If you’re a fan of the movie Remember The Titans, you probably remember the emotional turning point of T.C. Williams’ High training camp. It feels especially prescient when it comes to left efield this season:
The left side, or left field, is definitely a long ways away from being the strong side it used to be. And now that you’re properly fired up, let’s take a look at this year’s graph.
If you read Corinne Landrey’s piece in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2017, this might not surprise you. In it, Corinne notes that, as a position, left fielders recorded their lowest collective OPS+ since the designated hitter was introduced in 1973. Here’s one of the telling graphs from her piece.
Not pretty. And, as you can see, Barry Bonds propped up left field all by himself for quite some time. Left-field production has been trending downward for a while, and as you can see from our first graph, the projections don’t think this year will be any different. On the high end, it’s the only defensive position that doesn’t include a four-win team. (DH also doesn’t have one, but that’s pretty normal for DH). On the low end, no position has more teams pegged for fewer than 1.0 WAR — and no position has more teams pegged for negative WAR, either. Let’s turn to Cosmo Kramer to succinctly wrap up the 2017 left field outlook:
Last year at this time, Conforto was the one atop the Mets’ left-field depth chart. The young outfielder had a challenging season, though. Now, as far as left field is concerned, he’s in a reserve role, and will be one of the best backup outfielders in the game (if he doesn’t eventually claim the starting right-field job, that is). This isn’t the end of the world from a team perspective, as it puts Cespedes back in the place where he belongs. Cespedes simply doesn’t have the range for center field, and his arm doesn’t play up there like it does in left. The Mets might not have a true center fielder, but they do have a true left fielder. Cespedes is a weapon there.
Partially because of the increased burden in center last year and partially because his baserunning took a turn south, Cespedes was unable to post a second consecutive six-win season, but he was as effective as ever at the plate. He posted a second straight 30-homer season, and his walk rate spiked to a career-best 9.4%. That’ll happen when pitchers throw in the strike zone less and you manage to cut down on your swings out of the zone at the same time.
Elsewhere, the Mets’ third and fourth options rival some teams’ first and second options. Nimmo is forecast to be a league-average hitter, which is pretty nice depth, and Lagares is a former starter and Gold Glove winner. In his four seasons in the majors, only four outfielders have accumulated a higher UZR or DRS than Lagares has. He’s been slowed by injuries of late, but has put up a Fld of at least +3.5 runs in all four of his major-league seasons.
If you’re familiar with the Joe Maddon school of managing, you know that he likes to tinker with his defensive lineup. Last year was no exception. With Schwarber out for most of the regular season, left field became Maddon’s turnstile position. Nine different players started a game for the Cubs in left field last season. The same may not be true this season.
Certainly Maddon will tinker a little — he won’t be able to help himself, and Schwarber probably isn’t capable of playing the field every day. But we probably won’t see Bryant out in the green pasture anywhere near as much as we did last season. And that’s OK. If there’s one reason that the Cubs should avoid the hype-train fatigue recent champions have faced, it’s a full season of Schwarber in the lineup. The man was built to hit baseballs, and allowing him do it on a regular basis is going to make Cubs games even more fun than they were last year.
When Schwarber’s not the lineup, familiar faces like Zobrist will get some playing time, as will less familiar face and copy editor’s nightmare Szczur. In what could have been his first and last shot at real major-league playing time, Szczur acquitted himself decently. Fiften extra-base hits in 200 plate appearances is pretty good for a reserve outfielder. His projection isn’t quite as rosy for 2017, but in his previous major-league seasons he never really got a chance to show what he could do — he started more games last season than he did in the prior two seasons combined. Either way, he played plus or scratch defense at all three outfield positions last season and he hit a little bit, too. You could do a lot worse for a bench guy.
Upton scared a lot of people last year when he started the season slowly. But after posting a 77 wRC+ in the first half, he came roaring back to post a 142 wRC+ in the second. In that second half — really from July on — he looked very much like the player we’ve all come to expect. This year will be his 10th as a major-league regular. He has posted an above-average wRC+ in the previous nine, and this year will be no different. His three-year trend — 133 wRC+ in 2014, 119 wRC+ in 2015, 105 wRC+ in 2016 — isn’t especially promising if you’re wondering about upside, but he’ll still be a solid left fielder. Having such a player is more than a lot of teams on this list can claim.
