Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

Ozuna leads Top 10 left fielders into 2018

MLB.com @mike_petriello

MLB Network's "Top 10 Right Now" series ranks Major League Baseball's top players at each position headed into 2018, with two episodes airing each Saturday night from Jan. 13 through Feb. 10. MLB.com's Mike Petriello participated in the show, and as each position is aired, we'll share his list, along with the reasoning behind it. Rankings were compiled with a combination of subjective and analytical data, and no, batting average and RBIs never matter.

Position overview: Left field gets more and more difficult to evaluate, because there simply aren't as many everyday left fielders these days. Last year, right field and center field each had 20 players who received 400 plate appearances, but left field had just 12. There's a pretty clear "big three" here, and you could go in pretty much any direction after that.

MLB Network's "Top 10 Right Now" series ranks Major League Baseball's top players at each position headed into 2018, with two episodes airing each Saturday night from Jan. 13 through Feb. 10. MLB.com's Mike Petriello participated in the show, and as each position is aired, we'll share his list, along with the reasoning behind it. Rankings were compiled with a combination of subjective and analytical data, and no, batting average and RBIs never matter.

Position overview: Left field gets more and more difficult to evaluate, because there simply aren't as many everyday left fielders these days. Last year, right field and center field each had 20 players who received 400 plate appearances, but left field had just 12. There's a pretty clear "big three" here, and you could go in pretty much any direction after that.

Eligibility notes: Players are eligible at only one position, and several players who saw time at left field in 2017 were considered in other spots for these rankings. They include center fielders Michael Conforto and Tommy Pham, and right fielder David Peralta.

Before we get to my list, here is The Shredder's list -- the official ranking of Top 10 Right Now -- for comparison.

1. Marcell Ozuna
2. Yoenis Cespedes
3. Justin Upton
4. Ryan Braun
5. Trey Mancini
6. Khris Davis
7. Adam Eaton
8. Andrew Benintendi
9. Marwin Gonzalez
10. Brett Gardner

Petriello's list

1. Marcell Ozuna, Cardinals
Ozuna had a breakout 2017, hitting 37 homers with a stellar slash line of .312/.376/.548 (142 wRC+), but in some sense, that's only true if you weren't paying attention to him in previous years. While he might not put up the full-season line that he did in '17, Ozuna's skills had been obvious for years -- he was one of the first players who stood out to us when Statcast™ started back in '15.

Over the past three seasons, Ozuna has shown elite exit velocity (91 mph, 12th-best of all hitters with 1,000 plate appearances), and he's a strong defender, too. The year you just saw was the one we've been waiting on for some time, and he's only 27 years old. Due to the upside here, he's our No. 1 left fielder.

Video: Zinkie: Expect Ozuna to maintain solid production

2. Justin Upton, Angels
Upton has played 10 full seasons, and he's been an above-average hitter in all of them. That doesn't always mean he's been a star -- 2016's line of .246/.310/.465 (104 wRC+) only barely counted -- but there's value in never being bad.

Upton has had 600 plate appearances for seven consecutive years, and he's hit at least 26 homers for five consecutive years. It helps that 2017 was one of his best years (.273/.361/.540, 137 wRC+, 35 homers), that he's still only 30 and that he's a perfectly competent defender, but this ranking is mostly because you know he'll be there, and you know he'll be good.

3. Yoenis Cespedes, Mets
Take everything we said about Upton and turn it upside down for Cespedes. At his best, Cespedes is better than Upton on both sides of the ball, but the problem is that he's rarely been "at his best" lately. He's missed considerable time due to injury in each of the past two years, getting into only 81 games in 2017, and the regular lower-body injuries have turned his once-excellent defense into a weakness, as he ranked near the bottom of the Outs Above Average leaderboard at minus-9 last year.

That said, Cespedes' bat remains elite, and consistently so:

2015: .291/.328/.542 (135 wRC+)
2016: .280/.354/.530 (135 wRC+)
2017: .292/.352/.540 (131 wRC+)

With good health, Cespedes is still a star. It's the "staying healthy" part that's the trick.

Video: Statcast™ of the Day: Cespedes belts three home runs

4. Brett Gardner, Yankees
Gardner isn't the power bat that the three names ahead of him are, but he's still a valuable all-around player, just as he's been for a decade -- and he even added more power in 2017, hitting a career-high 21 homers, in part due to elevating the ball to his pull side. Though he's 34, his defense remains strong in a difficult Yankee Stadium left field, and he's got nine different seasons with double-digit steals. This won't last forever, but we're willing to bet on it for 2018.

