With three weeks to go before Opening Day, my positional rankings continue here at Eutaw Street Report as we move out of the infield and into the outfield. First up for the outfield rankings are the left fielders of the American League East.
Left field has proven to be a more difficult task than anticipated as there are platoons, inexperience, and declining veterans manning the position within the division. For example, in Toronto, Melvin Upton Jr. and Ezequiel Carrera are expected to platoon, but Upton is reportedly going to get the majority of the starts. The same thing can be said in Baltimore, with Hyun Soo Kim getting the majority of the starts, yet still splitting time with the likes of Joey Rickard and Craig Gentry. With all that in mind, let’s not waste any more time. I present to you your American League East left fielders.
1. Andrew Benintendi – Boston Red Sox
2016: .295/.359/.476, 2 HR, 14 RBI (34 gms)
In this particular instance, I acknowledge that I am a bit of a hypocrite. I did not pick Gary Sanchez as the best catcher in the division because of his inexperience, yet I am picking Benintendi as the best left fielder in the division despite his inexperience.
Having said that, I will try to justify this. Benintendi is the top overall prospect on the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list. His career minor league slash line is an eye-popping .312/.392/.540. And then all the kid did upon his arrival to Boston last summer was continue to rake. He has never hit below .290 at any professional level.
Add to that the fact that nobody else in the division sets the world on fire in left field, and it’s not hard to envision Benintendi at the top of this list. Look for him to compete for the American League Rookie of the Year in 2017.
2. Brett Gardner – New York Yankees
2016: .261/.351/.362, 7 HR, 41 RBI
In order to fully appreciate Gardner, you really need to watch him play every day. A very unassuming player, Gardner is never going to win a batting title, never going to be an MVP candidate, and never going to win a Silver Slugger. What he is going to do is show up everyday, play Gold Glove defense (just 11 errors in nine seasons; GG recipient in 2016), get on-base at a .350 clip, and swipe close to 20 bags, a feat he’s accomplished six times, including a league-leading 49 SB in 2011.
Gardner has played in 145+ games in six of the last seven seasons, stealing at least 16 bases and scoring at least 80 runs in each of those six seasons. In all, Gardner is the definition of a gritty ballplayer.
3. Hyun-soo Kim – Baltimore Orioles
2016: .302/.382/.420, 6 HR, 22 RBI
This time one year ago, Kim was in the midst of an 0-23 stretch to start his first MLB Spring Training, a slow start that almost landed him in the minor leagues were it not for a clause in his contract allowing him to refuse the demotion. What a difference a year makes.
One could argue that Kim was the Orioles’ most consistent hitter down the stretch, and their best on-base threat. Against right-handed pitching, Kim hit .321/.392/.446, establishing himself in a lineup where most of the players were boom-or-bust.
The reason Kim finds himself in the middle of the pack in this division is his inability (so far) to hit lefties (0-18 in 2016), and his mediocre–and sometimes nerve-racking–defense. His subpar performance against LHP means a platoon situation in Baltimore, and his middling defense means he’ll be replaced often late in games. Should Kim find his stroke against southpaws (and should he be extended beyond 2017), he could find himself higher on this list in the coming seasons.
4. Colby Rasmus – Tampa Bay Rays
2016: .206/.286/.355, 15 HR, 54 RBI
A former first-round pick, Rasmus has failed to find the consistency to allow him to live up to his billing. On the one hand, he’s committed just nine errors in his eight Major League seasons, and he has hit 20+ HR four times. On the other hand, he doesn’t get on base, he strikes out a ton (more than 1 K/gm in his career), and he has batted below .240 in five of the last six seasons. What the Rays can hang their hat on is Rasmus’ four homers and .423 average in nine career postseason games. They’re just hoping he can help them get back there.
5. Melvin Upton, Jr. – Toronto Blue Jays
2016: .238/.291/.402, 20 HR, 61 RBI
The second overall pick in the 2002 draft, Upton at times has looked lost on the baseball field, failing to rediscover the swing that had eluded him for so many seasons since his breakout 2007 campaign. But in 2016, he hit .254/.304/.439 with 16 HR and 45 RBI for the San Diego Padres in his first 92 games, prompting the Blue Jays to trade for him to help them make a playoff push. Unfortunately, the player they got was the player who struggled to hit his weight in Atlanta. Over his final 57 games, Upton slashed just .196/.261/.318 with four HR and 15 RBI. Formerly one of the game’s top young stars, at age 32 Upton is struggling to stay relevant.
1. Chris Young – Boston Red Sox
2016: .276/.352/.498. 9 HR, 24 RBI
2. Joey Rickard – Baltimore Orioles*
2016: .268/.319/.377, 5 HR, 19 RBI
3. Ezequiel Carrera – Toronto Blue Jays
2016: .248/.323/.356, 6 HR, 23 RBI
4. Mallex Smith– Tampa Bay Rays
2016: .238/.316/.365, 3 HR, 22 RBI, 16 SB
5. Mason Williams – New York Yankees
2016: .296/.321/.333, 0 HR, 2 RBI
*In a position battle with Craig Gentry
That does it for the left fielders in the AL East. As always, this list is up for debate, and is just one man’s opinion, nothing more. Up next, we take a look at the center fielders within the division.