With Bobby Abreu, Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Jim Edmonds, Garret Anderson, Ken Griffey Jr, and Andruw Jones all potentially available to any team, there are few Left Fielders who are not necessarily safe in their jobs.
2009 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Position Battles and Draft Rankings
1- Matt Diaz and Brandon Jones, Atlanta Braves
2- Endy Chavez and Wladimir Balentien, Seattle Mariners
3- Gary Matthews and Juan Rivera, Los Angeles Angels
4- David Murphy Vs. Marlon Byrd and Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers
5- Carl Crawford and Pat Burrell, Tampa Bay Rays
#1 2009 Position Battles Left Fielders, 2009 Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Atlanta Braves, Matt Diaz and Brandon Jones
Matt Diaz can bat, and have bat, will travel. Or so they SAY he can bat, even though his 2008 numbers would seem to say he can’t. Brandon Jones can just flat out play. Diaz gets hurt a lot, though, and he is one more extensive injury away from his ticket out of Atlanta. Whether this will mean that The Braves will stick with Jones, or look elsewhere, is not certain, since the Braves have a history of bringing in free agent outfielders for a year or two. Not to mention that their farm system is chalked full of outfielders waiting for their chance to make it to The Show. The idea of bringing back Andruw Jones to Atlanta would get a lot of fan support.
In 2008 Diaz had a disappointing 135 AB’s, hit only .244 and 2 home runs. If he gets hurt again and does not put in a whole season, then it becomes Brandon Jones’s job to lose for at least a day or two. Brandon Jones put in a slightly better, although disappointing considering his potential, 2008 with a .267 BA in 116 AB’s, and if he comes out of Spring Training the starter, may be worth a draft pick as a reserve outfielder in the hopes that he lives up to the potential that was lauded on him after his mind-boggling 2007 minor league season where he got 158 hits and 19 HR’s in 435 AB’s.
#2 2009 Position Battles Left Fielders, 2009 Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Seattle Mariners, Endy Chavez and Wladimir Balentien
It’s wide open in Left Field in the weak Seattle Mariner outfield, where it seems like a lifetime ago since Ken Griffey Jr. last roamed the outfield. Those were the days, huh? Well these aren’t those days. Suzuki is getting older out in right, Guttierrez might be ready to bust out in center, but left field is a toss up between Endy Chavez and hot-prospect Wladimir Balentien.
Many think that Chavez over performed for the Mets last year, seeing more playing time that his skill set warrants. If the Mariners join this crowd, and he does not win out as the everyday Left Fielder, look for his production to drop from his 2008 totals of 270 AB’s and 12 RBI’s to something closer to 200 AB’s and 5-10 RBI’s. His .267 BA in 2008 should stay about the same, if not improve slightly from seeing new pitchers. Balentien is the long-term solution for the Seattle outfield, and has every chance to prove he is up to the job this year. He only hit .202 BA but with 7 HR in 243 AB’s in 2008, look for nearer to 500 AB with 20+ HR and a .250 BA if he can improve his plate presence and wins out the job in Spring Training. Between the two, draft Balentien as a potential sleeper hit.
#3 2009 Position Battles Left Fielders, 2009 Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Gary Matthews and Juan Rivera, Los Angeles Angels
2009 will be Gary Matthews’ last chance to justify his $11million dollar salary, and Juan Rivera is ready to take the job permanently if he falters a single mis-step. Matthews is moving up on 34 years old, and the peak has long passed.
In 2008 Matthews hit .242 and 8 HR’s on 426 AB’s. Look for Matthews to get much closer to 250 AB’s and hit somewhere between .250-.260 with a few SB’s and HR’s for good measure. Rivera had 256 AB’s with 12 HR and hit .246 in 2008, and I look for his 2009 to improve to 430 AB’s with 12-18 HR’s, if he wins the job. Between the two draft Rivera.
#4 2009 Position Battles Left Fielders, 2009 Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, David Murphy Vs. Marlon Byrd and Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers
David Murphy’s rookie season last year was ended early by injury in August, and if he shows any weakness whatsover, the stacked Texas Outfield will leave him behind, likely trading him for an established picther that the club so desperately needs. Whoever gets left out in Right Field between Marlon Byrd and Nelson Cruz will slide into Left Field, and Ranger fans will be left to contemplate what might have been.
Murphy hit .275 and 15 HR’s last year, while Byrd hit .298 with 10 HR and Cruz hit .330 with 7 HR in 2008. I predict Murphy to win out, come back stonger than ever and beat the sophmore slump, hitting over .300 with 20+ HR. Cruz has the better OBP between him and Byrd, and I expect both to hit near the 15 HR range, depending on who plays more. Murphy is the perfect mid-level outfielder pick, say a 3rd or 4th outfielder.
#5 2009 Position Battles Left Fielders, 2009 Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Carl Crawford and Pat Burrell, Tampa Bay Rays
Crawford has ended his season early two years in a row, and given the downhill slide, he is going into Spring Training competing with Pat Burrell for the everyday LF job. The one thing going for Crawford is that he is now squarely in the sabremetic-perfect age of 27, and could be primed for the best season of his career. Then again, he might not even win his old job. In this battle, age and time are on Crawford’s side.
Last season he hit .273 in 443 AB’s and 25 Stolen Bases in 2008. Look for Crawford to bat .285 or so with 350 AB and maybe as many as 40 Stolen Bases. His production could improve if he is traded. Burrell hit .250 and 33 HR in 536 AB in 2008. Expect more of the same as Burrell is likely to take over at DH if he does not end up taking Crawford’s job. Between the two Burrell is the surer fantasy bet as a 3rd or 4th outfielder/DH.
All Statistics Courtesy of Major League Baseball and MLB.com