The rest of the players here — Moya, Collins and Mahtook — are all similar in that they’ve all had varying degrees of promise in the past, and said promise has mostly gone unfulfilled. Mahtook in particular came crashing back to earth after some excellent small-sample production for the Rays in 2015. Moya, for all his power, was a sub-replacement-level player last season. He struck out 38 times in 100 trips to the plate, which pushes the boundaries of good taste. One of these guys could absolutely catch lightning in a bottle if they had to play for an extended period of time, but the chances of that actually happening are pretty remote.
Brantley finally made his way back into the lineup on Monday, and the report was positive. If Brantley is able to hold up to a full season’s worth of work, it will be a real shot in the arm for Cleveland, and 1.9 WAR may end up looking conservative. Everything will depend on his health, though, and thus there isn’t much salient I can add here.
Guyer is certainly a competent backup, though he won’t be as good offensively as he was after he arrived in Cleveland last summer. Behind them are two interesting players in Almonte and Jackson. Things have taken an odd turn for Jackson: he compiled at least 2.4 WAR in each of his first four major-league seasons, but just 3.0 WAR total in his last three. Last year he played at a replacement level, as his power completely eroded. But with Cleveland lacking a wellspring of payroll room, and already having tied up a bunch of their salary dollars in Brantley, bringing in players like Almonte and Jackson for insurance is pretty sound team-building. These guys have at least tasted major-league success. If Cleveland can fix them, they could have some more steals on their hands.
One of the big questions for the Royals this season was whether last season’s .303 wOBA/85 wRC+ was an injury-fueled blip on the radar for Gordon, or the start of his ending. On the one hand, Gordon had posted at least a .326 wOBA/104 wRC+ in each of the last five seasons, and he was usually much better than that. We also know that, generally speaking, it takes a while to start hitting well following a wrist injury, and so we shouldn’t be overly concerned about his poor hitting when he returned. On the other hand, he wasn’t hitting well before he collided with Mike Moustakas on May 22. Through that day, he was hitting .211/.319/.331, for a .292 wOBA and 77 wRC+. Between his return in late June and the end of the season, he hit .224/.309/.403, for a .308 wOBA and 89 wRC+ — which is to say, better, but not so much better that your fears have been allayed. As a result, the projections are conservative. At age 33, and coming off a wrist injury, Gordon will likely have some doubters to silence.
The same is true of his backups, as well — most notably Soler, who hasn’t been able to sustain the promise of his rookie season. If he’s only a league-average hitter and a below-average fielder, he’ll certainly make for a capable bench bat, but the Royals are likely hoping for more than that from the 25-year-old. Elsewhere, Burns and Gore will compete for the same slice of the playing-time pie, and Orlando hopefully will once again prove useful against lefties (104 wRC+ against lefties but just 86 wRC+ against righties in his brief major-league career).
Polanco had sort of an odd 2016 season. If you look solely at his WAR, you would have thought he hadn’t grown much as a player. That isn’t true, however, and much of the blame for his similar WAR totals rests on the fact that he logged 65 fewer plate appearances in 2016 than he had in 2015. Part of it also had to do with the fact that he wasn’t as impactful on the bases. He was still as fast as usual, though, so there’s the chance that this was a one-year blip, especially because he had knee issues in the second half.
What Pirates fans likely hope isn’t a one-year blip is Polanco’s dramatic uptick in isolated power. The fact that he did this while sacrificing little in the plate-discipline department was big news. Can he repeat it? If you look at exit velocity, you’d probably be a little dubious. Let’s take a look at our handy Statcast leaderboard:
|Player||BBE||Max EV (mph)||Avg EV (mph)||Avg FB/LD EV (mph)||Avg GB EV (mph)||Max DST (ft)||Avg DST (ft)||Avg HR-DST (ft)||Barrels||Brls/BBE||Brls/PA|
His exit velocity didn’t change, and while the distance of his hits went up, he wasn’t barreling balls up with any greater frequency. But we haven’t looked at launch angle. Let’s go visual here.
That 2016 spray chart is a lot more focused. Most notably, Polanco was able to cut down on his grounders, and put more of his batted balls into the space where you would expect hits to come. That’s certainly encouraging. And it was deliberate, as he explained to MLB.com’s Adam Berry back in February.
