AL Central Rundown: Right Field
Image courtesy of Jordan Johnson - USA Today SportsThe Rundown
The AL Central provides a paltry offering in right field. Cody Pirkl wrote recently about how pivotal the 2021 season is for Max Kepler. If he’s able to return to 2019 form, he should easily be the best in the division. Besides the Royals, right field is a relatively weak position for other teams in the central.
Detroit Tigers - Victor Reyes/Nomar Mazara
The Tigers recently brought in former Rangers and Sox outfielder Nomar Mazara to play right field alongside Victor Reyes. Mazara was thought to be on the cusp of a breakout at the major league level for several years, but has never put it together, managing a miserable 67 wRC+ in 2020 for the White Sox. Mazara is poor in the field too, managing -8 OAA over the last 3 seasons.
Reyes is more of a prototypical center fielder. The rangy, fleet footed Venezuelan will bat for high average, is a solid defender, and will play all three outfield positions for the Tigers. The two should combine for around 1.2 fWAR in 2021. The duo are a passable pair and probably won’t be the worst duo in the division.
Kansas City Royals - Whit Merrifield
Everyone’s favorite mid-season trade candidate Whit Merrifield should take the majority of the right field reps for KC in 2021. Merrifield has been a constant source of excellence for Kansas City for several years, putting up at least 2.8 fWAR in the three seasons preceding the shortened 2020 campaign. Versatility is a major plus for Merrifield, as he logged time at all three outfield positions and second base. The one worrying aspect for Merrifield is his BB%, which has fallen from around league average in 2019 to a Rosario-esque 4.5% in 2020. Steamer assumes Merrifield will regress in 2021, only projecting him for 1.7 fWAR. Merrifield will be an attractive trade candidate if the Royals are off the pace in July. He’s under team control through 2023, for a ridiculous price ($16 MM over 4 years).
Cleveland - Jordan Luplow/Daniel Johnson Jr.
What are we even doing here, Cleveland? Despite an impressively strong rotation, and improving left field, their right field situation is desperately poor. Luplow will be a league average hitter, projected for 99 wRC+ and was worth 1 OAA in his last three seasons between Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
Johnson Jr. is Cleveland’s number 18 prospect. He saw limited MLB action in 2020 and profiles as an average MLB outfielder. Johnson Jr. has power to all fields and plus speed.
Cleveland will be hoping Luplow returns to his 2.2 fWAR 2019 form, or they will be looking at a tandem worth a combined 1.0 fWAR in 2021. Woof.
Chicago White Sox - Adam Eaton
Eaton had a year to forget in 2020, putting up a wRC+ of 75 and -0.5 fWAR for the Nationals while seeing his BB% plummet and his K% increase. Eaton had bad BaBIP luck in 2019 however (.264) when we hadn’t produced a number less than .310 in his previous 6 seasons, so Sox fans can at least expect a moderate rebound.
Eaton’s days of being an outstanding outfielder are behind him (17 OAA for the Sox in 2016), and he’ll likely put up close to a neutral number in 2020. Steamer expects him to split the difference of his last two seasons to the tune of a 1.1 fWAR in 2021. Twins fans can be grateful they’ll see Eaton, not George Springer in the Sox outfield this season.
Minnesota Twins - Max Kepler
Kepler had a poor 2020 season, by his own high standards. After a breakout 2019 (4.4 fWAR) he regressed at the plate. Kepler especially struggled against LHP (5 wRC+), while his K% grew significantly to 18.4%. Perhaps just as troubling was Kepler’s regression in the field. In his previous three MLB seasons, Kepler averaged 7 OAA, while he managed 0 OAA in 2020. While Kepler’s 2019 might be his true outlier, Steamer likes him to have a more promising 2021, projecting him to put up 3.0 fWAR which would make him the second best right fielder in the division, behind only Aaron Judge.
Detroit Tigers: C
Detroit gets a passing grade here. Mazara should be a little better in 2021 than 2020 and Reyes is a solid outfielder in all three positions.
Kansas City Royals: B
Merrifield is a strong outfielder and has been a nuisance to the Twins over the last few seasons. Expect him to continue to set the tone at the top of a solid young offensive core.
Cleveland did well to upgrade their LF situation by signing Eddie Rosario. Right field is incredibly poor however, and the outfield promises to hamper this team yet again.
Chicago White Sox: C+
Eaton hanging up on his introductory radio interview after signing, over what he saw as objectionable questions about new manager Tony La Russa, is probably the most interesting thing he will do this season. The Sox could, and should, have pursued George Springer as an outfield upgrade, instead they got Eaton.
Minnesota Twins: B+
Kepler projects as the second best right fielder in the AL behind Aaron Judge, and will put up similar counting stats. Kepler will need to generate more consistency at the plate and return to excellence in the field to replicate his high flying 2019 season.
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