2021 Positional Power Rankings: Left Field

Yesterday, Jay Jaffe and Ben Clemens wrapped up the infield with analysis of the game’s catchers and shortstops. Today, we shift to the outfield. First up? Kevin Goldstein takes a look at baseball’s left fielders.

When Meg Rowley handed out the assignments for Positional Power Rankings a couple of weeks ago, I was happy to see I’d gotten left fielders. “Great, I get to write about the boppers,” I said to nobody in particular. Then I put together my 30 blurbs and was left wondering, where have all the boppers gone? Scroll down these rankings and look at the primary player listed for each team. How many of these guys actually scare you when they step in the box? Five? I’ll accept an answer up to six. That’s 20% at the most, and for an offensively-oriented position, that just doesn’t feel right. Before we got out of the top 10, we’re already talking about platoon players and guys who just got non-tendered. There’s plenty of offense in baseball, but it sure isn’t in left field.

Instead, the position is something of an island of misfit toys: Players with some offensive pluses who can’t defend and are therefore put at the least-demanding position. Declining veterans. Guys getting a second chance or who are close to running out of chances. It’s become a bit of a dumping ground on big-league rosters, and perhaps the prolonged indecision surrounding whether we’d see a universal designated hitter in 2021 played a role in how we ended up here, but it’s a surprising dearth of talent nonetheless.

2021 Positional Power Rankings – LF
1. Brewers
Christian Yelich 672 .275 .382 .524 .376 28.3 2.4 -0.6 4.3
Avisaíl García 14 .262 .322 .424 .315 -0.1 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Tyrone Taylor 7 .233 .285 .407 .292 -0.2 0.0 0.0 -0.0
Pablo Reyes 7 .237 .298 .391 .294 -0.2 -0.0 0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .274 .379 .519 .373 27.7 2.4 -0.6 4.3

It feels strange to have the number one slot held by a player who just hit .205, but hey, what’s not strange these days? It’s kind of remarkable to think that despite that Medozian batting average, Yelich was actually an above-average offensive performer in 2020 (113 wRC+) thanks to his power and a ton of walks.

There are any number of star-level players who had weirdly down 2020s, and alongside the things we know — like how short the season was and the lack of video rooms during games — are many we don’t, especially the impact the pandemic had on each player as an individual. It’s impossible to know for sure exactly why things unfolded like they did, or whether it’s an indication of a player’s future, but projecting a .900 OPS for Yelich after back-to-back 1.000-plus marks in 2018 and ’19 seems reasonable.

Yelich’s walk rate (+35%) and strikeout rate (+52%) both ballooned compared to 2019, and he’s a good example of why more walks aren’t always a good thing. It’s possible that all those free passes were a product of being uncomfortable at the plate, for while he had some contact issues, the bigger ones came with passivity. His in-zone contact rate was down in 2020 (though less than 10% from the year before), but what really stood out was his in-zone swing rate dipping nearly 20%. Sure, Yelich was missing more when he actually swung, but what put him into bad counts was too often not swinging at all against good pitches to hit. And it wasn’t breaking stuff that suddenly confounded the former MVP, it was velocity, as his whiff rate against fastballs nearly doubled.

It’s a tiny sample, but Yelich has looked like Yelich again so far this spring. The Brewers need a return to form in order to compete in a National League Central crowded with good-but-not-great squads. As long as Yelich stays healthy, the Brewers should expect very few at-bats from anyone else at the position.

2. Braves
Marcell Ozuna 616 .282 .357 .520 .364 18.8 0.1 1.5 3.3
Austin Riley 35 .248 .309 .472 .324 -0.2 -0.0 -0.2 0.0
Drew Waters 21 .245 .294 .394 .291 -0.7 -0.0 0.2 -0.0
Johan Camargo 14 .251 .308 .421 .308 -0.3 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Ender Inciarte 7 .251 .317 .362 .294 -0.2 0.0 0.0 -0.0
Phillip Ervin 7 .234 .317 .379 .301 -0.2 0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .278 .351 .509 .358 17.3 0.0 1.6 3.3

Marcell Ozuna destroys baseballs. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. When you are in the top 5% in all of baseball in terms of hard-hit percentage and exit velocity, very good things are going to happen. Ozuna’s game really hasn’t changed much over the years in terms of what he’s doing at the plate. His in-zone and out-of-zone swing rates, as well as his contact and miss rates, are relatively stable. His walk rate has increased more due to pitchers being more careful with him (and with good reason) than any kind of increased strike zone awareness.

What has changed is that Ozuna hits balls harder than he ever has, and in the air more often. When your groundball rate goes down and your fly ball rate goes up, and you post elite-level exit velocities, boom, you’re an instant MVP candidate. And though he didn’t attempt a stolen base last year, and his strength gains have come with an accompanying dip in speed, he’s still a decent runner.

It’s probably obvious, but Ozuna’s game revolves around his bat. By the eyeball test, he’s a brutal fielder, but most defensive metrics say he’s okay. Still, a positive fielding projection here feels a bit optimistic, and Ozuna seems ticketed for DH duty as soon as it comes to the NL for good. Ozuna played every game last year and tends to stay healthy, and the Braves will need him to given their questionable outfield depth.

3. White Sox
Eloy Jiménez 588 .286 .333 .545 .362 21.4 0.1 -4.8 3.0
Adam Engel 49 .229 .285 .370 .281 -1.7 0.0 0.3 -0.0
Leury García 21 .261 .298 .378 .289 -0.6 0.0 0.0 -0.0
Adam Eaton 21 .261 .342 .404 .322 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1
Luis González 14 .228 .290 .359 .279 -0.5 -0.0 0.1 -0.0
Nick Williams 7 .242 .301 .433 .309 -0.1 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .279 .328 .519 .351 18.5 0.2 -4.4 3.1

The first MLB-sponsored showcase I ever attended in the Dominican Republic was in 2013, and it’s still the most star-studded event I’ve been to in that country. There was a chubby third baseman named Rafael Devers who could really hit. There was an adorable infielder from Curaçao named Ozzie Albies who might have been the best pure baseball player on the field, but what could you do with him? He was only 5-foot-4. But the star for those two days was Eloy Jiménez. He was the best player in that international class and everyone knew it, including Eloy, who received some kind of award in between games from San Cristobal’s then-mayor Raul Mondesi, who was wearing an amazing silver track suit. None of that is helpful in setting your expectations of Jiménez this season, but it’s fun to talk about.

On the surface, Jiménez took a step forward in 2020, increasing his wRC+ by 20% from his successful rookie campaign. But some of his underlying metrics speak to the contradictions that make projecting his future difficult. Last season, he improved his contact rate, but his strikeout rate remained the same because he swung at more pitches, especially outside the zone, making it was a wash. His walk rate dipped as opponents learned that they could consistently get him to leave his zone; his groundball rate went up and his fly ball rate went down. But at the same time, he began to use all fields more and get away from a pull-happy style. Most importantly, he hit balls harder. A 90th percentile exit velocity will make up for all sorts of things, and if Eloy can combine his 2020 contact and barrel rates with his 2019 approach, he’s a superstar in the making.

