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March 30, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Outfield

by Rob McQuown

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Xavier Paul, Los Angeles Dodgers

Last week's light-hearted introduction involved a hypothetical outfielder who was tearing it up in spring training, and an article included something like, “Friday: ... is a lock for the fourth outfielder job, and has a chance to win the left-field job outright...” Well, Wednesday last, Mike Petriello brought his expert analysis of the Xavier Paul situation to a comment response:

re: the two comments about X.Paul above, I think his chances to make the team grow greater by the day. Yes, his .318 spring OBP isn't much to look at, but he started off dreadfully before really turning it around lately.

pobothecat is right when he says the competition in LF for the Dodgers is weak, and even more so because Jay Gibbons has been absolutely horrendous - just 4 singles to his name this spring so far while fighting the flu and vision problems. Just yesterday (warning: shameless plug) I argued that Gibbons didn't deserve to make the team and that Paul should get a chance instead.

I've always been a big fan because of his very good minor league numbers (improved his OPS each year for 5 years in a row) and his strong arm. He's never made his mark in the bigs, though 55 games over 5 stints in 2 years hardly seems fair.

He's probably going to make the team if only because the injuries to Garland & Padilla are going to allow them to carry just 4 starters until they need #5 somewhere around April 12. That said, there's no guarantee that he survives past April, and it's hard to think of him as a fantasy option right now.

Well, Paul isn't in any danger of having the other shoe (from the hypothetical) drop, as in “Tuesday: Optioned to Triple-A”. For now, that's due to the fact that he doesn't have options remaining. But Jay Gibbons is still having eye problems, and will begin the season on the Disabled List. Marcus Thames and Tony Gwynn are expected to form some sort of platoon in left field, though Gwynn-as-left-fielder seems like a stretch. Paul is sort of the “middle ground”, not having the power of Thames, nor the range of Gwynn, but bringing a more rounded package than either. He's probably just the fifth outfielder now, but Thames is capable of going into very extensive slumps, and, well, Gwynn is a career .244/.323/.314 hitter who can't even blame Petco for all of it. Stranger things have happened than the sequence of events which would vault Paul into a starting role and 500 plate appearances.

Mike Morse, Washington Nationals

Not that yours truly is following Mike Petriello around, but an addendum to his commentary on Michael Morse is that with Tony Plush going to Milwaukee, he's much more secure in receiving starter's playing time. Morse is a career .291/.353/.456 hitter (.287 TAv), making him one of the harder-hitting players likely to be available later in drafts.

Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees

Curtis Granderson is a personal fave, and hit .385/.442/.795 this spring. Marc Normandin ranked him in Tier Three in his Center Fielder Rankings. His ADP was 78 in mock drafts, and he lasted until pick 112 on average in Yahoo leagues. With a rather modest PECOTA of 521 PA, 20 HR, 12 SB, a .257 batting average, and some health concerns in spring training, these seem like reasonable assessments, but don't buy it. Granderson says he feels fine, and he averaged 674 plate appearances from 2006-2009. His BABIP was .277 in 2010, lowering his career BABIP to .314. It's easy to look at a batting average progression going from .302 to .280 to .249 to .247 and conclude that he's on a downward trend, especially when the 2010 stats were bolstered by friendly hitting environs at home. Except that the scouting reports don't indicate any reason for deterioration, and the only statistics which dragged down his fantasy value in 2010 were BABIP and playing time.

Ben Francisco, Philadelphia Phillies

Leading with the conclusion, Ben Francisco is the guy to focus on as Dom Brown's replacement in the Phillies outfield. As noted, he's a league-average corner outfielder. Blowing up pitching this spring (.385/.367/.677, with some hot games recently) won't hurt his playing time outlook any, and resident Phllies' fantasy expert Bill Baer confirms that he's likely to get most of the starts. With so much bad news for the Phillies this spring, at least all their outfield “extras” are hitting, as John Mayberry went .288/.347/.591, almost certainly earning a spot, and Ross Gload hit .333/.355/.467. But, barring an ice-cold April, expect Francisco to be the most fantasy-relevant by far.

Peter Bourjos, Los Angeles Angels

Peter Bourjos deserves a follow-up to the previous commentary, as he's not only hit .385 this spring, but has drawn 10 walks against just 52 at-bats. Further, the Angels didn't add any of the rumored bats, and appear happy to begin the year with him in center field. He has the speed to push 50 steals if he can maintain a walk rate high enough to get his on-base percentage near the .350 mark. He'll always be only a two-category player (steals and runs), but should be fast enough to keep his batting average from being much of a liability.

Julio Borbon, Texas Rangers

On February 17, manager Ron Washington pronounced Julio Borbon as the team's starting center fielder, with David Murphy the fourth outfielder (that's "an integral part of our club" in coach-speak). Five errors, a sore elbow, and a personal leave later, the situation had changed so much that General Manager Jon Daniels was reaffirming that if Borbon is healthy, he won't be demoted to Triple-A. Batting hasn't been a problem this spring, as Borbon has hit .339, but owners with late drafts might not want to count on him for 30 steals and a .280-plus batting average, given the warning flags so far. The errors may not hurt the team more than any other defensive plays not made, but as far as determining playing time, they usually count many times as much, and Borbon earns his playing time with his glove.

Rob McQuown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Rob's other articles. You can contact Rob by clicking here

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