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Positional Power Rankings: Right Field

For an explanation of this series, please read Dave Cameron’s introduction from Monday. All the posts in the series can be found here.

One thing jumped out at me as I pored over the depth charts of the 30 Major League Baseball teams in my research for this post: right field is a position of hope.

Sure, there are going to bad right fielders, as there are bad left fielders and bad second basemen and bad catchers. But as I looked at this year’s crop, it was difficult to find any teams in an unequivocally bad spot when it comes to right fielders. Even the teams which rank towards the bottom of the list have somebody who can either hit well enough or field well enough to be worth their while. Perhaps this should be expected given right field’s spot on the positional spectrum, but regardless, most fans should get some entertainment out of the position this season.

As a note, some liberties have been taken with respect to declaring the differences in reserve right fielders and reserve left fielders. Chances are if there’s a player you expected to see here who isn’t, he will show up in this afternoon’s post on left fielders.

30. Houston Astros

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Brian Bogusevic L 500 0.233 0.304 0.348 7 1.5
Reserve Jack Cust L 200 0.235 0.357 0.415 -10 0.5

Brian Bogusevic is an interesting player. He flashed the leather with regularity in his time as an Astro in 2011 and even hit for a bit of pop. Unfortunately, although the first part should remain, we can’t legitimately expect the power to stay after he hit just 26 home runs in the minors from 2008 through 2011.

Jack Cust was a laughing stock when he first signed, and I’m not sure if this factoid will alleviate the laughter or merely add to it: at .342, Cust’s ZiPS projected wOBA is the highest on the Astros by 13 points.

29. San Diego Padres

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Will Venable   400 0.239 0.308 0.396 3 1.5
Reserve Chris Denorfia   200 0.259 0.320 0.381 5 0.5
Reserve Mark Kotsay   50 0.254 0.307 0.315 -5 -0.5
Reserve Kyle Blanks   50 0.233 0.315 0.407 0 0

Will Venable would be a very interesting player outside of San Diego. Would he have the power to make an impact elsewhere? Left-handed hitters producing above-average ISOs like Venable has done for the last three seasons at Petco Park are rather rare. Unfortunately, he is in Petco Park for half of his games, and he simply strikes out too much to make much of an impact beyond that of the average player.

Chris Denorfia makes a suitable platoon partner, but any benefit he provides will be washed away if Mark Kotsay ever sees the field. Kotsay hit a ball as far as he possibly could to Petco’s right field when the Brewers played at San Diego last year and it went off the wall for a double. He will struggle mightily in San Diego.

28. Chicago White Sox

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Alex Rios R 450 0.259 0.301 0.404 -2 1
Reserve Kosuke Fukudome L 250 0.241 0.343 0.376 -3 0.5

As great a pickup as Rios looked in 2010 (.284/.334/.457 in 617 plate appearances), he now is seen as an albatross after absolutely tanking in 2011. Projections naturally peg him as right in the middle between the fantastic and the atrocious. Rios’s ceiling pushed the White Sox above Houston and San Diego, but his floor could easily result in the worst right field in the league, although Kosuke Fukudome should be a capable (if underwhelming) option if necessary.

27. New York Mets

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Lucas Duda R 500 0.256 0.338 0.431 -11 1.5
Reserve Scott Hairston R 200 0.246 0.308 0.423 1 0.5

FanGraphs+ may be worth getting just to read Eno Sarris make The Big Lebowski puns about Duda. Duda’s on-field value is, unfortunately, a bit more suspect than the Coen’ Brothers moviemaking abilities. Although he should hit reasonably well, his glove has the potential to be embarrassingly bad, and he doesn’t have the power nor the on-base ability to hide it. Hairston should be one of the better fourth outfielders in the league, and he’ll do so under the radar once again.

26. Kansas City Royals

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Jeff Francouer R 500 0.273 0.314 0.437 2 1.5
Reserve Mitch Maier L 200 0.246 0.324 0.353 2 0
Prospect Wil Myers R 0 0.235 0.317 0.361 0 0

As easy as it has been for certain parts of the baseball-loving community to pile on Jeff Francoeur, the man has shown some ability to hit in the major leagues. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if he continues to hit for power with the Royals in 2012; continuing to get on base at an above-average clip, however, would be. Right field is not a forgiving position to those with major flaws, and if Francoeur cannot keep his batting average above .280, it’s possible he could have another disastrous year like 2008 or 2010.