At least, he’s an offensive superstar in the making. Eloy is a hitter, and really only a hitter. While he’s a decent runner in terms of sprint speed, the last time he swiped a bag was for Gigantes in the Dominican Winter League prior to the 2018 season, and he’s a comically bad defender. That could end up lowering this rating as fourth-outfielder types like García and Engel get more reps out in left while Jiménez serves as a DH, his likely eventual position and probably sooner than later.

March 25 Update: Obviously, this post was published prior to the White Sox receiving the heartbreaking news that Jiménez could miss as much as the entire season due to a torn pectoral muscle. Without Jiménez, the ChiSox absolutely free fall in the rankings, dropping from third to 27th, as neither Engel nor García are worthy of everyday playing time. Top prospect Andrew Vaughn will get some late spring training time in left field, but asking him to learn a new position while adjusting to big league pitching might be a heady request.

4. Astros
Michael Brantley 525 .293 .354 .460 .344 12.6 -0.1 0.9 2.6
Aledmys Díaz 70 .256 .307 .436 .312 -0.3 -0.1 -0.3 0.1
Chas McCormick 63 .241 .315 .360 .293 -1.3 0.0 0.1 0.0
Taylor Jones 21 .226 .302 .386 .295 -0.4 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Robel García 21 .214 .288 .408 .294 -0.4 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .280 .342 .445 .333 10.2 -0.2 0.6 2.7

When people talk about the players they stop everything to watch, they tend to name dynamic superstars. Brantley is not dynamic, and he’s not a superstar, but he’s my choice. He’s the professional hitter’s professional hitter. His well above-average contact ability and plate coverage prevent him from being a walk machine, but his approach is nearly perfect. He knows which pitches he can hit and swings at all of them, almost never deviating from that plan while also featuring enough strength to be dangerous.

He’s always good. In the last four years, he’s hit between .300 and .311 every year with OBPs ranging from .364 to .372. Is there any reason to think he won’t do it again, other than the standard dip expected from a player in his age-34 season? The only real knock on Brantley is the decline he saw in his contact rate last year, especially against velocity; whether that’s a real concern or a 2020 blip is yet to be determined.

Like most players on this end of the defensive spectrum, the majority of Brantley’s value comes from what he does with a bat in his hand, as he’s a below average runner and a limited defender. Still, in a left field universe full of boppers, it good to take a step back once in a while and appreciate a player like Brantley.

5. Rays
Randy Arozarena 602 .261 .336 .464 .337 10.7 -0.8 -3.6 2.0
Austin Meadows 56 .252 .322 .461 .328 0.5 -0.0 0.0 0.2
Manuel Margot 28 .256 .316 .405 .307 -0.2 0.1 0.2 0.1
Yoshi Tsutsugo 14 .236 .331 .442 .327 0.1 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .260 .334 .461 .335 11.1 -0.8 -3.3 2.4

Randy Arozarena is why I don’t envy anyone trying to create a projection system. There was no reason to think he’d put up a 176 wRC+ in 2020, even in just 23 games. There was also no reason to think he’d put together one of the most electrifying postseason runs in recent memory. But it happened, and I don’t think human brains can figure out what to do with this information any better than a well-designed computer model.

The questions about how real this is are fair. What about the fact that Arozarena’s strikeout rate went up considerably? Or the aggressive approach? And why the hell would anyone ever throw him a fastball again? Arozarena has burner speed, but doesn’t really utilize it in terms of stealing bases, as he doesn’t get good jumps, and he needs those wheels to make up for less-than-ideal instincts in the outfield.

Kevin Kiermaier will need breaks against tough lefties, and Manny Margot is still far from a sure thing. Austin Meadows and Yoshi Tsutsugo provide depth, but we should still expect Arozarena to get playing time at all the positions in the grass. His ability to maintain a level of success similar to 2020 is the key to a depleted Rays team remaining in contention for the postseason. (It should be noted that Arozarena was involved in an altercation related to a custody dispute this offseason; he was released from custody after his former partner declined to press charges.)

6. Padres
Tommy Pham 504 .262 .358 .432 .339 7.0 1.6 0.6 2.0
Jurickson Profar 161 .251 .331 .420 .320 -0.3 0.3 -0.2 0.3
Jake Cronenworth 14 .267 .337 .399 .317 -0.1 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Jorge Mateo 14 .219 .262 .361 .263 -0.7 0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Ha-seong Kim 7 .260 .329 .418 .318 -0.0 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .259 .349 .427 .332 6.0 1.9 0.4 2.3

There were some big concerns about Pham early in spring training. Coming off a miserable 2020 season and further troubled by a disturbing offseason stabbing incident, Pham started camp in an 0-for-17 rut before snapping out of it in recent days, with his brief-but-sudden resurgence attributed to new contact lenses.

Maybe it was vision that was troubling Pham in 2020. There was unquestionably some very bad batted ball luck in play, but he also had the deadly combination of chasing more, while also whiffing more when swinging in the zone. At 33, Pham is starting to enter his decline phase, but he still runs well and is a competent defender.

A return to his 2017-19 form, when he averaged more than 4.5 WAR per year, could get him another payday as he heads into free agency this offseason, while a repeat of 2020 might have him stuck looking for an NRI.

7. Cubs
Joc Pederson 420 .243 .333 .480 .340 5.3 -0.4 0.7 1.4
Ian Happ 189 .246 .346 .464 .342 2.6 -0.1 -1.0 0.5
Kris Bryant 49 .253 .353 .461 .345 0.8 0.1 -0.2 0.2
Rafael Ortega 28 .241 .310 .377 .295 -0.7 -0.0 -0.1 -0.0
David Bote 14 .235 .322 .410 .312 -0.2 0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .244 .337 .469 .338 7.8 -0.4 -0.6 2.1

Pederson has had an explosive spring but when it comes to projecting his future, it’s probably best to focus on his 2,517 major league plate appearances to date. Pederson is a pure platoon outfielder. He’s a borderline All-Star against righties, with a career slugging percentage of .500 and career wRC+ of 128. But against southpaws, he’s not worthy of a big league roster spot, posting a meager .191/.266/.310 career line.

Pederson came up as a multi-tooled athletic player, but he’s added considerable bulk over the years and now profiles solely as a power-over-hit slugger. There is no subtlety to his game, as he’s an aggressive hitter who is going to mash the ball or strike out trying. The bad news is that 2020’s small sample shows that the “striking out trying” part of the equation won the day more often than not. He had his highest strikeout rate since 2017, and when he did hit the ball hard, he did so on the ground more than ever.

The Cubs know what Pederson is — basically Kyle Schwarber without the walks — and will likely do their best to limit his exposure to left-handed pitching. He should be good for 400-450 plate appearances and plenty of bombs, but look for Chicago to reconfigure the outfield on his off days, either sliding Ian Happ over to give Jake Marisnick a day in center, or giving Kris Bryant a day in the outfield to allow David Bote to man the hot corner.