5. Rhys Hoskins, Phillies
Hoskins is probably the most difficult player to rank here, because there's just so much uncertainty about how his first full season will play out. His power isn't exactly out of nowhere, because he hit 38 homers in Double-A in 2016, but no one expects him to slug .618 over a full season, either. The advanced Statcast™ quality-of-contact metric expected wOBA suggests that he was both fantastic (.399 was elite, tied with Giancarlo Stanton) and somewhat fortunate (his actual wOBA was .424).

Hoskins will probably take a step back, but by how much? Will he be able to handle the outfield regularly, which he'll need to do now that Carlos Santana has arrived to take first base? There are so many ways this could go.

Video: MIA@PHI: Statcast™ measures Hoskins' 445-foot home run

6. Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox
Benintendi's first full season was perfectly good, as he became one of just three players this century (along with Mike Trout and Chris Young) to put up a 20-homer, 20-steal season as a rookie. So why did it feel somewhat disappointing? It's probably due to the hype, as he was everyone's consensus American League Rookie of the Year Award pick headed into the year, only to find himself drowned out by the incomparable Aaron Judge. Overall, Benintendi's slash line of .271/.352/.424 (103 wRC+) was more good than great, but he's still not even 24 years old until July. There's a lot more in here.

7. Adam Duvall, Reds
Duvall is extremely what he is, which is a powerful bat (33 and 31 homers the past two years with a .498 and .480 slugging percentage, respectively) who has his overall value limited by below-average on-base skills. (His OBP was .297 and .301 the past two seasons, respectively.) That said, Duvall is a better defender than he's often given credit for. He was tied for 11th in Outs Above Average with plus-9, and that metric only considers range, not throwing arm -- and Duvall led all outfielders with 15 assists. Power is his calling card, but it's not his only tool.

Video: PIT@CIN: Duvall's perfect throw gets Bell out at home

8. Khris Davis, A's
Speaking of high-power bats, Davis is among the truly elite power hitters in the game, as 85 homers over the past two seasons ought to make clear. (He's also got the third-best hard-hit percentage from 2016-17, behind only Judge and Joey Gallo.) He's not just an empty power bat, because over the past three seasons, he's hit .247/.322/.521 (124 wRC+), one of the 30 best marks in the game, similar to Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado.

Due to his extremely weak arm, Davis has never provided a great deal of defensive value, and he'll likely be a DH in 2018, now that Stephen Piscotty has joined Oakland's outfield, but for now, we'll consider him a left fielder.

9. Kyle Schwarber, Cubs
Expectations were unrealistic for Schwarber coming off his 2016 World Series heroics, and a '17 that included a demotion to Triple-A wasn't what anyone had in mind. Still, when he came back to the Cubs in July, he looked a lot more like the player we expected, which is great power (.255/.338/.565, 131 wRC+), a high strikeout rate (33.3 percent) and below-average defense (minus-8 OAA for the season).

Schwarber still isn't 25 until March, and his defense isn't likely to get much better. But if he can slug like that for an entire season, he'll look a lot more like the star we expected.

Video: CHC@TB: Statcast™ measures Schwarber's 114.3-mph homer

10. Adam Eaton, Nationals
Eaton would rank higher on this list if not for the fact that he's a speed-and-defense player coming off a serious left-knee injury, one that cost him most of 2017. At his best, he's good for a strong .360 OBP and about a dozen steals and homers, which makes him a valuable player.

If Eaton is back to full speed, then No. 10 is too low. This ranking reflects the fact that two of his past five seasons have been mostly lost to injury (he missed much of 2013 due to elbow surgery, as well as some time off in '14 for thigh and oblique issues).

Just missed (in no order): Marwin Gonzalez, Astros; Nomar Mazara, Rangers; Ryan Braun, Brewers; Joc Pederson, Dodgers; Aaron Altherr, Phillies; Eddie Rosario, Twins; Trey Mancini, Orioles

On 2017 performance alone, Gonzalez (.303/.377/.530, 144 wRC+) deserves a Top 10 spot, but it was so out of character with his previous five seasons (.257/.298/.389, 90 wRC+), and the Statcast™ quality-of-contact metrics show that almost no other hitter outperformed their expected outcomes more, so we'll hedge our bets for now. Altherr and Pederson might have gained more consideration if their paths to playing time were clearer.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

Andrew Benintendi, Yoenis Cespedes, Khris Davis, Adam Duvall, Adam Eaton, Brett Gardner, Rhys Hoskins, Marcell Ozuna, Kyle Schwarber, Justin Upton