Here's a breakdown of the NL East outfields
ATLANTA -- As the Nationals were marching toward their first World Series title last year, they were strengthened by their outfielders, who produced a Major League-best 29 Outs Above Average per Statcast.
How impressive is that? Well, the Astros ranked second with 14 OAA. The only other National League East teams to produce a positive OAA from their outfielders were the Mets (7) and Phillies (2).
With Victor Robles, who was credited with an MLB-best 23 OAA, set to once again be flanked by Juan Soto and Adam Eaton the Nationals have a chance to again possess the game’s top defensive outfield.
But with a healthy Andrew McCutchen aiming to spend a full season playing alongside fellow former NL MVP Bryce Harper in Philadelphia and Marcell Ozuna joining potential future MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. in Atlanta, the Nationals will not necessarily even have the best overall outfield in the NL East.
In fact, if the Mets were to get a repeat season from J.D. Davis and a rebound season from Brandon Nimmo, they actually could claim division supremacy in this category. Even with Nimmo playing just 69 games last year, New York’s outfield ranked fourth in the NL with 11 fWAR (FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement). The Nationals (10.1), Phillies (9.9) and Braves (9.3) ranked sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively. The Dodgers led the league with a 17.7 mark.
Here’s a look at the outfield picture for each NL East team:
Division’s best: Braves
If three-time Gold Glove Award winner Ender Inciarte can stay healthy, the Braves’ outfield will be significantly improved with the addition of Ozuna, who was brought on board to compensate for the power lost when Josh Donaldson signed with the Twins. Ozuna tallied a career-high 37 homers when he was last in the NL East with the Marlins in 2017. He declined during his two seasons in St. Louis, but he still stood as one of just 19 NL outfielders to produce a 5.0 fWAR or higher within this recent span.
Acuña finished three stolen bases shy of a 40-40 season and ranked fourth among NL outfielders with a 5.6 fWAR. He’ll move to right field this year and possibly see some time in center when the Braves opt to sit Inciarte against a left-hander. Ozuna’s arrival reduced the projected roles of former All-Stars Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall, who could both become key bench pieces. The Braves could have an even better outfield over the next few years, when they could be utilizing Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, who both rank among MLB Pipeline’s Top 10 outfield prospects.
The most significant question surrounding the Mets’ outfield is what, if anything, Yoenis Céspedes will be able to provide. Céspedes has not played since July 2018; he has since undergone multiple heel surgeries and sustained a fractured left ankle. If he makes the Mets’ Opening Day roster, it could be as a bench player.
Beyond Céspedes, the Mets are looking at a starting outfield of Davis, Nimmo and Michael Conforto from left to right, with defensive-minded Jake Marisnick starting from time to time in center. Dominic Smith is also likely to make the team as a fifth outfielder, though he’ll be used mostly as a left-handed bat off the bench. Camp invitees Ryan Cordell and Jarrett Parker will find it difficult to crack the roster given all the names above them, and the Mets’ best outfield prospects are all still teenagers.
Perhaps the biggest offseason addition for the Marlins was the signing of Corey Dickerson to a two-year, $17.5 million contract. The left-handed-hitting left fielder was an All-Star with the Rays in 2017, and he spent last season with the Pirates and Phillies. Dickerson projects to hit in the middle of the lineup and also provide veteran leadership to a young outfield group. He's also the only true answer for one of the three outfield spots heading into Spring Training.
Brian Anderson could play right field or third base, if Jonathan Villar isn't playing there. Like Dickerson, Anderson is a middle-of-the-order option for manager Don Mattingly. Garrett Cooper is a candidate to be in right as well. Center field is up for grabs. Lewis Brinson, who has underperformed in his first two seasons in Miami, has to win the job. If he doesn't, then there will be a scramble. Monte Harrison, the Marlins' No. 5 prospect, could be a sleeper to win the Opening Day spot. Jon Berti, ideally suited to be a utility option, is a candidate for center, as is Harold Ramirez, who is better suited for either corner. Villar could play somewhere in the outfield, perhaps even center. And Jesús Sánchez, the No. 3 prospect in the organization, is knocking on the door.
Outside of the starting rotation, the outfield is as close to a sure thing as the Nationals have for 2020. Eaton is coming off a solid second half (.848 OPS) and World Series following two injury-riddled years. Robles is already showing Gold Glove Award-caliber defense with the hope things come together at the plate. As for Soto, he simply continues to be Soto.
Michael A. Taylor -- who had big hits in the postseason after spending most of the year in the Minors -- is in line to be the fourth outfielder. But the Nationals also have the cheaper Andrew Stevenson as a candidate for the fourth-outfield/26th-roster spot, meaning Taylor's future with the club could hang in the balance. The recently signed Eric Thames can also play the outfield in a pinch.
The Phils are optimistic about their outfield for a couple of reasons. First, they have Harper in right. He put up solid numbers in his inaugural season with the Phillies. Everybody seems to think a more comfortable Harper can put up even bigger numbers in 2020. Second, Philadelphia believes McCutchen is healthy and ready to go following ACL surgery in June. He was one of the best leadoff hitters in the Majors until the injury. The Phillies’ leadoff spot and offense never recovered. If McCutchen returns to form, he will provide a steady presence atop the lineup. There is uncertainty in center field. The Phils outrighted veteran Odúbel Herrera to Triple-A on Jan. 16. Adam Haseley is projected to get the majority of the playing time in center. He showed flashes of his potential in September, both offensively and defensively. But he has not played an entire season. It will be a test.
Jay Bruce can man either corner-outfield spot. He is a lock to make the team. Roman Quinn seems like an ideal bench player because of his defense and speed. Nick Martini and Nick Williams are on the 40-man roster. They could compete for bench jobs. Matt Szczur and Mikie Mahtook are in camp as non-roster invitees.