Who's the Fourth Outfielder?
Image courtesy of © Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY SportsWe’re going to assume the starting outfielders for the 2019 Minnesota Twins will be Eddie Rosario in left field, Byron Buxton in center field and Max Kepler in right field. Is that a certainty? No, injuries are always a possibility, but that’s not what we’re discussing today. It appears the fourth spot on the outfield will come down to Jake Cave, Zack Granite and Michael Reed.
LIKE BUTTER, ON A ROLE
First, we should define the role of a fourth outfielder. Any non-starting position is a completely different role compared to a starting position. You’re not playing every day which makes it difficult to get a feel for your game from an offensive standpoint. Your at-bats are scattered into a pinch-hit here and there and a start once or twice a week. As a fourth outfielder, your defense should be a big and very good part of your game. Fourth outfielders are often late-inning replacements to protect a lead.
Role players or bench players are backups, but that doesn’t make them less important. There’s really no way to practice being in a backup role. Players progress through the minors by playing and playing every day. Teams aren’t trying to develop prospects into backups or utility players. Those players end up playing their way into the lineup so they’ll start to focus on playing a or many different positions. Either way, it will take some time for any player to get used to that role.
One thing that’s similar to being a starter is you always have to be ready to play. Maybe the better way of describing it for a bench player is you have to figure out how to stay ready while you’re not playing. You have to know how to get your body ready quickly so you can enter the game at any time for any reason. It could be for an injury, as a pinch-hitter or a pinch-runner or as a defensive replacement and it could happen at any point in the game.
IN THIS CORNER (OR IN THE CENTER)
Jake Cave, Zack Granite and Michael Reed will compete to decide who makes the team out of Spring Training. Jake Cave appears to have the upper hand in this competition because he played every day for the Twins for the last three months of the 2018 season, producing a 1.5 bWAR result. Zack Granite could disagree because if it wasn’t for him injuring his shoulder in Spring Training last season, Twins fans might not even know who Jake Cave is. Michael Reed was claimed off waivers from the Atlanta Braves on Oct. 31. We don’t know a ton about him since we haven’t seen him play, yet. Looking at his past stats reveals that he has some power, on-base skills and he plays okay defense.
A fourth outfielder should be able to play every outfield position and play them all well. The Twins are pretty set with good defensive outfielders and both corner outfielders, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, can play center field if the need arises so maybe defense won’t play as big of a role in the fourth outfielder decision but not playing good defense would lower their opportunities for playing time.
Most people will put Jake Cave in the lead to win this spot, but the truth is it’s probably a lot closer than people think.
TO THE JAKE CAVE
Jake Cave is coming off a good season where he was able to show some power with the bat and some ability in center field. He hit .269/.316/.481 (AVG/OBP/SLG) going 76-for-283 with 17 doubles, two triples, 13 home runs, 45 RBIs, two stolen bases (in three attempts) and 54 runs scored while drawing 16 walks and striking out 102 times in 91 games (78 starts.)
He was better against right-handed pitching, a lot better at home than away and better in the first half than the second half of the season. The first versus second half is partly due to small sample size (26 vs. 65 games.) He produced very well in high leverage situations, two outs with runners in scoring position (RISP) and when the game was tied. He also did most of this while batting in the bottom third of the lineup. He was given some time hitting third (nine games) by Paul Molitor in the last month of the season and produced well there, too.
He does have a leg up in this battle but none of that will matter once spring training begins with the first full workout just 15 days from today on February 18th.
REEDING IS FUNDAMENTAL
We haven’t seen enough of Michael Reed to have much of an opinion on him, yet. That means we have to Reed the stats. He had a really good year for the Braves AA and AAA teams last season. He hit .341/.450/.515(AVG/OBP/SLG) going 116-for-340 with 26 doubles, 11 home runs, 39 RBIs, 10 stolen bases (in 13 attempts) and 70 runs scored while drawing 62 walks and striking out 101 times in 103 games. He did start the season in AA but was promoted to AAA at the end of May and he didn’t miss a beat. His season did end a little early in September with a back strain.
He can play every outfield position with most of his time spent in right field but since 2016, he’s seen more time in center field. He was originally drafted in the sixth round by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011 out of a Texas high school. He got a taste of the big leagues in 2015 then struggled in the Arizona Fall League. He got back to the big leagues for another taste in 2016 after playing in AAA all season but didn’t produce much in a small eight-game sample and it looks like he was starting to struggle with the better pitching of the upper levels of the minor leagues. In 2017, he started at AA and only played 54 games dealing with injuries. He eventually elected free agency and signed with the Braves and has now put himself in a position to play for a big league job.
If you’ve seen pictures of Mr. Reed, you can tell he likes working out. He looks like he’s a lot more than 215 lbs listed in his bio.
DON’T TAKE ZACK FOR GRANITE
For Minnesota Twins prospect Zack Granite, it’s what have you done for me lately? A bad season can do serious damage to a prospect’s stock. Zack Granite was up with the Twins late in 2017 and showed his ability with the bat, his on-base skills and on defense. Now, it’s like he’s been completely forgotten because he just hit .211/.282/.245 by going 50-for-237 with eight doubles, four RBI, nine stolen bases (in 13 attempts) and 28 runs scored while drawing 22 walks and striking out 28 times in 68 games at AAA. Obviously, that’s a bad season but it’s largely due to a shoulder injury sustained in Spring Training that never fully healed and actually ended his 2018 season early.
He was the Twins Minor League Player of the Year in 2016 (with 56 steals). He took that momentum into 2017, just tearing up the International League by hitting .338/.392/.475 by going 96-for-284 with 16 doubles, four triples, five home runs, 29 RBI, 15 stolen bases (in 21 attempts) and 46 runs scored while drawing 24 walks and striking out 34 times in 71 games.
He showed a keen eye in a in only 93 at-bats in that 2017 cup of coffee. That included 22 starts.
SO, WHO YOU GOT?
Mr. Cave definitely made it look like he belongs in the major leagues. Some of those were home runs were very large and everyone loves power. The problem with power is it usually brings along with it lots of swings and misses and empty plate appearances. Jake doesn’t look as good defensively on paper.
Michael Reed is similar to Cave with the power and the strikeouts but he brings better plate discipline in terms of drawing walks and a little better defense. He’s an unknown to Twins fans but the scouts and the front office probably know him pretty well.
Zack Granite is a comeback candidate as injuries marred his 2018 season and could just be a speed bump in his baseball career. He also might have the most elite all-around skills.
If you look at their baseball tools, Cave has power, defense and arm. Reed has power defense, arm(?) and he draws walks. Granite has hitting, speed, defense and on-base skills (draws walks, doesn’t strike out much.) I’m not sure how Reed’s arm is but considering the size of the man, I suspect it’s pretty good. That would be the same reason for me thinking Granite’s arm isn’t very strong.
Also, Jake Cave was given a starting job in the major leagues for two plus months. That’s rare for most prospects. Neither Reed or Granite has had that chance. They’ve been backups when they’ve been in the majors. They all look to have a shot at the spot, though, and that’s why this should be one of the more interesting battles in Minnesota Twins 2019 Spring Training.
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