8. Nationals
Kyle Schwarber 497 .238 .346 .505 .352 9.9 -0.7 0.0 1.9
Andrew Stevenson 119 .256 .316 .385 .301 -3.0 0.0 -0.5 -0.1
Juan Soto 28 .303 .424 .595 .415 2.1 0.0 -0.1 0.2
Gerardo Parra 28 .237 .298 .365 .283 -1.1 -0.1 0.0 -0.1
Yadiel Hernandez 21 .249 .317 .418 .310 -0.3 -0.0 -0.1 -0.0
Josh Harrison 7 .247 .303 .370 .289 -0.2 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .244 .340 .477 .341 7.3 -0.8 -0.7 2.0

Cubs fans loved Kyle Schwarber. He looked like a guy they could hang out with at a Wrigley-area bar, had an engaging personality, and hit legendary home runs that landed on top of the scoreboard. Those fans were upset when the club non-tendered Schwarber, and their consternation was exacerbated when the team replaced him with a similar talent in Pederson. (It’s not a huge surprise they find their teams ranked back-to-back.) That fan affection always far outpaced Shwarber’s actual value on the field, however, and his 2020 dip in production was incredibly similar to that of his replacement. As with Pederson, Schwarber saw his batting average slip below .200 and his strikeout rate go up, all while putting up a career-worst groundball rate and posting an average launch angle nearly half that of the previous year.

Schwarber is actually a better athlete than his round-ish stature would suggest. Nobody is ever going to confuse him with being fast, but he’s really only a tick below-average as a runner. That surprising athleticism doesn’t help him in the field, though; he’s a brutal defender, which made it a surprise to see him get a job in the NL, where he can only serve as a DH in interleague games.

Schwarber’s on-base skills make him a better player than Pederson, but it’s what’s behind him that puts the Nats one slot behind the Cubs. Stevenson is a wonderful defender who can really run, but he’s a zero bat with very little power and not enough contact ability to make up for it. The other options are whatever remains of Gerardo Parra and Josh Harrison. They’re both great guys in the clubhouse, but not so great on the field.

9. Cleveland
Eddie Rosario 546 .277 .318 .496 .336 4.5 0.1 -0.7 1.7
Jordan Luplow 77 .242 .332 .434 .326 -0.1 -0.1 0.7 0.2
Ben Gamel 35 .249 .327 .385 .307 -0.6 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Daniel Johnson 28 .241 .299 .400 .296 -0.7 -0.0 0.1 -0.0
Josh Naylor 14 .273 .338 .443 .330 0.0 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .271 .319 .479 .332 3.2 -0.1 -0.1 2.0

Eddie Rosario is good, a statement borne out by Cleveland’s place in the top 10. The Minnesota Twins would probably agree that Rosario is good, but clearly didn’t think he was good enough to merit what was a likely to be a $9 million salary in his final year of arbitration; the team non-tendered him last December. Cleveland will pay him $1 million less his anticipated arb salary as he tries to build his case for next year’s free agent class.

Rosario has a career .310 on-base percentage and .478 slugging percentage. In 2020, those marks were .316 and .476, respectively. What he did was the same as ever, but how he did it changed a bit. Rosario became a bit of a different hitter last season. His aggressiveness on first pitch was tempered and he reduced his chasing, resulting in him suddenly becoming a bit of a count-worker, and his walk rate went from miserable to simply below-average. Along with the approach, his swing changed as well; he got his home runs and hit far more balls in the air than before, but an undesirable uphill plane to his swing led to far less hard contact overall.

Rosario has lost a step — unsurprising as he’s approaching 30 — and his once plus wheels are now merely average. He’s neither a good nor a bad defender and has a decent arm. What he’s doing hasn’t changed, but it looks like how he’s doing it has, and it’s something to monitor in 2021.

Behind Rosario are some serious downgrades. Jordan Luplow has some pop but fails to consistently access it, and some starters might slide to left when Bradley Zimmer plays.

10. Blue Jays
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. 567 .269 .311 .479 .329 3.5 -0.9 0.4 1.6
Teoscar Hernández 70 .242 .309 .489 .331 0.6 0.0 -0.2 0.2
Randal Grichuk 28 .245 .296 .477 .320 -0.0 -0.0 -0.2 0.0
Josh Palacios 28 .225 .294 .342 .276 -1.1 -0.0 0.1 -0.0
Jonathan Davis 7 .220 .303 .354 .286 -0.2 0.0 0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .263 .310 .473 .326 2.7 -1.0 0.2 1.9

Gurriel is entering his prime and seems to get better every year, with several underlying indicators pointing in the right direction. He’s hitting the ball harder than ever and making more contact, and while he’s eons from patient, he has been working the count a bit more of late. He swings at everything because he feels he can hit everything, and often he’s right. The plus power is evident, but there’s more contact ability here than you see most with this profile have. Like his brother, it’s an unconventional swing, but it works for him.

Gurriel came out of Cuba as in infielder, and has gotten some reps at first and third base this spring to increase his positional flexibility, but he’s sub-par on the dirt and better in the outfield. Not good mind you, but acceptable, with the arm neither a strength nor a liability. He exhibited a significant drop in his speed during the 2020 season, but it’s to be determined if that was just a blip due to foot issues that he tried to play through.

Randall Grichuk probably wasn’t thrilled to see the Jays sign George Springer and Rowdy Tellez’s impressive spring may have added to his angst by taking away DH at-bats as well. Still, Grichuk should get plenty of plate appearances, as all three of Toronto’s expected everyday outfielders tend to find themselves on the Injured List once or twice a year. Grichuk is what he’s always been: an early action slugger with big power whose value is limited by huge strikeout and low walk rates.

11. Mets
Dominic Smith 469 .263 .324 .464 .331 5.0 -0.5 -2.5 1.2
Brandon Nimmo 98 .243 .376 .427 .348 2.4 -0.0 -1.0 0.3
Kevin Pillar 77 .248 .288 .405 .291 -1.8 0.1 0.1 0.0
Jeff McNeil 56 .293 .359 .460 .346 1.3 -0.1 -0.3 0.2
Total 700 .261 .330 .452 .331 6.9 -0.5 -3.7 1.7

For the most part, projection systems are wonderful. They’re intelligently designed models that take countless variables into account. But some players break them, and Dom Smith just might be that guy. The problem is that Smith has yet to accumulate more than 200 plate appearances in a season, so while his statistical performance and underlying metrics all point to big-time offense, the projections don’t have enough to go on, giving his 2018 gets too much weight.

Smith is a massive human but he’s actually more of a hitter than a pure slugger. Yes, the power is plus, but Smith makes more contact than your average bear. His exit velocities don’t impress as much as the consistent hard contact. He could get even better with improved swing decisions, and would be best served by finding a way to put fewer balls on the ground, but he’s plenty good as is.

Defensively, it’s another story. To call him merely stretched in left is, well, a bit of a stretch. He’s a sub-40 runner who doesn’t look comfortable in the outfield, but with Pete Alonso on the team and no DH, he’s kind of stuck there for now.

Kevin Pillar has spent most of his career being stretched as an everyday player, but his defense and occasional power are more than enough to provide value as a fourth outfielder type. McNeil and Nimmo help the cause as everyday players elsewhere who might get some time with “7” next to their names on the lineup card.

