The NL Central has been one of the most continuously active divisions in an offseason that has been mostly dull. As we begin spring training we have to decide which teams stand out from the rest in each category. We are going to begin with the outfield, additions and subtractions have set a few teams apart from the others. Let’s get to ranking!
5. Cincinnati Reds, 2017 combined WAR: 5
Projected Starters: Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, Billy Hamilton
Fourth Outfielder: Jesse Winker
The Cincinnati Reds currently sit last in our rankings due mainly to the fact that they are unsure of the future os speedster Billy Hamilton. Jesse Winker proved that he is ready for the big leagues but with Hamilton still in the fold manager Bryan Price may be forced into a platoon situation.
Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler combined for 61 homeruns in 2017, both however showed that they can be boom or bust a large percentage of the time. Schebler and Duvall both hit just above .230BA and hovered around .301 OBP. While they have been tasked with driving in runs the lack of production from speedster Billy Hamilton left them with few options to drive in.
The Reds have a solid future to grow on in the outfield but right now it is full of unproven potential. Great American Ballpark will help them provide the power but outside of that and Duvall/ Hamilton’s solid defense, there is much to like about this outfield core.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates, 2017 Combined WAR: 3.3
Projected Starters: Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Adam Frazier
Fourth Outfielder: Jordan Luplow or Daniel Nava?
It wasn’t long ago that the Pittsburgh Pirates sat on top of this list. Andrew McCutchen claimed that they the best young outfield in the game. Now he sits in a San Francisco dugout wondering what could have been.
The Pirates still have two potentially dynamic players in Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, but with Polanco’s injury history and lack of true star production you have to question whether his ability will ever match expectations. Polanco still has never hit above .258 in three full major league seasons. Marte entered 2017 as the potential breakout star of baseball senior circuit, a gold glover with the ability to one day be a 30/30 man in the majors with a strong .350OBP. Sadly a early season steroid suspension put a hole in a season that looked to have big time promise. Marte has now taken on the role of team leader and star as he shifts to centerfield for 2018, can he pick up for the lose of McCutchen not only on the field but also the locker room?
The Pirates also have to determine whether Adam Frazier, infielder by trade, is the answer in left field. Frazier provides stability but pretty much no power for a team that will be looking to replace 28HR from its lineup. The Pirates just added veteran Daniel Nava to it’s roster to compete for the position but, let’s be honest, Daniel Nava is what he is and that is not a consistent MLB starter.
Rookie Austin Meadows is still developing, but as of right now, the Pirates have to options in the outfield and the rest is a coin flip. Marte and Polanco’s ability though allows them to stay ahead of the Reds for last place.
3. Chicago Cubs, 2017 Combined WAR: 5.4
Projected Starters: Jason Heyward, Albert Amora, Kyle Schwarber
Fourth Outfielder: Ian Happ
The Chicago Cubs have a lot of potential players that could spend a lot of time patrolling the outfield in the friendly confines. But I see Ben Zobrist as more of an infield option at second base. That leaves us with a few question marks with serious potential.
While I am sure the Cubs regret the amount of money spent on Jason Heward, they will never admit it because you still get the best defensive outfielder in baseball. While Heyward has been great defensively his offensive output has been subpar over the last two seasons and there is no reason to think it will improve.
Luckily for the Cubbies Albert Amora showed flashes of brilliance in 2017, defensively he has the talent to play center and he bat has begun to show signs of life, his .338OBP and .298BA lead all cubs outfielders in 2017, with another year of experience under his belt he can only improve.
Kyle Schwarber will be the greatest mystery of the bunch. While Schwarber supplies the power that fans and GM’s drool over, he has not developed as a complete hitter. Being sent down last season seemed to do him some good but the Cubs need an improvement from the .211BA. Schwarber’s limitations defensively will force Joe Maddon to sit him in big situations of games as well as limit his overall usage. Reports say that Schwarber has come into spring training in great shape, but does that really magically turn him into a viable outfielder?
Ian Happ is good, if the Cubs can find AB’s for him he will hit 30 homers, but who do they sit to make room?
2. Milwaukee Brewers, 2017 Combined WAR: 13.7
Projected Starters: Chritian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Ryan Braun
Fourth Outfielder: Domingo Santana
It’s hard to argue with the depth of the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers. The additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain vaulted them right into the stratosphere of athletic/dynamic outfields.Yelich and Cain immediately provide upgrades in the lineup as well as defensively. The Biggest question about this new look outfield is who is what Ryan Braun is going to show up in 2018
Braun featured career lows in every statistical category in 2017 outside of his injury riddled 2013 season. Braun will have less pressure as the big names come into the fold but for the Brewers to overcome the arch rival Cubs they will need some form of the former MVP.
Another question that comes is what to do with Domingo Santana. Santana smashed 30 dingers for the Brew Crew in 2017 and now he has to relegated to a bench role. Finding holes in the Brewers outfield depth was tough but, Cain has only played two full seasons in the majors without any injury issues and Braun seems to be a shell of his former self. They are dynamic and talented but there are a lot of questions that still have no answers.
1. St. Louis Cardinals, 2017 Combined WAR: 14.3
Projected Starters: Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler, Marcell Ozuna
Fourth Outfielder: Jose Martinez
The Cardinals entered the 2017 offseason with a goal to add a power bat. They were successful and now Marcell Ozuna will play in the most talented outfield in the NL Central.
The biggest question about the Cardinals outfield is whether or not Tommy Pham’s monster season was a fluke or not. The fact is that Tommy Pham has his on every level in professional baseball. If not for his injury history then he would have been in the majors a long time ago.
Now you may ask, What if he does get hurt again? The Cardinals feature a stable of young talented outfielders ready to step in on a moments notice. Guys like Jose Martinez and Harrison Bader have come to the majors and made an impact.
The pickup of Ozuna gave the Cardinals the flexibility in the lineup and defensively, what gets lost in Ozuna’s gaudy power numbers is his defensive ability. The pickup of Ozuna allowed the Cardinals to move Pham to center and Fowler to right. Each of these players made MLB’s top 10 outfielders by position and they are set to dominate the league. The Cardinals have their flaws but the outfield is not one of them.