Lose Josh Hamilton from your outfield and the narrative will always be about overcoming obstacles. The real story here might just be how good the pieces around Hamilton always were, and how the Rangers’ outfield will continue to provide under-rated players that can fit on almost any fantasy team.
Nelson Cruz will be back in right field, and the reason he’s denigrated is obvious. Last year was the first time in his career that Cruz managed 600 plate appearances in a calendar year. He’s also going on 33, so it would be folly to chalk him up for a repeat in that category. His speed has whittled down to a handful per year (17 over the last two years), and his contact rate — never good — has lead to a strikeout rate which in turn has kept his batting average around .260 recently. But there’s something to knowing what you’ve got, and 2726 PAs into his career, we know that Cruz can do: 500+ PAs with 25ish home runs and five-plus stolen bases, along with that passable batting average. Give him a caddy, and he’s a useful fantasy player.
The left fielder needs a caddy, too. We already looked at David Murphy, and what would happen if he played full time, so we won’t get into that too heavily except to say: If you roster David Murphy, you should consider having another outfielder on your bench that could be starting-caliber. Because on days where Murphy is playing a left-hander, his team might play him more this year, but you shouldn’t have to.
That leaves center field, which might be one of the most interesting position time battles in baseball this spring. Leonys Martin is the upstart youngster that might win the job, and sussing out his future is difficult. Looking at the numbers — which is difficult, because he’s never managed even 275 PAs at any one level — you see some promise, but also some question marks. Yes, he had an isolated slugging percentage over .200 in both Double-A (.223) and Triple-A in 2012 (.251). But why did he show no power (.091 ISO) in his first go-around in Triple-A (2011)? And how much should we penalize him for showing that power in the Pacific Coast League and the Texas League, which both help power (to different extents)? And if he’s supposedly so speedy, why has he only been successful on 62% of his stolen base attempts?
I got the beginnings of an answer from Steve Carter at Project Prospect:
@enosarris I have. He’s a ball of energy. You should see him pregame. It carries over into his game. Strong & quick, but no great tool/skill
@enosarris He didn’t run when I saw, so can’t say to situations/jumps/etc. Plane is real flat, so don’t expect big pwr #’s. AAA fueled some
The safe way to go about drafting Martin is probably to keep your eyes open to these flaws. Dream on upside, but draft on reality: No projection has him beating a .286 average, 13 home runs, or 19 stolen bases. If he hits all three, he’ll be useful, but not worth a high pick. You might also hear that he’s in a platoon, but that’s less about Martin’s work (.803 OPS vs MiLB lefties versus .932 vs righties) and more about the fact that we should be cautious about him in general, and also aware of Craig Gentry‘s good work against lefties (career 104 wRC+ against them).
Julio Borbon is your backup’s backup, a speed-only lefty that’s only interesting if the Rangers decide Martin needs more time in the minors. Mitch Moreland might see some time in the outfield, depending on the health of Nelson Cruz. Mike Olt could see more time in the outfield, too — perhaps against lefties in a platoon with Murphy, which limits his usefulness.
But those guys shouldn’t be the story. Instead, this outfield should produce three fantasy-relevant outfielders that might not cost much. And that wouldn’t be that far outside of their recent norm, even if a certain star is missing.