Last week we combed the American League to see which young outfielders might make their mark in the Majors in 2012. This week we turn that same attention to the National League.
The Diamondbacks outfield may be tough to crack on the short-term basis. Justin Upton is of course entrenched in right field and both Jason Kubel and Chris Young are signed through at least 2013, both with club options for 2014. Plus, Gerardo Parra also remains on the squad.
That said, the Diamondbacks do have a few young players who might become relevant to fantasy players regardless. Most notable of the group is A.J. Pollock as a potential long-term replacement for Young in center field. He is a right-handed hitter with upper single digit to low-teens HR potential, but has plenty of doubles power, above average speed (36 stolen bases in 2011), and makes consistent contact. He does not profile as a leadoff hitter given his somewhat aggressive approach, but is a potential .300 hitter at the MLB level given his overall combination of talents.
Adam Eaton will be joining Pollock in Triple-A this season. A lefty, Eaton is most notable for his excellent plate discipline, walking almost often as he fans, around 13 to 14 percent of the time. Like current Diamondback Parra, he does not possess any one overwhelming tool, but has some gap power (10 homers), hits doubles, and has good speed (34 stolen bases). In time, he could simply take Parra’s spot on the roster as a fourth outfielder.
Marc Krauss, 24 will also be advancing to Triple-A in 2012. He has more power than either Eaton or Pollock, possibly 20+ per season level, power. However, he is not in their class athletically as a defender or in the speed department. Krauss has a power-hitters approach, drawing walks and striking out about a quarter of the time. His upside looks like platoon-lefty to me.
The Braves enter 2012 with an outfield of Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, and Jason Heyward with capable back-ups like Matt Diaz, Eric Hinske, and Jose Constanza. That leaves little room, but perhaps enough for the likes of Mycal Jones and/or Cory Harrilchak. Jones is a 24-year old right-handed hitter with some speed and gap power and will draw the occasional walk, but does not have any one stand out tool or skill that says he will be more than a back-up or wrong-side of the platoon-split player. Harilchak may be the better option as an all-around player. He is a slightly more disciplined, left-handed hitting contact-hitter, but has no outstanding tools whatsoever and is unlikely to crack double digits in homers or stolen bases. Figure a cup of coffee for each player with a very outside shot at any significant playing time.
The Cubs have one of the more talented potential impact outfielders in Brett Jackson. He has excellent all around tools, has 20-20 potential, and is selective enough to draw a walk. He may start the season in the minors, but it is only a matter of time before he supplants one of the Cubs post-prime starting outfielders, perhaps as soon as the end of spring training, but more likely by May or June. The one substantial caveat with Jackson are his strikeout rates. He is perhaps a bit too selective, failing to swing at pitches and getting called out on strike three or falling behind in the count because of his patience, putting himself in far too many 2-strike situations. Right now I am skeptical of his long-term batting average upside. Even though he has all the tools to hit for a high average, until he starts to take advantage of those talents and put the ball in play some more, he does not look to be much more than a .250’s to .270s hitter.
The Cubs have another possible call-up, albeit not as talented, in Jae-Hoon Ha. Ha, 21, will get to the Majors because of his defense. He has enough of an arm to play right and the wheels and instincts to play center. At the plate he is a very aggressive hitter who makes contact close to 90% of the time. As a result of his foot speed and his contact-making skills he should be able to hit for average, but he does not project to be more than a low-teens per homerun hitter. Ha could add to his credentials to get a call-up and to be valuable to fantasy players alike if he got a clue on how to steal a base. Despite his excellent raw speed, Ha managed just a 43% stolen base success rate in 30 attempts. He will not be getting the green light at the MLB level with that level of effectiveness.
Dave Sappelt almost exhausted his rookie status while up with the Reds last season. He is not a high upside hitter, but he does all the little things well, can pay all three outfield positions, and makes a good amount of contact from the right-handed side. Sappelt strikes me as a cheaper option to Reed Johnson in the long run.
The Reds have promoted quite a bit of their upper level outfield talent in recent seasons, so there is not much left other than Denis Phipps. He has decent tools – 15/15 or better potential with solid defense, but is a fairly aggressive hitter from the right-hand side of the plate. He posted BABIPs of over .400 at each of his two 2011 minor league stops, so it is hard to put much credence into his overall counting stat performance given his pedestrian approach at the plate. At best, he is perhaps a right-handed side of the platoon player.
