Position Roundtables: Reserve Outfielders
Dave: Reserve Outfielders: Raul Ibanez, Willie Bloomquist?, Jamal Strong, Shin-Soo Choo
You thought the team was thin at shortstop? There’s a very real chance that the Mariners will field an opening day lineup with zero true outfielders sitting on the bench. Ibanez is the token fourth outfielder, but he’s going to DH nearly every day, so in case of injury to Winn, Reed, or Ichiro, it looks like Willie Bloomquist is going to be the guy trotting out to play the field.
Now, because the M’s starting outfield consists basically of three
guys who won’t be unbelievable awful in center and are all very good
in the corners, the team has more depth than it first appears. Boston
isn’t going to stick Manny Ramirez in center if Damon gets hurt, but
the M’s have the ability to interchange Winn and Reed if need be, and
Ichiro can obviously play anywhere.
The most interesting scenario might be to see what Hargrove would do
if Ichiro got hurt early in a game. Are you going to stick Willie
Bloomquist, who has at best an average arm for an infielder, in right
field? You certainly aren’t going to put Winn over there, and Reed
doesn’t exactly have a cannon himself. Pretty much any one of that
trio is going to be challenged first to third by any team that has
done their advance scouting, so the best decision may be simply to
forfeit the DH for the rest of the game and suck it up with Ibanez
moving to RF. The difference in hitting quality between Bloomquist
and the pitcher isn’t that enormous in one game, and at least Raul can
keep runners from circling the bases while our outfield of pop-gun
arms attempts 8 cutoff throws to get it back to the infield.
This is one of the reasons I think Shin-Soo Choo has a better chance
of making this club than Jamal Strong does. Strong is basically a
very poor copy of what the M’s already have; a decent center fielder
with no arm and no power who slaps the ball around and relies on his
legs. He’s what you’d get if you bought the generic brand of Jeremy
Reed at Wal-Mart, than had him shrink in the wash. Strong is what we
Choo, at least, provides something a little different. He’s got a
rocket arm and would provide a legitimate reserve right fielder, in
case Ichiro goes down. He has more power than any of the starting
outfielders, even though he’s not exactly a slugger himself. He’s not
a great defensive player-of course, he’s not the abomination he’s been
in camp so far, either-but you can live with him in right or left and
might be able to hide him in center for a few innings as well.
If Choo were right-handed, I think he’d have a great chance at making
the club as a balance to the lefty slap hitters that make up the
current starting trio. As a lefty, his chances are diminished
somewhat, and he could definitely use some more time in Triple-A. But
the M’s have to be hoping he develops pretty quickly, because right
now, having Willie Bloomquist as only backup outfielder on the bench
isn’t going to leave Hargrove much in the way of flexbility.
Jason: I like Choo, but I’d be pretty surprised if he made the club. Primary reason
being, they’ve always been very patient with him, moving him one level at a
time even when he’s played well. In 2001, he spent a full 51 games in
Arizona before a three-game trial at Wisconsin. The next season he played
119 games in Wisconsin, then the last 11 at Inland Empire. Each of the last
two years he’s spent full seasons at high-A and AA, respectively, without so
much as a promotion to end the season. I’m not arguing with this approach,
because he’s gotten better each season, but I just don’t see them suddenly
pushing him when they’ve moved him slowly thus far.
As it stands, the outfield options are slim to none and getting narrower all
the time. Ideally, they’d bring in a veteran reserve outfielder — Stan
Javier, where are you? — who doesn’t mind playing once or twice a week and
won’t hurt you in the field or at the plate. Billy McMillon, maybe someone
like Adam Hyzdu who’s never gotten a chance… Hell, Dustan Mohr signed a
one-year deal with the Rockies for less than $1M this winter. Dave’s buddy
Ben Grieve signed a minor league deal with the Pirates.
How did they not see this as a hole, and an easily filled hole at that?
In any event, I’m pushing for Strong because I don’t think he’s going to be
any better than he is right now, and they could use some speed on the bench.
Choo still has a chance to develop into the starting left fielder for next
season, and I don’t want him rotting on the bench this year.
Jeff: The questions for me regarding Choo are twofold: is he ready this
year, and are the Mariners ready to compete this year?
I think the jury is out on both, and like Jason says, it would be a shame to slow
Choo’s development by not having him in the lineup every day.
Strong is a lower-risk, lower-reward player, and there is one thing he
does bring to the table that the Mariners don’t have: a player off the
bench who can motor. Not that speed should be a primary or even
secondary factor when constructing a bench, but when the fastest
reserve you have is Willie Bloomquist, a player like Strong could add
value there, too.
Dave: the questions for me regarding Choo are twofold: is he ready this year, and are the Mariners ready to compete this year?
Well, if we’re wondering if he’s ready to be an upgrade over Willie Bloomquist as the team’s fourth outfielder, I’d say definitely. Choo’s MjEqA based on his Texas League performance last year was .242-not good, but better than Bloomquist’s .234. PECOTA’s weighted mean projection for 2005 Choo is .265/.334/.402. Again, not a great line, but better than anything we currently have.
If the “is he ready” question has more to do with how time spent in Tacoma would help him develop, I think the answer would be no. He’s not ready in the sense that he’s maximized his minor league growth and at this point would be best served in the majors. He would benefit from spending the year in Triple-A. He’s got a bit of improving to do before he lives up to his potential at the big league level.
So, the question is, do you stunt his growth by having him play a few times a week at the major league level rather than send him back to Tacoma and carry inferior players on the major league roster? I think sending him to Tacoma is the smart idea, but if the team plays well early on, it might not be the worst thing in the world to bring him up. The team could use a legitimate fourth outfielder, and right now, he’s the closest thing they have to it.
Peter: I’m just happy we’re not debating the merits of
Quinton McCracken in this space this year.