MLB Power Rankings: Ranking the Top 10 Outfields in Major League Baseball
The Atlanta Braves made one of the biggest trades of the winter on Thursday, acquiring Justin Upton from the Arizona Diamondbacks for several prospects.
The trade not only reunites Upton with his brother B.J. (who signed with the Braves on Nov. 28), but gives the Braves one of Major League Baseball's elite outfields with Jason Heyward being the lone incumbent.
That begs the question as to whether the Braves now have the best outfield in baseball.
A great outfield is a lot like a five-tool prospect. While operating at the plate can give a team a boost, the ability to cover ground and play seamlessly also presents a huge advantage.
Here's a look at the top-ten outfield units in baseball after Thursday's blockbuster.
10) Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds knew they were getting a solid player when they acquired Shin Soo-Choo from the Cleveland Indians on December 12.
However, what the Reds also knew as that Choo provided a major upgrade to an already solid outfield.
The Reds already had two mashing corner outfielders in Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce. The two run-producers lead Cincinnati to the National League Central championship thanks to a combined 60 home runs and 179 runs batted in.
Choo adds to that offensive production as a perennial threat to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases. He also fits in in terms of OPS where his .815 number in 2012 compares favorably with Ludwick (.877) and Bruce (.841).
Defensively, Choo had a range factor per nine innings of 2.03 playing right field in the American League which was slightly above the league average of 1.99.
If Choo's numbers can withstand a move to center field, the Reds outfield can make a climb up this list as the 2013 season goes along.
9) New York Yankees
The New York Yankees also have an outfield that can finish higher on this list if several questions are answered in a positive manner.
The Yankees biggest question mark may be the lack of consistency between two of their three outfielders.
Ichiro Suzuki played well for the Yankees (.322 average, .794 OPS) after being acquired from the Seattle Mariners on July 24, but what if he regresses toward his first-half form where he hit .261 with a .642 OPS?
If that scenario plays out, the Yankees will be a sinking ship considering the boost Ichiro gave the Yankees after being acquired.
Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner have their concerns as well, but can be valuable parts to the Yankee outfield if they can stay healthy and produce.
Odds are that the latter scenario will play out and the Yankees will have solid outfield play in 2013.
8) Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays always seem to make a couple moves over the offseason that gets folks talking about how they will finally compete with the big boys in the American League East. After several big acquisitions, they may be ready to do just that.
The acquisition that will provide the most interest will be their new left fielder Melky Cabrera.
Cabrera was having a MVP-caliber season for the San Francisco Giants hitting .346 with 11 home runs and 60 runs batted in through the first 113 games.
Then Cabrera got busted for performance-enhancing drugs on August 15 and wasn't placed on the Giants postseason roster.
This leads many fans to believe that Cabrera will crash back to earth in 2013, but I'm not so sure of that.
Cabrera had a solid season for the Kansas City Royals in 2011 before the PED scandal in San Francisco broke hitting .305 with 18 home runs and 87 runs batted in.
By the way, that was also in the American League which can be a difficult adjustment for even some of the best hitters in baseball.
Getting the old Cabrera will be a boost for the Blue Jays who love to hit bombs in the launchpad known as the Rogers Centre.
Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista hit 50 home runs in 2012. What's scare is that they would have had more if it weren't for Bautista missing a large chunk of games in the second-half of the season.
The Blue Jays have high expectations, but their outfield can help them reach their goals.
7) Oakland Athletics
Nobody thought the Oakland Athletics were going to compete in the 2012 season. Then they won the American League West on the final day of the regular season.
There were several factors in the A's surprising run, but the biggest may have been the quick development of their outfield.
Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick were two of the acquisitions made through a series of unpopular moves.
As we head into 2013, those moves are now hailed after two marvelous seasons from the corner outfield spots.
Cespedes finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting behind Mike Trout hitting .292 with 23 home runs and 82 runs batted in.
Reddick also chipped in with 32 home runs in the cavernous Oakland Coliseum while driving in 85 runs.
But this outfield is more than just offense, it balls defensively as well.
With the addition of center fielder Coco Crisp, the Athletics have a combined range factor per nine innings of 6.77 that was well above the American League average (6.51).
This lead to a Gold Glove for Reddick, and a bright future for an outfield entering the prime of it's career.
6) Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers are replacing two-thirds of their outfield from 2012, but that doesn't mean that it will be a weakness.
In fact, the Tigers made an upgrade by acquiring Torii Hunter during free agency to play right field.
Hunter had a 5.5 wins above replacement last year while playing with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and will lend his knowledge to Detroit's young outfielders Andy Dirks and Austin Jackson.
Dirks may be the lesser known of the two, but he will make an impact for the Tigers as the starting left fielder.
In 88 games, Dirks hit .322 with eight home runs and 35 runs batted in over limited action. He'll be making a transition to left field, and that contributes to his low 1.03 range factor per nine.
However, Dirks will make an impact in the plate as evidenced with his 2.0 WAR and .857 OPS.
Jackson has an even bigger amount to gain with the addition of a four-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove award winner.
