In the final article of the series that looks at players vying for spots on the 25-man roster, we will look at the outfielders today. If you want to see the other articles in this series, you can check them out here.
The outfield is probably set, at least when it comes to the starters. Billy Hamilton, Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler would seem to have jobs to lose at this point. I’d guess that Hamilton and Duvall would have to have injuries to not be starters on opening day, while Schebler would have to really struggle in the spring to not have the job. It seems that the jobs that are more likely to be had are the ones as backup outfielders.
Arismendy Alcantara was discussed with the infielders, though if he makes the team he will likely see time in the outfield as well. When looking at the 40-man roster it would seem that the two other options with an outside chance would be Jesse Winker and Phillip Ervin. Aristides Aquino is on the 40-man, but without any Double-A experience in his career there isn’t much of a chance he makes the team. Looking outside of the 40-man roster we get a few more options. Sebastian Elizalde, Gabriel Guerrero, Desmond Jennings, Patrick Kivlehan and Ryan Raburn are all non-roster invitees to camp.
What do they need to show in the spring to get the job
Starting with the guys on the 40-man roster, Jesse Winker is probably going to have to outright win the starting job from Scott Schebler. Winker isn’t the kind of player that the organization is going to keep on the bench as a back up. So for him to be on the roster in April it’s going to be because he performed well in the spring and took the starters job. While he’s absolutely improved his defense over the past few seasons, Winker isn’t known for his defense. It’s his bat that stands out. He understands the strikezone very well, uses the entire field and despite some wrist-related power issues twice in the last three seasons, there’s enough pop in there when he’s healthy. I would think he’s still got a low chance of winning the job, but if he’s going to he’s going to have to significantly outhit Scott Schebler.
Phillip Ervin will turn 25-years-old in the middle of July, so unlike Winker, he’s a little bit older and less likely to be held back because of service time/future considerations. His game is much more well rounded than that of Winker and more suited for a backup role. Ervin can cover all three outfield spots defensively and he’s also got speed to use on the bases. With that said, he doesn’t have any Triple-A experience, and while he’s gotten on base and shown some pop in his bat, he’s hit .237, .241 and .239 over the last three seasons. I wrote about how we may be sleeping on his ability back in December, but if the organization would like to see him perform better in Triple-A before giving him a job based on spring training, it would certainly be understandable. What could be working for him is that it appears that unlike his competition for a backup outfielder, he’s already on the 40-man roster and wouldn’t require removing anyone to make room. Still, given his age and lack of experience as a bench player, he will likely have to really outperform the competition to get the job instead of heading to Louisville to start the season.
When we start looking at the non-roster invitees we see several guys with big league experience. Two of the players, however, don’t. Sebastian Elizalde and Gabby Guerrero have never made it to the Major Leagues among this group. Sebastian Elizalde spent all of 2016 in Double-A and he’ll be spending part of spring training playing for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. With Double-A Pensacola last season he hit .297/.324/.387 as a 24-year-old. With no Triple-A experience under his belt and a solid but unspectacular Double-A season I’d be very surprised to see him make the roster out of the spring.
Gabby Guerrero began the year in Double-A and he finished the year in Double-A, but had a six week stint in Triple-A in between. None of those three stretches went well as he posted a sub .300 on-base percentage with each span of play. Given his struggles there, and the fact that he’s just 23-years-old, there’s hardly any chance he could make the team.
Patrick Kivlehan saw limited big league action with the Cincinnati Reds last season, getting five plate appearances (and 19 more with the Padres earlier in the year). He struggled in Triple-A during the season, hitting .254/.302/.416. The previous two seasons saw him hit 20 and 22 home runs, so there’s plenty of power in there for him. He’s had an aggressive approach in the past, too, and that has held him back at the higher levels. What’s working in his favor is that he’s shown the ability to play both corners on the infield and outfield. That kind of versatility can certainly be useful. He’s going to need to hit a little bit in the spring, but his versatility may play as much of a role in things as his bat does.
Major League veterans Desmond Jennings and Ryan Raburn both could be front runners despite not being on the 40-man roster. Jennings can play all three outfield spots and he’s not too far removed from being a successful big leaguer. Raburn has crushed left handed pitching for his entire career, which could help land him a spot as a pinch hitter and possibly platoon partner with Scott Schebler, though he will likely have to perform well in that role during the spring.