12. Yankees
Clint Frazier 476 .244 .325 .456 .329 2.6 -0.4 -3.0 1.1
Brett Gardner 175 .239 .330 .419 .321 -0.2 0.1 0.1 0.4
Mike Tauchman 21 .249 .332 .402 .312 -0.2 0.0 0.2 0.1
Giancarlo Stanton 14 .250 .347 .543 .365 0.5 -0.0 0.0 0.1
Jay Bruce 14 .231 .294 .468 .315 -0.1 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .243 .326 .448 .327 2.7 -0.3 -2.7 1.6

The fifth overall pick in 2013, Frazier was expected to be a well-established big leaguer by now, but he’s been sidelined by injury and blocked by other regulars, often only getting opportunities when other players were hurt themselves. 2020 at least represented a strong step forward. Much of that improvement revolves around his approach. Frazier went from aggressive to patient in 2020, though one could argue that he needs to find a middle ground for while he greatly reduced his chases, he also limited his swings in the zone, which can lead to too many pitcher’s counts. His bat speed has always been exceptional, and his power has grown, including some career-high exit velocities this spring. He’s always going to strike out a lot because of his struggles against off-speed pitches, limiting his batting average, but everything points to Frazier finally being ready for an everyday role. If you wanted to nitpick, you could note that he’s lost some speed over the last couple of years while bulking up, but he still runs well and has a solid arm, although his instincts in the outfield leave something to be desired.

Frazier has spent his Yankees tenure always having another player in his rear-view mirror, knowing that his playing time will be limited the moment he struggles. But while Brett Gardner is around again, he’s clearly the fourth outfielder now. He’s pushing 38 and is obviously in decline, but he still has on-base skills and enough occasional power to provide value between the lines, not to mention the energy and intensity he provides in the clubhouse. The fewer games guys like Bruce and Stanton get in the outfield, the better.

13. Reds
Jesse Winker 455 .271 .375 .464 .357 10.5 -1.0 -3.5 1.5
Shogo Akiyama 140 .265 .340 .405 .320 -1.2 -0.3 -0.4 0.1
Aristides Aquino 63 .228 .292 .461 .313 -1.0 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Scott Heineman 28 .236 .297 .385 .292 -0.9 -0.0 0.0 -0.0
Dee Strange-Gordon 7 .267 .302 .342 .278 -0.3 0.0 -0.1 -0.0
Mark Payton 7 .242 .307 .411 .305 -0.2 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .264 .356 .446 .342 6.8 -1.3 -4.0 1.6

It’s a shame that Jesse Winker is in the wrong league, as the only glove he should ever wear is of the batting variety. He can really hit, though. He has a good approach, plus power, and hits fastballs and breaking stuff equally well. He’s starting to draw more walks, but is still aggressive on first pitch; his strikeout rate saw a concerning rise in 2020, as he got more pull- and power-focused in his swing. He’d be well served by combining his current swing decisions with his old swing, which was focused more on simply making hard contact and letting his natural power work for him.

Defense is what keeps Winker, and by extension the Reds’ contingent, from ranking higher. He’s a well below-average runner, but beyond that he’s still bad. He just doesn’t seem to read balls well off the bat and feels a step or two behind on every play. His arm is poor as well. Let’s face it, he’s just pretty bad out there, but he sure can hit.

Akiyama was a big disappointment in 2020 after hitting .316 with a .514 SLG over his last three seasons in Japan, but he showed some signs of life during a good September. He has on-base ability and can run pretty well, but he hits nothing hard, which is a tough way to survive in today’s game.

Aquino can certainly hit balls hard, nearly as hard as anyone, but teams have figured out how to keep him from getting to his power by staying elevated or inside to him. The holes are massive and while he might remain a Twitter highlight darling for his light-tower power, he’s never going to get to it enough to be an everyday player.

14. Athletics
Mark Canha 399 .241 .348 .442 .336 7.0 -0.2 -0.6 1.6
Ka’ai Tom 147 .226 .297 .381 .289 -3.4 -0.2 0.1 0.0
Tony Kemp 49 .255 .330 .366 .302 -0.6 -0.0 -0.2 0.0
Luis Barrera 42 .238 .282 .354 .272 -1.6 -0.1 0.1 -0.1
Seth Brown 35 .219 .274 .380 .277 -1.2 -0.0 0.1 -0.0
Chad Pinder 28 .248 .309 .435 .313 -0.1 -0.0 -0.2 0.0
Total 700 .237 .327 .414 .316 0.1 -0.5 -0.7 1.6

Canha is a prime example of why the A’s are so good at what they do. He was an unheralded prospect when the club acquired him in a pick-and-trade during the 2014 Rule 5 draft, but was also coming off year in which he had a .889 OPS at Triple-A with walks and power. It was a great pick.

Canha is not a star, but he’s sneaky good. He’s a pure fastball masher who works the count well, can run a bit, and is a good defensive outfielder who can even fill in up the middle in a pinch. He had a bit of a power outage in last year’s short season, but his fly ball rates and exit velocities suggest that it was more of a statistical blip than a real loss of ability. ZIPS see a bit of a bounce-back, and there are plenty of reasons to agree.

Is Ka’ai Tom Oakland’s next Rule 5 find? There are certainly some similarities between him and Canha. Like Canha, Tom performed well in a major conference coming out of college, and like Canha, he wasn’t a highly regarded prospect but nonetheless had a .898 OPS at the upper levels (in 2019). He’s undersized and not the athlete Canha is, but he packs real power into his small frame and knows the value of a walk, a combination the A’s have focused on for decades. He’s had a good spring training and will likely get a real big league look in 2021.

The guys beyond Canha and Tom fall in the fringy/interchangeable territory.

15. Dodgers
AJ Pollock 497 .252 .309 .472 .325 1.8 0.1 -0.2 1.2
Chris Taylor 119 .250 .328 .433 .323 0.2 0.1 -0.7 0.2
Matt Beaty 63 .259 .317 .416 .311 -0.5 -0.0 -0.1 0.1
Luke Raley 14 .229 .287 .388 .287 -0.4 0.0 0.0 -0.0
Zach Reks 7 .232 .304 .386 .296 -0.1 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .252 .313 .458 .322 0.9 0.2 -0.9 1.5

It’s hard to figure out what happened to AJ Pollock in 2020. He was pretty much exactly the player he was in 2019, and pretty much exactly the player he’s been in the past, but his home runs ticked up considerably, with his HR/FB rate up over 50%. Here’s the weird thing: nothing really points to why. He wasn’t suddenly hitting balls harder. He didn’t tighten an aggressive approach, or start making more contact, or suddenly become pull-heavy. When he made contact, it was far more frequently hard contact, and that’s great, but then why didn’t an increase in barreling the ball also lead to more contact overall? The whole thing feels a bit fluky, but he’s still plenty good even if it is. The only thing diminishing Pollock’s overall value is his extreme platoon split over the last two seasons: he had a pedestrian .751 OPS versus right-handed pitching from 2019-20 but demolished southpaws to the tune of a 1.005 OPS.

Pollock still runs well and is a comfortable defender who can cover center in a pinch on the days Bellinger moves to first base. His arm is nothing special but it isn’t bad either.

Chris Taylor should get the majority of the playing time in left when Pollock is unavailable or in center, and he remains the best utility player in baseball, but that’s really a misnomer as he plays nearly every day and just moves around the field. He can play anywhere on the diamond, gets on base at a decent clip and can hit mistakes over the fence, though it all comes with a bunch of strikeouts.

