In this seventh installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we will move from the infield to the outfield. Left field has long been known as a place to stash the slugger, but that is changing. With defense and speed changing the way the game is played, let’s see if it has spilled over into the top five left fielders.
5. Khris Davis- Oakland Athletics
Khris Davis was a force in 2016. After putting up solid power numbers in Milwaukee, Davis was shipped to Oakland in 2015 and was able to tap into his power even more. He slashed .247, .307, .524 in his first season in Oakland. While his average and OBP are nothing to write home about, his .524 slugging percentage, as well as his 42 homers and 102 RBI’s certainly warrant some credence. With a newfound power stroke at the plate, Davis is the big bat the Athletics have been searching for. Although Davis has been a monster at the plate, he was a behemoth in the outfield.
Davis performed below league average on defense in 2016, putting up -1 defensive runs saved. While he was only slightly below average in the field, his bat certainly made up for it in 2016. Davis is only 28 years old and entering the prime of his career. While his defense may not improve, his bat certainly seems here to stay. If Davis can survive another season in Oakland without being traded, he will be relied upon to produce again in 2017.
4. Justin Upton- Detroit Tigers
Tigers fans were ecstatic when Justin Upton moved to Detroit last season. Upton was an established run producer and he was slotted into a deep Tigers lineup. As the season progressed, Upton’s offense stagnated. He was able to turn around an otherwise poor season with a torrid finish in 2016, putting up a slash line of .246, .310, and .465. He also hit 31 homers and drove in 87 RBI’s. Upton fits the traditional mold of a left fielder: a big slugger who will hit tanks and drive in runs. He has also proven to provide more than just power.
Upton posted 1 defensive run saved while playing 146 games in left field for the Detroit Tigers last year. That is solid, but not spectacular glove work. He was also able to swipe nine bags in 2016, a good amount for a slugger like Upton. Upton has always been known as a streaky hitter, but he has always been consistent in one category: putting up above average offensive seasons. That won’t change in 2017 as the Tigers look to regain the AL Central crown.
3. Ryan Braun- Milwaukee Brewers
Ryan Braun has been a star player in Milwaukee for almost the entirety of his time there, but his PED use has but a black mark on an otherwise stellar career. He has admitted to PED use in his NL MVP season in 2011, but has since passed all drug tests from Major League Baseball. Braun is assumed to be clean of any PEDs, and is putting up good numbers for the Brewers. He batted .305, .365, .538 in 2016 and slugged 30 homers to go along with 91 RBI’s. Braun also stole 16 bases, proving to be one of the top speed/power players in the majors.
Braun was also able to utilize his speed in the outfield. His six defensive runs saved in 2016 were second best of his career, proving him to be a more than capable fielder. Braun is the total package in left field. His power and speed make him a premier offensive player, and his defense lifts his overall game to a whole other level. If Braun can put up more clean seasons like he did in 2016, he will certainly climb this list. Until then, he remains one of the best left fielders, just not the best.
2. Starling Marte- Pittsburgh Pirates
Ever since Starling Marte was called up by Pittsburgh in 2012, he has been a spark plug for the Pirates’ lineup. He is one of the new breed of left fielders becoming more prominent in the majors, utilizing his speed and defense to become a game changer. Marte stole 47 bases in only 129 games played in 2016, proving to be an elite base stealer. He also was able to make a huge impact in the field. He also provided elite defense 19 defensive runs save. His offensive game, while trailing his base running and defense, is still better than advertised.
Marte was able to hit .311, .362, and .456 last year, all three being career highs. While his nine homers and 46 RBI’s won’t blow anyone away, it is still solid production for a limited season. Marte will always be known for his glove and base running, but don’t sleep on his bat. If he can put up a full season in 2017, look for Marte to accumulate some monster numbers.
1. Yoenis Cespedes- New York Mets
Yoenis Cespedes was shipped from Detroit to New York at the trade deadline in 2015, and has been an offensive juggernaut for the Mets ever since. He was so good in his first full season with the Mets that he finished eighth in the NL MVP voting. Cespedes achieved this by batting .280, .354, and .530 as well as hitting 31 bombs and driving in 86 RBI’s. He has been the run producer the Mets have sorely needed since the departure of Daniel Murphy and the decline of David Wright. Cespedes has also flashed the leather and his arm during his tenure in New York.
Cespedes had four defensive runs saved while playing left field in 2016. He was helped in large part by the cannon attached to his right shoulder. Video of Cespedes firing the ball to home plate will be played for years to come. His arm strength is already legendary. Cespedes combines stellar offensive production with strong defensive skills to claim the top spot in the left field rankings. He is poised to maintain his perch with 2017 providing another chance for Cespedes to dominate.
Left field is slowly changing. No longer can you have a plodding slugger in the outfield. Players with strong defense and good speed are taking over left, and seem here to stay.
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