PAWTUCKET, R.I Sometimes a change of scenery is whats needed.
Justin Henry was the ninth-round pick of the Tigers out of the University of Mississippi in 2007. In six minor league seasons, the left-handed batter has hit a combined .293 with a .372 on-base percentage and .362 slugging percentage. In 181 games over parts of the past three seasons with Triple-A Toledo he hit .296.369.356 with 95 runs scored and 33 stolen bases in 50 attempts. In 543 plate appearances over 131 games in 2012 with the Mud Hens he hit .300.372.357 with 72 runs scored and 22 stolen bases in 34 attempts.
Justin does a lot of things well, said Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett. He can play multiple positions, he runs well, he gets on base. Hes a good hitter. So I think all those things really make him a well-rounded player that can fit in in a lot of ways and has a chance to really help us in different ways. So those things in particular were attractive.
The Red Sox acquired Henry, who turns 28 in April, following Decembers Rule 5 draft. The Sox selected second baseman Jeff Kobernus from Washington in the draft, trading him to Detroit for Henry.
I was kind of hopeful that something may happen Henry said. I enjoyed my time in Detroit but I was just kind of hoping for something there. I was there for my whole career since I was drafted in 07. Obviously you want to make it to the big leagues and I didnt really know if I was going to get that opportunity there. So to be given an opportunity to go somewhere else, I was very excited about it.
Henry gives the Sox some roster flexibility because, although he was acquired pursuant to the Rule 5 draft, he is not subject to its directives and does not have to be kept on the major league roster for the upcoming season. He was not on the Tigers 40-man roster and did not have to be placed on the Sox 40-man.
But his versatility could be an asset for the Sox this season. Henry will likely start the season with Triple-A Pawtucket. He has played every position expect pitcher and catcher over the last six seasons. Henry made most of his appearances, 67, in center field last season. But he also played 25 games at second base and 37 games at third base. In order of appearances, over his career he has played 378 games at second, 101 in center, 85 in left, 60 at third, 30 in right, seven at first, and six at shortstop. He has no intention of adding catching or pitching to his resume, though.
I dont think I want to get behind the plate and I dont think anybody wants to see me on the mound, either, he said with a laugh. So Ill stick to the other seven.
For some players, though, that kind of versatility can be a sort of Catch-22 in which they are thought of as a jack-of-most-positions, master of none.
Its kind of a double-edged sword sometimes, Henry said. I feel like sometimes in the Detroit organization there were opportunities at some spots and I wasnt given that opportunity because I was thought of as a utility guy. So it can hurt you that way. But also every team needs a guy or two who can play everywhere. So I feel like it can help you and hurt you. Im hoping it will help me more than hurt me. So well see.
The Sox are not ready to put a label on him yet.
We need to get him into spring training and see him every day before I think were ready to make any evaluation and say that he necessarily will even be bounced around, Crockett said. He may be in one spot all year for us. I know he was in center field for a majority of last year, having done different things.
More than anything he hasnt really been a utility guy. Hes been a regular at different positions. But I think his athleticism allows him to do that. So I think that will give us the ability to get his bat in the lineup. But also I think certainly when youre talking about making that jump to the major league level that is a huge factor in terms of whatever that need might be, when the call might come.
Henry, who played winter ball in Venezuela in the past two offseasons, was at McCoy Stadium on Friday as part of the PawSox hot stove events, his first opportunity to meet some new teammates and front office personnel. He is anxious to get to spring training to show his new team what he can do, wherever on the field that might be.
Hopefully just come out and put my best foot forward, he said. Ive been working hard this offseason so I can be prepared when I go to spring training. You just want to make a good impression. Sometimes the first impression is an important one so Im planning on hopefully doing that.