Now that we’ve gone through the top ten lists for all infield position, it’s time to shift our attention the outfield. Let’s start with left field, which may be one of the most underrated positions in terms of talent at the position. All ten players on this list project to have an OPS north of .800, and are All Star caliber players. That makes it very tough to sort them out, and honestly this list could be as effective in any order. Still, I believe that I’ve ranked these players in the best particular order possible, and would confidently put my ranking up with any other. Let’s take a look at the top ten left fielders in baseball!
#10 Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox
Projected Stats: .283/.362/.453 (.815 OPS) 18 HR 7 drs 3.5 WAR
A surprise at #10, Andrew Benintendi kicks off this list. When I was first making this list, I thought the 24-year-old would rank near the top. After being selected with the 7th overall pick in the 2015 MLB draft from the University of Arkansas, Benintendi advanced quickly through the minors, and was in the majors the next season. In two full seasons, he has an .803 OPS and a 7.0 WAR, including an .830 OPS and 3.9 WAR this past season. Benintendi may be ready to establish himself as one of the game’s top stars, but for him to do so, he needs to improve in two departments where he regressed dramatically in 2018. For starters, Benintendi’s quality of contact was awful last season; his hard contact dropped to 28%. That’s a major red flag; it’s not sustainable for him to produce with such awful quality of contact. It’s not just his hitting though, Benintendi’s fielding regressed last season as well. His -3 drs was a career worst, and although he was a solid defender in left field (4 drs), part of an outfielder’s value comes from playing multiple outfield positions, so it’s more than fair to hold that against him. With four years until free agents and at just age 24, there’s plenty of time for Benintendi to grow into the five-tool superstar some believe he’s destined to be. Until he does so however, I’m not betting on him over some of the other players on this list. For that reason, #10 seems like a fair spot for him at the moment.
#9 Michael Conforto, New York Mets
Projected Stats: .256/.359.483 (.842 OPS) 28 HR 1 drs 3.6 WAR
Ironically, Michael Conforto has a very similar profile to Benintendi. The 25-year-old was selected with the tenth overall pick out of Oregon State University in the 2014 MLB draft, and debuted in the majors the following season. Like Benintendi, Conforto has failed to disappoint, posting a .825 OPS and a 9.1 WAR so far in his three-year career. Unlike Bentintendi, however, Conforto’s current production seems to be sustainable. Though it decreased, Conforto’s hard contact rate (35.8%) is well higher than Benintendi’s, while his .289 BABIP suggests is lower than Benintendi’s. Furthermore, Conforto walks (13.2%) at a very solid rate, and really came into his own in the second half. Confroto suffered a shoulder injury during the 2017 season, and it seemed to bother him until the second half, where he posted an .895 OPS. Conforto’s hard contact (38.4%) increased during that span, while his luck (.315 BABIP) improved as well. If an .895 OPS is what Conforto can put up with a reasonable BABIP, then maybe he should be even higher on this list. Similar to Benintendi, Conforto’s defense (-6 drs) also struggled, though most of his poor production defensively came from center field. Overall, Conforto hasn’t put up consistent numbers yet; he’s been a streaky player for the most part. However, his upside is tremendous, and he’s shown signs that he’s ready to breakout and become a star. If he takes the next step in his progression, as I expect him to do, he should skyrocket up this list next year.
#8 Michael Brantley, Houston Astros
Projected Stats: .298/.356/.454 (.810 OPS) 17 HR 0 drs 3 WAR
The Houston Astros may have the league’s most terrifying offense, thanks to a combination of factors. With the likes of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and George Springer, their lineup was already lethal. Now with the addition of Michael Brantley, who signed a two-year contract with the club, their offense could be historic. The 31-year-old may go under the radar, but he’s consistently been an above average hitter. In every full season starting from 2014, he’s had an OPS of at least .801, with at least a .357 on base percentage. Furthermore, Brantley’s contact rate of 90.9% was the best in baseball, and was the center of an impressive 2018 campaign in which he posted an .832 OPS and a 3.6 WAR. A player at his level seems like a top five worthy player, but with Brantley, there are some serious concerns. One issue is durability. Brantley missed all but 11 games in 2016, and all but 90 games in 2017 due to injuries, and hasn’t played 150 games since 2014. Brantley took a step forward last season, playing 143 games, but he’ll need to continually stay healthy to provide value for his team. Also, although his contact rate was incredible, his chase rate (27.1%) and defense (-3) declined this season, and given his age, it’s likely that he’s already reached his ceiling. That’s fine; assuming he’s healthy, he’s good for a 3 to 3.5 win season. However, on a list with so much talent, Brantley’s durability concerns and low ceiling keep him from ranking higher on this list. Still, he’s well deserving of a spot in the top ten due to his consistent production when on the field.