Also encouraging was the play of Bell last season. He should see some time in left field when Polanco slides over to center. Backup left fielders capable of posting a wOBA in the .330s are in short supply on this list. Heck, for a few teams, you’ll see that starting left fielders capable of posting a .330 wOBA are in short supply. If Bell improves upon that output, it will be hard to keep him out of the lineup, though the battle for his total playing time will be waged primarily at first base.
|Hyun Soo Kim||420||.288||.361||.432||.344||6.7||-0.4||-5.4||1.1|
One of the weird things about the 2016 season is exactly why the Orioles didn’t play Kim more often. It’s not like he started slowly. He notched two hits in his major-league debut, and for April, he hit safely in five of the six games he played. There was the kerfuffle over the O’s wanting to send him to Triple-A to start the season, of course, and in retrospect it looks ridiculous that Orioles manager Buck Showalter wanted to keep Joey Rickard over Kim. Rickard went on to post a .319 OBP and -0.7 WAR in 282 plate appearances. Kim posted a .382 OBP and 0.9 WAR in 346 PA. Perhaps Kim’s fielding leaves something to be desired, but Rickard wasn’t exactly Devon White out there.
Kim would eventually claim the starting job, and rightfully so, though Showalter still refused to play him against lefties. As Dave and Carson discussed on the podcast the other day, the Orioles really seem not to like Kim. Which is amusing to me, since only six outfielders posted a better OBP than did Kim last season. That’s pretty sweet, even if he isn’t good against lefties. As for his performance versus left-handers, he failed to record even one hit against them in 23 plate appearances last season. That’s far from conclusive, of course, but it doesn’t bode well. But if Baltimore had decided that Kim can’t hit lefties, you’d have expected them to have brought in a lefty masher to complement him. Instead, they brought in Alvarez and Smith, both of whom are also dangerous against righties but not lefties. Seeing how this shakes out in Orioleville will be fascinating to watch.
Given the extreme hype surrounding Benintendi this spring, you might think that the Sox would appear a little higher up this list, but this is an appropriate spot for Boston in context. Benintendi is certainly an exciting talent, and if he does what scouts expect of him, the .335 wOBA will look extremely conservative. Our FANS projection, for example, has him a little higher, at .348. Either way, he looks to find himself in select company. The 2017 season will be Benintendi’s age-22 season. Since 1947, only 17 rookie left fielders age 22 or younger have tallied 500 PA in their rookie season. Given that he’s going to start the season on the big-league club, Benintendi has a good chance to become the 18th. With four Hall of Famers, Mike Trout and Jose Canseco on it, it’s a good list. Even if Benintendi is closer to average in 2017, the long view is important here.
Helping Benintendi along will be Young, who fits perfectly in his role as fourth outfielder on this Red Sox team. As a lefty masher, he can ably give Benintendi or Jackie Bradley Jr. a breather whenever they need it, and he has shown himself to be a true professional who doesn’t grumble about losing playing time to younger players. Holt and Swihart may also see time in left field, though neither should. Holt simply has never had the arm for the outfield, and last year he didn’t have the range for it either. And the Sox need to conclusively show that Swihart doesn’t have the chops for catcher or first base before they move him to the green pasture. They didn’t last year, and it cost him more than half his season.
Life is a matter of perspective. On the one hand, Braun’s .233 ISO last season was only the fifth-best mark of his career. On the other hand, Braun’s .233 ISO last season was 29th-best among qualified hitters and 10th-best among qualified outfielders. So, is that good or bad? I’ll choose to focus on the good. Braun may not be what he once was, but he is still capable of being one of the best-hitting outfielders in the game. He doesn’t fuel the Brewers to a higher standing on this list because his defense is not similarly excellent. That’s to be expected of a 33-year-old corner slugger.
Backing him up is the perennially interesting Santana. Or rather, he will when he’s not starting in right field, which he should do the majority of the time. Behind him is the perennially rosterable Nieuwenhuis. Nieuwenhuis doesn’t do anything really well nor really poorly, making him a good fifth outfielder. His 13 homers last season may have garnered him a modicum of job security, but he won’t play much unless someone gets injured.
|Alejandro De Aza||63||.237||.308||.361||.292||-1.2||0.0||-0.2||0.0|
Other than catcher, this is the highest ranked an A’s position gets. Savor it, green-and-gold denizens. Year One of the Davis trade tilted decidedly toward Oakland, as Davis produced his best major-league season to date. Only Mark Trumbo and Nelson Cruz swatted more homers in 2016 than did Davis, who took his singular skill — power — to its logical conclusion. Davis doesn’t walk much, and doesn’t hit singles much either. Of the 146 qualified hitters last season, Davis’s singles-minus-homers mark of 27 was second only to Chris Carter, who only notched 12 more singles than he did homers. As long as Davis keeps mashing taters, this won’t be an issue.
