Where Do We Go From Here? Outfield

Where Do We Go From Here? Outfield

The Incumbents

The incumbents should be familiar; they are the same incumbents as last season – Matt KempEnder Inciarte, and Nick Markakis.

In his 3 seasons as the Braves right fielder Nick Markakis has hit 24 home runs in 2040 plate appearances.  This seems like a potential area for improvement.

Markakis turns 34 on the 17th of November, and although he has not posted fWAR above 1.5 while in Atlanta, at least he has managed not to decline too much, so far. The 2017 offensive numbers include a .275/.354/.384 slash line, and 1/3 of his career Braves home run total.

Matt Kemp dropped from 35 home runs in 2016 to 19 in an injury plagued 2017. Kemp turned 33 in September, and his age and injury history makes a complete bounce back less than likely.  He posted a .275/.318/.463 and a calculated fWAR of -0.5 in 2017.

Ender Inciarte turned in a .304/.350/.409 slash line, and nabbed his 2nd consecutive Gold Glove in center field on his way to posting a 3.0 fWAR in 2017.  Inciarte turned 27 in October, and is in the prime of his career.

Others

Lane Adams got his first significant MLB playing time in 2017, at age 27.  After 3519 nondescript minor league plate appearances, Adams posted a .275/.339/.468 slash line in 122 plate appearances in Atlanta.  He stole 10 bases and played all 3 outfield positions.  His background suggests that his career may not be long, but at his peak he seems to be an adequate 4th outfielder.  The Braves would do well to acquire some more upside guys in their primes.

Danny Santana posted a 3.2 fWAR for the Twins during his rookie season in 2014; he hasn’t posted a positive fWAR since.  Santana also played all 3 outfield positions, as well as some 2nd base, and has MLB experience at SS and 3rd base.

Santana just turned 27, and someone may want to take a gamble that he can regain his rookie magic.  Even if he did, his offensive skill set is redundant on a Braves team with Inciarte and Ozzie Albies, and his career high 7 home runs would not be what the Braves need from a corner outfielder or 3rd baseman.  He could battle for a bench spot.

Prospects

Ronald Acuna rocketed through 3 levels of minor league ball in 2017, recording a .325/.374/.552 slash line across 612 A+, AA, and AAA plate appearances, with the A ball numbers actually dragging him down.  I trend toward the cautious side with prospects, but it’s hard not to get excited about Acuna, who looks like he could be a legit .290 MLB hitter right now, at age 20.  Acuna hit 18(edit) 21 home runs in his 632 plate appearances, which indicates initially he may be more of a mega-Markakis, although it is reasonable to expect him to grow into even more power.

Defensively, Acuna has the ability to play center field, although that is not where the Braves’ current need is.  His bat should be sufficient to play a corner position if wanted.  Acuna is the Braves top prospect according to MLB.com, and the #5 prospect in all of baseball.  MLB.com 2017 Top Prospects

Cristian Pache is the Braves 11th ranked prospect. MLB.com 2017 Atlanta Top Prospects  Another center fielder, Pache spent 2017 as an 18 year old at low A Rome.  He can reach our destination, but he’s still a ways away.

Dustin Peterson is the Braves 15th ranked prospect, and spent 2017 as a 22 year old in AAA.  My hope was that Peterson would improve on the 12 home runs he hit in 524 at bats in 2016 at AA Mississippi.  Instead, Peterson broke a hamate bone at the beginning of the season and managed only 1 home run in 314 at bats in 2017.  Presumably, Peterson will repeat AAA in 2018, and is probably at least 2 years away from demonstrating the kind of power desirable in a corner outfielder, if he ever does.

Free Agents

http://www.spotrac.com/mlb/free-agents/outfield/

The top names are J.D. Martinez and Jay Bruce, relatively young at age 30, and coming off 45 and 36 home run seasons respectively. Apparently Martinez is attempting to parlay 232 at bats in Arizona into $200 million.  Another tier includes Carlos Gomez, Lorenzo Cain, and Carlos Gonzalez.  Familiar, aged, zero upside names include Jose Bautista, Jayson Werth, and Curtis Granderson.

With Acuna on the way, it seems unlikely to me that the Braves sign a big ticket free agent outfielder unless they can dump both Kemp and Markakis.

Trades

If the Marlins want to trade Christian Yelich or Marcell Ozuna, we should stop whatever it is we are doing and help them accomplish that.  http://www.sportingnews.com/mlb/news/mlb-trade-rumors-athletics-christian-yelich-marcell-ozuna-marlins/167opfm6nb1g51jt59nkp34sk1

The Braves will undoubtedly try to continue to trade Kemp and/or Markakis. Ryan C. collected some possibilities for Kemp here.  https://walkoffwalk.net/2017/11/08/matt-kemp-trade-proposals/

Options

The Braves could stand pat.  Although it is widely expected Acuna will force their hand, he could have a rough spring training, or the Braves could decide to jerk him around.  (You know spring training doesn’t mean anything, and I know spring training doesn’t mean anything, but someone forgot to tell the people running the 30 clubs who make decisions based upon it every year that it doesn’t mean anything.)

More likely, Acuna joins the outfield at some point, in which case options include to trade or otherwise cut one of Kemp or Markakis, or use Kemp and Markakis in some kind of platoon.  Another possibility would be to trade Inciarte, who would actually fetch a return, and hand center field to Acuna.  I would favor that option only if it solved another immediate need.  Players in their prime are who we should be acquiring.

If we get greedy, we could also hold out hope to sign a free agent or make a trade, and be shed of both Kemp and Markakis.

I’m tired of zero upside placeholders.  Get it done, yet to be determined front office leader.



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