Continuing our positional rankings, we reach the land of opportunity for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2020: left field. Where do the Cards rank in the NL Central?
Today in our positional rankings, we are looking at a place where the St. Louis Cardinals lost a big bat heading into 2020.
Marcell Ozuna may be an Atlanta Brave, but the Cardinals are betting that one of their young outfielders can outperform his slightly above-average offensive numbers at the plate.
The Cardinals have a lot of uncertainty (a common theme) at the left field position in 2020, but that is not something unique to them when looking at the rest of the NL Central. Where do the Cardinals rank among the rest?
5. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds have a ton of outfielders on their roster after adding Nicholas Castellanos and Asian star, Shogo Akiyama. However, Jesse Winker is currently slated to start the year as the left fielder for the Reds.
The former top prospect had a good year with the bat in 2019, batting .269 with an .830 OPS. He only drove in 38 runs, but his overall production was still good enough for a 113 wRC+.
The problem with Winker is in the field. In total, Winker had -3 DRS, a –2.3 UZR, and -8 OAA in the outfield last year. His poor defense hurts his overall value and explains why he had just a 1.0 fWAR in 2019. Entering his age 26 season, he still has room to grow, but the glove needs to improve moving forward.
4. St. Louis Cardinals
If I were truly unbiased, the Cardinals would be an easy pick for last on this list. As of right now, the tandem of Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas are going to split the job, but we all know Dylan Carlson is coming eventually.
O’Neill and Thomas are both plus defenders, so the defense in left will not have issues in 2020, but at the plate is where everything is up in the air. The opportunity is there for this position to be great for the Cards. In very limited appearances, Thomas hit a slash of .316/.409/.684. That is eye-popping, but it was done in just 38 at-bats.
For O’Neill, he suffered from almost zero consistent playing time in 2019 except for an extended look in July when Ozuna was injured. In that month, O’Neill batted for a slash of .301/.341/.482, hitting four homers. He got 88 at-bats that month, and over the rest of the season, the only other month that he got over 13 at-bats was the first month of the season where he batted for a slash of .303/.324/.455.
Both Thomas and O’Neill have performed in their short stints but now will have nothing standing in their way. These flashes could be farces, but if they aren’t, the Cardinals have two young studs ready to play outfield, and that’s not even counting Carlson.
3. Chicago Cubs
Kyle Schwarber was another player (like Kris Bryant), who’s name got floated as one that may get traded, but nevertheless, he remains a baby bear. Schwarber has a ton of power, hitting 38 bombs and slugging .531 in 2019, but he strikes out a lot with that power (25.6% k-rate).
Primarily batting as the Cubs’ leadoff man in 2019, Schwarber’s 92 RBI are pretty impressive. His overall offensive value has him at a 120 wRC+.
Defensively, Schwarber could use some work. Scharber had a disgusting -10 OAA, -3 DRS, and -0.9 UZR at left field last year.
Again though, if you can hit 38 homers, you won’t have much trouble finding a spot in the regular lineup
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
I would imagine that most of you didn’t know who the Pirates’ left fielder was in 2019, but Bryan Reynolds deserves your attention.
Quietly, Reynolds hit .314/.377/.503 last year as a rookie. That slash line was only good enough to get Reynolds to fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, but Reynolds easily snags second on this list. Reynolds may have only hit 16 homers, but he added 37 doubles and four triples to an impressive XBH total.
His 131 wRC+ was virtually untalked about, but Reynolds would’ve been more valuable than any hitter the Cards had last year.
Defensively, Reynolds is fairly average, with 1 DRS, -3.8 UZR, and 2 OAA, but nobody can knock him for his defense. His 3.2 fWAR is a good starting spot for his career and he will be a good player to watch moving forward.
1. Milwaukee Brewers
Strictly based off of depth charts on the team’s official pages, Christian Yelich is the Brewers’ left fielder. After picking up Avisail Garcia this winter, it makes sense. Yelich continued his utter dominance in 2019, batting .329/.429/.671 with 44 homers, 30 steals, and 97 RBI.
His slugging percentage and 1.100 OPS led the entire MLB while his average and OBP were tops in the National League. This was all good for a crazy-high 174 wRC+ and 7.8 fWAR. Had it not been for his season-ending knee injury in early September, there was a good chance he was going to repeat as NL MVP. Having the final month off landed him second in MVP voting, which is still nothing to be angry about.
In the field, Yelich is just average, but who really cares when he bats as he does.
Yelich just signed a nine-year, $215M extension to stay in Milwaukee until at least 2028, so we all get to get used to seeing him often.
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Left field could be a great spot for the Cardinals in 2020. There may not be a player like Yelich roaming left, but if O’Neill and Thomas stay anywhere close to what they were last year, the Cardinals will have no problems without Marcell Ozuna.