Of those behind Davis on the depth chart, the only really interesting player is Canha. A league-average hitter as a rookie in 2015, Canha lost most of last year to a left hip injury that required surgery. If he can get back to being a league-average hitter, it will really boost was otherwise may be an abysmal Oakland offense.
It always seems like Gardner is being ticketed out of town. It’s reached a fever pitch recently, what with the Yankees’ farm-system renaissance. But with Clint Frazier ticketed for the minors to start the season, Gardner isn’t leaving any time soon. (Color me skeptical that they’ll trade him at all.) And that’s just fine. Gardner has logged at least 2.3 WAR in of his last seven full seasons, and that’s the sort of reliability that every team needs. At 33 and no longer a defensive hero, his projections aren’t quite as rosy, but I won’t bet against him quite yet.
For the defensive heroics, the team can turn to Hicks, who has proven to be an asset in either outfield corner. His bat, while never great, took a turn for the worse back to his rookie levels last season. Hicks got extremely pull happy — understandable given Yankee Stadium’s short porches, but the approach wasn’t a holistic solution for his offense. Beyond them, Austin will get some playing time when he recovers from his broken foot, and Holliday will probably be granted a furlough or two from first base.
By the end of June, Ozuna looked like he was on his way to a landmark season. Following the game on June 24th, Ozuna had piled up 299 PA for the season and was hitting .320/.375/.574, good for a .398 wOBA and 151 wRC+. That’s an All-Star line, is it not? The next day, he was out of the lineup, and then the next day reports suggested that his wrist had been bothering him for a week or so. From that point on, Ozuna wasn’t the same. He never landed on the disabled list, but perhaps he should have. From June 28 to the end of the season, he tallied 309 PA and hit just .214/.269/.337, which came out to a .264 wOBA and a 61 wRC+. That is a classic tale of two seasons. Scrolling through his Rotoworld player notes, you can see that the wrist was an issue later in the season, and then in September he also dealt with knee problems.
If you’re convinced that his wrist injury is in the rear-view mirror — and his four spring-training homers might indicate that it is — you might want to slide him up a few spots on this list. Ozuna has long seemed on the verge of a big season. Maybe we’ll never get it. Or maybe his injury simply delayed it by a year.
A top prospect once upon a time in the Nationals farm system, Hood doesn’t figure to make much of an impact. Fun fact about Hood: he’s now played in Triple-A with three different organizations before the age of 27. If that’s not a record, it has to be close. Hood finally made his major-league debut last season and failed to record a walk in any of his first 25 major-league PAs.
Give Rasmus this much: he’s consistent. Last season, he helmed the Astros’ left-field depth chart, and it was ranked 13th, and that is right where he finds himself this season, new team and all. I don’t know about you, but that’s funny to me. At this point, you’d be tempted to say that Rasmus is who he is, and in a way that’s true. But he also suffered a big-time power outage last season, which made his strikeout rate that much harder to swallow. He simply didn’t Barrel up balls with the same frequency in 2016. However, Rasmus has seen his ISO drop before only to rebound in subsequent seasons, so let’s not count him out just yet.
When Rasmus needs a breather, the speedy Smith will be at the ready. I don’t personally see the appeal of Smith on the page outside of his defense, but if he can consistently play good defense, he’ll be worth keeping around. Given Rasmus’s generally positive defensive record, though, he might not need much defensive caddying. Smith also hits from the side as Rasmus, and doesn’t exactly have a strong track record in the minors or majors of hitting lefties. So, his value as Rasmus’s backup may be limited. The same is true of Dickerson. Bauers also hits lefties, but perhaps the KATOH darling will be a complete enough player to usurp all three of them come the end of the season.
Has Dyson really and truly been freed? If so, it’s been a long time in the making. He was at his most valuable last season, but really he’s been the same guy for four or five years now. If he hits his projected playing time, it’ll be a career high, and I for one am excited for him to get extended playing time. He’s never going to be Rickey Henderson, but that’s OK. I always prefer to focus on what a player can do instead of what he can’t, and Dyson does enough things well that he should be given the chance to stretch his wings and see if his 3-WAR potential in two-thirds of a season can become four or five wins across a full season.
