AL Central Rundown: Left Field
Image courtesy of Image Courtesy of Jesse Johnson, USA Today SportsThe Rundown
Left field has become far more interesting ahead of the 2021 season. Every Central team besides the Twins have a good deal of certainty around the position. Ex Twins will man the position for two other Central teams in 2021, while the Royals recently traded for a reclamation project at the position. Let’s see what the division has to offer at left field in 2021.
The Tigers recently brought former Twin Robbie Grossman in on a 2 year, $10MM deal. Grossman projects as Twins fans will remember him, a patient gap hitter. Grossman had an excellent season at the plate in 2020 for Oakland, putting up a 127 wRC+, mostly thanks to a HardHit% which improved 7.5% from 2019. Grossman has improved in the field since his Twins tenure, putting up 6 OAA in Oakland in his last two seasons (-15 in the previous 3 in Minnesota). Ultimately, Grossman projects as a slightly above average hitter in 2021 (105 wRC+), and a solid defender. He’ll likely put up 1.0-1.5 fWAR, and is the worst of the bunch in the AL Central.
Kansas City Royals
Andrew Benintendi’s trade to the Royals marked the final member of the 2018 World Series winning outfield departing the Red Sox. Benintendi has occupied a huge range of outcomes in his short career, putting up a 4.4 fWAR in 2018 and -0.5 fWAR in 2020 (in only 14 games). He’ll likely feature somewhere in the middle of those two extremes in 2021. Steamer projects him to put up 1.6 fWAR and be a marginally above average hitter (103 wRC+). Benintendi is a poor outfielder (-10 OAA in his last three seasons). Despite this, the Benintendi trade made a ton of sense for the Royals, who have a strong young offensive core and excellent organizational pitching depth. While it’s far from a sure thing, Benintendi is young enough to rebound and return to form as an above average left fielder.
It seemed almost inevitable that Eddie Rosario would sign with Cleveland after being non-tendered by the Twins. Rosario made improvements in his approach in 2020, adding 5% to a previously criminal BB%. He fills a huge need in Cleveland, where a few similar signings 3-4 years ago could have put them over the top for a World Series. Steamer projects Rosario for 1.6 fWAR in 2021, with a 108 wRC+. Rosario is a horrible defender, which is often overlooked because he has an incredible arm. In 2019 alone he put up -18 OAA, making him easily the worst fielding outfielder of those examined so far (still got to get to Eloy!). Remarkable throws, baserunning blunders, you'll likely see it all again, just in a different uniform.
Chicago White Sox
Get used to seeing Eloy Jimenez in left field for the White Sox. He’s signed through 2024 with two further years of team options. Acquired in the deal with the Cubs for Jose Quintana, Jimenez is a classic slugging outfielder. Huge bat, wretched, truly horrible glove. Jimenez mashed 45 HR over the last two seasons, and Steamer likes him to be the best of the AL Central bunch in 2021, projecting him for 3.3 fWAR and a 130 wRC+. It would be remiss not to mention his abjectness in the field, managing -14 OAA in left over the last two seasons. Make no mistake, he more than makes up for it adding another huge bat to a potent Sox offense.
There should be a whole article about who will play LF for the Twins. Luckily, Matthew Lenz already wrote it. For the purposes of this preview, I’m going to focus on Kirilloff. While he likely starts in the minors to suppress service time, he’s the heir apparent to the position. Kirilloff is now a consensus top prospect but with only one MLB game, he’s not going to get a ton of love in projection systems.
Steamer projects a 101 wRC+ and 0.8 fWAR in 2021 from around 400 plate appearances. This feels like the floor for Kirilloff, with the eventual ceiling being an All Star outfielder. Kirilloff has averaged a 145 wRC+ in his last two MiLB seasons, and performed well at the alternate site in 2020.
Rooker has a big bat but is a poor outfielder (-2 OAA) in just 7 MLB games in 2020. He could be a good platoon option with Jake Cave for the first month of the season but is better suited to a DH or 1B role. Cave is a perfect 4th outfielder for the Twins, with a close to league average bat, good outfield defense, and the ability to play all three outfield positions. It's likely Luis Arraez may see time in left, particularly at the beginning of the season as the Twins will give a player projected to be AL batting champion as many ABs as possible.
Detroit Tigers: D
Grossman is a solid addition and credit to the Tigers for adding to a poor team. Grossman is a league average hitter and a fine option for Detroit in 21/22 when they won’t be competing for the AL Central.
Kansas City Royals: C
Kansas City has had a great winter. Even if Benintendi doesn’t return to his 2018 peak, the Royals have acquired a solid MLB outfield to supplement their strong, young offensive core.
There’s no denying Rosario is a good signing for Cleveland. He’s a solid, if streaky hitter but a vast improvement for a Cleveland outfield which has been miserable for years. You’ll get highs and lows. The dynamic of Twins VS Cleveland will be much more interesting as a result.
Chicago White Sox: A-
Despite being a horror show defensively, Eloy Jimenez is currently the cream of the crop in the central and probably the AL. He’s going to be a big, problematic bat in a great offensive for at least the next 4 seasons.
Minnesota Twins: B-
The Twins are hard to grade here. Kirilloff projects to be an excellent MLB hitter who is ready now. The Twins have enough options to keep his spot warm at a respectable level until he takes over the role full time sometime in 2021.
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