I've decided to combine LF and RF since corner outfielders, especially left-fielders aren't a central part of an organization's development plan. Every so often you'll draft a big bat, as the Diamondbacks did with Justin Upton, or sign a big international free agent, as the Cubs did with Jorge Soler. But a lot of corner OF'ers were drafted or signed at other positions, such as the Rays top prospect Wil Meyers, who was drafted as a catcher.
The Cubs are no exception and they only have one prospect who stands out as a corner outfield prospect in Soler, so we'll have to be creative here and project other possible corner outfielders when we get to the prospects section.
Offensive outlook (Bill James projections)
- Alfonso Soriano: .245/.304/.462 with 27 HRs, .217 ISO, .325 wOBA
- Nate Shierholtz: .267/.321/.425 with 7 HRs, .158 ISO, .320 wOBA
As it stands now, Dave Sappelt may platoon with either Nate Shierholtz in RF or, less likely, David DeJesus in CF. There is no Bill James projection for Sappelt for 2013. As for the outfielders above, it's interesting to note that James predicts a significant regression for Alfonso Soriano. It looks more like his 2011 year than 2012, one in which Soriano was just a 1.4 WAR player, which is a below average starter. Perhaps teams have similar projections which has made it difficult to deal Soriano for anything of real value. It's hard to measure how much Soriano's rebound had to do with the switch to a lighter bat. The numbers certainly seemed to take off after the switch, but other factors may have played a part as well. Meanwhile, on the other corner, Shierholtz is behind Soriano in terms of power, but other factors, such as OBP, make him a lot closer than we expect in terms of wOBA, which is a number that attempts to measure a player's all-around offensive value. Once a top prospect in the Giants system, Shierholtz may benefit greatly from a change of scenery and a more hitter friendly ballpark.
Soriano has improved immensely in LF and we can consider him at least an average defender. UZR/150 has always been kind to Soriano and last year was no exception. A large part of that in the past has been due to his strong, accurate throwing arm which has helped him average over 10 assists per season as a Cub, including 12 last year. Last season,however, Soriano also showed steadier play and improved range. He made 54 more plays within his zone than he did in 2011. He also made 66 plays outside of his zone (OOZ). It represented a career high and gave further testimony to his work with Dave McKay. Overall, his UZR/150 last year was 12.3, well above average and his best rating since 2008.
On the other corner, Nate Shierholtz is an athletic player with a very good arm. He posted a UZR/150 of 1.8, which is slightly above average. His career UZR/150 is also a solid 9.2. Dave Sappelt has good speed but surprised me a little with his good defense in his short stint. The word on Sappelt was always that he had the speed, but didn't always get great jumps or run good routes, particularly in CF. The report has been that he was better in the corners and Sappelt's UZR/150 numbers were off the charts in RF, though some of that is due to small sample size. However, it is the second consecutive year Sappelt put up big defensive rating numbers at a corner OF position. In 2011 he rated well above average in LF.
The Cubs will get some power numbers from Soriano if he's still here but the overall production in the corner's will likely be a weakness with the 2013 team, at least as far as offense is concerned. Defense is another matter and the Cubs have a chance to perhaps save a few runs with their glove work/throwing arms. Between the 3 OF'ers, the Cubs should have above average defense on the corners in 2013.
Theo Epstein has been open to trading Soriano with the Cubs picking up all but $10M of the salary owed to him over the next 2 years. The Phillies are looking for a RH bat to fill the power void in the middle of their lineup and have shown some mild interest. Jim Bowden reported yesterday on his radio show that there is an offer on the table between the Phillies and the Cubs involving Soriano, but if I had to guess, it's the Cubs with the offer on the table and the Phillies exploring other options for now. If past rumors are correct, the player the Cubs are looking for in return is Domonic Brown.
It appears that the Cubs are set to go with a Nate Shierholtz/Dave Sappelt platoon in RF unless the team acquires a full-time CF'er and moves DeJesus back to RF. The thought here is that the Cubs would like to keep their outfield defense strong, so the preference would be to pick up a CF who would be an upgrade while keeping both corners strong defensively. I expect that with the team looking to rely on a suddenly deep pitching staff, they're going to give them all the support they can to a) give the pitchers (and thus the team) the best possible chance of succeeding and b) increasing the market value of those pitchers because better defense behind them should lead to better results-oriented statistics such as ERA.
