In the week before Opening Day, we’re looking at each of the five offensive positions that are not known quantities.
Part 1: Intro and First Base
Part 2: Right Field
Part 3: Left Field (Friday afternoon)
Part 4: Shortstop (Saturday morning)
Part 5: Second Base (Saturday afternoon)
Right Field: Ben Francisco, Opening Day Age: 29
2010: 197 PA, .268/.327/.441, 6 HR, 8 SB
2011 (Bill James-projected): 330 PA, .271/.336/.446, 10 HR, 10 SB
By “Ben Francisco” here, I mean “some combination of Ben Francisco, Domonic Brown, Ross Gload, and John Mayberry.” Charlie Manuel seems determined, in the absence of Jayson Werth, not to pick a starting right fielder. Here’s the scoop: none of these guys is Jayson Werth, but put together, they’re not bad. Francisco has some speed, some power, and hits lefties very well (.901 OPS in 2010), but isn’t much good against righties (.640 OPS in 2010). Gload, a lefty, actually hits for a higher average against left-handed pitching, but has a higher OBP and slugging percentage against right-handed pitching. Mayberry has been red-hot this spring, but at 27 years old, Mayberry is quickly leaving the age group where one could reasonably expect him to improve.
Then there’s Domonic Brown. If Domonic Brown doesn’t get at least 500 plate appearances in 2012, Ruben Amaro and Charlie Manuel ought to be brought up on charges. Simply put, Brown is too good to keep in the minor leagues–there’s nothing more he can learn by hitting against AAA pitching. The only way he’s going to learn to hit major league lefties is to actually, you know, hit against major league lefties. Imagine you wanted to learn to play the saxophone like Charlie Parker. Would your music teacher make you keep playing the recorder after you’d mastered it? Or keep you from playing sax more than a few minutes a week, to make sure you didn’t get tired or lose confidence? Or when he did let you play saxophone, only give you easy music?
Of course not–he’d challenge you, even when you hit a bump in the road (Domonator’s winter ball and early spring training, for instance) because that’s the only way to improve at anything. The upside on Brown, with his swing and athleticism, is very nearly Ken Griffey Jr. And unless he gets those major league at-bats soon, he’ll never reach that potential. I’ll give Uncle Cholly and Ruben a pass this year, because Brown is still a rookie, and his broken hand will likely sap his power for the rest of 2011. But come this time next year, if Domonic Brown isn’t starting in a corner outfield spot I’m crackin’ skulls. Okay. Rant’s over.
The short version of the right field story? Some combination of four guys is going to be mediocre at the plate and pretty bad in the field for most of 2011. Nothing to make you go out and buy a new shirzey, but at the same time, nothing to make you stay up nights, staring longingly at a well-worn photograph of Jayson Werth.