Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Position Players Report Date Prepper 2014: The Outfield

Hey, how about that?  I'm actually getting the final ST prep post out before the players show up to camp.  Today is the final day before all position players are expected to report to Yankee camp and it's also the final day of this "Report Date Prepper" series.  Just like the infielders, there are already some outfielders who've arrived in Tampa, most notably new right fielder Carlos Beltran.  Get up to speed on him and the rest of his outfield brethren after the jump.

The Starters:

Jacoby Ellsbury- The $153 million man, Ellsbury becomes the latest to switch sides in baseball's most famous rivalry.  He's being paid like an upper tier player and he'll be expected to perform like one, providing the 2-way offensive and defensive spark in center field that Brett Gardner fell short of last year.  There are some injury concerns based on his history, but most of Ellsbury's missed time has been due to freak occurrences.  If he's on the field for 150ish games this year, he should be the team's leading WAR man going away.

Brett Gardner- Moved back to left where his speed and range makes him arguably the best in baseball at the position, Gardner enters his walk year in a little bit of limbo.  He's making $5.6 mil and playing for a new contract, something in the Michael Bourn range, but his chances of reaching that level could take a hit now that he's not in center field and presumably not hitting at the top of the order anymore.  Gardner needs to stay healthy this year and he needs to get back to tearing things up on the bases to increase his asking price.  Doing so could price him high enough for the Yanks to let him go after the season.

Carlos Beltran- On paper, Beltran looks like a huge upgrade over Ichiro in right field.  Switch hitter, good power, mashes from the left side, and he is a few years younger.  In reality, Beltran will only get as much time in right as his health and deteriorating defensive skills allow.  I have to think the Yankees gave him that 3rd year in his deal with the idea of getting the first 2 as an everyday outfielder and then transitioning him to full-time DH.  That timeline could be accelerated if Beltran's natural regression speeds up this season.

The 4th Man:

Alfonso Soriano- The insurance policy for Beltran in right, Soriano will attempt to pick up where he left off in his triumphant return to Yankee Stadium.  There's no way he'll maintain that crazy good 48-HR pace he was on last year, but he doesn't need to.  As long as he's there to provide some defensive stability in right field for as often as it's needed and still quick enough on poorly-located fastballs to crank 25-30 HR, Joe and his coaching staff will be happy.

The Other Bench Competitors:

Ichiro Suzuki- It wouldn't surprise me if this was Ichiro's final year in MLB.  It also wouldn't surprise me if he finished the season in another uniform.  The Yankees' need for Ichiro has all but disappeared with their offseason additions and his role now will basically be occasional defensive caddy, late-game pinch runner, and emergency 5th outfielder.  That's what best suits his remaining skill set and as I've said before, he won't get many chances to use it as long as the 4 guys above are healthy.

Zoilo Almonte- Possible heir to Ichiro's 5th outfielder throne, Zoilo at least has the benefit of being young and having MiL options remaining.  His defensive value would be somewhat comparable to Ichiro in a smaller sample size thanks to his athleticism and experience at all 3 outfield spots, and he could offer a higher offensive ceiling.  Most likely ticketed for a return trip to SWB, but could work his way into the Opening Day roster mix should somebody get hurt.

The Prospects: Slade HeathcottTyler AustinMason Williams

These 3 are all auditioning more for 2015 than 2014 this spring, but their remaining MiL career paths could be influenced by how they do in the early spring games.  Heathcott is the only one from this group with a realistic chance to contribute to the Major League roster this season and he may not even be ready for full game activity after offseason knee surgery.  A healthy wrist and return of power for Austin and a more mature all-around approach to the game from Williams would be encouraging signs.

The Rest: Ramon Flores, Adonis Garcia, Antoan Richardson

Sorry, Ramon.  You don't get included in the prospect group when you're still hitting for such little power.  Garcia might actually be the most intriguing member of this triad, as he spent some time working the infield positions in Winter League and can already play all 3 outfield spots.  Richardson is org depth and is the favorite to be the first cut from the outfield corps.

** Coming up tomorrow- Position players actually report to camp! **

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