As far as current depth, the Cubs have speed merchant Tony Campana on the 40 man roster and that gives him the inside track for that 5th spot. Campana is a threat on the bases and a weapon off the bench late in games, but doesn't offer enough defense or OBP skills to warrant much playing time. He'll be challenged this spring by Bryan Bogusevic, a LH hitter with decent speed, a little more pop, and better OBP skills than Campana. Despite standing 6-3, 220 lbs, Bogusevic is also surprisingly good in CF. He's more suited, however, for the corners.
Most MLB Ready: Junior Lake. Yes, I know he's been an infielder his whole life, but his speed, arm, and overall athleticism may translate best to the OF. In fact, I think Lake can be a plus defender out there with his natural skills. The question is whether he can carry the kind of offensive load you expect from your corner outfielders. As far as current corner OF'ers, recent minor league free agent acquisition Johermyn Chavez is interesting, but still frustratingly raw. He has good power and plate discipline and is a plus defender with a strong arm. His challenge is to make enough contact to make any of it matter. He's had two consecutive seasons in AA and will either return there or make the jump to Iowa.
Top Prospect: Jorge Soler. Nobody else is particularly close. The Cuban born rightfielder is a good athlete with tremendous power potential, rivaling Dan Vogelbach for the best raw power in the system, as demonstrated by a mammoth HR at Kane County last year that went deep into the woods behind the stadium. He has better strike zone awareness than you would think and extremely fast hands through the zone. The Cubs felt he needed some adjustments to his swing so he returned the instructional league where it appeared to me that coaches were working on getting him to use his lower half better. He'll start in Daytona if he makes enough progress this offseason.
Others to watch: We have to dig deep here. This is a mish-mosh of position change candidates, 4th OFer types, raw but injury prone talents, and teenagers who are far, far away from the majors.
Brett Jackson may end up getting pushed to LF if Albert Almora is the real deal. Jackson struggled with making contact but he has enough power to play a corner. He may not have the ideal hit tool, but he can make up for it with walks to supplement his OBP. He also should have more speed and defensive skills than many left-fielders.
Josh Vitters has also seen some time in the OF corners and could get bumped out there in time. His greatest value is at 3B, but he'll have to show he can at least be an average defender if he wants to stick there.
Rubi Silva and John Andreoli are both 4th outfielder types with different skill sets. Silva is the better athlete. He has good speed which gives him good range at all 3 OF positions to go with a strong throwing arm. He's hacktastic at the plate, however, and although he has good natural hitting ability, his lack of discipline may undermine that at the upper levels. Andreoli stole 54 bases but he's more of an average runner with great instincts and range that is better suited for the corners. He hasn't shown much power thus far but he has good size and excellent strike zone discipline (15.1% walk rate, .402 OBP). Perhaps that combo will translate to more power down the road.
Reggie Golden was the Cubs top corner OF prospect a year ago but injuries have curtailed his development significantly. Golden was pretty raw to begin with and badly needed to get as much playing time as possible. If he can't put together a strong, healthy season, his future is very much in doubt. When healthy, he's a power hitting Ron Gant/Kevin Mitchell type with plus raw power, above average speed, a good throwing arm, and emerging plate discipline.
I really liked Taiwan Easterling when I saw him in batting practice as the ball seemed to jump off his bat. Game time was a different story, however, as he struggled with breaking pitches. Like Golden, he's a good athlete who needs lots of polish, but an injury cut into much needed development time.
If Jeimer Candelario can't handle 3B, then 1B or LF may be his only options. I'm not sure he is going to have the speed/athleticism you like in the OF, but if he hits as the Cubs hope, they'll need to find a place for him.
Trevor Gretzky finished strong and wound up hitting .300 but he'll need to gain strength and tap into his power potential before he becomes a factor in LF or 1B.
If you dig deep into the Cubs system, you'll find a couple of intriguing bats down in the DSL. Ricardo Marcano is already a LF'er and he's a hitter whom some have compared to Victor Martinez. He shows an advanced approach and a knack for hitting, but struggled some as a 17 year old. Teammate Luis Acosta spent most of his time at SS but no way he sticks there. The next step in the progression for him is 3B but I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up in LF. Acosta showed some power and plate discipline, but overall the 17 year old was overmatched in his first year at the DSL.
Others: Greg Rohan, Oliver Zapata, Yasiel Balaguert, Bijan Rademacher, Garrett Schlecht
Filed under: position by position analysis