16. Royals
Andrew Benintendi 567 .253 .344 .408 .323 -1.0 0.3 1.1 1.4
Edward Olivares 63 .247 .292 .382 .287 -2.1 -0.1 -0.0 -0.1
Whit Merrifield 35 .281 .331 .428 .322 -0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1
Jarrod Dyson 28 .230 .303 .314 .272 -1.3 0.2 0.2 -0.0
Ryan McBroom 7 .241 .301 .406 .299 -0.2 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .253 .336 .403 .318 -4.7 0.5 1.4 1.4

Andrew Benintendi was the seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft and needed just 154 minor league games to reach the big leagues. He hit the ground running, finishing second to Aaron Judge in the 2017 Rookie of the Year voting and followed that up with a four-plus win season the following year. He wasn’t a world beater, but it felt like he could hit between .280 and .300 with 15-20 home runs and a .350 OBP for the next decade-plus. Things slipped in 2019 as his power dipped and his strikeout rate exploded, and 2020 was both too comically bad and short to draw any conclusions from it.

Now, at the tender age of 26, Benintendi has a new team and is trying to make a comeback, though his spring performances haven’t provided much in the way of optimism. There are a million reasons not to consider his 2020 season, but the concerns that arose the season prior are harder to dismiss. He became a more aggressive hitter but it came with lower overall contact rates. He might have been a victim of the launch angle revolution, as he hit more balls in the air and a change in his swing plane may have resulted in those contact issues. Beyond the hitting issues, Benintendi’s other tools have declined as well, as he’s lost a step and his defense has suffered as a result.

We’re approaching three years since Benintendi was good. This season will help us figure out if 2018 was indicative of his actual talent or just an early outlier. Still, barring a 2020-esque collapse, there really isn’t much keeping Benintendi from continuing to get at-bats, especially since Kansas City’s bench outfielders provide little upside.

17. Orioles
Ryan Mountcastle 231 .281 .322 .472 .332 1.9 -0.2 0.3 0.7
DJ Stewart 182 .232 .327 .427 .321 -0.2 -0.2 -1.2 0.3
Austin Hays 175 .260 .303 .441 .312 -1.5 -0.3 0.9 0.3
Yusniel Diaz 112 .244 .317 .406 .309 -1.3 -0.4 -0.5 0.0
Total 700 .257 .318 .443 .320 -1.1 -1.1 -0.6 1.4

Baltimore’s left field situation is a mishmash to be sure, but it’s a mishmash that adds up to something in the middle of the pack, though that says more about the overall talent at the position than this quartet.

That said, Ryan Mountcastle might be really good. Nobody will be surprised if he’s one of the, if not the top offensive performer for the Orioles this year. It’s just that he shouldn’t play left field, ever. One could argue that he shouldn’t play anywhere in the field, ever. It’s a shame because while Mountcastle is big, he’s not totally unathletic and actually runs well. But the story is the bat. Yes, a more patient approach would serve him well, but there’s hitting ability and strength here, and he should be part of the middle of the Baltimore lineup for years to come.

As for the three others players on the list, 2021 gives the club the chance to figure out which are any good, or more importantly, which are good enough to play for the Orioles when the club expects to contend next.

DJ Stewart can really impact a baseball, he just doesn’t do it enough, and with the length to his swing, he’s consistently beaten by good velocity. His understanding of the strike zone helps to make up for what will forever be low batting averages, but like Mountcastle, he’s an absolutely brutal outfielder.

Hays is anything but a poor defender, as he’s actually quite good at flagging down balls, but much of his offense profile declined precipitously in 2020. He has good feel for contract, but that ability doesn’t show itself in his overall stat line because he swings at far too many pitches, chasing after breakers that even Tony Gwynn would struggle to get a bat on. After showing decent power in 2019 and throughout his minor league career, Hays’ exit velocity fell considerably last year, and he needs it to rebound in order to have any kind of future beyond bench outfielder.

Diaz lacks any standout tool, but he’s solid overall and should have some kind of big league future, just not one of the impact variety. He also needs to stay healthy, which has been a struggle of late.

18. Twins
Alex Kirilloff 329 .279 .326 .449 .326 0.7 -0.5 -0.7 0.7
Luis Arraez 147 .311 .370 .410 .337 1.7 -0.1 -0.1 0.5
Jake Cave 126 .248 .309 .426 .311 -1.4 -0.1 -0.6 0.1
Brent Rooker 56 .234 .305 .437 .313 -0.5 -0.0 -0.3 0.1
Kyle Garlick 42 .218 .272 .399 .282 -1.5 -0.0 -0.1 -0.1
Total 700 .273 .327 .433 .322 -1.0 -0.8 -1.8 1.3

Alex Kirilloff’s full-season debut was delayed by Tommy John surgery, but by the end of the 2018 season, he had established himself as one of the top hitting prospects in the game, bowling over Low- and High-A pitching as a 20-year-old. 2019 represented something of a return to earth, but his power was sapped by a nagging wrist injury that he tried to play through.

When healthy, Kirilloff has plus power, but he’s also a hitter with impressive barrel control and accuracy. He debuted in the 2020 postseason, and the Twins made it clear that he had an opportunity to earn the everyday job this spring, but he struggled and was optioned to the team’s alternate training site. Kirilloff’s biggest issue is with his swing decisions. His natural hitting ability makes him see most pitches as ones he can hit, and he needs to focus more on those he can drive, which will hopefully result in more walks and, more importantly, put him in hitter’s counts more consistently. He’s a decent outfielder with a good arm, but he’ll need to show more with the bat to earn the kind of plate appearances projected here, and Brett Rooker is suddenly breathing down his neck, too, after having a far more impressive spring showing.

The acquisition of Andrelton Simmons slid Arraez into a multi-positional role; he’ll still be in the lineup far more often than not, and a good chunk of those appearances could come in left field. His ability to make contact is other-worldly, and there are few players you’d be more comfortable projecting for a .300-plus batting average, but that’s really the bulk of his value, as he swings early and often, has little power, and doesn’t run well.

Jake Cave, the club’s likely fourth outfielder, provides a left-handed presence at the plate, but everything about him went backwards in 2020 as his swing decisions took an unexpected nosedive. Rooker has had a great spring and hits balls exceptionally hard, but it comes at a cost, as a nearly 30% strikeout rate in the upper minors has created concerns about his long-term future.

19. Red Sox
Franchy Cordero 378 .248 .310 .456 .321 -2.5 0.6 0.2 0.7
Marwin Gonzalez 140 .258 .326 .422 .318 -1.3 -0.2 0.2 0.2
Enrique Hernández 77 .247 .320 .440 .320 -0.6 0.0 -0.3 0.1
Alex Verdugo 49 .287 .348 .450 .338 0.4 0.0 0.2 0.2
Yairo Muñoz 28 .268 .311 .427 .310 -0.5 0.0 -0.2 0.0
Michael Chavis 21 .236 .296 .435 .307 -0.4 0.0 -0.1 0.0
J.D. Martinez 7 .271 .349 .506 .353 0.1 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .253 .317 .446 .321 -4.8 0.6 0.0 1.3

Cordero was the big piece the Red Sox received in the Benintendi deal and should step into his position immediately despite missing the first month of spring training due to a positive COVID test (he was asymptomatic).

