There are 90 starting outfield jobs in the Majors, not to mention the potential to DH. 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. This week we finish up the AL outfielders.
The Tigers current corner outfield configuration is transient with Andy Dirks and Torii Hunter. Top prospect Nick Castellanos was moved to right field last year and speaks to why the Tigers were interested in Hunter on the free agent market. The nearly 21-year-old held his own but did not dominate Double-A pitching, but he is now showing power potential after hitting 10 homers and 42 doubles between two levels. Long-term he might be a 20+ per year HR hitter, but I’m skeptical given a rather aggressive approach and the fact that he's right-handed. I want to see more of what Castellanos did in A+ ball (9% walk rate, 83% contact rate) first before getting excited. Castellanos could start the year in Double-A, but could move quickly depending on Detroit’s mediocre outfield and his progress.
Avisail Garcia made it to the Majors at 21 years of age but will likely start 2013 in Triple-A. The righty is a very aggressive hitter who has made some strides in reducing his strikeout rate. He’s a big guy who projects to have 20+ per season home run power and perhaps teens stolen base potential. Both Garcia and Castellanos are high risk/high reward types with abundant tools. There is at least MLB regular potential in both players, but I would like to see what they can accomplish at Triple-A first, let alone the Majors.
The Astros have a wildcard of a starting outfield with Chris Carter, Justin Maxwell and Fernando Martinez all slated for starting slots. All three are high risk options that are more likely to fizzle than succeed. That means opportunities abound. While both Rick Ankiel and J.D. Martinez are likely to get shots too, it does also leave room for others. The Astros picked up Marc Krauss last year from the Diamondbacks. The lefty has definite platoon possibilities with his main two assests being above average patience and plate discipline and high-teens to low-twenties homer potential.
Robbie Grossman was another in-season acquisition as the Astros unloaded their veterans. Grossman continues a theme of highly disciplined hitters with limited upside. Grossman does not ooze tools and is more of a doubles hitter that profiles best as a fourth outfielder but who won’t embarrass himself if forced to start.
Given these lack of options, it is worth focusing on George Springer even though he has barely any Double-A experience. Springer is a possible impact player who can play centerfield and who possesses 25-25 potential. The righty has shown some selectivity at the plate but, like many players of his age and tools, needs to cut down on the strikeouts. Right now he reminds me a lot of former Diamondback Chris Young.
The Royals head into 2013 giving Lorenzo Cain a chance to stay healthy and clam the CF job and Jeff Francouer will be a free agent at the end of the season. So again, this is a team with potential openings. However, the most likely minor league candidate to benefit from those openings is David Lough and Brian Fletcher. Lough is a journeyman centerfielder with good speed, gap power, and an aggressive but contact-making approach. The lefty profiles better as an extra but he offers enough, especially 20+ stolen base potential, to keep him on your radar.
A combination of Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Peter Bourjos with Vernon Wells on the bench is not a situation that is likely to generate many opportunities for rookies. That said, the Angels do have a few candidates, though none exciting. Kole Calhoun is the best of the bunch. The 25-year-old has a low ceiling but modest teens power potential. He plays solid defense and has a good approach at the plate. The lefty will almost always be used as a back-up but has some platoon player potential. Travis Witherspoon is more athletic than Calhoun, possessing above average speed and outfield range. The righty has gap power and is somewhat selective but strikes out far too often for someone of limited power potential. Witherspoon will probably end up an organizational player.
Only Josh Willingham has a strong hold on his position in the Twins’ outfield. Chris Parmalee is being given another shot to prove he can be a regular while Darin Mastroianni is competing against prospects Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson for the starting centerfield job. Hicks, a former first round pick, is the Twins preferred option. A switch hitter, Hicks has a good combination of developing power, 30+ steal potential and the ability to draw a walk. The caveats are a complete lack of experience above Double-A and a tendency towards high strikeout rates that suppress his ability to hit for average.
Joe Benson, nearly 25, was once the Twins' centerfielder of the future, but he has had some performance and injury issues lately that have held him back. When healthy, the righty has 20-20 potential and, like Hicks, draws walks at a fairly high rate. However, Benson strikes out around a quarter or more of the time, which is a major caveat for right-handed hitters. He projects best as a right-hand side of a platoon or bench player.
Meanwhile, Oswaldo Arcia may not be competing for an opening day roster spot but could obtain one in the mid to late season. The righty will report back to Double-A or could move to Triple-A, especially if there is a need for more outfield depth should Hicks and/or Benson make the MLB squad. Arcia has the most power of this group, a quick bat, and a rather solid approach whereby he maintains a healthy OBP while holding down the strikeouts enough to hit for average and power. Last year, he hit over .300 with an OBP approaching .400 and a slugging percentage of over .500 at just 21 years of age.
The Yankees have already lost Curtis Granderson for at least the first month of the 2013 season and will likely have to utilize the likes of Juan Rivera, Matt Diaz and others to man left field while Brett Gardner holds down center with Ichiro Suzuki in right. The Yankees are not blessed with many upper level outfield prospects either. Zoilo Almonte is the closest thing. The switch-hitter performed well in Double-A, hitting 21 homers with 15 steals but is an aggressive hitter with mediocre OBP skills. Unless his lower minor league level skills reemerge, Almonte will be best suited for back-up work.
The A’s are going with an outfield of Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick with Chris Young waiting in the wings as a fourth outfielder. However, Crisp does have a substantial injury history and Reddick has only one year as a starter under his belt which includes a .305 OBP, so there are potential chinks in the armor here.
Top prospect Michael Choice is probably more of a mid to late season potential addition. A righty with a fairly patient approach and quick bat, Choice has legitimate 25+ home run per season potential. While Choice is not slow, he is not a double digits steal threat either. He strikes me as a .270s or better hitter long-term and it will be interesting to see how he comes back from a broken hand last season and whether or not his power rebounds to 2011 levels.
Michael Taylor is a journeyman outfielder with 15-15 talent and a solid approach at the plate, but he has been passed over several times for a promotion and an extended look at the MLB level. At 27 y ears of age, time is running out.
The Wil Myers countdown has already begun and it may not be long before the 22-year-old claims a full-time job. For now though, the Rays are utilizing an outfield of Joyce, Jennings and Zobrist with Luke Scott at DH. So when Myers does ascend, position changes and repercussions may be felt throughout the lineup. Myers has 30-plus home run power potential and a patient approach. The righty has hit for average at every minor league stop but has also posted some rather outstanding BABIPs (.350 or much higher) to do so. As a former catcher, however, Myers possesses below average speed. This combined with a sub-80% contact rate makes me a bit of a non-believer. A better comparison long-term may be Josh Willingham, who is a former right-handed hitting catcher with a similar approach and power skills. So do not be surprised if Myers ends up a .260s or .270s hitter long term.
Leonys Martin has an edge on the starting centerfield job for Texas. The Cuban defector has an interesting array of talents and skills, combining 15 HR and 20+ stolen base potential along with a generally contact-oriented approach. Things only come apart when the 25-year-old becomes too power conscious. Staying healthy and getting more plate appearances should help on both counts, though given his limited Triple-A experience over two years, a slow start would be far from surprising.
Possible MLB Phase/Auction Selections:
Aaron Hicks, Joe Benson, David Lough, Leonys Martin
Possible Minor League Draft Phase Selections:
Wil Myers, Oswaldo Arcia, George Springer, Avisail Garcia, Nick Castellanos L.J. Hoes, Jackie Bradley, Bryce Bentz, Trayce Thompson, Jared Mitchell, Marc Krauss