Mitch Maier is pretty much just there. Wil Myers isn’t there yet, and he may not get to Kansas City at all this year, but make no mistakes: he is the future. If he can build off his AFL performance (.360/.481/.674, 106 plate appearances) in Double-A, he’ll be on a path to superstardom.

25. Seattle Mariners

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Ichiro Suzuki L 650 0.278 0.317 0.354 3 1.5
Reserve Casper Wells R 50 0.219 0.293 0.403 5 0.5

After seeing Ichiro do his thing for a whole decade, it’s going to take more than one bad season for me to write him off completely. However, it’s tough to ignore how far he fell in 2011. For the first time in his career, Ichiro hit under .300, posted an on-base percentage under .350, and failed to record a 100 wRC+. If he can just get back to those marks, he can be useful again in 2012, but 38 can be a very tough age for any athlete, even one of Ichiro’s caliber.

24. Pittsburgh Pirates

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Jose Tabata R 550 0.278 0.349 0.394 1 2.5
Reserve Nate McLouth L 150 0.243 0.340 0.391 -6 0

Tabata was limited in 2011 due to injuries, but that doesn’t change the disappointment in his play on the field. After a very solid rookie season, the 23-year-old fell back to average at the plate, which would suit him fine as a center fielder but won’t cut it in a corner. Can a healthy season return him to his solid 2010 level? The Pirates hope so, and Tabata is certainly young enough to make a resurgence.

Nate McLouth, however, is done. His return to Pittsburgh carries none of the glory his early career as a Pirate did.

23. Oakland Athletics

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Josh Reddick L 375 0.238 0.289 0.391 6 1
Reserve Seth Smith R 275 0.245 0.322 0.391 -1 1
Prospect Michael Taylor R 50 0.245 0.307 0.380 0 0

The Athletics are plenty deep in the outfield, but unless Yoenis Cespedes pans out, they are desperately lacking in star power or even league-average players. Can Josh Reddick hit at an acceptable level for a corner outfielder? Can Seth Smith hit a left-handed pitcher? These questions keep this outfield pairing down in the lower third of the league.

Michael Taylor is just another in a long line of disappointing Athletics hitting prospects. His time is running out at age 26.

22. Detroit Tigers

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Brennan Boesch L 500 0.269 0.332 0.438 -5 1.5
Reserve Don Kelly L 200 0.256 0.302 0.378 2 0.5

Boesch’s combination of injury issues and poor defense keep the Tigers from moving up this list. At the plate, Boesch excels at nothing and fails at nothing, making him a solidly average to above-average hitter. Kelly adds some solid defense as a backup but little else; where Boesch has no real weaknesses, Kelly has no real strengths.

21. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Torii Hunter R 600 0.261 0.329 0.431 -1 2.5
Reserve Bobby Abreu L 50 0.246 0.338 0.385 -5 0
Defensive Rep Ryan Langerhans L 50 0.220 0.319 0.36 5 0

Even if Torii Hunter isn’t quite what he used to be in the outfield, it’s a good sign that he will be easily their worst outfielder (defensively and overall) if the Angels end up playing Mike Trout in left field. He has enough pop left to make a solid complimentary player to the very fine core the Angels have built up.

It remains to be seen if Abreu is even around for much of the Angels’ season, but chances are if he is he’ll be spending it as a DH or on the bench. Langerhans is a very capable defensive replacement — at one point one of the best-regarded defensive center fielders in baseball — who can also take a few at-bats against right-handed pitching if necessary.

20. Colorado Rockies

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Michael Cuddyer R 550 0.288 0.348 0.489 -7 2
Reserve Tyler Colvin L 100 0.245 0.286 0.451 1 0.25
Prospect Charlie Blackmon L 50 0.272 0.318 0.407 4 0.25

The Rockies have had a deep outfield for the last few years, but after retooling this offseason they seem to have settled on a clear top three for 2012, with Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler to the left of Cuddyer. If Cuddyer can continue to make solid contact as he has the last four seasons he should be able to capitalize somewhat on the thin air in Coors, even if he’ll give some of that value back covering the somewhat large right field as a defender. Colvin also has the power to take advantage of Coors Field, but he lacks the contact to do so regularly. Blackmon probably profiles better in center field than he does in right field, but he is a very intriguing prospect who has torn up the high minors for the past two season.

