There are 90 starting outfield jobs in the Majors, not to mention possible designated hitters. Given the sheer number of variables, this week we change things up a bit by focusing just on the American League and breaking things down team by team to better understand the potential opportunities for rookies to obtain playing time.
Two-thirds of the Orioles' outfield is pretty ironclad with Nick Markakis and Adam Jones both locked into long-term contracts. There are, however, opportunities for youngsters with the platoon of Nate McLouth/Nolan Reimold in left and Wilson Betemit/Danny Valencia at DH. Xavier Avery and L.J. Hoes are the two most likely beneficiaries. Both players were up with the big club in 2012, but neither lost their rookie status. Avery has decent power/speed skills (mid-teens, 20+ steal potential), and knows how to get on base. However, he strikes out far too often for someone with limited power and figures to be a fourth outfielder or platoon player at best. Hoes has marginal pop but excellent plate discipline and 20+ stolen base potential. Almost 23, Hoes probably has a leg up on Avery and might show some ability to hit for average and get on base in the Majors, but he looks more like a bench player long-term.
The Red Sox may actually have some openings as the season progresses, particularly if they are not in the pennant chase. Jacoby Ellsbury is a pending free agent and Jonny Gomes is best suited to platoon/DH work. Alex Hassan has a stress fracture in his foot and may not start the season on time but is still worthy of note. The righty is a doubles hitter with low to mid-teens HR power. The nearly 25-year-old is best noted for his well above average plate discipline, showing an ability to draw walks and make consistent contact. He's a possible back-up or platoon player.
Juan Carlos Linares split 2012 almost evenly between Double and Triple-A ball, hitting eight homers at each stop. A 29-year-old Cuban defector, Linares is an aggressive, at peak hitter who lacks any standout offensive skills but could make the Majors due to his defense.
Bryce Brentz is a more intriguing option for the Red Sox. The 24-year-old has legitimate 20+ HR potential and may be just a half season away from the Majors. While the Sox may give him a chance to start, I feel similarly to him as I do Will Middlebrooks – a good athlete with good power, but an overly aggressive right-handed hitter. I would not expect him to hit for average or be much of an OBP threat at the MLB level.
Jackie Bradley is the one player of this group who is a likely long-term starter. The lefty does almost everything well and is the reason the Sox may let Ellsbury walk after the season. Bradley is an adept centerfielder with plenty of speed, a quick bat, low to middle-teens HR power potential and true leadoff hitter worthy plate discipline. It remains to be seen whether he’ll start 2013 in Double-A or Triple-A.
The White Sox have a potentially volatile outfield given the skills of Dayan Viciedo, Alejandro de Aza and Alex Rios, and the club has a number of upper system outfield options. Jared Mitchell may have already been in the Sox’s starting outfield if not for an ankle injury he suffered in 2010. The former first-round pick still has above average speed but is no longer a plus-plus runner and he was never going to be a significant power threat. He's more of a high single-digit to mid-teens home run hitter. The lefty has struck out over 30% of the time almost every year of his career, more due to being too passive than anything else, and now looks more like a back-up outfielder than a potential regular.
Trayce Thompson is perhaps the most likely player in this organization to crack the starting outfield, but it may not happen until September. The 21-year-old has barely any experience above A+ ball but has shown 20+ home run potential and some on-base skills. Particularly s a right-handed hitter, however, he’ll need to cut down on his high strikeout rate to be a threat in the batting average department. Right now he looks like a .250/20-20 guy.
Jordan Danks and Blake Tekotte are more MLB/2013 ready options. Danks, now 26, is a journeyman with moderate power/speed skills and reasonable on-base abilities. I like him as a back-up or platoon type. Tekotte, 25, had a miserable year in Triple-A and needs to reassert his plus-speed/defense skills. The lefty is normally a very patient hitter with low-teens pop and given that the White Sox gave a journeyman in De Aza a try in centerfield, they might not be afraid to try Tekotte should he rebound or in the event De Aza falters. Tekotte is worth keeping an eye on as a potential source for cheap speed.
The Indians are not blessed with a lot of upper level outfield depth, but then again they do not really need it with an outfield that has pushed Nick Swisher to first base (Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs) and made Rule-5 pick Chris McGuiness go from possible starter to possible Rule-5 returnee. The Triple-A squad is loaded with veterans like Matt Carson, Ben Francisco, Jeremy Hermida and Cedric Hunter, so the opportunities for rookies to play may be minimal. Tim Fedroff is perhaps the most likely rookie to see action. The former 7th round pick is an organizational or back-up player at best. On the good side, he’s a lefty with solid defensive skills and very solid plate discipline skills that allow him to hit for average and get on base. However, Fedroff is a low single-digits home run hitter at best and a single digits stolen base type, so the odds of a starting gig are rather low.
Possible MLB Phase/Auction Selections:
Possible Minor League Draft Phase Selections:
L.J. Hoes, Jackie Bradley, Bryce Bentz, Trayce Thompson, Jared Mitchell
Possible In-Season Pick-Ups:
Xavier Avery, Alex Hassan, Juan Carlos Linares, Jordan Danks, Blake Tekotte, Tim Fedroff