FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jacoby Ellsbury had 660 at-bats in 2011, his breakout season, and all but 31 of those came in the leadoff spot.
Whether Ellsbury remains in the leadoff position in 2012, however, is open to some debate. After belting 32 homers and compiling a. 552 slugging percentage, there's some thought in the organization that Ellsbury might better serve the team hitting third while, say, Carl Crawford takes over the top spot in the lineup.
That would give Crawford the chance to be more aggressive on the bases and take full advantage of his speed. Ellsbury, meanwhile, showed last year that he can be a valuable run producer and, hitting third, could now do so with more runners on base and in scoring position.
"There's not many who have that same package (of skills)," said Valentine. "If he's not totally unique, he's in a real small sample. He's just a joy."
Valentine believes Ellsbury could succeed in the No. 3 spot and has already spoken to the outfielder -- at least informally -- to sound him out on a potential change.
"I think he could," said Valentine. "He just hasn't, which makes it a little bit of a mental challenge."
"I guess, for me, I would keep my approach," said Ellsbury, "(keep) everything the same. And I've told (Valentine) whatever he thinks the team needs -- if it's better for me to hit down in the order or stay at leadoff -- I'm going to do whatever he feels best to get us the most wins. So if he thinks me staying at the top of the order is the best thing for the time... I'm not sure. I haven't talked about how he plans on working spring training. If he looks at mixing it up a little bit, seeing how different lineups look.
"But as far as right now, I'm just trying to get my timing, trying to get everything like that. But I'm sure that here in a couple of weeks I could probably have a better answer for you."
Grapefruit League games don't begin until March 4, and from there, Valentine will likely be experimenting with differing batting orders, depending on availability of veteran players on long road trips and other concessions to the spring schedule.
Toward the end of March, he'll probably settle in on what he'd like to do with the lineup, though he has cautioned several times that, in some past springs, the lineup he used on Opening Day was not one he used even once during spring training.
"I think that's going to be an interesting situation that will probably evolve this spring into the season," said Valentine. "The last thing in the world you want to create is confusion or doubt -- any of those things. Right now, (Ellsbury) seems to be open and Dustin (Pedroia) was in the office the other day and he seems to be free and open and Carl is ready to have a conversation.
"There's a lot of stuff going on."
Ellsbury's 2011 season, for which he was second in A.L. MVP voting, has given him the confidence that he can thrive almost anywhere. No longer the slashing and running player he was in his first few seasons, his improved strength and ability to drive the ball has made him more well-rounded.
"I've always taken or tried to be a complete player," he said, "tried to do everything. So yeah, for everything to come together, I guess you could say last year was something I was always working on. I just try to be a complete player and that's what I take pride in."
Pedroia has said that he doesn't like leading off, which would seem to take him out of the mix. Earlier in his career, Crawford had the same thoughts, though last year, he said hitting first wouldn't be an issue.
"It's hard for me to say at this point," said Ellsbury. "I haven't hit third on this team before. So I don't know how we'd go about mixing the lineup and that sort of thing. Certain guys feel comfortable with hitting certain positions. I've hit in different areas in the lineup and it hasn't really bothered me. I feel comfortable, but at the same time I think that time will tell. I really don't have an opinion either way at this moment."