The Magic Twenty (Left Field)

You know the age-old question: “Who would you take if you were starting a team from scratch?”

No good debate about young players can go on without some version of that question being brought into the mix. In the spirit of that, Craig and Aaron will each be choosing an entire team made up of 24-and-under players. The goal here is to draft the best team for the long haul, starting in 2005 and ending whenever the last guy decides to join Jesse Orosco in retirement (2095, or thereabouts).

The rules are simple and just slightly longer than those for Fight Club:
– Craig and Aaron alternate picking first at each position.
– Each player they pick must be 24 years old or younger in “baseball years” this season.
– Each player must play the/a position they actually play currently or in the very near future (in other words, no Albert Pujols at third base).
– Money and contracts are not an issue.
– They start picking at 9 (right field) and move down to 1 (pitcher).
– They’ll each pick a starter and a reliever, for ten positions total.

It’s that simple. And away we go …

TEAM      #     PLAYER                   REAL TEAM                AGE
Craig     1     Adam Dunn                Cincinnati Reds          24
Aaron     2     Jeremy Reed              Chicago White Sox        23

CRAIG: I get to pick first in left field, and I will take the new demigod of the Three True Outcomes, Adam Dunn.

I’m certainly off to an interesting start in the outfield, with power to spare and a severely strained defense. Adam Dunn personifies both of these; currently second in the NL in homers and walks, he is redefining the concept of the “all-or-nothing slugger” after some initial growing pains as the Reds monkeyed with his approach and his spot in the order.

Dunn looks to have the best shot of any player of breaking Bobby Bondsrecord 189 strikeouts, and possibly as early as this year. Of Dunn’s 263 plate appearances this year, only 106 times, or 40.3%, has he put the ball into play where it could be caught. He’s striking out in 39.5% of his at-bats.

Dunn’s also got pretty good wheels, especially for someone who is 6’6″ and a massive 240 pounds, but he is not exactly a gazelle in the outfield, where he is error-prone and doesn’t get to a lot of balls. His defensive statistics are bad, and the visual evidence isn’t any more enticing. As long as his speed doesn’t leave him, he has the potential to improve, but at his size, I wouldn’t bet on his speed staying with him for long.

So why do I like him? The homers and the walks. What’s nice about homers and walks is that they are the most consistent and predictable (and therefore repeatable) offensive skills. What’s not so nice about Dunn’s homers and walks is that he brings nothing else to the table, so if he gets cold he gets ice cold. But of any of the players we’ll consider in this whole series, Dunn probably has the best chance of having a couple of 50-homer years.

AARON: To steal a line from the great Mr. Morgan from “Seinfeld” … Ha ha ha, well you screwed me again, Burley. Just as was the case with our right field selections, the dropoff from the top leftfielder to the second leftfielder is huge. In between right field and left field, of course, I got my hands on Rocco Baldelli with the first pick for center field. Like I said last time, life isn’t fair, but since I’m not one to harp on something and complain (well, I am, but …), I will soldier on.

Like you, I am a big fan of Adam Dunn and I think he’s going to be a great player for many years. The one thing that does concern me about him, which you brought up already, is his tendency to go into big slumps. When I wrote about Dunn being a “True Outcomes Hero” way back at the beginning of May, one of the things I talked about, in addition to “no player in baseball history [getting] off to a better start on his Three True Outcomes career than Adam Dunn,” was the fact that he seems to always get off to great starts and then go through prolonged slumps.

Back in 2002, Dunn hit .300/.452/.544 in the first-half and, as I said in the article, “It looked like we had a 22-year-old superstar on our hands.” Then he hit just .190/.339/.353 in the second-half. Last season, Dunn once again started hot, hitting .253/.382/.627 in April. He struggled after the first month and then missed quite a bit of time with injuries after the All-Star break, finishing the year at a disappointing .215/.354/.465.

And now this season, Dunn got off to another amazing start. He hit .328/.538/.750 in April, doing his very best Barry Bonds impression with 28 walks and eight homers in just 22 games. After April, it looked like we had a 24-year-old superstar on our hands. Well, Dunn once again went slumping. He hit just .191/.345/.372 in May, to drop his season totals to .247/.431/.525. However, unlike in years past, it is looking like Dunn’s slump is only going to be a short one. As of this writing, he is hitting .286/.388/.762 in June, to bring his totals up to .259/.422/.571. He is on pace to shatter Bobby Bonds’ record of 189 strikeouts, but he’s also on pace for 46 homers, 141 walks, 108 runs scored and 105 RBIs.

