Position players reported to camp this week, creating even more buzz and anticipation for the roster battles set to manifest, as well as the hype of Spring Training games as soon as this weekend. As we continue our Around the Horn series with the American League West, with outfielders joining their pitching and catching counterparts, it’s a perfect time to take a look at each club’s situation.
Here are the knowns and unknowns for every team’s outfield in the AL West:
The known: The return of Michael Brantley on a two-year deal helped sooth the blow of losing starting center fielder George Springer to the Blue Jays. The Astros are set on the corner outfield with Brantley returning in left and Kyle Tucker, a former top prospect who had a breakout season last year, starting in right field. Myles Straw appears to be the starter in center field with the unenviable job of trying to replace Springer, one of the most popular and accomplished players in club history.
The unknown: Is Straw up for the job? Replacing Springer leaves him with big shoes to fill, and Straw has different tools in his box. He doesn’t hit for power like Springer, but is one of the fastest players in the game and can be an elite defender and basestealer. He’ll have to find a way to get on base consistently to stay in the lineup. Beyond that, where’s the depth? Steven Souza Jr. and Jose Siri -- a pair of non-roster invitees -- will compete with rookie Chas McCormick for the fourth outfield spot. -- Brian McTaggart
The known: The A’s should have a surplus of outfielders when you factor in utility players Tony Kemp and Chad Pinder, who manager Bob Melvin and GM David Forst mentioned as candidates to get some playing time at the corner spots this season. Ramón Laureano will remain the primary starter in center field, where his cannon of an arm and improved defense earned him recognition as a Gold Glove Award finalist last year. Stephen Piscotty dealt with injuries last year, which opened the door to more playing time in right field for Pinder. However, if Piscotty can stay off the injured list he's likely to get the bulk of playing time at the spot. Mark Canha, who landed on MLB Network's list of Top 10 left fielders this offseason, will continue to see plenty of time in left.
The unknown: With Robbie Grossman gone, the A's do not have a set platoon partner for the right-handed-hitting Canha in left. The A's have a number of left-handed bats in camp, including Seth Brown, No. 8 prospect Luis Barrera and Rule 5 Draft pick Ka'ai Tom. With room for maybe just one of those three on the Opening Day roster, expect them to engage in a competition this spring to determine who emerges from camp with a big league spot. -- Martín Gallegos
The known: Superstar Mike Trout leads the outfield for the Angels and is looking to add a fourth AL MVP Award in 2021. Left fielder Justin Upton is healthy after dealing with injuries over the last two seasons and right fielder Dexter Fowler was acquired in a trade with the Cardinals. The Angels will have an open competition for the fourth outfielder role between Taylor Ward and new additions Jon Jay and Juan Lagares.
The unknown: The fourth outfielder role is up for grabs and Ward has the advantage of being on the 40-man roster. He's also catching again to increase his versatility. But he's not out of Minor League options, so he can be sent to and from the Minors this season without having to be exposed to waivers. Jay played for manager Joe Maddon with the Cubs and is considered to have a solid chance of making the roster. Lagares is a former Gold Glove winner who will also get a long look in camp. -- Rhett Bollinger
The known: Kyle Lewis is the reigning American League Rookie of the Year Award winner, and he looked outstanding on his first day of camp this week. Lewis took home the hardware after receiving all 30 first-place votes, and since debuting in September 2019, he’s slashed .264/.347/.477 with 17 homers in just 76 games. Lewis has firmly entrenched himself as the club’s everyday center fielder. In right field, Mitch Haniger will reassume his post after being sidelined for nearly a year and a half with multiple injuries and setbacks that began when a foul ball ruptured a testicle. He also looked strong on his first day of camp, roping a 97 mph fastball for a base hit on the first pitch he saw in live BP.
The unknown: Haniger’s ramp-up will be worth monitoring, just because he’s been out for so long. But the big question mark is left field -- the spot that’s earmarked for No. 1 prospect Jarred Kelenic long term. Kelenic is in big league camp for the second straight season, but it’s likely he won’t join the team until at least after the first month. Beyond service-time issues, the club would like for the 21-year-old to accumulate more Minor League at-bats, particularly given that he was a victim of last year’s Minor League season cancellation. That would leave Jake Fraley as the early favorite to land the starting left-field gig on Opening Day. -- Daniel Kramer
The known: Gold Glove Award winner Joey Gallo in right field is just about the most known for the Rangers in the outfield. He was an All-Star at the position in 2019 and is one of the best defensive outfielders in the big leagues right now. If his offensive production returns to its ‘19 form as well, Gallo will be set. Leody Taveras -- Texas’ No. 4-ranked prospect -- is the presumed starter in center field. Manager Chris Woodward said the only way Taveras wouldn’t be in center field come Opening Day is if there is a noticeable regression in his performance during Spring Training.
The unknown: Left field is where it gets tricky. The Rangers acquired David Dahl and Khris Davis in the offseason, both of whom have experience at the position. Davis could DH, but that creates a different situation with Willie Calhoun, whom the Rangers really like and wants a bounce-back season. Woodward said it’s less likely that Davis will play in the field than it is Calhoun and he’s challenged Calhoun to work on his defense and compete for a spot. Woodward said the starting spot may ultimately come down to who's batting the best at that given time, but an outfield with Gallo, Taveras and Dahl will likely be the best defensive option. -- Kennedi Landry