major league baseball

MLB Top Ten Left Fielders in 2020: Juan Soto Is Both The Present And The Future

Under normal circumstances, the 2020 Major League Baseball season would be rounding into its first full month of action. However, these are far from regular times and due to the global shift in the norm, whether MLB Opening Day is delayed — or even outright canceled — is anybody’s guess.

Therefore, since the trivial is more necessary than ever, here is a look at the (currently anticipated) MLB top ten players, by position, for the 2020 campaign.

Over the past few seasons, the scene in left field has been one of the most volatile in the game. Between its top players changing homes in the outfield, injuries and/or age impacts or simply diminishing returns, the list of top left fielders has changed both dramatically and annually. Over the past three seasons, only seven players have seen as many as 400 games in left, the fewest of any outfield spot.

Headed into the new decade, there is a clear changing of the guard still in place. While stalwarts such as Michael Brantley, Brett Gardner and Marcell Ozuna are still on hand, it is still a position that is a transitional or temporary one for many. Austin Meadows is shifting from right to left in the new year, Jeff McNeil, Kyle Schwarber and Tommy Pham are in the role in a temporary or forced scenario.

The only absolute who appears to be a lock to be here is that of the man not far removed from his teenage years, but as already run away from the pack.

1. Juan Soto, Nationals

Although he is only 21 and entering his third season, Soto has already established himself as one of the most dangerous hitters in the game. He swatted 34 homers in his first full season, giving him 56 for his career, the second most in MLB history to Mel Ott for a player younger shy of 21. He also became the fourth player in history to reach 100 extra base hits before his 21st birthday.

Overall, he finished in the NL top 10 in OPS (.949), runs scored (110), RBI (110), walks (108) and times on base (264). He capped the year by leading the Nats on a historic run to their first World Series championship (and his first legal drink), hitting .333 (9-for-27) with three home runs. He become the fourth-youngest player ever to homer in the Fall Classic, when he took Gerrit Cole deep in Game 3.

2. Michael Brantley, Astros

If Brantley is anything, he is consistent. In his first year in Houston, his .311 average marked the fourth time in his last five full seasons he hit .300 – with the low being .299 in 2017. Regardless of the situation, Brantley raked. He hit .343 with runners in scoring position, .361 with runners in scoring position and two outs and .556 with the bases loaded over 13 at-bats.

Not everything was status quo however. While he reached 40 doubles for the third time overall, his 22 home runs were a new career-high. Likewise, his 11 defensive runs saved were both a career-high and by far the best among MLB left fielders.

3. Jeff McNeil, Mets

McNeil has spent time all-around the diamond last year, making 30 starts at four different positions. Regardless of where he goes, it’s a pretty safe assumption he will hit there. McNeil has hit .321 over 196 games, but saw his power numbers rise substantially in year two. His slugging percentage climbed to .531, his OPS to .916 and his 10.9% of his ended up going for extra bases. In the process, his strikeouts per at-bat dropped to 6.8% and he finished in the NL top 10 in batting average (.319), on-base % (.384) and doubles (38).

4. Tommy Pham, Padres

Pham remains one of the most underrated players in the game. Since 2017, his 13.5 WAR is ninth-best among all outfielders, placing him between Giancarlo Stanton and J.D. Martinez. He also sits within the top 10 of MLB outfielders in on-base % (7th) and stolen bases (9th). He is one of nine players with multiple 20 homer/20 stolen base seasons over the past three years.

5. Austin Meadows, Rays

The 24-year-old produced a 4.0 WAR in his first full season in Tampa, producing one of the biggest breakout years in the game. This included a .922 OPS, 69 extra base hits and 89 runs driven in, while being selected to the AL All-Star team. In the process, he avoided the dreaded rookie wall after his strong start, and he actually increased his slugging % by over 100 points following the All-Star break.

6. Brett Gardner, Yankees

Gardner has been one of the most consistently productive and tenured left fielders in the game. Since taking over as the everyday left fielder in 2013, Gardner has never finished with less than a 3.2 WAR, and posted four years above four wins. Since 2015, his 451 runs scored are 71 more than any other MLB left fielder, while his 4.3 dWAR is nearly double of any other player. He signed an extension worth upwards of $22 million through 2021.

7. Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox

On the heels of a 2019 season that showed the type of promise that has been long awaited from the former top prospect, it wouldn’t be unfair to call his 2019 a disappointment. His home run total dropped for the third-straight season, while his stolen bases dipped by over half (21 to 10), his OPS tailed off to .774 and his batting average dropped by nearly 30 points.

But the career of a young ballplayer is far from a consistent one. The talent is still clear and aside from Soto, he has as much upside as any player on this list. With Mookie Betts moving on, his importance to the Boston upside becomes drastically more important as well. Getting back on course in year four would be a fantastically well-timed outcome for him.

8. Marcell Ozuna, Braves

Ozuna heads to Atlanta on the heels of a slightly underwhelming pair of seasons in St. Louis, which was proceeded by an undoubtedly disappointing free agent experience. While his hard-hit rate and raw power numbers have stayed solid, Ozuna hasn’t been able to return to the All-Star level he reached in Miami in 2016 and 2017.

The departure of Josh Donaldson took 37 home runs from the NL East champs lineup, and while Ozuna has only reached that number once to date, the ability is still there to do so.

9. Kyle Schwarber, Cubs

Assessing Schwarber remains a tail of two stories. On one hand, he remains one of the most threatening power hitters in the game. His 38 homers led all MLB left fielders in 2019 and his .531 slugging % placed third. He also played in a career-best 155 games in 2019 and posted career-highs in batting average and lowered his strikeout rate for the third-straight season.

However, he still is out of place in the field, especially the notoriously difficult terrain of the Wrigley outfield. Also, he is on-base % slid last season, as his walk rate dipped.

10. Joc Pederson, Dodgers

Power has never been an issue for Pederson, who has topped 20 home runs in four of his five seasons. 2019 represented a new peak for him, as he launched 36 long balls and posted an .876 OPS, also a career best.

The holes in Pederson’s game remain unavoidable though. He hit only .224 against left-handers and went homerless over 49 at-bats. It is an improvement on his .188 lifetime average versus southpaws, but the inability to feature him as an everyday presence continues to limit his upside.

Left on Deck: Mark Cahna (Athletics), David Peralta (Diamondbacks), Brian Reynolds (Pirates)

Top Prospects: Dylan Carlson (Cardinals, #17), Drew Waters (Braves, #26), Taylor Trammell (Padres, #57)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *