Nolan Reimold was one of the more pleasant surprises for the Orioles in 2009. Can he repeat? (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron)
Left field in the AL East is a pretty exciting position. Other than established star Carl Crawford and washed up Randy Winn, the position showcases several young players with potential. It's hard to say what they'll do but it'll be a lot of fun to find out (unless, of course, Nolan Reimold ends up sucking and Brett Gardner becomes a star or something). I'm quite comfortable with my rankings although given the lack of experience of Reimold, Snider, Gardner, and to a lesser extent, Ellsbury, this list certainly has the chance to change quite a bit over the course of the season.
1. Carl Crawford (Rays) - Crawford will be entering his ninth year in the MLB, all of which have been played with the Tampa Bay Rays. Crawford isn't a power hitter and while he had a good OBP in 2009 of .365, historically he gets on base a respectable but not overly impressive amount of times. He's an very good base stealer, however, with 362 stolen bases in 1081 career games. His success rate for stealing is just about 82% (just don't ask him to steal on Matt Wieters) and he's led the league in steals in 4 of the last 7 years. Crawford is also defensive marvel and the fact that he hasn't won a gold glove in his career is ridiculous. It's not absurd to say that at this point in time Crawford is the best player in Tampa Bay's history.
2. Nolan Reimold (Orioles) - I'm really, really excited to see what Reimold can do this year. I don't think anyone expected him to come out of the gate the way he did even with the way he was mashing in AAA before his call up. I'd always heard that Reimold had potential for being a power hitter, but something I hadn't been made aware of was his patience at the plate. In 2009, Reimold swung at just 20.5% of pitches outside the strike zone. That's well below the major league average of 25.1% and second on the Orioles to just Brian Roberts (19.8%). His walk rate of 11.4% was tops on the Orioles and above the ML average of 8.9%. If you look at Reimold's splits by month he started very strongly and tailed off as the year progressed. It's hard to know how much of that was the league adjusting to him and how much was his increasingly injured achilles tendon, but I'm looking forward to seeing if he can stay strong through the season (and if he can't, Felix Pie says hello).
3. Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox) - Ellsbury is the same age as Reimold (26) but has about three times as many major league games under his belt. He's a guy who gets on base at a decent clip and when he's there causes all kinds of trouble. He led the league in stolen bases in 2008 and 2009 and in his 331 career games has stolen 129 bases at a success rate of 84.8%. What Ellsbury doesn't have much of is power. He's slugged just .414 in the ML and wasn't much better in the minors at .426. He also doesn't take many walks so his OBP is dependent a lot upon hits. Ellsbury will be moving to from center to left field this season where he's played 80 games over the past 3 years.
4. Travis Snider (Blue Jays) - Travis Snider is going to be a very good baseball player who hits for a lot of power. If he puts it all together this year he could be much closer to the top of this list, but so far he hasn't done much to warrant it. His minor league numbers are very good. In 1506 minor league plate appearances Snider hit .304/.382/.533 with 91 2B and 64 HR. Prior to the 2009 season, John Sickels rated him the #2 hitting prospect in baseball behind Matt Wieters. One thing Snider does a ton, though, is strike out. In the minors he k'd about 25% of the time and in both 2008 and 2009 with the Blue Jays it jumped up over 30%. Strikeouts don't have to be a big deal for a power hitter (see Adam Dunn) but it's certainly something for the Blue Jays to keep an eye on.
5. Brett Gardner/Randy Winn (Yankees) - Brett Gardner is another player that is moving to left field due to an incoming CF, in this case Curtis Granderson. From what I can gather the decision hasn't been made as to who will get the most playing time in LF but I have to believe that Randy Winn will be acting in the 4th outfielder capacity. Winn will be 36 years old in 2010 and really isn't all that good. He is above average defensively but hasn't had a good year at the plate in quite some time. Gardner will be 26 years old in 2010 and spent 2009 splitting time with Melky Cabrera in center field. He played 108 games and hit .270/.345/.379. Don't look for that slugging % to go up any with additional time in the ML, though, as he hit .289/.389/.383 in 5 minor league season. You just don't see an OBP higher than a SLG very often, do you? Gardner plays an outstanding defensive CF so it stands to reason he'll be excellent in LF as well, although he'll lose a little value that way.