#7 Justin Upton, Los Angeles Angels
Projected Stats: .258/.345/.484 (.829 OPS) 31 HR 3 drs 3.6 WAR
Speaking off consistent, under the radar players, very few players fit that billing quite like Justin Upton. Since being taken with the first overall pick in the 2005 MLB draft by the Diamondbacks, all Upton has done is produce. He possesses an .826 career OPS, with 286 career home runs, to go along with a career WAR 35. Yet, for a variety of reasons, the 31-year-old continues to be overlooked despite producing, which he continued to do in 2018. Upton posted an .808 OPS, 3.8 WAR, and a 124 wrc+ in the first season of his new five-year contract he signed with the Angels in the previous offseason, and he actually continues to improve. His hard contact rate (43.8%) was a career high, while he improved his chase rate (24.9%), and his line drive rate (21.8%). Still, Upton is far from a perfect hitter. His strikeout rate of 28.7% remains alarmingly high, while his ground ball rate (42.4%) and walk rate (10.4%) took steps in the wrong direction. He’s also far from the perfect player; his 0 drs and -0.6 UZR label him as an average defender in the outfield. Still, you don’t need to be a perfect player, and Upton remains above average as a hitter while serviceable in the field, which makes him a very valuable asset for the Angels. He may regress at some point given his age, but for now, he’s a reliable and talented player and can’t be ranked any lower than #7.
#6 Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies
Projected Stats: .302/.368/.523 (.891 OPS) 33 HR -10 drs 3.9 WAR
A late addition to this list, Charlie Blackmon is likely moving to left field for the Rockies after being a center fielder for the first six seasons of his career. That’s definitely for the best; the 32-year-old posted an atrocious -28 drs in center field last season. As Blackmon ages, it’s clear he no longer has the speed and range required to play center field, and while he probably will still rate as a negative defender in a corner outfield spot, it won’t be as extreme. Still, it’s very difficult to project since Blackmon hasn’t played anywhere but center field since 2015, so most of this ranking is based what we can easily project- Blackmon’s terrific offensive production. Despite 2018 being considered a “down year” for Blackmon, he still produced an .860 OPS with a .502 slugging percentage. We’ve discussed the Coors Field effect enough on these lists, but since Blackmon’s .270 BABIP on the road contributed significantly to a .768 road OPS, I’m not going to punish him much for playing half of his games in Colorado. Considering Blackmon’s posted a 1.000 OPS, this regression may be a concern given his age and likely decline at some point, but none of his numbers decreased significantly, so it’s likely that his production will meet right in the middle between 2017 and 2018. That means an OPS around .900, and considering that an OPS around there wouldn’t be a surprise whatsoever for the Blackmon, it’s clear that he’s the best hitter on this list. Concerns with defense and age keep him out of the top five, but Blackmon can’t be overlooked as still an above average veteran outfielder who will be a key part in the Rockies’ quest to reach the postseason for the third straight season.
#5 David Peralta, Arizona Diamondbacks
Projected Stats: .291/.351/.480 (.831 OPS) 21 HR 4 drs 2.9 WAR
A common theme on these lists is players emerging out of nowhere, but no player has a story quite like David Peralta. A failed minor league pitcher, Peralta played in the Independent League in Texas, where he had to work at McDonald’s to afford to drive from Florida. He then signed with the Diamondbacks in 2013, and has since become one on the most productive players at his position. In a breakout season in 2018, he posted an impressive .868 OPS and a 130 wrc+ with a 3.8 WAR. Peralta’s improvement was based on a dramatic improvement in one area- the amount of hard contact he was making. After having just a 31.6% hard contact rate in 2017, Peralta’s hard contact rate jumped all the way to 48.6%, which ranked second in all of baseball. The 31-year-old also decreased his ground ball rate, and seems to just be coming into his own as one of the premier hitters at his position. Yet, Peralta’s value comes from more than just offense. His defense (6 drs, 1.4 UZR) ranks above average, and combined with his superb offensive production, he provides extreme value for the retooling Diamondbacks. With two years left of team control, Arizona may opt to trade Peralta for a major prospect package. One thing’s for certain though: he’ll have a huge market, and could be the difference maker for any team with World Series aspirations. I’m extremely excited to see how Peralta does this season, and definitely expect him to at the very least keep a spot in the top five next year.
#4 Marcell Ozuna, St.Louis Cardinals
Projected Stats:.294/.349.491 (.840 OPS) 29 HR 10 drs 3.8 WAR
When the Cardinals acquried Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins last offseason, many, including myself, thought their were getting one of the league’s top outfielders with MVP potential. It turns out, we just had the wrong NL Central team and the wrong Marlins outfielder, as Christian Yelich would wound up being the one to breakout and win the nL MVP. Meanwhile, Ozuna regressed to a .758 OPS with just a .325 on base percentage, alarmingly similar to his career averages. Considering he’s only had an OPS over .800 in one season (2017), could it possible that Ozuna’s more of an average player than the premier talent St.Louis thought he was? No so fast. Yes, Ozuna took a major step back in 2018, but there are plenty of reasons to remain optimistic. For starters, Ozuna’s production on the field may have been affected by a shoulder injury. It clearly took him a lot of time to adjust to it, and his .857 OPS in the second half combined with the fact that his shoulder should be healthy after undergoing surgery on it would indicate his performance should naturally improve this season. Even with the injury, Ozuna progressed in several areas last season. His hard contact rate rose to 45.2%, his strikeout rate decreased to 17.5%, while his overall contact rate also increased. Those are critical steps towards Ozuna realizing his potential as a massive offensive threat, and are just another sign that Ozuna could be heading towards a huge season offensively in 2019. Even if he doesn’t, Ozuna still provides tremendous value with his defense. With 18 drs and a 6.8 UZR over his past two seasons, Ozuna’s played near Gold Glove caliber defense, and it may actually be the most developed part of his age. There’s no way he can make the top three after last season’s “disaster”, but there are too many signs that he’ll bounce-back this season for him to drop down this list any further.