19. Minnesota Twins

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Josh Willingham R 600 0.247 0.347 0.450 -5 2.5
Reserve Trevor Plouffe R 50 0.244 0.296 0.398 -3 0
Prospect Joe Benson R 50 0.227 0.308 0.378 0 0

The Twins were debating (or at least seemed to be) between Willingham and Cuddyer for much of the offseason. Obviously, I think they made the right choice. Willingham has the power the Twins desperately lack (at the very least, for the sake of their fans). He has issues staying completely healthy, and the depth in Minnesota just isn’t there — Plouffe is a middle infield bat attempting to play a corner, and that just isn’t going to work. Benson was very solid in Double-A in 2011 but needs some Triple-A seasoning before he’ll be fully ready for the show.

18. Chicago Cubs

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter David DeJesus L 500 0.268 0.339 0.418 6 2.5
Reserve Reed Johnson R 50 0.261 0.310 0.385 -1 0
Reserve Dave Sappelt R 150 0.282 0.330 0.403 1 0.5

Although DeJesus may not be the most interesting player in the world, he is exactly the type of player rarely seen in Chicago during the Jim Hendry years: solid on-base skills, good defense, and cheaply available. He won’t be the one to win a division title for the Cubs, but he can be an important trade piece or role player on the right team down the road.

Johnson has been doing his thing on the Cubs’ bench for a few years now, but at this point he provides little but some energy. The real interesting option the Cubs have off the bench is Sappelt, one of the pieces to come over in the Sean Marshall trade. The Reds had a glut of outfielders, but Sappelt should get an opportunity in one of the corners this year should either DeJesus or Alfonso Soriano go down. Can he get his solid Triple-A performances (.367 and .374 wOBAs the last two years) to translate?

17. Boston Red Sox

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter vs. RHP Ryan Sweeney L 350 0.282 0.341 0.385 2 1
Starter vs. LHP Cody Ross R 200 0.254 0.319 0.426 -1 1
Reserve Darnell McDonald R 100 0.25 0.305 0.411 2 0.5
Prospect Ryan Kalish L 150 0.257 0.318 0.402 2 0.5

The Red Sox look to have one of the few true platoon situations in right field with Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney, although that may be broken up early by the injury to Carl Crawford. Assuming Crawford’s injury is minor, though, the platoon should be solid if unimpressive — Ross has a propensity for power against left-handed pitching, and although Sweeney still probably won’t hit much against right-handed pitching, he offers solid defense in a corner. Darnell McDonald offers a secondary option against lefties with better defense than Ross, and Kalish has the potential to evolve into the full time guy down the road.

16. Baltimore Orioles

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Nick Markakis L 600 0.282 0.350 0.416 -5 2.5
Reserve Endy Chavez L 50 0.270 0.301 0.361 3 0.5
Reserve Jai Miller L 50 0.221 0.288 0.426 0 0

As disappointing as Markakis’s career has been — remember, he hit .306/.406/.491 as a 24-year-old in the American League East — he remains a solid player in his athletic prime. Can he just discover his power again? 2011 saw a HR/FB rate below 10% for the third straight season. Still, Markakis has other skills that make him a reliably above-average outfielder, such as his ability to draw walks and slap doubles.

Endy Chavez should serve as an excellent super-sub in the outfield, offering plus defense all the way around. Jai Miller was one of the more intriguing waiver claims of the offseason — Miller hasn’t hit in the majors yet, but he has three straight Triple-A seasons with a slugging percentage over .500, and Baltimore will be his first chance at making the majors in a hitters’ park (his other stops: Florida, Kansas City and Oakland).

15. Washington Nationals

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Jayson Werth R 300 0.245 0.342 0.418 2 1.5
Reserve Rick Ankiel L 100 0.231 0.293 0.386 1 0.5
Prospect Bryce Harper R 200 0.238 0.317 0.405 2 1

The Nationals are by a wide margin the toughest team to place here, as the combination of Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper makes for a wide variety of possibilities in right field in Washington. Does Werth continue to be massive disappointment? Does he rebound? Does Werth move to center field to accommodate Harper’s ascension? Does Werth give way to Harper if he continues to struggle? Does Harper even make the majors in 2012? Does he bust out in spring training? It’s hard to say.

