Mark Andrew Reynolds
Last year Reynolds struck out in 129 of his 414 plate appearances, almost a third of his times at the plate. In spite of this Reynolds had a 0.843 OPS last year, which is a very nice number for a rookie third baseman. I wonder if he can sustain a OPS above 0.800 long term if he strikes out a third of the time, though. Last year his batting average on balls in play was about 0.378, a high figure unsupported by his line drive percentage of 20%. He needed every bit of his apparently lucky BABIP, because all those strikeouts took his real batting average down to 0.279. If his BABIP had been closer to a level normal to his line drive rate, say 0.320, then his real batting average would have been 0.243. So he either needs to keep getting lucky with his hits falling ( at which point it might become clear that maybe it wasn't luck, but some mysterious skill at directing ground balls and fly balls into holes ) or he needs to cut down on his strikeouts. The latter is a real possibility, as Reynolds is still a young player.
Aside from slugging pitcher Micah Owings, Reynolds had the highest OPS of any player on the Snakes last year. That's right, a figure of 0.843 was good for best on the Snakes. A number put up by a strikeout prone rookie in a hitter park. Make no mistake, the Snakes offense was bad last season. I'm not saying the team was bad: they won a lot of games. The pitching was great. But the offense was sub-average, and absolutely awful when looking at on-base percentage. And it does need to get better, I think, for the Snakes to finish ahead of the other three contenders in the NL West this year. The good news for them is that they are loaded with young players bound to improve, so it could happen. I have a suspicion, though, that Reynolds may improve the least of the young players.
Reynolds appears to be average at best with the glove, according to the hardballtimes.com RZR stat. He was not known as a good glove man in the minor leagues, so he may yet prove to be below average.
Christopher Brandon Young
Young finished fourth in the NL rookie of the year voting last year on the strength of 34 home runs and some fine defense in center field. For a rookie he had a good year, but just as a major league center fielder he had at best an average year. It's the usual story for a lot of young players: too many strikeouts, not enough walks. His on base percentage was below 0.300. The 34 home runs are nice but you can't use up so many outs!
Young seems to be the complete package as a player. He's fast and strong, a real 40-40 threat in the future. But he also made exactly as many outs at the plate as Juan Pierre did last year ( 494 ), while playing in 14 fewer games. If Young starts to play at the level everyone thinks he is capable of the Snakes may be hard to beat this year. But it hasn't happened yet. It takes more than home runs to be an above average major league player, even if you're a good defensive center fielder.
Stephen Oris Drew
Drew had an OPS+ of 72 last year. That's well below average. Even for a shortstop that's pretty crummy. And speaking of crummy, that's what Drew's defense was like last year. He barely edges ahead of Hanley Ramirez for the bottom spot in hardballtimes.com RZR list for qualifying shortstops in the National League. The thing is, if you're going to field as bad as Hanley Ramirez, you'd also better hit as well as Hanley, and Drew doesn't. Not even close.
Drew is still young. There is still time. But maybe he's just not that good? Maybe he could never readjust to the pitchers once they adjusted to him after his initial success in 2006. His line drive percentage was 16.5% last year, after being 23.8% in 2006, and without great power or great contact skills and plate discipline that's just not going to get it done. Chris Young is a future star who is currently an average player. Stephen Drew is supposed to be a future star, but at this point I think the Snakes would settle on him becoming just a solid average shortstop. The Snakes, like the Dodgers, have a lot of question marks in their lineup.
Justin Irvin Upton
Forget about his numbers in two months of big league play last year. There's nothing there worth looking at. Upton is going to be great someday, most likely. I don't think he'll be great this year, though. He might be good, or he might be average, or he might struggle as he did last year. He'll only be 20 this season. Can't expect too much from him, right?
Upton is one of four Snakes, along with Young, Drew, and Reynolds, who is almost impossible to predict for 2008. These are all young players, and overall the Snakes should get more from these four this year than they got last year. But how much more? This is part of what makes predicting the Snakes so hard this year.
Eric James Byrnes
On his Baseball Reference page his nicknames are listed as "Crash Test Dummy" and "Pigpen". So he's either filthy or destined to hurt himself against an outfield wall like Repko or Kemp.
Byrnes is the kind of player I imagine Andre Ethier becoming in a few years. Like Byrnes, Ethier is a great defensive outfielder. Ethier seems headed to becoming a decent power and walks guy, with solid but not spectacular offensive numbers. Byrnes is already that player. Byrnes isn't a star, but he is a good solid corner outfielder, and in a few years he might be the worst of the Snakes outfielders next to Young and Upton. That's a scary thought.
We can only hope that Ethier ends up being the worst starting outfielder for the Dodgers this year. For that to happen, Kemp has to fulfill his early promise, Jones has to really bounce back, and Pierre has to spend a lot of time scowling in the dugout because of his lack of playing time.
Christopher Ryan Snyder
Snyder puts up fine offensive numbers for a catcher. He's no Russell Martin, but so few are.
Conor S. Jackson
Jackson lacks the power you want from a first baseman, but he makes up for it in giving the Snakes something they desperately need: a player who gets on base often. Jackson has been a partial platoon player the last few years, since he doesn't hit right handed pitchers that well. Last year Tony Clark took a lot of those at bats. But this year it appears that Jackson is going to get most of the at bats at first base to himself, at least while Chad Tracy is hurt. Indeed, the sponsor of Jackson's B-Ref page has given Jackson the motto of "600 PA in '08 or bust!"
Jackson isn't going to make the difference for the Snakes this year. He's going to be solid, but the days of him being projected as a future star seem to be over.
Orlando Thill Hudson
Here is another solid regular on the Snakes. He had the best year of his career last year, when he had a scorching hot first half and made the all-star team. He's probably not going to do as well this year.
Hudson is yet another Snakes infielder whose defense appear to be at best average, going by RZR. Obviously Webb was still an effective pitcher last year with this group behind him, but I wonder how many outs he's losing to them.
When will Tracy come back? How good will he be? Where will he play? How often will he play? None of these questions have firm answers right now.
His goal was to return from microfracture surgery to his right knee by opening day, but now it appears the earliest time he could return is mid-April. Bob Melvin hasn't said where or how often Tracy will play once he does come back.
What is certain is that Tracy gives the Snakes some depth once he returns from injury, some insurance in case Reynolds turns out to be a damp squib in 2008 because of his strikeout problem. I guess it's a good problem to have.
At this moment the Snakes are half a team of solid, unspectacular regulars, and half a team of high-potential high-risk prospects. Byrnes, Snyder, Jackson and Hudson are all fine players, none of whom will sink an offense, but none of whom will lift up an offense very high either. Reynolds was the best of the high-potential players last year, but he may also be the highest risk. Young and Upton will be very good offensive players, but maybe not this year. Drew is just trying to be average. The Snakes big weakness on offense last year was on-base percentage: they were last in the National League, second to last in the Major Leagues. Having fewer strikeouts and more walks from the young players would help a lot. I think the young players will improve enough this year to give the Snakes an average offense this year. If their pitching is as good as it was last year, then this could be enough to win the NL West again. I'll have a look at their pitchers in the next entry.