By Wayne Cavadi
We continue our look around the minor leagues at which prospects could provide an impact to their big league club in the coming season. Today, we focus on Part One of the outfielders. Projecting outfielders by position once they reach the majors proves somewhat difficult as often times, they will fill a hole that wasn’t necessarily where they expected to be. So we will look at the outfield as a collective whole, looking first at the bigger names ready to move and then some under-the-radar guys who may be ready.
Again, this isn’t a ranking or list of best prospects. You won’t see Victor Robles or Eloy Jiminez’s names on here because they have some years to mature. You also won’t see Andrew Benintendi on this list. This kid hit a home run in the playoffs this offseason. He has poise beyond his years and has already made his impact felt.
So who can we expect to see in 2017?
JESSE WINKER, CINCINNATI REDS
Here’s what we know about Winker: He can hit for average at every level that he’s played at, evidence by his .296 career batting average. He is an on base machine, backed by an advanced feel for the strike zone — striking out 63 times and walking 61 times in 2016 — which all equates to a very impressive .396 career on-base percentage. His home run power is maddening as many think he has a 25+ home run bat, but he has been up and down throughout his career.
Simply put, Winker has little left to prove in the minors after yet another solid campaign in his Triple-A debut. His left-handed swing is major league-ready, especially in the hitter-friendly confines of Great American, and he has been a solid outfielder his entire career, averaging 7.5 assists per season and usually playing near error-free defense. The question is where he will fit.
A left fielder by trade, Adam Duvall had a monster breakout season at the position in 2016. Winker is a far superior defensive left fielder, but Duvall’s bat is too valuable to replace with Winker’s. He has played over 100 games at each corner outfield position in his career, so perhaps Scott Schebler could be the odd man out in right.
It will be interesting to see the Reds approach. They could leave him in Triple-A for the early part of 2017 and get him everyday at bats, but at some point, Winker is going to have to get big league at bats. It’s only a matter of time before he contributes in 2017.
CLINT FRAZIER, NEW YORK YANKEES
One of the two big pieces acquired for Andrew Miller, Frazier had somewhat of a down 2016, but that doesn’t change who he is. Frazier is an elite athlete who has nice gap power and 20/20 potential. He also plays a solid centerfield, which means the Yankees are in the same situation with Frazier that the Reds find themselves in with Winker.
Moving Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract will be a difficult task, but left fielder Brett Gardner has long been the center of trade rumors. With right field seemingly already handed over to the youth rebellion in the Bronx, Frazier should be the next move. The 22-year-old right-handed hitter has played all three outfield positions, but has made a home in center field. Should the Yankees be able to move Gardner, perhaps they shift Ellsbury to left and begin the Frazier Era in center, for Frazier’s biggest struggles defensively have been in left.
Split between two organizations, Frazier’s down year was still pretty solid. He slashed .263/.335/.447 with 27 doubles, 16 home runs and 13 doubles. He is a special talent who many have pegged as one of the top prospects in all of baseball. The Yankees won’t be able to hold him back for long, no matter who is in their starting outfield come 2017.
LEWIS BRINSON, MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Speaking of trade rumors, enter Ryan Braun. Should Braun be dealt this offseason, that could make Brinson the best outfielder on the Brewers 40-man roster… and he hasn’t even seen a big league pitch yet.
Brinson was acquired in the Jonathan Lucroy deal at the deadline. Though a small sample size, Brinson lit it up once he arrived with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, slashing .382/.387/.618 with nine doubles, four home runs and four stolen bases. The 22-year-old right-handed-hitting centerfielder is certainly in the 2017 plans.
Keon Broxton was just getting things going when his season ended a bit prematurely due to a fractured wrist, so he will certainly be in the conversation for centerfield. Brinson, however, is special. He has well-above-average hit, power, speed and fielding tools and is the kind of prospect that could make an impact from day one. New to the system, perhaps the Brewers start him back in Triple-A to begin the season, but it won’t be long until he has a spot in Milwaukee.
BRADLEY ZIMMER, CLEVELAND INDIANS
It would be odd for a World Series team to tinker with the success that got them there, especially with so much young talent on the roster. Zimmer, however, is a special talent and the Indians are going to have to make room soon. He and Frazier were supposed to be the outfield of the Indians future, but after the Miller trade, the show appears to be his for the taking.
This season, Zimmer did what Zimmer does, and that is a little bit of everything well. He strikes out a lot (171 times in 2016), but walks a ton as well (71 times). He can hit it over the fence (15 home runs) or into the gaps (25 doubles). And he can fly, swiping 38 bases in 52 attempts. If he could begin to hit for average like he did earlier in his career, Zimmer would be your traditional five-tool player.
The Indians seem to be a team of interchangeable parts. It shouldn’t be a problem to make room for Zimmer and the thought of he and 2016 AL Rookie of the Year candidate Tyler Naquin in the same outfield should be exciting for any Indians fan.
AUSTIN MEADOWS, PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Did somebody say trade rumors earlier? The Pirates have an overcrowded, young outfield, but you would have to be living under a rock to have not heard an Andrew McCutchen trade rumor by now. Should McCutchen — coming off of his worst statistical season in five years — be traded, it opens centerfield for Meadows’ big league career to begin.
Meadows does a lot of everything extremely well. His only setback has been he tends to get injured all too frequently, including rare injuries like when he fractured his orbital bone taking a ball off the face. If you look at his last full season of play in 2015, though, there is a lot to like.
Meadows was again limited this season to 87 games over three levels due to a hammy strain. Last season, however, was sensational and showed why he is one of the top prospects in the game. He slashed .310/.360/.420 with 24 doubles and seven home runs, while stealing 21 of 28 stolen base attempts. This season he got more into the extra-base hits, with 25 doubles, 11 triples and 12 home runs, but it came at the expense of his average, especially when he hit .214 in his 37-game Triple-A 2016 debut.
There is still plenty to like about Meadows despite the injury history. Should McCutchen not be traded, the Pirates have the luxury of giving 21-year-old Meadows some more time for fine-tuning in Triple-A. But if McCutchen goes and Meadows gets through a successful and healthy spring training, it could be his time to shine.