Georgia Tech alum Charlie Blackmon made his MLB debut in 2012. The lefty is a moderately powered, contact hitter with 20+ per season stolen base talents. Blackmon’s chances for playing time are minimal at the moment and as one of the few players capable of handling centerfield on the roster, his best opportunity would be through Dexter Fowler either getting injured or being ineffective. Otherwise he will have a harder time breaking through Carlos Gonzalez or Michael Cuddyer. Right now his most likely role is backing-up.
Tim Wheeler has a better long-term chance than Blackmon of making an impact. He is coming off of a 33 home run , 21 steal season in which he hit .287 and is a legitimate 20-20 threat. His long-standing caveat, however, is left-handed pitching. In 2009 he hit just .172 against them and just .201 in 2010. Wheeler has the potential to be an exciting fantasy baseball force, but as long as he struggles in this way, he is more of a .250s hitter long-term than a .280s.
Journeyman Andrew Brown is another potential call-up. The 27-year old has hit 20 or more HRs each of the past two years and is adept at getting on base, but strikes out more than a quarter of the time. His best MLB role would probably be as a right-handed bat off the bench or in a platoon situation.
The Astros, with the exception of J.D. Martinez, are going with a dart-throwing approach to their starting outfield, hoping a young player steps up. This cast includes many former top prospects including Jordan Schafer, Fernando Martinez, Jason Bourgeois, and Brian Bogusevic. All of these players have significant holes in their games or they would all already be MLB starters. Enter someone like J.B. Shuck. Shuck spent a small amount of time with the MLB club last year. He has little to no power potential, but does have leadoff hitter potential as someone who makes contact consistently over 90 percent of the time while generating walks more often and doing so consistently over 10 percent of the time. He actually translated his skills to the Majors pretty well, hitting .272, making contact 92 percent of the time, and walking 12 percent while swiping 2 bags. In most organizations he would profile best as a back-up, but he might actually be the best centerfield/leadoff option the Astros have. Tuck him away as a potential sleeper.
Another available option is Jake Goebbert. The 24-year old spent time at three minor league levels, showing the same plate discipline skill set at each stop – solid contact, modest walk rates, and mid-teens per season power potential. The total package makes him a low-ceiling back-up outfielder. On the other hand, his skills may translate to the Majors better than his more athletic counterparts, leading to playing time.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Left field may be a revolving door for the the Dodgers. They already have Juan Rivera, Tony Gwynn Jr. , Jerry Sands, and Trent Oeltjen as options in camp, but also have a plethora of rookies too. Matt Angle, mentioned in last week’s AL piece, was just claimed off waivers and is a back-up OF option. Alex Castellanos will spend most of 2012 in Triple-A, but has some moderate power and speed skills of interest. He is a bit too over aggressive as a right-handed hitters for my likings and consider him to be more a bat off the bench/quadruple-A type player.
I mentioned Kyle Russell in last year’s piece here. He will turn 26 this year and spent much of 2011 repeating Double-A. He has 30+ HR/season power potential, but has an all or nothing approach that has him striking out about a third of the time. I suspect he’ll end up Triple-A roster filler, but you never known when a well timed hot streak could earn him significant playing time.
Scott Van Slyke, son of Andy, is coming off a .325 .425 .593 season in Double-A. He makes a fair amount of contact and not surprisingly, considering his pedigree, has a rather disciplined overall approach that may allow him to hit for both average and power. Unlike his dad, however, he is not a left-handed hitter and also did not get his dad’s defensive athletic genes either. As a result he may be forced out of the outfield in time where he will have to hope his power emerges to the point that he can legitimately stay at first base.
Alfredo Silverio has the greatest potential and certainly the best pure tools of these options. The 24-year old made contact 84% of the time while hitting 16 homers and batting .306 in Double-A in 2011. He has 20-20 (more likely 15-15 or 20-15) potential and given his raw speed/contact-making skills should be able to hit for average even though his overall OBP may not be impressive in the short or long run.
