Eric Thames: Ranking the Blue Jay Among AL East Left Fielders
There is some uncertainty as to who will man left field for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012. With Eric Thames, Travis Snider, Rajai Davis and Ben Francisco all candidates to make the 25-man roster, only one can anchor left.
While the area out left at Rogers Centre may become something of a proverbial timeshare this season, the man with the inside track to start Opening Day is none other than last year's starter, Eric Thames.
Here is a player-to-player comparison to see which teams hold an advantage over their divisional competitors entering the 2012 season.
The Blue Jays representative, Eric Thames, showed flashes of potential in 2011 but will be up against a tough group of veterans this season.
5. Eric Thames, Toronto Blue Jays
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Though Thames did a nice job taking over left field from Travis Snider last season, his performance wasn't enough to place him ahead of any opponent on the list.
Thames has decent power, can hit for an adequate average and should get on base at a respectable rate once he learns to control his enthusiasm at the dish.
Thames' defense is average. He has vocalized his intentions to improve in this regard and will have the opportunity to showcase his development from the outset of the 2012 campaign.
For now, he ranks as the division's least valuable starting left fielder.
4. Nolan Reimold, Baltimore Orioles
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Reimold's numbers from 2011 are very similar to Thames'. Where he has the upper hand are speed and bat control. Though he posted a .247 AVG to Thames' .262, Reimold got on base at a .328 clip to Thames' .313.
The Orioles' fan base and organization are projecting a career year for Reimold. The key for the leftfielder will be to stay healthy so that he can tap into his considerable well of speed and power for the entire 2012 season.
He could make his way up the charts, but for now, Reimold begins 2012 as the AL East's fourth most valuable left fielder.
3. Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox
Despite the third-place ranking, I envision Crawford having something of a bounce-back year in 2012.
The former Ray's struggles in 2011 cannot really be understated, but they should not be the sole label defining Crawford.
Crawford remains a unique talent, a combination of blinding speed and quick hands at the dish. If he can get it together and recapture the form that made him a star in Tampa Bay for so many years, it would go a long way for making Boston contenders for the AL East title.
It seems Crawford will miss Opening Day with wrist issues. This problem is largely why Crawford comes in at No. 3. Not only will he miss time at the outset of the 2012 season, but the possibility is strong that he will compete below 100 percent for much of the summer.
2. Brett Gardner, New York Yankees
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Gardner's average dipped from .277 in 2010 to .259 in 2011. The decline is indicative of nearly all Gardner's stats across the board.
The Yankee is a singles hitter, posting a career SLG of .369. He mitigates his lack of extra base power by running wild on the base paths and ensures he has the opportunity to do so often by exercising a keen eye at the dish.
Gardner's No. 2 ranking is largely a result of Crawford's health rather than his own merit, but he enters the 2012 season as the AL East's second most effective left fielder.
1. Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays
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While Crawford's health will largely determine his effectiveness this upcoming season, think what Jennings could do if he can stay on the field for 150-plus games in 2012.
Jennings was limited to only 63 games during his rookie season in 2011 but managed to blast 10 home runs and steal 20 bases. Considering that he was only 24 years old, his production this year and beyond could be scary.
In addition to his speed-power combination, Jennings has an advanced approach at the plate. He only hit .259 last season but took 31 base on balls, upping his OBP to .356. Once his average starts rising, he is going to be on base an awful lot—a terrifying thought for opposing managers.
Jennings enters 2012 as the division's best left fielder and the potential to represent the AL at the 2012 All-Star Game.
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