Last year the outfield was anchored by Jeff Hendrix and he was a terrific player at the plate and out in center field. This year he has moved on to the Yankees organization and Elliott Cary looks to fill the void he left behind in center field. Kyle Nobach and Joe Gillette return plus the addition of talented freshmen Trevor Larnach and Steven Kwan will be pressing for time as well.
This spot is Nobach's to lose. He is a captain this year and was a solid bat but more importantly made some terrific plays in left field. He's been the focus of some articles as getting tough love from Pat Casey and it makes sense as he seems to be a tough no nonsense player. Here are his offensive stats from last season.
All of these stats are from conference play and while not sterling he was still a valuable player. The strikeout and walk percentages demonstrate a reasonable approach at the plate and the BABIP shows that his average would be likely to come up over time. He had the second highest number of doubles with 6 only behind Hendrix.
With another offseason to work on his craft under the tutelage of Casey and co. I expect he will continue to grow into a solid player at the plate with some power potential. Plus he can do this in the outfield:
Another role that should be locked up, Elliott Cary should be the man here. A highly rated prospect with a lanky frame and terrific range, he should be the next man up at center for the Beavers. His year started off slowly while he struggled at the plate, but once he broke through there he was often in the lineup for coach Casey in right field. There he showed his fielding ability where he got to run down lots of fly balls and some in spectacular fashion. Again here are the stats:
The numbers don't necessarily lineup as well here, he really came on late in the year as he refined his approach. There was still the tendency to chase after some bad pitches, but his swing is sweet. Looks natural and easy and while the BABIP is a sign for concern he should keep developing into a superb player out in center.
He did have off-season Tommy John surgery so he won't be ready to start for a little bit and the replacement is yet to be determined. There has been some discussion of Trever Morrison, Nick Madrigal, or Cadyn Grenier getting a start out there if they do not get the start in the infield, but perhaps one of the potential right fielders could get the start as well. One of those guys could also potentially start in center but that really is up in the air and the role belongs to Cary so it won't make much of a difference long term in the season.
This a competition between Gillette, Larnach, and Kwan. Kwan is a smaller guy and has often been referred to as a "sparkplug". Larnach is a highly regarded prospect and is more built for power at 6' 3", 215 lbs. Gillette is more of a known, a pretty good defender but had some struggles at the plate. I'll list his stats below but with such a low number of at bats they determine very little.
|SUM of AB||41|
|SUM of RBI||3|
Again the numbers don't mean a lot but striking out on 14/41 at bats is not fantastic. This is a situation where it is tough to have much of a read. With two highly thought of freshmen having a real chance of capturing the job and minimal tape of them playing it's awful tough to draw many conclusions. Gillette should not be ruled out either as perhaps the offseason could him him improve at the plate.
From early news though it sounds like Larnach may be the man, at least at the start. Coach Casey will be looking for offense and Larnach is a left-handed bat with power and that alone may get him into the lineup. Expect Kwan to start with sort of a Joey Jansen type role. I doubt that Gillette just falls by the wayside, maybe the Larnach hype train is just running off the rails, but it sounds like the freshmen will be getting an extended look. If he can deliver on his promise of power he will likely stick in the starting lineup.
Overall, expect some experimentation in Surprise and San Diego as Casey sorts through his options while working through some pre-season injuries.