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Blue Jays Outfield: Depth Chart Discussions

Posted By Mike Petriello On March 22, 2013 @ 8:15 am In Depth Chart Discussions | 5 Comments

Starter
Back-up
LF
 Rajai Davis
CF
RF

Not a whole lot of doubt as to who we’ll be seeing in the Toronto outfield, is there? Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, & Jose Bautista are the pretty obvious starting trio — with one potentially intriguing twist that we’ll get to in a second.

But while there’s not a lot of uncertainty about who will be starting, there’s more than a few questions about what the Jays will get out of them. Take Cabrera, for example. Should you trust the .322/.360/.489 line (along with 29 homers and 33 steals) over the last two seasons, or be scared away by the PED bust that cut his 2012 short? The last two years have been the only two of his seven as a starter that have been even league-average offensively, so it’s tempting to take the easy way out and say that it’s simply due to drug usage.

Maybe that’s true; we simply don’t know enough about the effects of PEDs to know. But what we can say with almost absolute certainty is that Cabrera is not very likely to repeat a .387 BABIP again, and assuming that takes down his batting average to more realistic levels, it does put a ceiling on his value. After all, even with his great play the last two seasons, he’s been less than an elite-level player, never topping 18 homers or 20 steals in a season. There’s value, of course, in a player who can contribute in all categories, but he’s not exactly Ryan Braun out there, either.

If his BABIP comes down and he has a season that represents his career averages, that’s .284/.338/.414 with 11 homers and 14 steals.  That’s fine, and probably undersells him a little, so even if we give him something like 16 homers & steals apiece, it makes him a second or third outfielder in fantasy. What really works in your favor here is that you know he’ll play every day in what should be a good lineup, and some fantasy players will be scared off entirely by the suspension. That potentially makes him a good buy-low value, but have proper expectations on what you’re buying.

In center, Rasmus’ first full season in Canada was mostly a disappointment, as he hit only .223/.289/.400, pushing him even further away from the promise of his breakout 2010 season. Of the 23 center fielders who qualified, only Cameron Maybin & Drew Stubbs had a lower wOBA than Rasmus’ .297, and they at least added defensive value. Rasmus strikes out too much and doesn’t walk, plus he’s stolen only nine bases over the last two seasons. That all limits his fantasy value considerably, though he did at least tie a career-high with 23 homers last season.

Rasmus is still only 26, so it seems too soon to give up on him, but it’s difficult to see a lot to like here. He swings at far too many pitches outside the zone so even when he’s not striking out, he’s not getting a lot of solid contact either, which partially explains his awful BABIP. In four seasons in the bigs, he’s been a below average offensive player in three of them, which really makes the good 2010 seem like the outlier. With the power, he’s worth a gamble in AL-only leagues, but until he shows any kind of improvement otherwise he’s probably not someone to be taking up a roster spot in mixed leagues.

That brings us to right field and Bautista, who was having a productive season that wasn’t quite up to par to his previous two before a wrist injury essentially ended his year in July. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with 27 homers and a .527 SLG% in 399 plate appearances, of course, and to say that he was having a lesser year speaks more to the outright greatness of his 2010 & ’11 seasons than anything being wrong with his 2012. Still, it was something of an odd year for the slugger, who didn’t get his batting average above the Mendoza line for good until mid-May and saw his walk rate, power, and BABIP all drop from 2011.

Part of the issue was just a slow start to the year, because after hitting .223/.332/.447 with 12 homers through the first two months, he destroyed the world in June, crushing 14 homers in the month alone with a .271 /408/.750 line. (Despite, interestingly enough, a .179 BABIP, though that of course does not count all the balls that left the yard.) Unfortunately for Bautista, the injury ended his season soon after — followed later by surgery — and that’s a big concern, because wrist injuries have been known to impact power. It remains to be seen how he bounces back from that, though he does have three spring homers, which is a decent enough start.

Bautista may have one other factor in his favor, which is the “intriguing twist” I noted earlier. After years as a multipositional player, he was strictly an outfielder in 2012, losing his eligibility at other spots. Yet with third baseman Brett Lawrie out for several weeks with a rib cage injury, the Blue Jays are at least considering using Bautista at the hot corner to start the season. If so, that increases his value considerably, since third base is so shallow after the few stars that are available.

Behind them, Rajai Davis is the only pure outfielder who is likely guaranteed a job. Davis is valuable if for no other reason than that he’s a quality base stealer, having swiped 171 bags over the last four seasons. Davis saw considerable time in the corners last year once both Eric Thames & Travis Snider were moved and Bautista was hurt, but he’s likely to be coming off the bench  in 2013. He’ll still get his stolen bases, and that makes him valuable in most leagues, though less playing time could hinder him. On the other hand, each of the three starters ahead of him have some kind of question mark, so Davis should get his 30 steals once again.

Emilio Bonifacio will also be on the roster, but it remains to be seen if he’ll beat out Maicer Izturis for the starting job at second base, or return to his usual utility role. Either way, he’ll be eligible for both spots, and he’ll be somewhat similar to Davis — he’ll give you a ton of steals and some help in scoring runs, and not a ton else. Since he can play so many positions, his path to playing time is more clear than it is for Davis, so if only for the steals alone and the versatility he’s worth a roster spot.

Behind them, it’s not completely clear who will round out the Toronto bench. Prospect Anthony Gose made 49 starts across all three outfield spots last year, but proved to be overmatched (.280 wOBA), though he did steal 15 bags. Yet another speedy Blue Jays outfielder, he’s likely to return to Triple-A and could spend most of the year there unless Rasmus flops so badly that the Jays can’t justify keeping him in the lineup. Moises Sierra showed a bit of pop in the minors but didn’t make an impression in 157 plate appearances with the big club, so he’s likely to join Gose in the minors and off your radar. Mark DeRosa is also in the picture, but he hasn’t even been league-average since 2009, and merits absolutely no fantasy consideration.


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