#3 Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
Projected Stats: .295/.399/.518 (.917 OPS) 25 HR -4 drs 4 WAR
Every season, there seems to be one player who reaches the majors well ahead of schedule and immediately becomes one of the league’s top young players. Still, no one could suggest that a 19-year-old would be able to be the best hitter in a lineup with Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon. Yet, that’s what Juan Soto did last season when he burst onto the scene to the tune of a .923 OPS and a 3.7 WAR. Furthermore, Soto’s .406 on base percentage wass one another level, and his 16% walk rate ranked fifth best in baseball. He already has elite plate discipline that players dream for, and he’s not even legally allowed to drink alcohol yet. Soto doesn’t profile as a typical slugger; his hard contact rate and fly ball rates are low. Still, he’ll continue to improve his power over time, and he still managed to hit 22 home runs last season. I’m not concerned about Soto’s hitting at all, in fact, I’m jubilant about it. I am concerned with his defense, however, after he had -5 drs and a -4.2 UZR last season and showed limited range. That could prevent him from becoming an all around superstar and an MVP, but Soto’s floor seems to be a consistent, All Star caliber player, which is more than enough to warrant a spot in the top three. I’d like to see Soto hit less ground balls and improve the quality of his contact, with at least average defense, but the player he is right now is already a tremendous player. Considering he just turned 20-years-old, there still could more in store for Soto, and he could challenge for the number one spot on this list as soon as next year. The next player on this list may have something to say about that, however.
#2 Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves
Projected Stats: .287/.358/.519 (.877 OPS) 28 HR 4 drs 3.6 WAR
After ranking as Baseball America‘s top prospect, expectations were high on Ronald Acuna as the baseball world awaited his MLB debut. Somehow, he managed to exceed them, and then some. The 20-year-old was a star right away, posting a .917 OPS with a .388 wOBA, and a 3.7 WAR, earning the NL Rookie of the Year award. He’s pretty much the exact opposite of Soto- a free swinging slugger with incredible athleticism. His hard contact rate is much higher than Soto’s at 44.4%, but his 25.3% K rate and 9.2% walk rate are much lower. Those rates aren’t alarming yet considering it was his first season, but it’s definitely something he’ll need to improve in the future. Either way, Acuna’s a five tool talent who will continue to produce incredible numbers, whether it be from his power (26 HR), baserunning (2.8 BsR, 16 SB), or natural hitting ability. His value also comes from his defense, unlike Soto; Acuna posted 4 drs while playing all three outfield spots and should continue to improve to become an elite fielder with his speed and arm strength. Like Soto, I’m putting a lot of faith in Acuna to continue to progress and expand upon his rookie season. However, considering Acuna’s long-time status as a prospect and his overall talent, I believe that fate is well warranted.
#1 Tommy Pham, Tampa Bay Rays
Projected Stats: .283/.375/.475 (.850 OPS) 23 HR 8 drs 4.8 WAR
Unlike Acuna, Tommy Pham was never expected to be in this position. A 16th round pick in the 2006 MLB Draft, the 30-year-old didn’t play over 100 games until 2017, when he finally got his chance with the Cardinals. In that 2017 season, Pham had a .931 OPS with a 6.1 WAR, finishing 11th in the NL MVP voting. Then came 2018, where Pham struggled to match his production from 2017 with St.Louis. The Cardinals ultimately traded him to the Rays at the trade deadline, and Pham didn’t look back. After posting just a .730 OPS with St.Louis, he posted a 1.071 OPS with the Rays, posting a significantly higher WAR (2.6) with them than he did with the Cardinals (0.8) despite playing 59 games fewer. Overall, Pham finished with an .830 OPS with a 4.0 WAR, according to Fangraphs, and a 3.4 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. It seems that with a more defined role, Pham was able to breakout into the player he was in 2017, and there’s more than enough to suggest he’ll continue to be that level of player. Pham’s 48.5% hard contact rate is on another level, while his 11.8% walk rate and 129 wrc+ highlight how complete and productive of a hitter he is. Defensively, Pham is elite as a left fielder; he had 10 drs and a 0.8 UZR when he played there for most of the season with St.Louis in 2017. Need any more convincing? Pham’s base running (15 SB, 2.2 BsR) are also above average and round him out as a very underrated, all around star. He may not be very flashy, but Tommy Pham is an extremly productive player, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s the top left fielder at the sport right now. He’s an underrated MVP candidate, and will be a critical part of Tampa Bay’s quest for the postseason despite their limited payroll this season.
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