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Out'field' of Dreams at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

Out'field' of Dreams at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario
February 24, 2013
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The Indians in 2012 were led by a fantastic season byMichael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo. Brantley finally found himself after struggling and scuffling a bit in the full time move to center, as well as being bounced around the line-up. Choo rebounded to have a very underrated season, moving to the lead-off slot, and becoming a major factor in the offense again.

With Choo in the last year of his contract, and with a massive hole in left field, the Indians needed to address the long-term future of the club heading towards 2013. They did that very well. They used Choo to acquire Drew Stubbs and Trevor Bauer and signed Nick Swisher to take over for Choo.

Then, with only a day left in the hot stove season for position players, the Indians went out and added Michael Bourn to a four-year deal, moving Swisher to first base.

Now, the Indians have as good a defensive outfield as there is in baseball, and have the versatility of moving Swisher to the outfield, with guys like Ryan Raburn. In other words, this outfield is very, very good.

Unfortunately for the Tribe, the A.L. Central is fairly loaded with regards to the outfield position.

The Indians were then able to move Mark Reynolds to the DH role full time, which is a huge upgrade over last season. The Indians also have several options to give Reynolds some time off, or even allow Reynolds to play some third and first as the season progresses.

Here's a look at the A.L. Central's outfield and DH position.

Player

Age

Tm

G

R

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

Andy Dirks

26

DET

88

56

18

5

8

35

1

1

23

53

0.322

0.370

0.487

0.857

Dayan Viciedo

23

CHW

147

64

18

1

25

78

0

2

28

120

0.255

0.300

0.444

0.744

Josh Willingham

33

MIN

145

85

30

1

35

110

3

2

76

141

0.260

0.366

0.524

0.890

Alex Gordon

28

KCR

161

93

51

5

14

72

10

5

73

140

0.294

0.368

0.455

0.822

Michael Brantley

25

CLE

149

63

37

4

6

60

12

9

53

56

0.288

0.348

0.402

0.750

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is an interesting mix of talent from the young, to the old, and it should be interesting to see how it all plays out by the end of the season. It is an extremely talented group of players.

Andy Dirks should be the starting left fielder for the Detroit Tigers this season, after a couple of seasons in which he seemed really close to locking down the job. It was essentially his job last year until a bum Achilles tendon cost him nearly two months in the middle of the season. Dirks was hitting .328 before the injury, and .317 afterwards. While some say that he can’t be an everyday player, he proved last season he can. He hit .274 against lefties, and crushed righties to the tune of .336. Is he a .300 hitter? Maybe. Is he a 20 home run hitter? Maybe. We’ll certainly get to see just how good he is in his first full season.

Dayan Viciedo is 23 years old, and is coming off a season in which he belted 25 homers and drove in 78. He also struck out 120 times and walked only 28 times. It’s the joy of a young player. Viciedo is just not a left fielder. While he saw improvement at the position, he certainly will be ear-marked for first base whenever Paul Konerko calls it a career. Regardless, Viciedo is a talented player, who could just explode offensively. It will be interesting to see if Jeff Manto can begin to mold the youngster’s approach as a hitter. If he can, he could be a special, special player.

Josh Willingham had a career year, and there’s no other way to look at it. He hit 35 homers, which was the first time in his career he hit over 30. He drove in 110 runs, which is the first time he broke the 100 RBI barrier. His OPS was a career high .890. He even played in 145 games, which was the most he had played in in his career, and the first time since 2007 that he played in more than 136 games. His offensive WAR was 4.4 last season, and his previous career best was 2.7. Willingham is a good player, but is he the 2012 version that was special? That’s the questions that will be answer. My bet is that Willingham’s numbers will fall to his previous seasons as a 34-year old, which is still pretty darned good. Remember, that Twins lineup will look quite a bit different with Denard Span and Ben Revere elsewhere.

Alex Gordon moved to left field in 2010, and in 2011 and 2012, Gordon’s career has skyrocketed. How good has he been? He won the gold glove in left both full seasons he’s played there. He hasn’t hit lower than .294, and his OPS is far above .800. His overall WAR in those two seasons is 13.3. He’s led the league in outfield assists, and he’s led the league in doubles. He even bats lead-off. Gordon is just about as solid a player as there is in the game right now, and that’s no small feat.

