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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Friday, April 01, 2005

2005 Season Preview - The Best Outfields

Welcome to Part 2 of my season preview. Yesterday I looked at the best infields in the major leagues; today, I'll break down the best outfields. I'm getting more and more psyched for baseball season - today was a beautiful day in L.A. and I went out and threw the ball around for the first time in a long while. I can't wait for Opening Day. So here's a look at the top outfields in baseball...

1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Garret Anderson, Chone Figgins/Steve Finley, Vladimir Guerrero)
Despite the half-assed team name change, Orange County is home to the best outfield in baseball. Vlad, the reigning AL MVP, is the best all-around outfielder in the game. He's batted over .300 in each of his major league seasons, and he's good for 30 HR and 110 RBI every year, not to mention his cannon arm. He seemed right at home in Anaheim and there's no reason he won't duplicate his '04 numbers. With the acquisition of Steve Finley, Garret Anderson will move back to left field, where he's spent most of his career. Anderson has been quietly one of the most consistent hitters of the last decade, and he's batted over .300 each of the past seasons as well. Despite his age, Finley played all 162 games last season and hit a career-high 36 homers. If he does run into injury trouble, the speedy and versatile Chone Figgins - a guy who I really like watching play - is ready to move from the infield to center, where he played 54 games last year. I'm going to the Angels-Rangers Opening Day game on Monday - a battle between the best outfield and the best infield in baseball.

2. Florida Marlins (Miguel Cabrera, Juan Pierre, Paul Lo Duca/Juan Encarnacion)
Juan Pierre is, in my opinion, one of the scariest hitters for a pitcher to face. He doesn't have incredible power or anything - he had a career-high three homers last season - but he's the kind of player who can rattle a pitcher and change the course of a game with a scratch single and brilliant baserunning. He'll get on base (he led the NL in hits last season), and then he'll steal on you (he's been in the top two in the league in steals each of the last four seasons). He makes pitchers forget about the hitter, and when the hitter is someone like Miguel Cabrera, that's a problem for opposing teams. Cabrera, who will turn 22 this month, racked up 112 RBI last season and has nothing but upside. Juan Encarnacion will the be the third outfielder, and Encarnacion is a guy who's capable of 90 RBI, especially in this lineup. Two-time all-star Paul Lo Duca will mostly catch, but he's also capable of playing some outfield - he's spent at least a few games there in each of the past five seasons.

3. Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Carl Crawford, Alex Sanchez, Aubrey Huff)
Crawford is another exciting young player to watch, and perhaps the fastest man in baseball. Crawford, as a 22-year old last season, earned his first all-star selection and led the league in steals and triples. Huff will move to right field from third base, and he was the Rays' leader in average (.297), homers (29), and RBI (104) last season. He's also the Rays' all-time leader in 11 offensive categories, although that's not exactly a ticket to Cooperstown just yet. Sanchez is another speed demon who stole 52 bases two seasons ago and hit .322 last year for the Tigers. If he can fit those two facets of his game together, this trio could surprise a lot of people with their productivity.

4. Boston Red Sox (Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar/Trot Nixon)
This group was a big reason the Red Sox broke that annoying curse. It's hard to dislike Manny Ramirez because he seems to alternate between not caring about a thing at all and having fun doing everything. In spite of, or perhaps because of this attitude, he's an eight-time all-star who hit 43 homers last season and has a career slugging percentage of .599. The guy deserves his status as one of the most feared hitters in baseball. Johnny Damon does things like sign book deals that forbid him from cutting his hair until his book signing tour is done. Oh, he's also an on-base machine and scores more than Theo Epstein would at a Boston bachelorette party. Trot Nixon, despite his injuries last season, batted .315, and Kevin Millar can fill in as well when he's not playing first base/drinking Jack Daniel's in the clubhouse.