Personally, I have little confidence in Werth returning to much more than he was last year. Nationals Park does not do the same favors Citizen’s Bank Park did, and Werth no longer appears to be an elite defender either. His contract is far too large to simply shove him aside for Harper, but Harper may complicate things with a great spring or a great start in the minors, forcing Werth over to center. Either way, it seems doubtful Harper or Werth will be good enough this year to warrant placing them in front of teams with a more concrete situation at the position.

14. San Francisco Giants

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Nate Schierholtz L 300 0.267 0.316 0.420 5 1
Prospect Brandon Belt L 350 0.268 0.365 0.452 2 2
Reserve Emmanuel Burriss S 50 0.255 0.308 0.306 0 0

This is another difficult team to place with similar uncertainty at the position, although where Washington had many questions San Francisco has but one: will Brandon Belt play? I assume that Aubrey Huff gets the lion’s share of the playing time at first base and Melky Cabrera is entrenched in left field, leaving just right field for Belt. Unfortunately, given the events of last year, it’s tough to project more than a timeshare for Belt. Schierholtz has been good enough over the last couple of years on both sides of the ball to keep the Giants relatively high on this list with their best projected hitter by ZiPS only receiving 350 plate appearances here (as I expect the Giants will eventually have their hand forced with the prospect, even if Schierholtz is the Opening Day starter). But if the Giants are serious about winning this year, they’ll go with Belt somewhere — they just don’t have the hitting to justify benching a player who has posted wOBAs over .400 at every level of the minors given the rest of the talent on the team.

13. Los Angeles Dodgers

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Andre Ethier L 600 0.275 0.355 0.447 -4 2.5
Prospect Jerry Sands R 50 0.235 0.308 0.415 0 0.5
Reserve Tony Gwynn Jr. L 50 0.258 0.319 0.350 5 0

Ethier had a power outage in 2011, but power is notoriously fickle and one down year is hardly enough to downgrade Ethier too signifcantly. He was still a successful player in 2011, albeit on the back of a .348 BABIP, but whereas some of his career high 101 singles will turn to outs this year, some will turn to extra base hits, and the result should be a similar Andre Ethier to the one we saw in 2008, 2009, and 2010 — an excellent hitter who is just lost in the outfield. Still, the bat is enough — particularly given the difficulty of hitting at Chavez Ravine, to put the Dodgers in the top half of right field groups.

Jerry Sands is probably going to play more left field than right field this year. Tony Gwynn Jr. simply struggles too hard to hit the ball out of the infield to be a successful corner outfielder.

12. Tampa Bay Rays

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Matt Joyce L 550 0.254 0.342 0.453 2 2.5
Defensive Rep Sam Fuld L 75 0.245 0.322 0.348 7 0.25
Prospect Brandon Guyer R 75 0.259 0.310 0.400 0 0.25

It looks like Matt Joyce will get the chance to play full time in the outfield this season, which means exposure to left-handed pitching. There should be little doubt that Joyce will mash righties — he’s posted 150 and 135 wRC+ marks against them in the past two seasons. The question is how he can handle the lefties, who have limited him to wRC+ marks of -30 (the minus is not a typo) and 84 over those same two seasons. We’re talking about just 129 plate appearances here, but that also signals the manager’s unwillingness to use Joyce in these situations.

If Joyce can’t perform against lefties, it could open up the door for Brandon Guyer in a platoon. Guyer hit .312/.384/.521 at Triple-A Durham last year and could make the perfect right-handed partner for Joyce. Sam Fuld also remains on hand, but largely as a defensive replacement.

11. Milwaukee Brewers

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Corey Hart R 450 0.270 0.333 0.481 -1 3
Reserve Norichika Aoki L 150 0.289 0.338 0.393 3 0.5
Reserve Caleb Gindl L 50 0.266 0.334 0.401 -4 0
Defensive Rep Logan Schafer L 50 0.262 0.318 0.357 8 0

Corey Hart has justified the three-year extension the Brewers handed him after the 2010 season by continuing to hit for solid power. It’s his only real strength, as he has merely average discipline and contact skills and struggles a bit on defense, but it’s been enough of a strength to lead him to 7.9 WAR over the past two seasons.

The Brewers reserves will be tested early as Hart underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last week and could (and likely will) miss Opening Day. Aoki comes over as one of the most heralded Japanese hitters but also carries the uncertainty that comes with it. Gindl supplies a decent minor league bat but little in the field, whereas Schafer provides the opposite — should Hart miss Opening Day, the Brewers will have to pick their poison.

