfield depth the Red Sox have — depth that isn’t going unnoticed by scouts.

Darnell McDonald, who roamed the minors for 12 years after being a first-round pick of the Orioles in 1997, could probably start on a few teams. Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick can play in the big leagues if they have to. Daniel Nava can flat-out hit and would have a bench spot on many teams. Che-Hsuan Lin could get to Triple A this season.

You must have depth to win. And the Red Sox seem to have it in the outfield.

Linares has burst into the mix, and if he continues to impress, the Sox might take the leap and deal Cameron.

Linares has a blocky body, which prompts some interesting comparisons. Tony Armas, one scout says. His swing resembles Albert Belle’s, according to another.

It takes a while to get a read on his skills. But the universal conclusion is positive. The Sox have played him in all three outfield spots. He did misplay a ball in right field yesterday, but only because the wind shifted, according to bench coach DeMarlo Hale.

“He’s a good defensive outfielder,’’ said a scout who has watched him a few times. “He runs the bases well. He had a reputation for being a speed guy when he was a little bit younger and he can still move pretty well.’’

The three starting outfielders — Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, and J.D. Drew — are all lefthanded, so it stands to reason that the extra outfielders should be righthanded, as Linares is.

Teams love to get inquiries on their players, because it’s a sign of depth and even surplus. But because of Drew’s hamstring issues and the fact that Cameron can hit lefthanded pitching, the Sox probably wouldn’t bite unless they were blown away.

Cameron is also a Gold Glove center fielder, so he can spell Ellsbury against a tough lefty, and he could DH if anything happened to David Ortiz.

One reason a lot of teams won’t pull the trigger on a Cameron deal is his $8 million salary. At this time of year, that’s on the heavy side. Most teams have just about reached their budget limit or are keeping a little bit of space open for a trade-deadline acquisition. Cameron could be that, too.

At this point, the Sox really don’t know what to do with Linares, who could be playing anywhere from Double A Portland to the major leagues. After being signed last July 8, he hit .239 in 46 at-bats in Portland. He’s not your typical kid ballplayer. He’s getting into his prime years as a hitter, and so far in spring training, that’s showing. Linares doesn’t cheat himself on his swing.

Except for the fact that the Sox would like to see him get some at-bats, there’s no reason Linares isn’t already a major leaguer. Yesterday, he reached base four times in five at-bats. He beat out an infield hit to extend an inning, a play that really impressed Hale.

The Sox have very good protection in center, which isn’t an easy place to have depth. In Cameron, Kalish, Reddick, Linares, McDonald, and even Drew, there are many options if Ellsbury does not stay healthy.

“When you talk to them, they want to play center field,’’ Hale said. “It’s good, but as you see, we’ve moved them around. When the need comes, it may not be center field. It may be on the corner.

Any one of the outfielders at Pawtucket has a good amount of major league experience. There’s really not that much developing left to do.

At some point, hanging around Triple A can become counterproductive for a player.

The other issue with trading Cameron is that the Sox really don’t need anything right now. It’s doubtful that he would land them a sure-thing lefty reliever. They have enough starting pitchers, so a Joe Blanton wouldn’t fit for them right now; if there were an injury, that could change.

“They’re in a good position with the depth they’ve created,’’ said an AL executive. “It’s a good feeling to know they have some pieces that other teams, who aren’t as deep, want. But they can either ask for the moon for them or hold on and wait for the right time to deal some of them away.’’

A couple of scouts have commented on how nice Nava’s swing is, quite a compliment for a kid who was found in the Independent League. A lot of teams like Reddick’s ability as an outfielder and the occasional pop he shows at the plate. Kalish is on everybody’s radar but might be the last player the Sox would deal, considering they view him as Drew’s heir apparent in right field.

The Sox have what other teams want. That’s a nice spot to be in — in March or any time during the season.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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