2010 Sleepers, Comebacks and Busts: Outfield

One thing we know for sure:There are plenty of outfielders to go around. That means that there should be plenty of value later in the draft as well as plenty of busts all the way through. Which players are set to breakout? Who will comeback? Who will disappoint? Let’s take a look…

The Sleepers

Jay Bruce – Yes, he had a miserable AVG last season. Bruce fared poorly against both right and left-handed pitching, but ended with an extremely low .222 BABIP. Part of that can be explained by a very low 13% line drive rate, then again he did crush 22 home runs in only 345 at bats. Home runs do not count toward BABIP because they land over the fence and not “in play”. His AB/HR rate of 15.7 was among the best in the league and would translate to 35 home runs over 550 at bats. He’ll continue to get better in his pitch selection and contact rate as he gains more big league experience. This guy is a future star, there is no doubt about it.

Alex Rios – Sure Rios hit only .247 last season, but he also hit 17 home runs with 24 stolen bases. He’ll start this year off fresh with his new team in a great home ballpark for hitters. Given the knock last season took on his perceived value, Rios should be well worth a mid round pick given his 20/20 potential.
Carlos Gonzalez – The hype from last season’s surge may have ruined Car-Go’s true “sleeper” status, but his 20/20 potential is still worth a mid-round pick. Before being traded around like Milton Bradley, Car-Go was one of the top prospects in baseball. While his skills have never been in question, his dedication to the game worried scouts at times. Hopefully last season was an indication that being a big leaguer and playing for a team that really wanted him has changed his attitude for the better.

Julio BorbonIn a combined 142 games between AAA and the majors, Borbon swiped 44 bags in 55 attempts, good for an 80-percent success rate. His good plate discipline skills should lead to an OBP around .350 and while his ground ball/line drive approach to hitting won’t result in much power, it should help his AVG stay above .275 with potential for much more. Hitting at the top of the Texas lineup gives him potential for 90-plus runs as well.

Rajai Davis – Last season Davis stole 41 bases in only 125 games and 432 plate appearances. As the starting left fielder for the A’s in 2010, that total could easily push 50 or more. Be aware, however, that his .305 AVG from last season was aided by a .361 BABIP. Davis also lacks the plate discipline and contact skills to maintain such a high AVG year-after-year.

Colby Rasmus – As what happens with most non-Ryan Braun/Evan Longoria rookies, Rasmus struggled in his first big league season hitting only .251/.307/.407. There were a lot of parts of Rasmus’s game that failed to show up in 2009; like only three steals in four attempts. The season before at AAA he stole 15 bags in 18 attempts in only 387 plate appearances. Power was another part of his game that showed flashes, but never truly materialized. Rasmus hit as many as 29 homers in a minor league season. His plate discipline was yet another trait that did not transfer to the big leagues. Improving in that category, as well as improving against left-handed pitching should show in his 2010 numbers. Rasmus is too talented to not make the adjustment.

Nolan Reimold – Reimold is set to make his spring debut after off season ankle surgery. We’ll have to wait and see how his Ankle reacts to game activity, but if he is 100 percent he has the potential for 25-plus home runs over a full season. Another issue is Felix Pie, who may split time with Reimold to start the season. That platoon may not last long if Remiold gets off to a good start. His power potential isworth a late round flier.

Dexter Fowler – in 135 Major League games last season, Fowler stole 27 bases. His AVG was an up-and-down struggle, but he did improve his plate discipline as the season went along. The experience he gained last season should carry over and allow him to hit for a better AVG while stealing 30-plus bases in 2010.

Juan Pierre – After a couple years of being buried by the Dodgers, Pierre will be an everyday outfielder and leadoff hitter once again. His elite contact skills and still very good speed should help keep his AVG above .280 and allow him to approach40-plus stolen bases once again.

Kyle Blanks – Big Bad Blanks came through the Padres system as a first baseman, but he’s not getting much playing time there until Adrian Gonzalez leaves town. At 6’6″ and 280-plus pounds, Blanks is a massive figure that has surprising athleticism. A foot injury shortened his Major League debut, but his power was certainlyon display before he went down. Blanks hit 10 home runs in 148 at-bats, good for astar level 14.8 at bats per home run. While that rate may regress some over more at-bats, 20-25 home runs should be attainable with potential for more.