5. New York Yankees (Hideki Matsui, Bernie Williams, Gary Sheffield)
The Evil Empire, not surprisingly, is the only team to place both its infield and outfield in my top five. Sheffield, Bonds's BALCO buddy, hit 36 homers last season, no small feat for a righty in Yankee Stadium. He also drew 92 walks, and in a lineup like the Yankees', baserunners frequently turn into runs. Matsui increased his production from last year, and it's apparent he's only going to get better over the next couple years as he continues to grow accustomed to American pitching. He drove in 108 runs and scored 109 last year. Williams reclaims the center field job full-time after the Kenny Lofton experiment wasn't a success and the Yanks dumped him on the Phillies. Although Bernie's slowing down with age, he still walked 85 times last year and played 97 games in center.

Honorable Mention: San Francisco Giants (Barry Bonds, Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou)
Bonds is hurt, and reports have him being out of action from anywhere between a month and the whole season. I can't stand him, but he'll probably get his at-bats this season and make the most of them. No player in baseball changes a game like Barry Bonds. He's the baseball equivalent of Ken Jennings (if Jennings juiced). Alou is reunited with his pops after a nine-year separation. He can still produce - he was in the top 10 in the NL in runs, homers, and RBI last season. And Grissom, despite having lost a step, still led the Giants in hits last year. They're old, but they're still good. However, the Giants will go as Barry Bonds goes this season.

What about...: Chicago White Sox (Scott Podsednik, Aaron Rowand, Jermaine Dye)
Magglio Ordonez is gone. So is Carlos Lee. But the White Sox still could get plenty of production from this outfield, especially from new addition Podsednik. I wish the Phillies had gone after the Pod Racer instead of getting Lofton, who is so old he used to room with Cool Papa Bell when he was a rookie. Although his batting average fell a whopping .070 from 2003 to 2004, he might find his stroke again in the AL. Plus, once he's on base, he's a terror - 70 steals last season. Rowand is a star quickly on the rise. I bet you didn't realize his slugging percentage of .544 was seventh in the AL last season. He's 27 years old and really could be entering the prime of his career. Look for a lot of production out of him. Jermaine Dye is a wild card. He was disappointing in his stint with the A's, but he's still a former all-star who's cracked the century mark in RBI three times. He's 31, so he might be on the decline now, but he's also a guy who could reacquire his stroke on the South Side.

Disappearing Act: Cleveland Indians (__________, Coco Crisp, ____________)
Who are the Indians' outfielders? Good question. Maybe you know center fielder Coco Crisp because he sounds like a breakfast cereal. You probably don't know any of his stats, though, because they're far from inspiring. In left field, the Indians would be starting the equally uninspiring Jody Gerut...but he's hurt. Knee surgery. Out until June. In his place will be Casey Blake, who hasn't played an inning in the outfield in his 353-game major league career. In right field, the Indians would be starting Juan Gonzalez...but he's hurt. Right hamstring strain. In the case of most players, I'd say this injury won't keep him out for a while, but in Juan Gone's case, he could miss half the season. He hasn't played 100 games since 2001, when he drove in 140 runs for the Indians. Since then, he hasn't totaled 140 RBI. Maybe the return to the Jake will be good for Gonzalez; more likely, he'll be run down by injury all season and the Indians will be forced to go with Ryan Ludwick and his .239 career average in 85 games.

The Worst Outfield In Baseball: Kansas City Royals (Eli Marrero/Terrence Long, David DeJesus, Matt Stairs)
Yep, the Royals have both the worst infield and the worst outfield in the game. Stairs, at age 37, is the Royals' best outfielder, and his best years are long behind him. He did lead K.C. in walks last season...with 49. He also led them in strikeouts (92). In fairness to Marrero, he did bat .320 last season in 250 at-bats for the Braves. He's still a .250 career hitter, and he'll platoon with Terrence Long, who's probably happy to get out of PETCO Park, where he hit all of three homers - the first time in his career he hit fewer than 12. In center field is DeJesus, who as a rookie last season had the distinction of being the Royals' leader in sacrifice bunts last season. I'd guess that none of these guys would be starting on at least half the teams in baseball. Check back later this weekend to find out if the Royals win my award for worst pitching staff in baseball for the sweep!

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