10. Philadelphia Phillies

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Hunter Pence R 650 0.281 0.334 0.450 2 3.5
Reserve Juan Pierre L 50 0.279 0.331 0.329 0 0

Although it’s entirely possible that Pence takes advantage of Citizen’s Bank Park much in the same way Jayson Werth did over his time as a Philly, it’s important to acknowledge that he was never quite the player he looked in 2011 ever before. Although Pence was 28 in 2011 and players often post career years at age 28, Pence showed no tangible growth as a player, simply posting a BABIP 50 points higher than he had ever done before. His underlying skills? Much the same, as his walk, strikeout and power rates were all within 20% of his career averages.

That’s not to say that Pence isn’t a very good or perhaps even an All-Star player, but Pence was at another level last season that he cannot be realistically expected to repeat.

9. New York Yankees

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Nick Swisher S 600 0.253 0.358 0.456 2 3.5
Reserve Andruw Jones R 100 0.234 0.335 0.455 1 0.5

The Nick Swisher trade remains among the brightest feathers in Brian Cashman’s cap. Swisher’s power dipped a bit in 2011, but he still clubbed 23 home runs and posted a solid .374 on-base percentage to go with it. His combination of a good bat, great discipline, and decent glove for the right field position make him consistently one of the position’s better options. Andruw Jones as a backup gives the Yankees a solid option against left-handed pitching should Swisher need a rest, although it seems likely more of Jones’s time will go into relieving the lefty Brett Gardner.

8. Cleveland Indians

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Shin-Soo Choo L 550 0.268 0.360 0.430 3 3.5
Reserve Shelley Duncan R 75 0.228 0.309 0.398 -2 0
Defensive Rep Ezequiel Carrera L 75 0.263 0.329 0.327 5 0.5

Choo struggled through the 2011 season, but even if he never quite regains his 2009 or 2010 form, he should still be a solid asset for the Indians. He continues to possess good plate discipline and a capable glove for right field. The question is if his .380 BABIPs of the past — and “past” meaning 2006 through 2009 — are just history. If so, it will be hard for Choo to return to the clear All-Star level he had reached prior to breaking his thumb in 2011. We’ll see if it’s just injury for the 29-year-old or if the struggles are deeper. Since his decline was in the two most fickle areas of the game — batting average and power — I feel comfortable giving him the benefit of the doubt for now.

Shelley Duncan has monster power and can be a useful situational bat, but little else. Ezequiel Carrera is one of the fastest players in baseball and is more suited to center field as such, but he makes a fine defensive replacement at any of the three outfield spots.

7. St. Louis Cardinals

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Carlos Beltran S 400 0.279 0.366 0.467 -4 3
Reserve Allen Craig R 250 0.276 0.329 0.454 0 1.5
Reserve Skip Schumaker L 50 0.272 0.328 0.352 0 0

The Cardinals’ post-Pujols plan is plain and simple: make up for the missing star power with depth. At no position is that more clear than right field. Allen Craig goes down to knee surgery after the World Series? No problem, we’ll just add Carlos Beltran. Although there are injury concerns with both — Beltran for his age, and Craig is already slated to miss at least a month — what the Cardinals manage to get out of the combination should be a very productive outfielder. Beltran in particular should have a solid year in St. Louis. He may not hit for the power he displayed last season — his best since 2006 — but he still makes excellent contact and has great plate discipline, and he should be able to leverage those skills into a good season.

6. Atlanta Braves

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Jason Heyward L 550 0.255 0.360 0.427 6 3.5
Reserve Matt Diaz R 50 0.255 0.307 0.375 0 0
Reserve Jose Constanza L 50 0.263 0.310 0.322 0 0
Reserve Eric Hinske L 50 0.234 0.316 0.413 -2 0.5

I believe in Jason Heyward.

Heyward had it rough in 2011, dealing with the combination of injuries and Fredi Gonzalez. The former is gone but the latter remains; still, I find it nearly impossible to bet against one of the best prospects in major league history and a player who posted a .277/.393/.456 line at age 20. The only question is if Gonzalez will free him against lefties — if not, Matt Diaz hits them well, but the Braves’ clear course of action should be to make Heyward an everyday player and allow him to bloom into their star of the future.