Cordero’s promise has always been driven by his tools more than his performance. He possesses massive raw power, and when he makes solid contact, he’s capable of tape-measure shots. He’s also a plus runner despite a significant physical presence. The problem is, as it has always been, a combination of swinging too much and missing too much when he does. The result is a career 35% strikeout rate as a big leaguer, and it’s just really hard to be really productive when you K that much. He’s a power goof and likely to always be one. Expect home runs and little else.

With a career .573 OPS against left-handed pitching, Cordero is likely to be platooned. Marwin Gonzalez and Enrique Hernández aren’t competing for playing time in left as much as their versatility gives them the ability to head out there when other, more valuable positions aren’t available. With Hernández cementing himself as the everyday second baseman, Marwin is more likely to see time here. He didn’t play in the outfield last year, but that was more a product of the Twins having those positions covered than any sort of inadequacy on his part. A switch-hitter with no discernible platoon split, Gonzalez is a bench bat buoyed by his ability to play multiple positions, a valuable part of a team as long as he’s not playing every day.

20. Giants
Alex Dickerson 448 .266 .333 .456 .330 3.0 -0.3 -3.4 0.9
Austin Slater 119 .254 .344 .407 .324 0.2 0.2 -0.0 0.3
Darin Ruf 112 .244 .318 .411 .310 -1.2 -0.1 -0.6 0.1
Heliot Ramos 14 .232 .294 .381 .288 -0.4 -0.1 -0.1 -0.0
LaMonte Wade Jr 7 .238 .333 .347 .299 -0.1 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .260 .332 .438 .325 1.5 -0.3 -4.2 1.2

Alex Dickerson has always hit right-handed pitching well, with a career .278/.348/.514 line. So what did the Giants do? Why only played him against right-handed pitchers, of course! Righties were his opponent for 93% of his plate appearances. Dickerson’s success over the last two years represents a really smart team maximizing what a player can do well as opposed to any kind of real change in his abilities.

Dickerson has a decent approach, a decent feel for contact, plus raw power and can really hit fastballs. That’s enough to be a good platoon piece, which he should be for years to come. Left fielders are obviously there for their offensive prowess, and that’s certainly the case with Dickerson, who is a fringy runner who rarely gets good jumps or reads on fly balls.

Slater and Ruf as very similar players in that they’re both lefty-mashers, but Slater is the far better athlete and defender. While they take up two roster spots, a Dickerson/Slater combo should be a pretty solid one for a Giants team that relies heavily on platoons.

21. Phillies
Andrew McCutchen 581 .248 .343 .438 .333 3.3 -1.3 -3.4 1.1
Matt Joyce 56 .233 .336 .388 .315 -0.6 -0.1 -0.5 0.0
Adam Haseley 35 .253 .316 .385 .300 -0.8 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Mickey Moniak 14 .231 .284 .371 .278 -0.6 0.0 -0.1 -0.0
Brad Miller 14 .224 .320 .438 .319 -0.1 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .246 .340 .430 .329 1.2 -1.4 -4.0 1.1

Andrew McCutchen was once great. By the time he was 28, he was a five-time All-Star with four top-five MVP finishes. By his late 20s, he’d dipped from great to merely above-average, and that’s where his talent has settled, with concerns over his age, declining ability and a rough 2020 campaign leaving folks wondering how long he can maintain that level.

There’s no glaring weakness to in McCurthen’s game, though it’s also difficult to find a place where he really impacts the game offensively. The approach? Decent. The hit tool? Average. The power? Solid. The wheels? Good, but not a difference maker, and he’s declining defensively. He’s in what will likely be his last year of big money, but he can still last for years as a second-division starter/extra outfielder/remarkable clubhouse presence if he so desires. And I sure hope he does, because baseball is better with Andrew McCutchen in it. Just having him around in 2021 to serve as a mentor to guys like Haseley and Moniak will provide plenty of value beyond the production.

22. Marlins
Corey Dickerson 546 .267 .313 .441 .315 -2.0 -0.7 0.0 0.9
Garrett Cooper 77 .261 .330 .426 .323 0.2 -0.1 0.1 0.2
Lewis Brinson 35 .213 .274 .361 .271 -1.5 0.0 -0.0 -0.1
Jon Berti 28 .241 .331 .350 .300 -0.5 0.1 0.1 0.0
Magneuris Sierra 14 .242 .284 .331 .266 -0.6 0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .262 .313 .430 .312 -4.3 -0.7 0.2 1.0

Corey Dickerson is underrated. He’s spent the last six seasons as an above-average bat (he has a 112 wRC+ over that span) for bad teams, with 2020 representing his first exposure to postseason baseball, as weird as it was. As far as the regular season goes, it was Dickerson’s worst offensive output since his rookie campaign.

But projection systems are not aware of our humanity. Dickerson’s 2020 was rough on the field and off, as he recently discussed with the Miami Herald. His grandfather passed away during the season, and his father was diagnosed with cancer. We can’t measure how much those things affected him, but they can’t have helped. Dickerson made more contact last year and drew walks at a higher rate than he had in the past. What dipped was his power, both in terms of his exit velocity and his frequency of barrels. I hope last year represents an odd, sad blip. I’m not saying Dickerson’s a superstar, but he’s been under-appreciated for years.

Garrett Cooper is more of a first baseman, but he has a decent bat and can cover left field in a pinch, while Lewis Brinson is suddenly almost 27. Time is running out for him to convert his considerable tools into real production.

23. Angels
Justin Upton 546 .229 .315 .443 .321 -0.3 -0.5 -3.6 0.9
Dexter Fowler 42 .223 .317 .380 .302 -0.7 -0.0 -0.4 -0.0
Juan Lagares 35 .234 .290 .337 .269 -1.6 0.0 0.2 -0.0
Taylor Ward 28 .237 .322 .398 .309 -0.3 0.0 -0.1 0.0
David Fletcher 28 .279 .333 .385 .310 -0.3 -0.0 0.1 0.1
Jon Jay 21 .248 .304 .328 .277 -0.8 -0.0 -0.1 -0.0
Total 700 .232 .315 .426 .315 -4.0 -0.4 -3.7 0.9

Can Justin Upton be good again? He hasn’t been since 2018, when he hit 30 home runs and had a 121 wRC+. Since then, he’s posted an injury-plagued 2019 followed by a sub-par offensive showing in 2020. Still, there are some reasons to enter 2021 with a bit of optimism. Upton’s contact rate improved last year, his exit velocities returned to previous levels, and his miserable .219 BABIP suggests there was at least a bit of bad luck involved. On the other hand, he remained pull-heavy, with a swing that limits his plate coverage and generates too many groundballs. Until he makes some adjustments, teams are going to continue to feed him a diet of heavy breakers. In the field, Upton has always been a frustrating, almost disinterested seeming defender, and his once plus speed is now average, so the bat needs to rebound in order for him to produce value.

If he doesn’t, or if he gets injured, the options for the Angels are wide-ranging. Maybe Jo Adell or Brandon Marsh gets hot in Triple-A, but if they do, Dexter Fowler seems more likely to get relegated to spare outfielder status than Upton.

