Monday, March 3, 2008

Down on the Farm: In the Outfield

Even though we have looked at a few of the games' most promising outfield talents in recent "Down on the Farm" columns, that doesn't mean we are scraping the bottom of the barrel for this entry, as we focus on outfield position battles going on right now in Florida and Arizona.

(1) Jay Bruce-CF Cincinnati Reds: When the D-Backs Justin Upton had his 131 AB last season no longer qualifying him for prospect status, Jay Bruce became the consensus number one prospect in baseball. Bruce is battling veteran Ryan Freel and last year's surprise player Norris Hopper for the starting centerfield postion this spring. The real question for fantasy owners and Reds fans is not whether or not Bruce is the most talented of the trio, but whether or not manager Dusty Baker will entrust the job to a player who has never had a major league at bat. Though only 20 years old it doesn't seem like Bruce would need much more seasoning in the minors as between three levels last year he hit .319 (AVG)- 26 (HR)- 89 (RBI) with a .587 (SLG) in 521 AB's. Lack of experience is not the only thing holding Bruce back. Speed or lack there of is also a factor, as his two competitors could each be penciled into the leadoff spot in the lineup. Bruce on the other hand is a middle of the order hitter and that's not to say he couldn't hit at the top, just that he's never going to be a base stealer. The thing is that the Reds are looking to make a run at the Central this year and the best way to catch the Cubs and Brewers is to out hit them not out run them, and adding Bruce to their outfield is the best way to accomplish that. If Bruce makes the team out of Spring Training look for him to have an impact in a big way - .300-30-90 seem very reasonable in that lineup and in that ballpark, making Bruce a must have in all fantasy formats.

(2) Colby Rasmus-CF St. Louis Cardinals: Colby Rasmus recieved a big boost to his stock on December 14th when the Cardinals traded away incumbent centerfielder Jim Edmonds for a prospect. This opened the door for Rasmus, the Cards top prospect since they drafted him out of high school in 2005, to have first crack at the opening day centerfielder job. Now the Cards aren't going to just hand the position to Rasmus as he will have to battle fellow rookie Brian Barton for the job. Rasmus has only spent one full season at AA whereas Barton has spent two seasons there and part of one in AAA, leaving some to wonder if Rasmus would be ready for the jump to the big leagues. Last season Rasmus batted .275-29-72 with a .381 OBP, he also added 18 stolen bases in just 472 AB's. The biggest proponent of Rasmus making the team in Cardinals camp should be Albert Pujols as Rasmus gives the team a bonafide leadoff hitter who will often be on base. Hopefully the team will agree with that assessment otherwise it could be a long year in St. Louis. I think Rasmus will make the team and hit atop of that lineup, look for a .270-25-65 year with between 25-30 steals. Rasmus looks like a great late round sleeper in mixed league formats.

(3) Chase Headley-LF San Diego Padres: Left field is an open competition for the Padres this year, and Headley has the best bat of the bunch. The problem for Headley is his defense may keep him in the minors for another season, as he's making the transistion from third base to the outfield. His top competition for the job is Scott Hariston who is a very solid outfielder but shouldn't be a starter on a contending team. For the Padres to take the West this year they will need impact bats in the line up and Headley brings just that to the table. Last year in AA Headley hit .330-20-78 with an amazing .437 OPB in just 433 AB's. Headley has a great bat and has a bright future, unfortunantly I don't think we will see it just yet. My guess is Headley starts the year in AAA to learn the outfield better, and will be the Friars starting left fielder by the time May is done. In 2/3 of a season I see Headley hitting .300+ with 15 home runs and 65 RBI's. Don't jump the gun and draft Headley but if he does make the final cut or when he gets called up he can be a big asset to your team.

(4) Felix Pie-CF Chicago Cubs: This could be it, this could finally be the year that we see the real Felix Pie or at least that's what Cubs fans hope. After years of hearing him proclaimed as one of the best center fielder prospects in baseball, talk has cooled around him since his disappointing preformance last year with the Cubs when he hit .215-2-20 with 8 steals in 177 AB's. In AAA last year though Pie had one of his best seasons going .362-9-43 with 9 steals in 229 AB's. The team is hoping that it is that Felix Pie that shows up come opening day. While there is still some chance that Pie may be traded before opening day or the team will bring in another outfielder, as it stands now Pie's only competition is fellow rookie Sam Fuld. While good, Fuld doesn't have the kind of upside to be the starting center fielder for a team looking to win their first World Series in 100 years. It is important to remember that Pie is only 23 so we may still see all that potential yet. Regardless if he stays with the Cubs he will probably bat 8th in the line up limiting his RBI and run potential, even still Pie remains a top sleeper in mixed leagues and a must have in NL only. Look for a .275-15-70 year with between 20-25 steals.

Hope everyone has a great week and check back Wednesday when we will post our own Sportsjudge Mock Fantasy draft results!

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