Saturday, January 11, 2014

Giancarlo Stanton is the old man of the Marlins' outfield

Giancarlo Stanton has been one of the youngest players in baseball for so long that it seems surreal that he could be the old man of the Marlins' outfield this coming season. Heading into his age 24 season, Stanton looks to be joined by young guys, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, who both had a successful first taste of the Majors in 2013. Despite the youthful nature of Stanton and his outfield mates, this could actually work out quite well for the Marlins.

Let's start out with Stanton himself. Despite the fact that he has hit 117 homers before he turned 24 years old and despite the tape measure of many of those homers, he has still been a bit of a disappointment. He has not been able to stay on the field the last two years and his strikeout rate is one of the highest in baseball. Plus, his fielding seemed also to stumble in 2013. His career has had superstar written all over it, but the reality has been less than so.

But you have to consider the age as well. He could easily come into his own and be the kind of player we have expected him to be. There were some positives in 2013 in what was otherwise a disappointing season. While he still struck out 140 times, his plate discipline improved and his swinging strike rate (though still enormous) went down. There seemed to be a little more selectivity in what he was swinging at in 2013.

Projection systems still love the guy. The Oliver projections have him averaging six WAR per season for the next five seasons with plenty of power and despite the continued strikeout rate. I still think he can be even better if he can stay on the field, plays better on the road and improves on his strikeout rate. I still see a superstar there.

And I see fun things for Christian Yelich too. He did quite well in his first 62 games in the Major Leagues. The former first round draft pick for the Marlins in the 2010 draft held his own despite being only 21 years old in 2013.

What I liked best about his debut was that he held onto his plate discipline from the minors to the big show. He walked over eleven percent of the time and finished with an on-base percentage of .370 for the Marlins. His ISO and slugging percentage did not show what he did in the minors, but that will come.

I also loved that he stole ten bases for the Marlins without once getting caught. Yelich held his own in the outfield and did not make an error in 2013. The fielding numbers show that he is much better in center field than in left and center is where he should be stationed from now on. His one fielding flaw is that he does not have much of an arm.

The weakest link of the three to me is Marcell Ozuna. I like his play in the outfield and it will be a tough decision whether to use him in center or left with Yelich. But his offensive game leaves me a bit concerned.

Ozuna showed no plate discipline in his 70 games in the Majors. He swung at 35.5% of pitches out of the strike zone. And while that is not quite in Josh Hamilton territory, it is a high rate. Combine that with his swing and miss rate of over 12% and that is a problem. He only batted .265 despite a BABIP of over .320 and that concerns me as well. A major league outfielder with little power and a .303 on-base percentage is a problem.

Ozuna showed some occasional power in the minors and that would be welcome if that reappeared for the Marlins. He was an .820 OPS guy in the minors despite being so young. If he can improve his on-base percentage and have a little of that power show up, then he could be useful, but I am not that optimistic on him. The projection systems are not either. So we will have to see what happens.

Not all the youngsters the Marlins throw at the Major League wall are going to stick. It is a risky strategy, but I like it too. Why not find out what young players can do rather than paying fringe veteran players a million or two to do the same thing.

But it is strange that Giancarlo Stanton has become the old man of the Marlins' outfield at the age of 24. It has the potential toe be a very good outfield. Or it could fall apart. Either way, it will be interesting to see how it all works out for the Marlins.

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