24. Diamondbacks
David Peralta 525 .271 .329 .437 .324 -2.2 -0.4 2.1 1.0
Tim Locastro 63 .256 .337 .389 .316 -0.7 0.3 -0.3 0.1
Trayce Thompson 56 .185 .243 .343 .249 -3.8 -0.0 -0.5 -0.3
Daulton Varsho 21 .248 .318 .422 .314 -0.3 0.0 -0.0 0.0
Stuart Fairchild 14 .226 .295 .350 .279 -0.6 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Josh VanMeter 14 .236 .314 .405 .307 -0.3 -0.0 -0.1 -0.0
Pavin Smith 7 .262 .331 .413 .317 -0.1 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .260 .322 .422 .315 -8.0 -0.2 1.1 0.8

Peralta is the definition of a second-division starter. He’s good enough to hold down a job until you find something better, and the pressure is starting to rise in Arizona to do just that. Peralta has never impressed with his physical tools, but being able to hit can help you stick around for awhile, and Peralta does. He has average power, but it is slipping, and while he’s never been an especially patient hitter, he usually posts an OPS somewhere around .800 when all is said and done. The lack of walks and a swing that produces groundballs keep him from being better, and the declining power means pitchers are willing to challenge him in the zone more, leading to even fewer free passes. He’s a decent runner who has never impressed defensively, but he should hold down the fort for this year and next as he finishes out his contract.

Pavin Smith is the only real threat to Peralta’s playing time, but the immediate need is finding someone to spell the veteran against tough lefties, and for now, that responsibility might fall to Trayce Thompson. The now 30-year-old ex-prospect has always been the anti-Peralta, as the incumbent is low on tools but can really hit, while Thompson is an absolute toolshed who can’t hit at all. He’s gotten plenty of chances with three different teams over four seasons, and the end result is a career .206/.279/.389 line without the kind of platoon split that makes you feel good using him solely against left-handers. The speedy, powerless Tim Locastro is a more likely fill-in option in the end.

25. Cardinals
Tyler O’Neill 532 .230 .295 .439 .308 -6.2 0.4 0.8 0.6
Tommy Edman 84 .263 .314 .398 .304 -1.3 0.2 0.3 0.1
Justin Williams 28 .244 .301 .393 .296 -0.6 -0.0 0.0 -0.0
Austin Dean 28 .262 .320 .436 .319 -0.1 -0.0 -0.2 0.0
Lane Thomas 14 .225 .293 .383 .289 -0.4 -0.0 0.0 -0.0
John Nogowski 14 .257 .339 .384 .314 -0.1 -0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .236 .299 .430 .308 -8.7 0.5 1.1 0.8

Tyler O’Neill won a Gold Glove last year, but the praise ends there. He showed some promise in 2018-19 as a potential corner bat, but it all fell apart at the plate in 2020, though a look at the underlying numbers shows there might be a second-division bat hidden in there. Tyler’s walk rate went up and his K rate dropped from gaudy to merely very high, but what really stands out is his .189 BABIP. That’s just hard to do, and was good for the third lowest figure for any hitter with at least 150 plate appearances last year, bested (worsted?) only by Edwin Encarnación.

The projections capture this, and feel right. Yes, O’Neill’s a very good defender, but you can only provide so much value on the wrong side of the defensive spectrum. At some point, you have to hit, and there’s not a whole lot of evidence that O’Neill can do that. He’s never adjusted to big league breaking stuff while posting a nearly 50% whiff rate against spin over the last two years, and he compounds the problems by chasing too much early in counts, consistently putting himself behind.

The Cardinals are hoping that O’Neill, Dylan Carlson and Harrison Bader comprise some kind of outfield of the future, and they’ll need to, as prospects like Austin Dean and Justin Williams feel more like bench types than everyday players.

26. Tigers
Robbie Grossman 455 .252 .349 .409 .326 0.4 -0.4 -2.1 0.9
Akil Baddoo 77 .199 .265 .321 .255 -4.7 -0.1 -0.8 -0.4
JaCoby Jones 70 .231 .298 .402 .297 -1.7 0.0 -0.0 0.0
Niko Goodrum 49 .227 .297 .387 .292 -1.4 0.1 -0.1 -0.0
Victor Reyes 28 .274 .308 .402 .301 -0.6 0.0 0.2 0.0
Nomar Mazara 14 .255 .314 .435 .316 -0.1 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Christin Stewart 7 .228 .307 .414 .305 -0.1 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .243 .328 .397 .311 -8.2 -0.4 -2.9 0.6

Robbie Grossman is a fringy hitter with fringy power who’s also a fringy outfielder with a fringy arm. He’s also entering his ninth year in the big leagues and approaching 3,000 plate appearances. Why? Because he has always been able to get to first base. With a career walk rate of 12.6% and career OBP of .350, Grossman has consistently provided a modicum of value, but some interesting things happened last year, as his .241 ISO represented a career high by a wide margin.

He’s not the sudden power hitter his brief 2020 might suggest, but he does have more pop than he used to, and his exit velocities have seen a slow and steady rise over the years. The newfound danger in his bat led to a bit more aggression at the plate, however, and some more swing-and-miss as well. All and all, it ends up being a bit of a zero sum game. An OPS around .750 is a perfectly reasonable expectation, it’s just going to be distributed a bit differently than in the past.

Don’t be surprised to see Baddoo exceed these plate appearance estimates, as the Rule 5 pick has been the talk of Lakeland both for his play on the field and the maturity he’s shown in his first big league camp; he’s been anything but overwhelmed by the opportunity in front of him. He’s toolsy, and like Grossman has always been able to draw walks, but his hitting this spring has been a surprise. There’s real power in there and a regrouping Tigers might want to get an extended look at him to figure out how real this is.

Baddoo’s spring emergence creates a crowded outfield situation, with somebody destined to be the odd man out. It could be former Rule 5 selection Victor Reyes, but the constantly-frustrating Nomar Mazara hasn’t done much in camp to suggest he’s turned a new, less irksome leaf.

27. Pirates
Bryan Reynolds 343 .255 .327 .422 .319 -1.9 -0.5 -1.7 0.3
Phillip Evans 168 .255 .324 .397 .310 -2.2 -0.4 0.2 0.1
Dustin Fowler 126 .253 .295 .419 .300 -2.7 -0.0 -0.4 -0.0
Brian Goodwin 28 .231 .305 .409 .302 -0.6 0.0 -0.1 -0.0
Anthony Alford 28 .221 .288 .357 .278 -1.1 0.1 -0.1 -0.1
Jared Oliva 7 .233 .295 .346 .277 -0.3 0.0 0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .252 .318 .411 .311 -8.8 -0.9 -2.2 0.3

In 2019, Bryan Reynolds was a Rookie of the Year Candidate and arguably the Pirates’ best player. In 2020, he looked like someone who should have been sent down to Triple-A if there had been such a thing at the time. The truth is probably somewhere in between. There was absolutely nothing in Reynolds’ minor league track record, either in terms of data or his scouting reports, to suggest he was anywhere near what we saw his rookie year, but he’s certainly not as bad as his 2020 suggests either. Much of this is luck related. His swing and contact rates remained pretty stable compared to 2019, but his BABIP fell precipitously from .387 to .231. He’s looked good this spring and will likely settle into a .750 to .800 OPS-type of player who can run a bit and play all three positions in the outfield. He’s good, but he’s not the player who is going to turn Pittsburgh’s fortunes around.