Of course, he might not get the full season in Seattle, either. This looks like his best shot, though. Backing him up in left field will be Heredia. Sort of like the Cuban Dyson, but with more OBP and less defense and less of a stateside track record, Heredia has become a Lookout Landing favorite. He probably isn’t a future star, but given that his transition from Cuba is still recent, he may have some more potential than we’ve seen so far.
Backing them up is Gamel, who finally got a shot at major-league playing time last season and did very little with it. After Gamel are two players who have generated some KATOH heat in O’Malley and Powell. Powell ranked 56th in the stats-only version of Chris’s 2017 KATOH 100 (and 96th in KATOH+).
In 2015, Grichuk posted a .365 BABIP. He was never going to maintain that in future years — his BABIP in his three prior stops were .272, .289 and .316. But Grichuk really got beat with the regression stick hard in the first part of the season, when he posted just a .238 BABIP. As such, he would have to endure two demotions to Triple-A. After the second, everything was clicking once again, and so he enters this season as the unquestioned starter once again. Let’s look at his splits from before and after his demotions.
|4/3 – 6/17||225||42||8||8.0%||24.0%||0.186||0.238||0.206||0.276||0.392||0.288||77|
|7/5 – 7/31||68||16||4||5.9%||35.3%||0.234||0.333||0.250||0.294||0.484||0.330||105|
That middle line is probably the one you should expect to see moving forward, but Grichuk does seem to have that innate Cardinals player ability to go off for certain parts of the season, and that is to be respected. Behind him is Tommy Pham, who has been a capable backup with no discernible platoon weakness in his brief time in the majors (106 wRC+ vs. LHP, 117 vs. RHP). Behind him is former Fringe Five-r Martinez, who in typical Cardinals fashion posted a .467 BABIP in his major-league debut. I’m sure he’ll be good for a few inexplicably amazing plays this season. And even though Garcia fared worse in his second try at Triple-A, if the situation calls for him to be added to the roster, he’ll probably debut with a four-hit game and make a game-saving catch. It’s the Cardinal Way.
It’s here we have our first primary player projected for something less than a full win. Halfway through the list! I told you that left field was a horror show this season. That’s not exactly fair to Duvall, who was one of the feel-good stories of 2016. Duvall profiles a lot like Khris Davis does in Oakland — not a lot of OBP, but plenty of SLG — except with better defense. The projection systems are treating him with caution though because he came out of nowhere last season. Well, not nowhere, exactly. He’d slugged .599 and .547 in his two stints in Triple-A Fresno, but it didn’t translate the one time the Giants promoted him in 2014. It did translate in 2015, though, when he hit two doubles and five homers in a 72-PA cup of coffee. His .266 ISO in that 2015 stint was basically the same as his .257 ISO last season. Still, the projections aren’t buying it, not even the FANS. Duvall did regress as the season continued, dropping from a .302 ISO in the first half to a .203 ISO in the second half. That’s more Marlon Byrd than it is Khris Davis.
Behind Duvall is Jennings, who’ll try to resurrect his career. After three straight seasons as a 3-WAR player, Jennings was worth a total of -0.3 WAR over the last two seasons. He’s been hampered by leg injuries, and at this point, you wouldn’t expect much, but hopefully he can stay healthy and get back to being the player he once was. If he can’t, Raburn will be there to soak up some PA. Given that he hits from the same side as Duvall, though, his left-field utility is questionable at best. Finally, there’s Winker, who clocked in at 100 on Eric’s top 100 prospect list. Winker has nearly a full-season of Triple-A under his belt, and he hit .303/.397/.384 in that time, so he might not have much left to prove there. In addition to Eric, ZiPS is a fan, so even though Winker isn’t on the radar yet in any major way, keep your eye out for him.
|Scott Van Slyke||35||.245||.325||.408||.318||0.0||-0.1||0.1||0.1|
If you said that Ethier was a specter here to remind us of our own fallibility, I would believe you. After seven years of posting at least 500 PA, Ethier hasn’t turned that particular trick in three seasons. The nadir came last season, when he was able to tally only 26 PA, opening up the Dodgers to all sorts of alternative left-field plans. The Dodgers started 10 different players in left field last year, including Ethier. One who stuck was Toles, and though he wasn’t the full-time starter last year — that was Howie Kendrick — the club appears confident he could hit well again if called upon. He will be called upon, as Ethier is now likely to miss Opening Day and beyond.