Scott Cousins is best known for a collision with a certain catcher in 2011. Like Kyle Russell, he also made last year’s NL outfielder article. My opinion of him has not changed all that much though that is far from shocking considering he dealt with his own injury issues and barely played. When he does play, he has 15-15 potential. He has enough tools to handle centerfield. At the plate he is a tweener with mid-teens per season homerun potential and perhaps upper to low-twenties stolen base ability. This season he features competition not only from Chris Coghlan, who missed much of last year, but from Emilio Bonifacio who took advantage of both Coghlan and Cousins being injured.
Kevin Mattison could also be a factor for Miami. He is a 26-year old journeyman who spent last year in Double-A. He is surprisingly toolsy for an older prospect with excellent speed, stolen base skills, and gap power. He is not a complete loss at the plate either and draws his share of walks. The one area of concern is his ability to make contact. He has that common Willy Mays Hays profile of someone enamored with hitting for the power despite only having moderate power in that department, and would be a better player if he focused on his primary assets.
Now that Ryan Braun has been cleared, the possible opportunities for rookie playing time in the outfield have certainly been reduced. The most likely spot of course is centerfield where Nyjer Morgan and Carlos Gomez both reside. Both are well above average defenders, but their other skills are somewhat underwhelming.
Logan Schafer, 25, does not have a heck of a lot left to prove in the minors. He has excellent control of the striking zone, walking about as often as he strikes out. He is a line-drive doubles hitter and profiles as a single-digits homerun hitter. While he has speed and defensive skills to certainly handle centerfield, he is not a great base stealer. I think David DeJesus may be a good comp for him.
Caleb Gindl will have a tougher road to hoe. The 23-year old gets on base and makes contact at an 80 percent clip, but his power potential is limited to the mid to upper teens and his other tools rate about average and he is certainly limited defensively to a corner spot. He strikes me as a fourth outfielder, back-up type.
New York Mets
The Mets could potentially have a few openings as the season progresses. If Jason Bay continues to fail to show the power, he could be benched (sunk cost) and Andres Torres must show he is recovered from injuries last year. The most likely outfield call-up is Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Nieuwenhuis dealt with some injuries of his own last year, but still managed to show a well-rounded game. He can handle all three outfield positions (though best suited to a corner), has mid-teens power and stolen base speed, and has on-base skills. Where he comes up short is in the contact-making and overall standout tool department. Had he more speed, his hitting profile would fit the position possibly as a starter. Instead, he will eventually be a fourth outfielder and left-handed bat off the bench.
Matt Den Dekker is a better fit defensively in centerfield than Nieuwenhuis. However, the 24-year old still needs to prove he can even handle Double-A pitching, let alone MLB pitching. He possesses 15-15 or better tools, but unless he cuts his nearly 1/3 of the time strikeout-rate down, he probably won’t make it as anything more than a reserve
The Phillies do not currently have any rookies of note within the upper levels of their farm system likely to receive MLB playing time .Fortunately, they do have Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino to lead the way and talented young, no-longer-rookies like Domonic Brown and John Mayberry Jr. to utilize, and Laynce Nix, Juan Pierre, and Scott Podsednik all in camp as fall backs.
The Pirates’ top outfield prospect Starling Marte will be advancing to Triple-A this year. He is best known for his elite centerfield defensive skills and well above-average speed (24 steals in 2011). Last year he started to add some more power to his game with 12 HR, 38 doubles, and 8 triples while hitting .332. However, he did also post a batting average on balls on play of .390 and has an ultra-aggressive approach at the plate (sub-4.0 percent walk rate). He did at least show the best contact skills (82 percent) of his young career. The 23-year old should make the Majors, possibly by mid-season, and given his speed skills, could be quite valuable, but I remain skeptical as to his long-term contributions and ability to remain a starter without making some drastic changes to his approach at the plate.
Former Braves farmhand Gorkys Hernandez is entering his third full season in the Pirates’ organization. He finally made it to Triple-A last year, continuing to show little power (1 HR), mediocre plate discipline, but slightly improved contact and a .283 batting average thanks in part to a .357 BABIP. Right now he looks like a fourth or fifth outfield type.
San Diego Padres
The Padres acquired Carlos Quentin in the off-season and watched Cameron Maybin evolve into a legitimate MLB player, so routes to playing time will likely come at the expense of Will Venable – though Kyle Blanks and Chris Denorfia may get first dibs. If they fail, they do have three other options with some interesting skills and talents to consider.