Drew Stubbs – Stubbs made an immediate impact last season once called up from the minors. In 180 at-bats he hiteight home runs and stole ten bases. Last season in the minor leagues Stubbs stole 46 bases. That’s a combined 56 steals in 149 games. In the past Stubbs was projected to become a bit time power/speed threat, but the power numbers have dwindled in the minors as Stubbs tried to cut down on his strikeouts. The strikeouts could very well be an issue at the Major League level, keeping his AVG down, but he could easily hit 15 home runs at the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark to go along with 40-50 stolen bases.

Matt LaPorta/Michael Brantley- Matt LaPorta is among the best power prospects in the game. He hit a combined 24 home runs in 519 at-batsbetween triple-A and the majors last season. He is scheduled to get into his first spring training game in the next few days. The major question with LaPorta is where he’ll play. The signing of Russell Branyan to play first base moves LaPorta back to left field, though he should also see games at first against left-handed pitchers. The other end of that equation is Michael Brantley. Brantley stole 46 bases in 116 games at triple-A last season and four more during his 28 game Major League call up. Playing time between the two will work itself out this spring. If LaPorta is healthy, he’ll likely get the job. Stay tuned.

Jason Heyward – Example number one on how there really aren’t many “sleepers” anymore. Heyward has about as much natural ability as any player in baseball…at any level. His work ethic only adds to the many reasons to love his future. He could very well break camp as the starting right fielder for the Braves. With a full season of at-bats he could approach 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases. There is, however, reason to think he might not hit for a high AVG as a rookie. Feel free to grab Heyward later in the draft, but don’t reach too far just based on hype (lesson learned with Matt Wieters).

Lastings Milledge – Everyone’s breakout favorite from last season (not mine) seems like a forgotten man entering the 2010 draft. His 2009 season started out poorly and he was sent to the minors after only 24 at-bats. A hand injury sapped much of his power last season, but he still stole 18 basesthrough all levels combined. Out of the spotlight in Pittsburgh and surrounded by other young talented players like Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez (soon enough), Milledge should provide good value late in the draft with 15-plus home runs and 20-plus stolen bases.

Brent Gardner -While Gardner has to win the center field job once again this spring, he brings exceptional speed and defense to the game, whichare skills that Randy Winn continues to lose each passing year as he ages into his mid-30′s. Gardner stole 26 bases in only 284 plate appearances last season. He has good plate discipline and very good contact skills, which, combined with his great speed, could turn into a Juan Pierre type seasongiven the at-bats.

The Comebacks

Grady Sizemore – See: Grady Hitting Like a Lady

Carlos Quentin – See: A Healthy Carlos Quentin

The Busts

Alfonso Soriano – For two seasons in a row Soriano has yet to top 500 at bats. In every season he has been with the Cubs he has missed time due to a leg injury. He ended 2009 needing knee surgery. Say goodbye to those nice stolen base totals. Soriano is also 34 years old, which in non-steroid terms means a decline is coming or already here. For Soriano it may be a combination of both. Always a free swinging/low contact hitter, there were visible signs of his slowing bat speed last season as he was consistently beat inside by fastballs.

Carlos Beltran – Beltran will miss most, if not all, of April after off season knee surgery. That has dropped his draft position a little, but is it enough to pull the trigger on draft day? Even before 2010, Beltran’s power production had declined for two seasons in a row. Now, the knee worries may also affect his speed, which is a key part of his value. Don’t be fooled by his .325 AVG in 2009 either. That was a product of a .352 BABIP, the highest BABIP of his career. Unless he falls past round 10 or so, I’ll be passing on Beltran and his bum knee.

Johnny Damon – Damon was one of the many players that took full advantage of the jet-stream to right in the new Yankee Stadium. His 24 home runs were the most he had hit since he hit 24 back in 2006. It also marked his best AB/HR rate since, well, ever. We can definitely expect a strong regression in power production asComerica Park is well-known for favoring pitchers. Then we have to consider Damon’s age and declining speed. He will be 36-years-old this season and hasn’t played in over 143 games since 2006. His 12 steals in 2009 were his lowest since his 188 at bat debut in 1995. In short, he is a player likely to decline and decline fast without the help of Yankee Stadium’s right field porch.