If there’s one word that describes Michael Brantley, it’s “upswing.” He’s gotten better every season he’s played in the big leagues, and in every way. He’s improved his average, his OBP, his slugging, his OPS, his doubles and his RBI. He scores more runs and has improved his entire approach. Now, he’ll play left field, which may prove to be a better fit than center, although he did that fairly well as well. I don’t expect that to stop any time soon. Brantley will be fixed in the middle of this lineup this season, either as the #5, #6 or #7 hitter, and he no longer will be expected to carry the weight of the team’s offensive issues. I don’t know that Brantley is the best left fielder in the Central, but he’s in the mix.

Left field in the Central is interesting, because each player really brings different things to their respective teams. I can honestly say that each team’s fans could really make a case for their left fielder to have a chance to be the best in the Central.

 

Year

Age

Tm

G

AB

R

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

Austin Jackson

2012

25

DET

137

543

103

29

10

16

66

12

9

67

134

0.300

0.377

0.479

0.856

Alejandro De Aza

2012

28

CHW

131

524

81

29

6

9

50

26

12

47

109

0.281

0.349

0.410

0.760

Aaron Hicks

2012

22

NB/AA

129

472

100

21

11

13

61

32

11

79

116

0.286

0.384

0.460

0.844

Lorenzo Cain

2012

26

KCR

61

222

27

9

2

7

31

10

0

15

56

0.266

0.316

0.419

0.734

Michael Bourn

2012

29

ATL

155

624

96

26

10

9

57

42

13

70

155

0.274

0.348

0.391

0.739

 

Austin Jackson is the best of an interesting bunch of centerfield candidates heading into 2013. I’d like to put Bourn there, but his numbers just don’t match up. On top of that, Jackson isn’t even close to being done with regards to improving. You see the numbers: he hit .300 with 16 homers and 66 RBI as a 25-year old. The stolen bases were down last year, but why would you steal a base when you had Cabrera and Fielder coming up to the plate. I don’t think that Jackson’s ceiling has been met, but I also don’t think that Jackson is going to be much better than he was. In other words, his 2012 numbers may just be the start of a long and special career.

Alejandro De Aza isn’t really a guy that strikes me as all that special. He’s 29 and has some tools, but we aren’t talking about a guy with a lot of upside. He can play some defense, hits pretty well and can steal some bases. He struck out over 100 times, but still managed a .350 OBP on the season. He is what is is, and nothing more. But he isn’t a guy that’s going to hurt your lineup offensively, or defensively.

Aaron Hicks may be a longshot to play centerfield for the Twins, but he’s the best player they have to do it. He played Double A last season, and did a really nice job. But it’s Double A. Still, the #72 ranked prospect in all of baseball brings some nice tools to the table, and may turn into a top player down the road. He may not even start this season with the Twins, as Darin Mastroianni may get the nod simply because of experience. Either way, the Twins are going to have some growing pains in center with both Denard Span and Ben Revere gone.

Lorenzo Cain is another guy that the Indians nearly acquired in the CC Sabathia deal. Ironically enough, both Cain andAlcides Escobar were sent to the Royals for another pitcher in Zack Greinke. Cain finally made it to the bigs fulltime last year, but his season was curtailed by leg injuries. This season is starting off much the same way, as Cain injured a muscle in his hand, and is slowly coming back. If healthy, Cain brings an interesting mix of power and speed, and could be a star. There’s a lot of unknown there though.

Michael Bourn is the surprise of the offseason, as the Indians figured to have made their splash with Terry Francona and Trevor Bauer and Drew Stubbs and Nick Swisher and Brett Myers. Yet, the Indians managed to bring Bourn in to man centerfield and lead off, and the nature of the Tribe’s offense changed substantially. Bourn is an all-star, and while he doesn’t provide the team with power, he does provide incredible defense and a versatile batting order. Bourn’s 42 stolen bases is a low total for him. Now, if he can manage to strike out a little less, that will be a plus. With that said, he’s not Austin Jackson, but he’s still may be the best centerfielder in the league when it’s all said and done.

