Feb 24, 2015; Ft. Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Hanley Ramirez (13) is seen in the batting cage during workout drills at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Last year, when ranking the AL East left fielders, I led off with Brett Gardner of the New York Yankees, followed by a platoon of David Lough and Nelson Cruz for the Orioles. Then, Cruz had the best year of his career and started almost every game in Baltimore, while Lough struggled out of the gate.
2015 features two mainstays in Gardner and David DeJesus, who were first and last in 2014 respectively. The new additions are Hanley Ramirez, Michael Saunders and Alejandro De Aza. As always, if you want to see my other rankings, click for catcher, first base, second base, third base, and shortstop.
1. Boston Red Sox – Hanley Ramirez, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, Bryce Brentz
Hanley Ramirez moves over from the National League, where he played every game in his career, except for the first two games in his career, which came for the Red Sox back in 2005. Ramirez was traded in November 2005 to the Florida Marlins along with Anibal Sanchez for Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and others. Ramirez also moves to the outfield for the first time in his career, as he has never played a position other than shortstop or third base.
However, no matter whether Hanley has issues in the field, his hitting is what puts him atop this list. A three-time All-Star, Ramirez’s slash line of .300/.373/.500 probably puts him in really good company when looking at shortstops. And in the AL East, where surprisingly most left fielders are speed guys and not power hitters, he easily is the best hitter in the division. Ramirez probably has the most power at the position as well, averaging 25 home runs a season over his career.
Behind Hanley, Allen Craig and Daniel Nava will set up shop. Both look to figure to see more playing time at other positions, most notably first base, but Hanley does have issues with injuries over the past few years. The Red Sox will look to keep their converted left fielder healthy and teach him how to read the Green Monster.
2. New York Yankees – Brett Gardner, Chris Young, Ramon Flores
The one thing that I thought might give Gardner a chance to be ahead of Ramirez was his defense. But, he has never won a Gold Glove, and his defensive WAR, for those who like such things, averages around 1.3. That is far from good; and last year it was only 0.2, which is pretty bad. Gardner also has significantly seen his stolen bases decrease over the past few years, down to under 25 in 2013 and 2014.
But, Gardner also hit 17 home runs in 2014, so as his speed has started to diminish, maybe his power has picked up. A career .265/.346/.390 hitter, Gardner had a very high strikeout to walk ratio in 2014, which is surprising for a player whose game is like Gardner’s. But, he is still entrenched as the Yankees’ starting left fielder, joining Jacoby Ellsbury and the aging Carlos Beltran in the New York outfield.
Chris Young had a very nice year last year and will likely be the fourth outfielder for the Yankees in 2015. Because most of the names other than Young and the three starters (like Ramon Flores) are ones even the heartiest of baseball fans wouldn’t recognize, expect Young to get a good amount of starts in 2015. This is especially true because of the age of Beltran and the past injury issues for each of these players.
3. Baltimore Orioles – Alejandro De Aza, David Lough Delmon Young, Steve Pearce, Henry Urrutia
Mark my words, if De Aza puts together a full season that is anywhere close to what he put up in 20 games last year for the Orioles, he will have a better year than Gardner and make the Orioles’ fans forget Nick Markakis. In fact, at .268/.330/.403, De Aza has career numbers on pace to those of Brett Gardner. A guy with a lot of speed, De Aza doesn’t hold the stolen base potential that Gardner does. More of a contact hitter, De Aza showed a lot of power last year in his stint for the O’s, and a lot of promise.
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If De Aza would struggle, he has a group of talented players behind him. I think Lough is going to have a rebound year. Most people forget how well Lough played after the All-Star break in 2014, once he stopped pressing and the concussion symptoms were behind him. I would expect him to have a good year, although he may have a problem making the Orioles’ roster.
Delmon Young in many ways was an unsung hero for the Orioles last year. As the best pinch hitter in the league, his bases-clearing double against the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs will forever be a piece of Orioles lore. Pearce also could see some action in left field, although one would believe he is more likely to play in either right field or at first base.
For the second year in a row, DeJesus is the fifth-best starting left fielder in the AL East. And what is more alarming is the fact that much of the Rays outfield is question marks. After trading Wil Myers, Guyer is a guy who might see some time as a starter, however it is unknown if he is anything more than a fourth outfielder. Mahtook has never played in the majors.
DeJesus is a career .277/.352/.416 hitter, which is not bad at all. But, over the past three years, his average is closer to .255. And the other issue is that he offers very little other than being a contact hitter. He doesn’t steal bases, he doesn’t hit for power. His defensive WAR is pretty bad at a negative 2.4 for his career. But, with very little behind him, DeJesus will likely bat near the bottom of the Rays’ order and try to turn the lineup over.
Those are my thoughts on the left field position, what do you think? Comment and leave your thoughts!
5. Toronto Blue Jays – Michael Saunders, Kevin Pillar, Andy Dirks, Chris Dickerson
The Toronto Blue Jays were planning on starting Michael Saunders in LF. That is, until they found out he has a torn meniscus and is out until around the All-Star break. Now, I think Dickerson could really push Pillar for the starting spot until Saunders is healthy.
Assuming that when healthy Saunders returns to starting, he is a guy who had numerous opportunities to put it all together in Seattle, and never did. Maybe a change of scenery is just what he needs. But, taking over for Melky Cabrera in left in Rogers Centre will be a tall task. Saunders has always had decent power, and that will likely play well at the bandbox in Toronto. A career .231/.301/.384 hitter, you can see that the power numbers is what Saunders has to offer.
Looking at his defensive numbers, Saunders is certainly not in left field for his defense. However, he has played the majority of his games in center field for Seattle. Behind him, there isn’t much, so the job is his to win. Pillar is a guy the Jays like, but who, just like Saunders, has yet to put it together.