Toles was one of the better success stories of last season, and I’m not just saying that because he like FanGraphs. Toles was basically good at everything a year ago: he hit for average, he hit for power, he flashed a good arm and good glove, and though he only stole one base, he ran well on the bases. That’s not to say he’s a true five-tool player — a lot of why he looked so great was his .385 BABIP. Even if he maintains a high BABIP, it probably won’t be that high again. And he’ll have to do it all again before the projection systems are convinced. But if he can play the way he did last year, no one is going to miss Ethier very much.
Of course, we shouldn’t completely discount Ethier either. When he was last healthy, he put up a 138 wRC+, and there isn’t a team in baseball that couldn’t use some of that action. Even if Toles does permanently take his job, Ethier would be a valuable sub or pinch-hitter. So too should Thompson, who put up 4.3 baserunning runs (BsR) in a limited sample last season. That BsR ranked 31st in baseball overall, but ranked first among players with fewer than 300 PA. Beyond that group, the Dodgers still have valuable role players in Gutierrez — who experienced a mini-renaissance the past two seasons — and Van Slyke, who wasn’t good last year but had been in the two years prior. Perhaps there isn’t a top-flight talent here, but there’s a lot of solid depth.
Dickerson was one of the few good Padres hitters last season. He might have been poised to duplicate that effort this season, but he has a disc protrusion in his back, and that just sounds quite painful. I certainly wouldn’t recommend having one. He can’t do anything for a month, and even after a month, things may not have improved, so that leaves Jankowski as the starter in left for probably at least the first half. Jankowski excelled in center last season, so he should have plenty of glove for left. Whether he has the bat is another question, but the Padres can’t really afford to be picky at this juncture.
It’s hard to believe that this is the plan for the Giants. We project the Giants for 87 wins, seventh best in baseball and fourth best in the National League. And yet, their outfield is a complete disaster, nowhere more so than in left field. Certainly they’re not at the bottom of the barrel here — we’re only on No. 19, after all — but overall, their outfield is projected for just 4.9 WAR. The Giants are one of 11 teams projected to garner less than 5 WAR from their outfield, and the only other of those 10 teams we project to finish above .500 is the Rangers.
The hope, then, has to be that one of Parker, Williamson or Hernandez can take a step forward and be the everyday player. Last season, all three hit at a league-average rate for San Francisco, though in limited samples — 151 PA for Parker, 127 for Williamson and just 57 for Hernandez. It seems unlikely that any of them will become above-average players with more playing time, but perhaps they can be just good enough to not the make the position a black hole.
As Travis detailed last week, things have not been going the Rockies’ way recently, and the news that Dahl still isn’t ready to swing a bat — and won’t be for at least another week — isn’t exactly making for smile time.
When he finally does get right, Dahl has a bright future. He played for too long last year to retain rookie eligibility, but his phenom status is still supremely intact. That’ll happen when you come up at age 22 and hit .315/.359/.500 as a rookie. (Believe me, not all Rockies rookies hit that well.) His game certainly isn’t perfect — he could stand to walk a little bit more, and he hit more grounders than you’d like to see — but he’s already a pretty polished hitter.
Behind him, or perhaps in front of him now depending on how long he’s out, is Parra. Parra’s tenure with the Rockies started poorly, to say the least. He had the worst walk rate in the majors last season, and it wasn’t particularly close:
This seemed like the logical conclusion for a player whose walk rate had been dropping for years. After notching an 8.7% BB% in 2011, he dropped to 7.7%, 7.2%, 5.6%, 4.8% and finally last year’s 2.4%. You almost wonder if he can somehow pull off something less than that, but it seems as though it would be hard to remain in the majors if he did.
Desmond is nominally on the list, though given his injury, it seems unlikely the Rockies will move him around too much once he does get back. Patterson snuck in at the end of Eric’s Rockies prospect list, where he noted that Patterson may have a future bashing lefties. With Dahl and Parra both being left-handed hitters, that’s a skill set that could come in handy.
Just when you counted Cabrera out, he turned things around last season. A splash of plate discipline, a dash of power, a BABIP back closer to his career average, and suddenly Cabrera was a decent player, instead of a sub-replacement one. He’s followed this pattern a couple of times now, so it shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. But really the only burning question is whether he can get hot enough in the first half to generate any trade value for the White Sox. Last year such a question was a non-starter; even this winter, no one would want to commit to $15 million of the Melk-man. But the math changes a little if he can get hot leading up to the trade deadline. It’s a long shot to be sure, but you can bet Rick Hahn and Co. will have their fingers crossed nonetheless.
