The –Only League Landscape for National League outfielders was split into two parts. This is the second of the two. In Part 1, I focused on the deeper end of the pool: the expensive players, the reliable double-digit earners, and the potential values among the well-known players. In this article, I will focus on the less expensive players, the players to target in the end game, and the prospects who could make an impact this year. Part 1 had some structure to it, where Part 2 will just be a compilation of my thoughts on several NL-only outfielders from the shallow end of the pool.
Before I get started, I have a few quick notes. First, the dollar figures next to each player’s name indicate their 2015 earnings in –only leagues as calculated by my BP colleague Mike Gianella, which can be found here. Second, I’ll look at some noteworthy major leaguers to start, then finish with some minor leaguers who could make an impact in the second half of the season. Now, on to the evaluations, which will make me look dumb when we take a look at them in the fall.
The Major Leaguers
Aaron Altherr ($6)
According to Phillies manager Pete Mackanin, Aaron Altherr should have the inside track to start in right field this year. Unless that changes between now and opening day, Altherr should be on your radar as someone who can provide both power and speed. On top of that, he’s likely to come at a bargain price due to his lack of pedigree and name recognition. He didn’t make it onto BP’s 2015 Top 101 Prospects list, and he’s ineligible for most prospect lists going into this season because he got 137 AB for the Phillies last year, putting him seven AB over the threshold for retaining his rookie eligibility. Altherr also managed to avoid appearing in J.P. Breen’s top 75 tiered outfielder rankings, published in two parts earlier this week. Sort of, anyway: Altherr got a mention for his upside in the introduction to the rankings but didn’t make the actual top 75. The downside with Altherr is that he struggles to keep his average above the Mendoza line for a couple of months before being relegated to the bench or Triple-A. But that 15-15 upside is hard to resist. And PECOTA is a fan: Altherr’s 50th-percentile projection of a .232 AVG, 16 HR, 13 SB, 60 R, and 62 RBI translate into a $14 valuation according to BP’s Player Forecast Manager. Don’t bid $14 or anywhere near it for Altherr, but be comfortable going a dollar or two above your bid limit for him if you don’t like any of your other options in the middle of your auction or later.
Hector Olivera ($2)
Despite the fact that he’s probably going to be the Opening Day left fielder for Atlanta, he won’t be eligible in the outfield on auction day in most NL-only leagues. He played 21 games at 3B last year and didn’t play anywhere else. Make sure he doesn’t show up as an OF on your list on auction day if he won’t be eligible there in your league.
Domingo Santana ($2)
Acquired by the Brewers in the deal for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers last summer, Domingo Santana is slated to be the starter in left field for Milwaukee on Opening Day as a result of the trade of Khris Davis to Oakland. Or maybe right field, if the Brewers decide to move Ryan Braun. Whether Santana plays in left or right won’t matter in roto. Santana’s carrying tool is his power, which should play up in Miller Park. He’s a strikeout machine, though, having posted strikeout rates of 29 percent and 28 percent in Triple-A in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The strikeouts are legitimately worrisome since they establish Santana as an AVG risk. Despite the Ks, Santana controls the strike zone better than a lot of sluggers his age, with walk rates of 12.5 percent in 2014 in Triple-A and 14.7 percent in 2015 at the same level. With consistent playing time, power to spare, and a good approach despite a high strikeout rate, Santana could be useful if you need power and can absorb the potential hit in AVG. PECOTA projects 19 HR for Santana, but as long as he stays in the lineup, he could easily exceed that figure.
Clint Robinson ($10)
Robinson earned $10 last year according to Mike Gianella’s valuations filling in for the injured Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman by hitting 10 HR with 34 RBI and 44 R in 309 AB. He’ll be backing up the same two players this year, and they’ll be a year older and no less injury-prone. As a career backup on the wrong side of 30, Robinson isn’t a prototypical upside play, but it’s not too hard to envision him producing stats in 2016 at the same rate he did in 2015 with just as many AB, if not more. Sometimes the upside play isn’t a 22-year-old rookie or even a post-hype prospect. Sometimes the upside play is a 30-something corner-outfielder-slash-first-baseman intent on proving everyone who called him a Quad-A player wrong.
Nick Williams (has not yet played in MLB)
For the first few years of his minor-league career, Williams could only do one thing well: hit. He didn’t play the outfield well or run the bases well despite his speed, and his approach was essentially to swing at everything. His hit tool is so good that swinging at everything didn’t go too badly for him, either. In 2015, though, Williams made some huge strides at the plate, increasing his walk rate by roughly three percentage points while decreasing his strikeout rate by more than eight percentage points. According to scouts, his outfield defense and baserunning also improved in 2015. The Phillies outfield is set for Opening Day, but if Williams is mashing in Triple-A around the All -tar break, Peter Bourjos won’t keep him in the minors. Of course, you’d only want to take a flier on Williams if you have a bench spot to use for him since he won’t make it to Philadelphia until June at the earliest and might not make it to the majors at all this year.
Hunter Renfroe (has not yet played in MLB)
Renfroe doesn’t have a clear path to playing time in San Diego with their plethora of serviceable outfielders (plus Melvin Upton). He has hit 20 homers or more in each of the last two minor-league seasons, splitting time in 2015 between Double-A and Triple-A. If the Padres can find a spot for him, there’s a good chance he’ll be ready to provide some pop in the middle of their lineup. Of course, in San Diego, some of that power might end up on the warning track instead of in the seats. Consider a flier on Renfroe a bet against the health and/or performance of at least two of the following players: Matt Kemp, Jon Jay, Melvin Upton, Travis Jankowski, and Alex Dickerson.
Mallex Smith (has not yet played in MLB)
Mallex Smith could be the Billy Burns of 2016. He stole 88 bases in 2014 across Low-A and High-A and stole 57 bases in 2015 across Double-A and Triple-A. Like Burns, he’s a small guy and doesn’t have much home run power to speak of, if any. He might not be a one-category guy, though, as he posted batting averages above .300 in both 2014 and 2015 and walk rates of 12.2 percent in 2014 and 9.3 percent in 2015. The roster of the
rebuilding resetting Braves will probably be in flux all season, so if Smith is performing well in Triple-A again, they’ll find a spot for him. Like Williams and Renfroe, rostering Smith only makes sense if you can stash him on a reserve list while he’s in the minors. None of these three prospects are worth a spot in your active lineup on Opening Day.