Boston star Ellsbury set to build off super season

Posted Feb. 27, 2012, at 6:34 p.m.

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jacoby Ellsbury’s offseason was pretty routine. He did the same things he usually does.

Except that this time the Boston outfielder was enjoying it as the AL MVP runner-up. Which was much different than how Ellsbury spent the previous winter, when he was coming off an injury-filled season.

Ellsbury hit .321 with 32 home runs, 105 RBIs and 39 stolen bases last year. A last-month collapse cost the Red Sox a playoff spot and likely hurt Ellsbury in the MVP voting. Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander won the award.

“We’re playing against the best competition in the world. Obviously, I did everything I could, left it all on the field last year,” Ellsbury said Sunday. “When I found out about the results, I was happy for Justin Verlander. But at the same time, me being as competitive as I am, I wish I would have won.”

Ellsbury scored 119 runs, had a .376 on-base percentage and a .552 slugging percentage. There was not much more he could have done to convince MVP voters of his worthiness.

He impressed one person who did not have a vote.

“I thought he was the MVP, personally,” new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. “I just thought his year was phenomenal.”

Valentine was working for ESPN last season and watched Ellsbury get off to a good start at Texas, getting two hits and scoring twice.

“From the opening day that I saw him in Texas, his swing seemed to be so consistently good. His defense was terrific. Watching him at the end of the year, it looked like he was given the at-bats that were needed, and the numbers speak for themselves.”

“I don’t know, how do you get those numbers? It’s an amazing body of work how he filled up all the columns. Now, what that means is that he’s very good. What it means to our team is that I hope he stays healthy and I think he’ll be a major contributor,” he said.

Health was a major topic of conversation for Ellsbury at this point last year. He played in just 18 games in 2010 and was often asked if he felt he had something to prove going into 2011. His mantra was that he just wanted to play baseball and let his performance speak for itself.

It did.

“Well, that’s how I always go about doing business,” said Ellsbury, who appeared in 158 games last season. “I’m not much of a tell-you-what-I’m-going-to-do (person) or anything like that. I just try to go, let my play do the speaking for itself.”

“I get a lot of questions about this coming season. That’s the same route I’m going to take is just let my play do the speaking for itself and I’m excited just because of how the workouts went this offseason and how I feel right now and coming into spring training,” he said.

This spring, Ellsbury is giving Valentine other questions to answer. Last season, he led the league with 732 plate appearances, all but 43 of them came from the leadoff spot.

So with the power and production he displayed last year, would the Red Sox be better served moving Ellsbury — who led the league in stolen bases in 2008 with 50 and 2009 with 70 — lower in the lineup?

“I think he could be,” Valentine said. “When I talked to him about it, he thinks he could be. He just never has been. That makes it a little bit of a mental challenge.”

Last year, Ellsbury was just grateful to be in the lineup. This year, he knows he has a spot. And it doesn’t matter which one.

In addition to leading off last year, he also batted fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth, but nothing other than first after April 21.

“It’s hard for me to say at this point,” he said. “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 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. Time will tell what will happen’ but I really don’t have an opinion either way at this moment.”

For Valentine, who has been in baseball for most of his 61 years, Ellsbury is in a very small class. There aren’t many players who begin their careers as speed guys then quickly emerge as both speed and power players.

“First of all, there’s not many who have that package,” Valentine said. “I’m stumped. If he’s not totally unique, he’s in a real small sample. He’s just a joy.”

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