 

Age

Tm

G

PA

R

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

Torii Hunter

36

LAA

140

584

81

24

1

16

92

9

1

38

133

0.313

0.365

0.451

0.817

Alex Rios

31

CHW

157

640

93

37

8

25

91

23

6

26

92

0.304

0.334

0.516

0.850

Chris Parmelee

24

MIN

64

210

18

10

2

5

20

0

0

13

52

0.229

0.290

0.380

0.671

Jeff Francoeur

28

KCR

148

603

58

26

3

16

49

4

7

34

119

0.235

0.287

0.378

0.665

Drew Stubbs

27

CIN

136

544

75

13

2

14

40

30

7

42

166

0.213

0.277

0.333

0.610

 

Torii Hunter isn’t getting any younger, but he still managed to hit over .300, and his 5.3 WAR was certainly not expected. He moves to Detroit, where Comerica Park is difficult on right-handed power, so I have to believe that Hunter is going to be in for a drop, and I honestly believe it’s going to be a big one. I have a feeling that 2013 is going to be a struggle, but lucky for Hunter, his OPS can drop 50 or 60 points and he’ll still be effective in this more-than-solid offense.

You do have to wonder if Rios can do it again. He hit .227 in 2011, but rebounded with huge season in 2012 that really seemed to come out of nowhere. Rios has always been talented,  but he’d been written off by some many who felt that he wouldn’t be able to come back from his lost season. Rios has a new stance, and it clearly paved the way to his season, so why he has outlying stats that say 2012 was a fluke, I don’t believe that it was. He is 32, but still in his prime. Rios will be a factor in 2013.

Parmelee is the youngster of the group, and like Aaron Hicks, should get a chance this year thanks to Span and Revere moving on. Parmelee seemed to be ready to become a first baseman, so while right field wasn’t the spot he figured to be in as a starter, I doubt he’s going to be complaining. Last year, Parmelee couldn’t find time with the Twins at the beginning of the year, so they sent him down and worked on his swing. This line-up has some serious issues going forward, so it could be a tough year for all these youngsters.

Jeff Francoeur wasn’t very good last year, but the job is his to keep after the Royals dealt Wil Myers to Tampa Bay in the deal for James Shields. The metrics guys say that Francoeur may have been the worst every-day regular in baseball last year, and I have to disagree. There’s no way he was worse than Casey Kotchman, but that’s for another day and another conversation. Francoeur probably isn’t that bad, but I certainly wouldn’t count on the 29-year-old to suddenly return to 2011 form, when he hit 20 homers, drove in 87, and hit .285. If he hits .270, hits 15 homers and drives in 70…just be happy.

Drew Stubbs is really the major question mark for the Indians offensively, but with the added boost of Swisher, Mark Reynolds and Michael Bourn, his bat really is a secondary piece of the puzzle. There are a lot of folks that feel like Stubbs is going to take off in Cleveland now that he’s away from the high expectations of Cincinnati, where he was a first round draft pick. Could he burst upon the scene this year now that he’s in a new town with a new team? Sure, but he has to get on base more to be effective. As a right fielder, he should excel defensively however, and give the Indians one of the better defensive outfields in baseball.

 

Year

Age

Tm

G

R

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

Vmart

2011

32

DET

145

76

40

0

12

103

1

0

46

51

0.330

0.380

0.470

0.850

Adam Dunn

2012

32

CHW

151

87

19

0

41

96

2

1

105

222

0.204

0.333

0.468

0.800

Ryan Doumit

2012

31

MIN

134

56

34

1

18

75

0

0

29

98

0.275

0.320

0.461

0.781

Billy Butler

2012

26

KCR

161

72

32

1

29

107

2

1

54

111

0.313

0.373

0.510

0.882

Mark Reynolds

2012

28

BAL

135

65

26

0

23

69

1

3

73

159

0.221

0.335

0.429

0.763

 

VMart remains one of my favorite players, and while he plays for the hated Tigers, I never really root against him. He will settle into the DH role this year, which I’m certain that he’ll hate, but he’ll be able to focus on his strength, offense. I wouldn’t bet against him. He is 100% healthy, and he certainly should be better than the riffraff they put out there last season. I don’t believe that VMart can be the guy that hit .330 in 2011, but I wouldn’t bet against a 10-20-homer, .300 average season ahead of him, and that could make the Tigers offense that much more dangerous.