Beyond Cabrera, Liriano is still young enough to be nominally interesting, and Engel is the sort of organizational trooper whom you’d like to see get a shot at some point, but there really isn’t much else here about which to get excited. Asche was worth worth negative WAR in each of the past two seasons on the Phillies.
Speaking of the Phillies, I really didn’t think I’d see the day when Kendrick was relegated to serving as a second-division starter in the outfield. The second-best second baseman ever to wear an Angels uniform, Kendrick is on the downswing as he enters his 12th major-league season, yet somehow he’s only 33 this season. Until the end of his second-base tenure, he was a reliable defender at the keystone, and his early returns in left were reliable, as well. But while his bat was an asset as a middle infielder, it certainly isn’t in left.
He’s the starter for now because Philly doesn’t yet have a better option. Last year, Altherr struck out more than 30% of the time and posted an ISO under .100. He was the only major leaguer to pull off that horrible combo (min. 200 PA). Saunders will get most of his time in right field.
Quinn, Williams and Cozens all made Eric’s Phillies prospects list. Cozens also made the KATOH 100 — he was the No. 1 prospect in the stats-only list — and was named to Chris’ All-KATOH team. Quinn skipped Triple-A to graduate to the majors last year and held his own, but Eric doesn’t think his bat will play in a corner long term. Williams probably needs another crack at Triple-A after only walking in 3.6% of his PAs there. Cozens hasn’t reached Triple-A yet, so that’s probably a logical starting point for him this season. Hopefully one of them will force their way into significant playing time by the end of the season.
When we think that players will improve and they don’t, we tend to write them off. Such was the case with Aoki. The Japanese native never really did get better, but he has been remarkably consistent in his five major-league seasons. Playing for four teams in those five years, he has managed to keep his walk rate between 7.3% and 8.2%; his strikeout rate between 5.9% and 9.6%; his OBP between .349 and .356; his wRC+ between 102 and 113. He’s never going to be a superstar, and he’s not going to project well with his skillset, but I’d bank on him finding a way to beat that 0.5 WAR projection.
Unfortunately, you can’t really say that about the rest of the roster. The Astros are foolishly rostering 13 pitchers to start the season. As a result, Hernandez isn’t even going to make the Opening Day roster. He’ll eventually find his way back to the majors, because playing Beltran in the field is not a good idea at this stage of his career and because rostering 13 pitchers is dumb. But when he gets back, he doesn’t have much promise. Neither does Marisnick, who plays decent defense, but can’t hit whatsoever. Of the 268 position players who tallied at least 300 PA last season, only seven posted a worse wRC+ than did Marisnick. No thanks.
|Melvin Upton Jr.||245||.225||.287||.383||.289||-6.9||0.6||1.2||0.1|
As with the Giants, it seems like the Blue Jays could have done a better job with their left -ield situation this offseason. Carrera earned a career high in PA last season, but he didn’t really deserve it. “But wait,” you’re saying. “Weren’t you just advocating for Jarrod Dyson to get as much playing time as possible?” It’s true, I was. Let’s look at a comparison of Dyson’s and Carrera’s career statistics.
When you’re an asset on the defensive side, you can justify leading a platoon or more. When you’re not, you can’t. Carrera doesn’t do anything well, and shouldn’t be starting more than once a week.
That’s not to say that Upton should be a full-time starter, either. Upton had a bit of a resurgence last season in San Diego, but it didn’t translate to Toronto. The sample was obviously smaller in Toronto, but his 52 wRC+ was worse than his 56 wRC+ in his first season in Atlanta back in 2013.
Pearce is on the depth chart at a low level of PA, which is warranted due to his ongoing health issues. But if he can keep himself upright for the better part of the season, I wouldn’t be surprised if he steals a lot of Carrera’s and Upton’s playing time. If not him, then perhaps this will be Pompey’s chance. This position looks eminently steal-able, is my point.
