In 2009, Cincinnati’s outfielders featured lackluster lumber. George Foster, Cesar Geronimo and Ken Griffey Sr. they were not. Collectively, Reds fly catchers posted a .318 wOBA, second-worst in the N.L. Considering that the Padres (.317 wOBA) play in a park that’s anathema to offense, it’s safe to say that Cincy’s outfielders were the least potent in the Senior Circuit.
However, better days are on the horizon. The Reds have a plethora of intriguing outfield options, some already in the majors and others just around the corner in the minors. Here’s a rundown of who may be guarding the gaps at the GAP in 2010 and beyond.
In the majors
The Boss entered 2009 with plenty of fantasy hoopla, but his final .223/.303/.470 triple-slash looks disappointing. Or does it? At age 22, Bruce walked more, struck out less and hit for a near-.250 ISO. The potent lefty batter swung at fewer pitches out of the zone, took at cut at more in-zone offerings and made more contact. In other words, Bruce matured at the dish.
His BABIP was shockingly low, at .222. Yes, his line drive rate (13 percent) was also down considerably. But even so, Bruce’s Expected BABIP, based on HR, strikeouts, SB, line drive rate, fly balls, pop ups and ground balls, was .294. Bruce turns 23 in April. With his wrist healed, he’s poised to wreak havoc on pitchers in 2010. The fans seem well aware of Bruce’s talents, projecting a .271/.343/.497 line for Cincy’s right fielder.
The 8th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Stubbs made a favorable first impression in Cincinnati following his call-up last August. The University of Texas alumnus turned in a .267/.323/.439 line in 196 plate appearances (101 wRC+), swiping 10 bags in 14 attempts. Stubbs displayed a surprising amount of pop in the majors, with 8 HR and a .172 ISO.
A 6-4, 200 pound righty batter, Stubbs has long been adored by scouts for his range in center field. His TotalZone defensive numbers are glowing, too. Stubbs’ bat, however, has been subject to much debate.
While displaying a keen eye at the plate, Stubbs had issues making contact with the Long Horns. Those swing-and-miss tendencies have manifested in pro ball, with the gifted defender whiffing in 23.4% of his PA in the minors. His big frame hasn’t translated to a lot extra-base thump (career .132 ISO).
However, Stubbs continues to work the count well (11.9 BB%), and his base stealing has gone from haphazard (23 SB, 15 CS in Low-A in 2007) to fantastic (46 SB, 8 CS in AAA in 2009). As a plus CF with plate discipline and quick feet, the 25 year-old looks like a quality starter for the Reds. His base thievery makes him relevant in fantasy circles.
Dickerson’s 2009 season was cut short by shoulder and ankle injuries. In between the ailments, the 28 year-old performed up to expectations: he worked the count (13.3 BB%), punched out often (25.9 K%) and nabbed some bases (11 SB, 3 CS). Dickerson didn’t put a charge in the ball in the lower minors, but his work at AAA (.180 ISO) and with the Reds in 2008 gave some hope that the 6-3, 225 pound batter had found his power stroke. Alas, a near-fifty percent GB rate in 2009 produced a .098 ISO.
Dickerson straddles the line between highly useful 4th outfielder and acceptable starter (Chris helps himself with quality outfield D). Given his issues with lefty pitching in the minors (career .223/.328/.319 line), he figures to take on righties in a platoon role in 2010. If you’re in a deep NL-only league, you could do worse.
Balentien was Curacao’s version of Jeff Francoeur in the low minors, swinging at anything within a five mile radius of home plate. However, the big righty batter cleaned up his plate approach in AAA (10.5 BB%, 18.8 K%, .283/.359/.534 line).
Unfortunately, Balentien has been carved up in the majors. In 559 career PA, Wlad has a weak .221/.281/.374 line, with a 72 wRC+. He has been merely below-average against fastballs and changeups. But breaking stuff has baffled him entirely (-3.12 runs/100 against sliders, -1.5 vs. curveballs). As a result, Balentien’s 70% MLB contact rate is miles away from the 80-81% average.
