The Yasiel Puig movement is starting in Los Angeles. Carlos Beltran is hurt in St. Louis and the temptation is to turn to Oscar Taveras. And Wil Myers was the biggest prospect traded this offseason, and he’s on a team that could use a corner outfielder. What to do with these young outfielders in redraft leagues?
First, let’s set the baseline for value. Chris Liss is buying guys like Oscar Taveras and Jurickson Profar in leagues like AL-LABR, but the threshold for replacement level value there is much lower than a mixed league. In our mixed league rankings, the above-replacement level outfielder with the fewest plate appearances was Jose Bautista, who managed to be worth $2 as the 62nd-ranked outfielder at the end of the season, with only 332 at-bats. He did so by hitting 27 home runs and stealing five bases, not necessarily because of his .241 batting average.
Wil Myers probably makes the best segue here. He’s already in minor league camp, and the consensus is that he won’t be up until the super-two ‘deadline’ in mid-June. Because of rising whiff rates as he made his way through the minors, he’s not projected to have a good batting average. He does have prodigious power, though, and 20+ home runs in 400 plate appearances might not be such a stretch. Well, it would be a stretch, but not out of the realm of the possible. But if you’re in a twelve-team mixer, and he hits .250, the bar is sort of clear, and no projections have him hitting more than 20 home runs if he really does only get 400 or so plate appearances. In a five-outfielder league we might be able push the replacement level down further and get Justin Maxwell, the 86th-ranked outfielder, into the conversation. He only had 315 at-bats and hit 18 home runs with 9 stolen bases and a .229 batting average. Wil Myers: can make the top 100… outfielders.
It’s right there around the 70s when the worm turns in favor of these outfielders. From 70 to 90, the average at-bat level drops to around 400 and you have a chance that your young outfielder can come in and give you that sort of production. After all, in my bold predictions I had Oscar Taveras outproducing Myers because of superior contact rates and a bold mix of injury to the two 30-year-old outfielders in front of him. If Chris Denorfia can end up just short of the top 75 outfielders with a .293 batting average and eight home runs and 13 stolen bases in 348 at-bats, Taveras has a shot of bettering those numbers. And it probably doesn’t require too much of a pie-in-the-sky mentality. That’s a half-season of work cobbled out from behind two veteran corner outfielders that could go down at any time.
But, no matter how you feel about the 22-year-old Myers or the 20-year-old Taveras, you’d have to mash those rose-colored glasses hard into your eyeballs to wishcast the newest hot young thing — 22-year-old Yasiel Puig — into that many plate appearances, wouldn’t you? After all, he’s never seen a plate appearance in Double-A. This, on a team build to win now. If only he could play third base.
There might actually be a sliver of opportunity for Puig that doesn’t have him playing a position he has no hope of acquitting competently. Even with Carl Crawford looking like he’ll make the opening day roster, and Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier healthy too, there’s room for a specific need on the team: right-handed hitting outfielder. Andre Ethier has fairly established platoon splits, and recently even Carl Crawford‘s platoon split (83 wRC+ vs LHP, 113 v RHP) has looked worse than usual. This team could use a righty to spell one of the corner outfielders.
Before the injury to Hanley Ramirez, that role might have gone to Jerry Hairston, Jr, who could add infield versatility to his right-handed-ness. But now Hairston might be needed more often at third base. So Alex Castellanos might be a natural fit. He and Elian Herrera have gotten about the same amount of playing time, and while Herrera is hitting for a better average this spring, Castellanos has four home runs. That might not be a big deal if it didn’t also correctly describe their relative upsides. Power, patience and a little bit of speed pepper Castellanos’ minor league history, and maybe this can save the ‘bat without a home’ problem that has plagued him so far.
The fact that the Dodgers have given Castellanos so many spring plate appearances does mean something. But if you look at the Dodgers’ spring stats, you might notice another familiar name atop the entire team. Heck, it’s the same name that tops the leaderboards for all of spring training. So that’s why everyone is excited about Yasiel Puig — he’s hitting over .500, and even if he’s not walking, he’s not striking out a ton, and that’s important to his high-contact high-power upside. If Yasiel Puig skips Double-A to take over the righty part of an outfield platoon from day one, you might want to look all the way up to the 72nd-ranked outfielder — Scott Hairston. The Chin hit 20 home runs, stole eight bases, and hit for a .263 average in 377 at-bats that he mostly accrued by mashing against lefties in New York.
Once you sort through the relative upsides and opportunities for these three young outfielders, it’s hard to pencil them in for top-50 outfielder status in redraft leagues. Of course, we know that young men do magical things — we just watched Mike Trout and Bryce Harper push their way onto their respective teams, and they played for playoff contenders with other options at their positions. If any of these three makes the same push as last year’s dynamic duo, all bets are off. Taveras and Myers, at least, are fully formed prospects with the benefit of more training that Trout and Harper had, and if they get a little lucky, they could zoom up the boards.
That’s the overall point, though. They’ll have to get a little lucky. Make sure you draft them in a bench or utility slot to minimize your risk.