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Monday, March 30, 2009

Breaking Down the NL East: Rightfielders

In my humble and uninformed simpleton opinion, this year’s crop of NL East right fielders is the weakest of any and all positions with the possible exception of Catcher. On that note, there is an inkling of a potential star in Jeff Francoeur, but everyone else is slightly above if not average. Long gone are the days of Daryl Strawberry, Dave Justice and….and….Von Hayes? Boy that list went downhill fast. Boy, Bobby Abreu being one of the divisions best rightfielders of the past thirty years doesn’t say very much for the position. In any case, here is this year’s bunch of guys…in order of rank.

First (Score 1.875): Don’t let the score fool you. The Philadelphia Phillies' Jayson Werth is a good player, but he probably isn’t the best in this group. A serviceable fielder who became the starter following the departure of Bobby Abreu was a solid hitter with some pop in his bat. He hit career highs in dingers and RBIs, mainly due to the increase in playing time. I think he has consistency issues, but when he’s on, he’ll provide good protection to any of the lefties he hits behind. This year I project him to hit .285/21/73 as he’ll bat fifth or sixth depending on the opposing pitcher.

Second (2.5): The New York Mets’ Ryan Church has been in the league now for a couple of years and would be a good fourth outfielder for a contending team. Unfortunately for him and the Mets, he is the starting right fielder really due to a lack of options. As with leftfielder Daniel Murphy, his job this year is not secure by any means, and if either of these two should perform poorly early, then they just might get replaced. He has decent production when he plays, but playing will depend on his health and how he fares in April and May. I actually expect the Mets to make a trade for an outfielder sooner than later and Ryan might be the odd man out. It will be .275/15/53 for Ryan Church in 2009.

Third (2.875): Jeff Francoeur of the Atlanta Braves had a down year in 2008 and after two straight 100 RBI years in ’06 and ’07 finished with a mere 71 last season. Maybe it was the Andruw Jones factor and the added stress affected his game. Last year I would easily have put him first, and almost did this year, but I have a nagging feeling that ’08 was the real Francoeur. I’m not sure how much better he’s going to be since the lineup outside of Chipper and Brian McCann is mediocre. But for the time being I see him hitting .264 with 13 home runs and driving in 76 runs.

Fourth (3.5): When I first heard about Jeremy Hermida I though he was going to be the next star coming out of the Florida Marlins farm system, best thing since sliced bread. And he had a promising year in 2007. 2008 however was far from his coming out party. He had the same power numbers, but he couldn’t hit the .250 mark by season’s end. That’s o.k. if you are Ryan Howard hitting 45 round trippers, but if you are anyone else, you are a notch below average. This year he’ll need to do more since the Fish dropped more power off the pier and I think he will. He reach 18 home runs, 72 RBIs, and bat around .270 in 2009 for a Marlins team that will battle for the 3rd spot in the East.

Fifth (4.25): In his two part-time years in the majors, it is unclear just how good the Washington Nationals’ Elijah Dukes really is. The thing that has been holding him back in the past was his attitude and who knows if he can really exorcise whatever demons he has so that he can realize his full potential. But the “high risk” term is doubtful to leave him as he enters his second season in the nation’s capital. He does show some power and the ability to drive in runs, as long as he keeps his strikeouts down. Barring any injuries, I expect him do keep Austin Kearns out of a starting job; .257/18/62 for Elijah in 2009.

I might have done Jeff Francoeur some injustice here, but I don’t mind being wrong at any point. None of these guys have shown superstar potential and may wind up being nothing more than role players on their respective teams. I wouldn’t be surprised however if one or two of these guys aren’t replaced by midseason and I may have to revisit these projections then. This ends the projections for the position players. Next time I break down the NL East I will look at the starting pitching, then the relief crew to wrap up the series.

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