Mid-Season Review – Part Three: The Outfield
While not the official midway point through the season, the allstar break certainly serves as the unofficial midway point in the long, 162-game season that is major league baseball. I thought it would be fitting to take advantage of the allstar break to prepare a report card of sorts and break down the different aspects of the Blue Jays organization. This is part three of the series: The Outfield.
Going into Spring Training the outfield was locked in as Melky Cabrera – LF, Colby Rasmus – CF, and Jose Bautista – RF. Rajai Davis was to be the club’s 4th outfielder and late game pinch runner and Emilio Bonifacio was to split time, as a true utility man does, between the INF and OF (although since Bonifacio is listed as an infielder on the roster, I’ll comment on him in Part Four of the series). There were some chirps by fans that the club would be better served dropping Colby Rasmus and allow young-gun Anthony Gose to play CF full time. Here’s a look how the outfield has played.
Anthony Gose (.304 AVG, .385 OBP, .391 SLG, 0 HR, 0 RBI) – Despite a minority group of fans that were wanting to see Gose supersede Rasmus in CF to start the season, anyone who knew what they were talking about agreed that having the 22-year-old start in triple-A would be good for his development. In 56 games with the Blue Jays in 2012, Gose showed off his speed with 15 steals in 18 attempts, his arm with 2 assists, and his ability to track the ball off the bat with a 2.09 range factor in CF (think B.J. Upton). However, he hit just .223 and struck out 59 times. So why not have this young kid at least start the year in triple-A and try and get a more consistent approach at the plate? When Davis hit the DL this season, Gose got the call up to be the 4th OF and late game pinch runner. In 13 games he hit .304….but he didn’t have a single stolen base. Why not? Perhaps he’s grown gun shy. In triple-A this season, Gose has only 11 steals in 21 attempts. That’s a far cry from his 2011 numbers in double-A: 70 steals in 85 attempts. Now with Rasmus performing well and the fans starting to realize why the Jays didn’t want to give up on him, and with Gose struggling in triple-A – he’s batting .225 in 284 at bats, Gose is beginning to look less and less like Carl Crawford and more and more like Joey Gathright. I’m sure Gose will get a September call up, but it’s definitely telling that when Cabrera recently hit the DL, the Jays turned to Munenori Kawasaki – an infielder, and chose to play with only 3 OF on the 25-man roster. Perhaps this is an off year for Gose who had gotten better every season in the minors up until 2013. He now looks further away from making the team than he did in March. I do, however, like the idea of a Gose/Davis platoon if any outfield hits the DL in the second half.
Rajai Davis (.288 AVG, .335 OBP, .380 SLG, 2 HR, 11 RBI) – Now that Davis is in his third season with the Jays, we all know what we are getting – a guy that frustrates you because he refuses to hit a cutoff man, and doesn’t get on base enough vs. right-handers, but also a guy that is one of the few real game changers in the MLB on the bases. Davis already has 24 steals in 27 attempts despite spending time on the DL with an oblique strain. But although he started batting well vs. righties this season, the numbers show he’s heading closer to his career averages. His 2013 splits of .343 avg, .389 obp, .507 slg vs. lefties yet only a paltry .250 avg, .298 obp, .292 slg vs. righties make Davis the perfect platoon player. If the Jays could find an outfielder who hit righties well , they would be set (think Reed Johnson/Frank Cattalanotto). For a while, it looked like Rasmus might be that guy. But this season he is showing much better vs. lefties than his career average and looks much more comfortable at the plate – and as a young player with tremendous power, the Jays are likely to want his bat in the line up. Perhaps Gose one day becomes the platoon with Davis? I wouldn’t mind seeing that.
Melky Cabrera (.278 AVG, .321 OBP, .362 SLG, 3 HR, 29 RBI) - The hot topic surrounding Cabrera is “will he be suspended for 100 games following the break?” My thoughts? Absolutely not. He has already served his time. Under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, the league would have to have proof that Cabrera took PED’s after his previously served 50 game suspension. I doubt even he is that stupid. I think Cabrera will win any appeal should the league try and suspend him. PED’s aside, Cabrera hasn’t been the guy the Jays were after – primarily because he’s been playing on sore legs all year – but when you look at the numbers, he’s been pretty good. After a slow start in April – .241 avg, .291 obp, .287 slg, Cabrera really started to put things together in May – .319 avg, .361 obp, .460 slg. Put it this way, Cabrera is on the DL but he is still second on the team in hits with 86. Hopefully Cabrera can return after the break and perform to his capabilities. When on, he is a great, pure hitter.
Colby Rasmus (.263 AVG, .332 OBP, .484 SLG, 16 HR, 48 RBI) – Since Rasmus joined the Jays, there have been a lot of Rasmus haters out there. I’ve been defending him constantly and he is starting to prove me (and more importantly the organization) right. Rasmus entered the break as hot as anyone on the team, hitting .375 so far in July. The biggest reason? He is starting to drive the ball the other way with authority. Early in the year (and since he’s been a Blue Jay), when he makes contact Rasmus has either pulled the ball hard or hit it weakly the other way. With his new found ability to drive the ball to the opposite gap, we could be looking at a young player who has just figured it out. He is third on the team in home runs and RBIs, behind only Edwin Encarnacion and Bautista, and he’s playing a terrific CF with a range factor of 2.74 which is good enough for 4th best in the AL and 6th best in the MLB. Rasmus’ weakness is obviously the K. He strikes out about once every 3 at bats – far too much. But he is starting to hit the other way, which should help. And with RISP, he boasts a .348 AVG and a ridiculously good 1.072 OPS, so it’s not like his strikeouts are killing too many rallies. Watching Rasmus the past couple weeks and watching him go with the pitch, I really think he’ll be an allstar in 2014. All he needed to do was learn to drive the ball the other way. He’s now doing it and if it continues, watch out.
Jose Bautista (.254 AVG, .351 OBP, .493 SLG, 20 HR, 55 RBI) - Most teams would kill for a RF with a cannon arm (7 assists – 2nd for all MLB RF) who has hit 20 homers and driven in 55 by the allstar break. But Jays fans have been spoiled with Bautista the previous few seasons and for him, this is a down year so far. Although his numbers are about what you would expect, he continues to chase pitches out of the zone and goes through prolonged slumps at the dish. You can always tell when he’s in one because he’ll be seen arguing balls and strikes with the homeplate umpire. I just wish he would lead by example. And by that I mean, stop whining and play hard. He and Encarnacion are a terrifying duo for opposing pitchers and if the Jays are going to get hot in the second half, you have to figure Bautista will be a big part of any success. I hope he moves back to the 3 hole (or 4 or 5 hole), though. Hitting him #2 doesn’t do it for me – never did (but we’ll save that discussion for Part Five of the series: Management).
The Jays need big things from Bautista, need Rasmus to continue to progress, and need Cabrera to come back strong from the DL if they want to have a shot at ripping off some serious wins. And Davis, stretch your hammies. You’ll be greenlighted for the rest of the year.