The Pirates have a variety of bench options, but let’s face it, much of their everyday lineup would be bench options on better clubs. Phillip Evans and Dustin Fowler provide a contrast in styles as Evans makes a lot of contact, none of which is hard, while Fowler hasn’t been in the big leagues because of high strikeout rates that mitigate his raw power.

28. Mariners
Taylor Trammell 315 .214 .299 .326 .275 -11.3 -0.3 0.9 -0.3
Jarred Kelenic 210 .239 .300 .431 .308 -1.6 -0.2 -1.3 0.2
Jake Fraley 84 .230 .289 .392 .288 -2.1 -0.1 -0.0 -0.0
Dylan Moore 63 .222 .302 .386 .295 -1.2 -0.0 -0.2 0.0
José Marmolejos 21 .241 .295 .396 .293 -0.4 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Braden Bishop 7 .218 .285 .324 .266 -0.3 -0.0 0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .225 .298 .374 .289 -17.0 -0.7 -0.5 -0.1

As of this writing, it looks like Taylor Trammell will be Seattle’s Opening Day left fielder. It also looks like Jarred Kelenic will pressure the Mariners to give him a roster spot, both for talent and PR reasons. These projections split the baby to some degree, as one or the other is likely to get the majority of plate appearances.

Trammell is a highly-regarded prospect, and he’s looked good this spring, but at times his prospect shine feels like it’s more the result of his tools and draft status than his performance between the lines, as his .234/.340/.349 Double-A line doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when it comes to Trammell’s ability to step in and produce in a major league setting. He’s a physical player with plus raw power and above-average speed, but minor league pitchers have consistently found the holes in his swing, preventing him from getting to that power enough to make a difference. He can cover enough ground to be a fringy center fielder, but he’s better off in a corner and a below average arm limits him to left. The bat is going to have to play here, and for Trammell, that’s still far more dream than reality.

Kelenic is well-known as one of the best outfield prospects in baseball (he was fifth overall on our pre-season Top 100), and for good reason. He’s a potentially special player. He’s also far from perfect and still has plenty of refining to do, especially at the plate, where his power has created some notable swing-and-miss issues. Like Trammel, there’s pressure on Kelenic’s bat; he’s lost more than a step since his high school days and will likely be limited to left. There’s much more reason to believe he will be a middle-of-the-order run producer in good time, and projections are generally conservative when it comes to prospects and Kelenic lost a year of statistical production, but temper your excitement when he gets the call in 2021.

Don’t sleep on Jake Fraley, who might end up as a pretty nice fourth outfielder with a decent approach, plus speed, and some sneaky pop.

29. Rangers
David Dahl 343 .246 .301 .429 .306 -8.7 -0.1 -1.1 -0.1
Willie Calhoun 294 .257 .316 .445 .320 -4.0 -0.4 -2.0 0.1
Eli White 42 .223 .289 .338 .272 -2.3 -0.0 -0.2 -0.1
Khris Davis 14 .234 .317 .471 .329 -0.1 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Delino DeShields 7 .231 .311 .327 .281 -0.3 0.0 0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .249 .307 .430 .310 -15.4 -0.6 -3.4 -0.2

David Dahl and Willie Calhoun have had similar career trajectories. Both were once highly-regarded prospects who seemed to finally establish themselves in the big leagues in 2019 despite continued injury issues. Both saw those injury issues continue in 2020 and experienced a performance collapse. And both enter 2021 looking to get on track.

The Rockies non-tendering Dahl in the offseason was a mild surprise, though we can’t really be overly surprised by anything the Rockies do. The former first round pick was always helped by Coors a bit, and always a bit too aggressive at the plate, making him prone to chasing. Still, there’s a big league player in there, though that isn’t going to matter if he can’t stay on the field. An ankle issue cut what looked like a breakout 2019 campaign short, and he tried to play through oblique issues last year before having shoulder surgery in the offseason. He doesn’t necessarily need a platoon partner, which is good as Calhoun also hits left-handed. While this projection is a good mid-point, it also comes with high variance.

Calhoun is fun to watch. He’s a bowling ball of a human being with a massive swing, but his 2020 started with a terrifying fastball to the face during spring training, and he dealt with hamstring and oblique issues from there. There’s real power in his bat to go along with decent feel for contact, but like Dahl, he’s an overly-aggressive hitter who doesn’t do himself any favors by constantly chasing. He can’t run, and shouldn’t play in the field, but you can only have one DH, so he’s forced to play where he can do the least damage.

Dahl has the upper hand for now, as Calhoun is sidelined (again) with an injury — a strained groin will likely keep him off the Opening Day roster — but both should get plenty of at-bats as a re-tooling Rangers club tries to figure out if one, both, or neither is part of their future.

30. Rockies
Raimel Tapia 462 .285 .330 .423 .320 -11.3 0.9 -0.4 -0.1
Josh Fuentes 91 .260 .293 .413 .297 -4.0 -0.0 0.2 -0.2
Sam Hilliard 77 .234 .296 .426 .304 -2.9 0.0 -0.3 -0.2
Garrett Hampson 35 .255 .313 .391 .301 -1.4 0.1 -0.0 -0.1
Bret Boswell 28 .230 .282 .389 .284 -1.5 -0.1 0.1 -0.1
Connor Joe 7 .248 .339 .412 .323 -0.1 -0.0 0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .272 .319 .419 .313 -21.3 0.9 -0.5 -0.6

Let me make this abundantly clear. I don’t think Raimel Tapia is the worst primary left fielder in baseball. There, I said it. Now, I’m also not saying he’s good. He’s a bit of a throwback, an empty high-average guy. These types of players dependent on the vagaries of the BABIP gods, and Tapia’s .392 mark in 2020, the third highest among qualified hitters, shows you that a .321 batting average is probably a bit over his skis.

That said, Tapia is certainly in possession of a hit tool, just one with nothing around it. He has wonderful plate coverage, as even when he’s chasing he tends to find the ball with his bat, but he also sees few pitches at which he thinks he shouldn’t swing, so there’s lots of weak contact and exceptionally few barrels. The combination of the low walk totals and low power forces Tapia to hit .300 to generate even middling value, and that’s about the peak expectation for him. He runs and throws well, but isn’t the most instinctual defender, so he’s stuck in left field where the lone hit tool just isn’t enough to rate.

The usual set of no-name backups fall in behind Tapia. These players aren’t part of the Rockies’ future, as murky as it may be.

Kevin Goldstein is a National Writer at FanGraphs.

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2 years ago

Christian Yelich’s lowest lows will never offset his highs

2 years ago
Reply to  hombremomento

Also, on Brantley’s defense, I think he’s roughly average until he needs to show up- I’ve seen him be your everyday leftfielder and then I’ve seen him double off Judge in the ALCS

2 years ago

Yes, undeniably so, his defense is not what it used to be and is declining. Thankfully enough, he’s not a total butcher