5. Texas Rangers

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Nelson Cruz R 500 0.269 0.327 0.511 3 3.5
Reserve David Murphy L 100 0.269 0.328 0.422 2 0.5
Defensive Rep Craig Gentry R 50 0.247 0.309 0.334 8 0.5
Prospect Leonys Martin L 50 0.270 0.325 0.35 1 0

The Rangers have that enviable combination of talent and depth that will constantly rack up wins. It is exceptionally evident in the outfield, which includes Cruz as the stud right fielder. Although he is almost a guarantee to miss time at some point in the season, the Rangers can more than handle the responsibility of replacing him between players like David Murphy — who could probably start on at least 10 teams — and Craig Gentry, a defensive specialist who can handle the corners when Josh Hamiltion inexplicably gets placed in center field. Cruz is the centerpiece, however, and as he showed in the postseason, he possesses one of baseball’s most dangerous bats. Don’t let his gaffe on the would-be last play of the World Series fool you, either — he typically plays a fine right field, although his skills may be eroding now at age 31.

4. Cincinnati Reds

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Jay Bruce L 600 0.26 0.340 0.474 8 4
Reserve Ryan Ludwick R 100 0.253 0.322 0.43 -1 0.5

Bruce’s talent has been clear since he arrived in Cincinnati, and perhaps that is why there has been some level of frustration over the question of when his breakout year is coming. Still, it’s tough to argue with what Bruce has done so far as he is about to enter just his age 25 season — 100 home runs, a career 109 wRC+, and 11.3 WAR in 2076 plate appearances. Bruce’s last hurdle will be making more consistent contact, as he excels at everything else — discipline, power, speed, arm, and fielding.

Although Ludwick’s career has nosedived since he was traded to San Diego, it wouldn’t surprise to see a bit of a resurgence for him in a hitter’s park in Cincinnati. If he can rediscover his power stroke, he should be a valuable fourth outfielder, although he’ll probably see more time in left than in right.

3. Miami Marlins

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Giancarlo Stanton R 600 0.267 0.361 0.549 4 5.5
Reserve Scott Cousins L 50 0.234 0.287 0.372 0 0
Reserve Chris Coghlan L 50 0.264 0.335 0.392 -5 0

New name, same game for Giancarlo Stanton. More importantly, it’s a new park for the Marlins, and if this one plays for hitters or even neutral, watch out. The next step for Stanton will be to lower his strikeout rate — the more contact he makes, the more chances to see that awesome new home run sculpture in the Miami outfield. As clearly great as Stanton’s bat is, though, his work in the field tends to be underrated — he has a fantastic arm and is athletic enough to make most of the necessary plays out in right.

Chris Coghlan remains a second baseman forced to patrol the outfield, and Scott Cousins will always be most famous for the Buster Posey injury.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Justin Upton R 650 0.283 0.366 0.505 8 6
Reserve Gerardo Parra L 25 0.279 0.336 0.411 8 0.5
Reserve Cole Gillespie R 25 0.241 0.320 0.387 0 0

Although the National League MVP ended up as a two-way race between Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp, Justin Upton was right there for much of the season. Upton’s career was following a very similar path to Bruce’s, and then he managed to take that next step in 2011, getting his strikeouts down to just 18% of at-bats and using the extra contact to hit .289 and slug 31 home runs. Upton is the ultimate five-tool player and he has the skills necessary to maintain this level of play throughout the prime of his career — he doesn’t turn 25 until August.

Gerardo Parra would be a starter on a few teams, although he does struggle with left-handed pitching; he’ll spend more time in left field than in right this season. Cole Gillespie has bounced around the majors and the minors and will likely continue to do so in 2012.

1. Toronto Blue Jays

Role Player Bats PA ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Jose Bautista R 650 0.273 0.408 0.566 -4 6.5
Reserve Ben Francisco L 50 0.253 0.326 0.418 0 0.5

He’s real, and he’s fantastic.

Jose Bautista turned heads in 2010 when he hit 54 home runs, but as a 29-year-old with little history as a slugger, many expected decline in 2011. But Bautista would have none of it — he was even better in 2011, getting his BABIP back up from .233 to .309, walking an absurd 20.9% of the time and making more contact than the average hitter. Bautista has the total package and is possibly the most complete hitter in the game right now — Albert Pujols seems the only current competition for that title. There should be no question right now that Bautista will challenge for the American League MVP again in 2012.