Rosario possesses certain qualities shared by excellent young players — bad speed, athleticism — so it seems like he should be pretty good. But he isn’t. He has absolutely zero plate discipline, and even running a high BABIP can’t save his offensive game. The Twins don’t have a better option than Rosario at the moment, though, so he gets to keep his job for another year. That said, I wouldn’t bank on him having this job a year from now. The same thing can be said about Grossman and Santana. Perhaps prospect Palka can push them aside. With 223 PA at Triple-A already under his belt, during which time he’s run a 120 wRC+, he won’t have much left to prove there.
Last year, Maybin ran a .383 BABIP. That’s really high. It was 52 points higher than his previous full-season high. Among the 232 players with at least 350 PA last season, only Tyler Naquin and DJ LeMahieu recorded a higher BABIP. In other words, Maybin probably won’t run a .383 BABIP again this season. That’s not to say he didn’t make any progress in 2016. He produced a career-high walk rate, and the difference between his BB% and K% was also a career best. He lowered his swing rate but logged a career-high contact rate, which is a recipe for putting yourself in position to run a high BABIP. Recently, Maybin has been stretched in center field. Perhaps manning left field will boost his defensive production.
If he can’t, Revere will be there to siphon off PAs. Marte, who logged a 114 wRC+ last season, is also a decent option, though for now he’s been pushed into a utility role. This is more depth than the Angels have had recently.
Profar finally returned to the diamond last season, and he was about as productive at 23 as he was at 20 before he got hurt. For all of the promise that Profar has shown, he never really has had the production to match. I say that as a bit of a Profar apologist, and I’m sure I could find some interesting splits that show why you should believe in him this season. But really, this is his show-and-prove season. He’s getting a chance to start for a full season. If he can run with it and produce like the top-rated prospect he was in the past, his 2013 and 2016 seasons will be hand-waved. If he can’t, then the Rangers will try to piece together the season with Rua, DeShields and Gallo. All are intriguing in their own right, but none of them is a slam-dunk player. The Rangers need one of them to break right. It will be hard to root against Profar.
How the mighty have fallen. In the past two seasons, Werth has been worth a grand total of 0.8 WAR. Suddenly, he’s an old man, entering this season at age 38. Only 14 position players in the game last year were Werth’s age or older, and a few of them won’t be suiting up this year. Luckily for the Nationals, if he fizzles once again, they won’t have to endure Werth’s death rattle for another season, as it is also sudddenly the last season of his once really long contract. Still, this ranking feels low and not a bit cruel, but I guess time waits for no man. Heisey and Taylor will be his primary backups. That sentence shouldn’t inspire any confidence in Nats fans.
|Mel Rojas Jr.||7||.227||.287||.354||.278||-0.3||0.0||0.0||0.0|
“But Kemp hit really well last year!” You’re saying it. I know you’re saying it. He hit 35 homers! Sorry, a .304 OBP is still a .304 OBP. Kemp wasn’t really any better last season than he was the season before that, when his homer total was a more pedestrian 23. And the move to the other outfield corner did little to stanch the flow of runs he permitted. But unlike Werth, Kemp still has two more seasons on his contract after 2017. Good luck with that, Braves fans. I’d say at least you can dream on a prospect coming up, but the best the Braves have to offer in left field this season is Rojas. And while Rojas did log a 139 wRC+ in half a season of Triple-A ball last year, he did it as a 26-year-old, so something tells me not too many Braves fans are going to be excited about him potentially grabbing some playing time. At least that new ballpark in the suburbs that they landed in the shadiest way possible will be sweet, right? Right?
Last season, the D-backs ranked 30th on the left-field list. It was so nice that they decided to do it twice. Last year in this space, Neil wasn’t quite ready to doubt Tomas’s power, and that turned out to be prescient, as Tomas proceeded to rack up 31 homers. Unfortunately he didn’t do much else. Plate discipline? Nah. Defense? Nah. Baserunning? Nah. Tomas hits the ball hard, but baseball is about more than just hitting the ball hard. Behind him on the depth chart, Arcia can probably impart a couple of lessons about how you need to do more than hit the ball hard; as he’s found out, when you have only one skill and then that wanes, you don’t have any value to offer. In between them is Brito, who got a little shine last year at this time, before completely squandering it by posting a 34 wRC+. Brito probably isn’t that bad, but the D-backs certainly can’t be blamed for not handing him a starting job. Drury will see the bulk of his playing time in the infield. Hazelbaker should not see a bulk of playing time anywhere.
That’s it, people! We did it! Left field might be terrible (comparatively speaking) this season, but you’re all great people for reading (or at least skimming) this whole article!