Hunter has been passing the torch ever since he received it from Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett in the Twins organization and can make Jackson the next name on a tree that has seen Mike Trout, Denard Span, and Ben Revere see success in the major leagues.
With Jackson having a solid line of .300 with 16 home runs and 66 runs batted in last year, there is room for this trio to become one of the best in baseball by the end of the season.
5) Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton play in the same outfield. Think about that a second.
Trout is the rookie who took the major leagues by the throat last May and never let go with a 30/40 season that was one stolen base from becoming a 30/50 season that left him just short of Miguel Cabrera for American League Most Valuable Player.
Hamilton is the one that had a stranglehold on the MVP award until mid-June and found himself in a second-half slump that lead to his departure from the Texas Rangers.
With star power like that, it seems like the Angels have the best outfield in baseball.
However, Peter Bourjos is the weak link in the group that prevents the Angels from going over the top.
Last season, Bourjos hit .220 for the Angels but was able to make up for that by playing a fantastic center field (2.98 range factor per nine innings) and showcasing blazing speed on the basepaths.
That game-changing speed was enough for the Angels to end the Mark Trumbo outfield experiment and send Kendry Morales packing to Seattle.
It puts the pressure on Bourjos to make a meaningful contribution while being sandwiched between two All-Star outfielders.
4) St. Louis Cardinals
The outfield has been a strength for the St. Louis Cardinals for several seasons, and 2013 does not figure to be an exception.
The Cardinals will return their outfield from 2012 that lead them to a seven-game series with the eventual World Champion San Francisco Giants. That means the Cardinals will be hungrier to have an even better season this year.
It starts with one of the most consistent players in baseball in Matt Holliday. Hitting .295 with 27 home runs and 102 RBI is a great compliment to right fielder Carlos Beltran who became the free-agent surprise of the season by hitting .269 with 32 bombs and 97 RBI.
However, both Holliday and Beltran were below-average defensive players at their positions. That's where the presence of Jon Jay is valuable.
Jay had an above-average range factor per nine innings of 2.65 last year (NL average was 2.49) and helps get to balls that Holliday and Beltran can not get to.
The Cardinals will be in the mix for a playoff spot in 2013, and their outfield will help dictate how far they can go.
3) Washington Nationals
Like in the previous slide, new acquisition Denard Span will have an impact on the Washington Nationals when it comes to it's defensive abilities.
For years, the Nationals have tried to find a center fielder that can play defense in center field and be a legitimate top-of-the-order hitter. Span fits both of these bills.
With the Minnesota Twins in 2012, Span hit .283 with just 4 home runs and 41 RBI. However, his range factor per nine innings was off the charts at 2.89 (AL average was 2.58 for center fielders).
This gives the Nationals some consistency in their outfield with Bryce Harper moving to left field and Jayson Werth remaining in right.
The offensive numbers from Harper (.270, 22 HR, 59 RBI) and Werth (.300, 5 HR, 31 RBI in 81 games) will improve with one turning 20 and the other ready to have a healthier season in 2013.
The Nationals gave up a premier pitching prospect in Alex Meyer to acquire Span from the Twins, but the price will be well worth it if Span can provide the foundation for an outfield beginning to jell.
2) Los Angeles Dodgers
If you're going to spend just under $220 million on payroll, every position on your team should be stacked. The Los Angeles Dodgers outfield is no exception.
The Dodgers will be without Carl Crawford for at least the first half of the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, but upon his return this trio can rival the best in baseball.
Along with Crawford, who can be a steal if he finds his form that made him a star in Tampa Bay, the Dodgers possess two of the most dangerous outfielders in baseball with Andre Eithier and Matt Kemp.
Kemp began the 2012 season with a flurry, but finished with a whimper due to a hamstring injury. Finishing with a "modest" .303 with 23 home runs and 69 RBI season, Kemp's numbers figure to rise with a healthy 2013.
The Dodgers tried to deal Andre Eithier over the offseason, but instead kept him in what seemed like a "Do we really have to?" moment for the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball.
Eithier hit .284 with 20 home runs and 89 RBI for the Dodgers in 2012, and will see those numbers increase with the additions of a healthy Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez to a stacked lineup.
Defensively, this trio has some work to do. Still, with a little health and improvement this trio can be solid for many years to come.
1) Atlanta Braves
Caught up in the moment? I don't think so.
The Atlanta Braves have assembled an outfield that not only is one of the best in baseball today, but can hold that steam for over a decade if they play their cards right.
Jason Heyward is already known as a prodigy at 23 years old. After a spectacular rookie season and sophomore slump campaign, Heyward blossomed in his third season with his bat (.269 with 27 home runs and 82 RBI) and Gold Glove (2.30 range factor per nine innings) leading the way.
Now, Heyward is joined by 28-year-old BJ and 25-year-old Justin Upton. Think about that a second.
Most teams would be drooling over having one five-tool player in their outfield and now the Braves have three. Three that can stick together for several years if they so desire.
With the current set-up the Braves have, the chance for a dynasty is there if they can add complimentary pieces throughout.
This team is suddenly set for long-term success with the birth of the best outfield in Major League Baseball.
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