Adam Dunn was the comeback player of the year in 2012, and for good reason. Of course, he only hit .204 and struck out 222 times, but he belted 41 homers, drove in 96, led the league in walks with 105, and had a .333 OBP. The scary piece of the Dunn-puzzle is that while he improved dramatically, his average and OBP are far below his career average. If he can stay out of two-strike counts, look for an even bigger improvement this year. Of course, he’s never far off from hitting .150 either. Welcome to the modern day Dave Kingman.

Ryan Doumit is what he is, and that’s a pretty good ballplayer. He’s not as good as he was thought to be, perhaps, when the Pirates initially brought him up, but I can think of a whole bunch of teams that can use a guy that hits .275, belts 20ish homers and drives in 75. Doumit will DH, play some catcher and some outfield, and just be a really good ballplayer. He isn’t a game-changer, but as the primary DH, he’s pretty darned good.

I knew Billy Butler had a good year, but I’m not sure that I knew just how good it was until I looked.  Butler’s slash last season was .313/.373/.510, blasted 29 homers, and drove in 107 runs. It really does go to show you just how much DH’s are overlooked. I’m not suggesting that Butler is a superstar, but it is distinctly likely that he doesn’t have too big a dip, especially considering that the lineup around him should get better as well. Expect a small dip, but not much.

Reynolds is a mystery to me. Is he a 30 homer juggernaut this year now that he can focus on his offense from the DH-position, or is a poor-man’s Adam Dunn, set to implode? What do I expect? I expect a 25-homer, 70 RBI season in which he strikes out way too much, but still gets on base at a nice enough clip. He’s not going to hit .250, but that’s what you get. If he can manage to hit 25 homers, he’ll be a massive upgrade over the overall Indians DH situation last year, and should mirror what the Indians’ hoped to get out of Travis Hafner the past couple of seasons, but didn’t. I actually would prefer any of the other guys on this list over Reynolds, but if he finds himself close to 40 homers, I’ll figure out a way to delete that statement.

Where do the Indians end up in the outfield? Well, there’s no Aaron Cunningham (worked really hard to not say…well…you know), Johnny DamonShelley Duncan or Charlie Spikes out there, and they all can play tremendous defense. The DH position is going to be manned primarily by Reynolds, but will also give “days off” to Kipnis, Cabrera and others throughout the year. While there may not be a bunch of power production, you can bet that overall, the outfield and DH will be much better than last year’s version.

There’s potential for it to be way above average.

On Wednesday, I’ll turn my attention to the rotations and bullpens of each team. While the Indians certainly have some strength in the bullpen, the rotation is clearly a concern.

 

 

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Jwahoo
February 24, 2013 - 9:21 PM EST
If Stubbs and Brantley break out like I think they will we could have the best outfield in baseball when you add in Swisher and Raburn as back ups. A few things though.

1. I think Austin Jackson is the best CF in the league but maybe not this season. Bourn brings more speed and is a better defensive CF at this point. I also think he will have a better year at the plate than last season if he can drop trying to hit 10 homers and bring his OBP up. We need him on base, stealing bases and hitting doubles and triples.

2. I would rather have Mark Reynolds as DH than Ryan Doumit. Doumit is a nice player but I think Reynolds will bounce back and hit between 25-30 homers this year without having to worry about playing in the field.

No matter what we should have the best defensive outfield and one that is going to steal ALOT of bases. Bourn could steal 50 this year. If Drew Stubbs has a better year he could steal between 30-35 or even 40. I think Michael Brantley just had a down year in regards to stolen bases last year. I think he will rebound to steal around 16-21 bases this year.

So, we could have around 90-100 stolen bases this year just from our outfield. If you add in around 30 from Kipnis. 16 from Ascab and 10-15 from Aviles we could have 160 stolen bases this year easy.

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