You might think Wlad would be a decent platoon mate for Dickerson, but Balentien has a reverse platoon split. At 25, Balentien is entering a critical point in his career. He needs to tighten his strike zone and avoid looking like Pedro Cerrano against stuff that bends and breaks.
Outrighted by the Reds during the fall, Laynce was recently brought back to Cincy on a minor league deal. The 30 year-old lefty hitter is coming off of a season in which he popped 15 HR and posted a .236 ISO.
Once you factor in Nix’s hack-tastic approach (6.6 BB%) and favorable home ballpark, though, his offense was eight percent below the league average (92 wRC+; his career mark is a paltry 74). As a good defender who occasionally makes some loud contact against righties, Nix is a decent extra outfielder. But he’s not a fantasy option. If you’re stuck playing a guy with a career .277 OBP, you’re screwed.
What happens when a batting average-dependent player, with zero power or patience, doesn’t have those bloops and ducksnorts fall in? Ask Taveras. The 28 year-old was merely very bad at the plate in 2008 (74 wRC+). But in 2009, horror ensued.
Taveras’ bat was 51 percent worse than the league average (49 wRC+) as he battled a quad strain. Sure, he stole some bases (25 SB, 6 CS). But Taveras is the exact type of player that fantasy players should avoid. He gives production in one category, at the expense of severely hampering you in many others. Stubbs has Taveras’ speed and actually has a clue in the batter’s box. Willy figures to be either glued to the bench or in another city come spring.
A 17th round pick out of Division III Messiah (PA), Heisey vaulted up Cincinnati’s prospect list with an impressive 2009 season.
A career .298/.369/.460 hitter in the minors, Heisey possesses a broad, if short of star-caliber skill-set. He hits for some power (.162 ISO career, and a .214 ISO at AA in 2009), but he’s not a hulking over-the-fence threat. The right batter picks his SB spots well (career 84.3 SB%), though he wouldn’t be described as a burner. Heisey gets positive reviews for his outfield defense, but he’s likely a corner outfielder in the majors. The well-rounded prospect could be more selective at the dish: his career walk rate is a little over eight percent.
Baseball America said it best in its 2010 Reds Top 10 Prospects list: “Heisey could be termed a ‘cheap five-tool player.'” The 25 year-old isn’t far away from making his big league debut. He’s no star, but Heisey and his blend of talents could figure into Cincy’s left field picture.
At this point, few doubt that the former Rutgers star is going to pack a punch with his bat. The question is, where will his name be penciled in on the diamond? A 6-3, 215 pound righty hitter, Frazier has trekked all over the field.
He’s not going to stick at shortstop. The Reds had him pinballing from left field to first base to second base in 2009, with a couple appearances at the hot corner for good measure. Brandon Phillips, a plus defender at 2B who’s signed for two more years (with a club option for 2012), doesn’t figure to be moving. Scott Rolen is Reds property through 2012 following his restructured deal with the club.
As such, LF appears to be the place where Frazier (a career .296/.367/.491 minor league hitter) breaks into the majors. “Arm bar” or not, his bat figures to be potent.
The 6-2 lefty hitter made his major league debut last season, and has played almost exclusively at 3B in the minors. However, Francisco is tipping the scales at 210+ pounds already. His long-term viability at the position is in question. The 22 year-old has ample pop (.201 minor league ISO), but he has to do a better job of laying off junk balls. He has taken a free pass in just 3.8% of his PA, with a 23.4% K rate. Francisco would be best served spending a full season in AAA, lest big league pitchers take advantage of his eyes-to-ankles strike zone.
A first-round pick in the 2008 draft out of Miami, Alonso has a sweet lefty swing and has batted .293/.378/.459 on the farm. His ’09 season was slowed by a broken hamate bone, but Alonso still reached AA. While Yonder is not far away, there’s a sizeable road block at first base in Joey Votto. Sadly, the 6-2, 215 pound Alonso runs like tree sap in winter. Baseball America said “Cincinnati has toyed with playing him at third base, but his limited range would be a liability.” Perhaps the Reds will put him in left field, stomaching his defensive mishaps in exchange for his quality lumber.