Jaff Decker turned just 22 years of age only last week, but may be moving on to Triple-A this year and could crack the Padres’ lineup well before the end of it. Throughout his professional career he has done well to translate his plate discipline to each new level, consistently walking around 15 percent or more of the time while keeping his strikeout rates under a quarter. Unfortunately his season, despite also a career high 19 HRs, he hit just .236 and the common consensus is that while walks are great, a bit more aggressiveness on pitches in the strike zone would help and quite frankly might not increase his strikeout rate very much, if at all. Right now he is on the path of becoming a platoon outfielder, with the potential to do more.
James Darnell spent a small chunk of time with the Padres late last season. A 3B/OF, Darnell is not particularly suited to either position, but most likely will end up in the latter. Like Decker, he is a player who possesses advanced plate discipline, though at least in Darnell’s case, he makes contact, doing so 86 percent of the time in Double-A and 80 percent of the time upon his promotion to Triple-A. He also possesses a bit more raw power and projects as a high-teens to low-twenties per season HR hitter. He has an outside shot of making the club out of spring training in a back-up capacity, but most likely will return to Triple-A to being the season.
The Padres third potential outfield call-up is Blake Tekotte. The 24-year old has an interesting blend of power and speed skills (19 HRs and 36 steals last year in Double-A) and like Darnell and Decker also showed an affinity for getting on-base. He has possibilities as a potential platoon centerfielder/left fielder.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants’ top prospect, Gary Brown, played in Single-A ball last year, but his skills and talents are so highly regarded, that it is possible that he could cruise through both Double-A and Triple-A in 2012 in quick succession. First and foremost he has blazing speed (53 stolen bases last year), makes very consistent contact, and is not a wilting flower at the plate, hitting 14 HRs, 34 doubles, and 13 triples last year too. The knock on him is his aggressiveness and he probably projects better as a second-hole or deeper down in the lineup than as a leadoff hitter. All that stands in his way from a starting job are the likes of Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, and Nate Schierholtz (and perhaps Aubrey Huff/Brandon Belt).
Technically Roger Kieschnick is actually ahead of Brown on the depth charts, but only because he will be in Triple-A while Brown starts the year in Double-A. Kieshnick has a fair amount of power, but is too aggressive, fails to make contact and draws few walks. His upside is as a left-handed platoon corner outfielder or more likely –Triple-A roster filler.
St. Louis Cardinals
Adron Chambers spent all of 2012 (except 8 plate appearances and 18 games) in Triple-A. He has little left to prove in the minors and could make it early on this season as a back-up in the Cardinals outfield. He has gap-power, gets- on base, and above-average speed. It is possible that he could be a superior option to Jon Jay, but may not get the opportunity to prove it.
Bryce Harper is not in the starting lineup yet. He did, however, reach Double-A as an 18-year old and did not at all embarrass himself, making contact, showing some plate discipline, and hints of his power potential. His performance in A+ ball was quite impressive with a 14 percent walk rate, 80 percent contact rate, 14 HRs, and 19 steals in just 349 plate appearances. And keep in mind he was on the young side for that level of play too! Long-term he will play right field (he has more than enough arm for it) where he will fit perfectly as someone with legitimate .300 30+ HR potential.
Potential Draft Day Options
Potential Minor League Draft Options
Bryce Harper, Gary Brown, Jaff Decker, James Darnell, Starling Marte, A.J. Pollock, Brett Jackson, Tim Wheeler, J.B. Shuck, Blake Tekotte, Logan Schafer, Alfredo Silverio
Potential In-Season FAAB Options
Roger Kieschnick, Adron Chambers, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Matt Den Dekker, Gorkys Hernandez, Adam Eaton, Marc Krauss, Mycal Jones, Cory Harrilchak, Jae-Hoon Ha, Dave Sappelt, Denis Phipps, Charlie Blackmon, Andrew Brown, Jacob Goebbert, Caleb Gindl, Scott Cousins, Scott Van Slyke, Kevin Mattison, Kyle Russell, Alex Castellanos
One update note: The injury to Scott Sizemore potentially opens the door for two A’s rookies. Josh Donaldson and Stephen Parker. Neither are best suited defensively to the position, but they are perhaps the best two in-house offensive options.