Back in early May, I said, “If [Dunn] hits .280, he’s one of the best offensive players in the league (.280/.425/.550 or so). If he hits .250, he’s an All-Star (.250/.390/.500). If he hits .220, he’ll be hearing about all of his strikeouts (.220/.365/.470).”

We have another 60 games of Dunn’s career to look at, and I still stand by that statement. I think at this point expecting him to be a .280 or .290 hitter on a consistent basis is going to be very tough. Hell, expecting him to be anything on a consistent basis has proven tough. Still, I have no doubt that he’ll be that middle guy — the .250/.390/.500 All-Star — for many years.

CRAIG: Adam Dunn came into this year with 240 career walks, tied with Greg Gross and Shoeless Joe Jackson (what an odd trio!) for 77th on the all-time list for walks by a player to age 24. Dunn needs 148 walks this season to tie Donie Bush for 10th on that list at 388 (Mel Ott leads with 537 and Ted Williams is 2nd with 524). It’s true that 148 walks in a season is a tall order; but, as you just said, Dunn is on pace for an eye-popping 141 right now.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Incidentally, Adam Dunn is exactly a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier than Donie Bush’s listed measurements.

He’s also on pace for 47 home runs; he came into this season 71st on the all-time list for home runs by a player 24-and-under with 72 (tied with Bobby Doerr and Travis Fryman). If he hits 47, he’ll boost his total to 119 and rocket up to 22nd on that list, between Tony Conigliaro and Troy Glaus. (Eddie Mathews leads that list with 190). Even with a more pedestrian 36, he would pass Eric Chavez and end up tied with Cal Ripken and Darryl Strawberry.

These “young player lists” remind one indelibly of the fragility of young talent; not only does Tony C appear high on that home runs list, but Hal Trosky and Vladimir Guerrero are tied for 15th; Bob Horner is 13th; Orlando Cepeda 8th (and Hank Aaron only 11th, tied with Juan Gonzalez). And the names lower down on that top 100 list! Pat Seerey, Jason Thompson, Jim Ray Hart, Joe Pepitone, Ellis Valentine, Don Hurst, Lloyd Moseby

AARON: Okay, enough about your guy. Isn’t being the best young leftfielder good enough for Adam Dunn? Do we really have to talk about him all day? Seriously, my guy is getting a complex.

With Miguel Cabrera and Adam Dunn, along with Laynce Nix, who is hitting for a ton of power this year, you clearly have the better offensive outfield. The only really solace I can take so far is that any of my three outfielders — Austin Kearns, Rocco Baldelli and now Jeremy Reed — would be better in center field than the guy you’ll be playing out there. Of course, this isn’t the 1960s and I’m not exactly a “speed and defense win championships” guy, but I have to find the positives where I can.

Also, before we get bombarded with e-mails regarding Jeremy Reed playing left field, let me just say that I have no clue where he’s going to end up playing when he gets to the majors. He has played mostly center field in the minors, but most people who have seen him out there think that he’ll have to shift to an outfield corner once he gets to the big leagues. He has quite a bit of experience in right field in the minors, but this year he has actually played more left field than right field while at Triple-A Charlotte. Basically, I think there’s a good chance Reed will be a corner outfielder in the majors, but since I’m not sure which corner, I am giving myself permission to make him my leftfielder.

It’s something I had to do, really. Why? Well, if I couldn’t have Reed as my leftfielder, I was probably going to go with Carl Crawford, and this little game of ours is no fun if I have to end up with two-thirds of Tampa Bay’s current outfield, when the other one-third (Aubrey Huff) is probably the best player of the bunch right now. Plus, I have a feeling I might get myself another Devil Ray fairly soon, and I refuse to have three on my team.

CRAIG: Aaron, I always go by the maxim that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

Seriously, Jeremy Reed is not having a good year at Charlotte so far, but it’s not bad (I’m sure you’ll get into that); he’s just not hitting for a lot of average or power, but (unlike Alex Rios is/was) he’s at least hitting some. What would concern me about Reed is that outside of his one career year in 2003, he’s never really been a top hitter.

In his final college season in 2002, Reed hit .339/.433/.512 for the Dirtbags of Long Beach State. Now LBSU has been great at developing major league hitters (Jason Giambi, Bobby Crosby, Terrmel Sledge, Chris Gomez, Jeff Liefer) but that performance in context was not notably good; Reed was a 21-year-old junior but could only manage a relatively pedestrian .736 park- and competition-adjusted Offensive Winning Percentage. About a couple hundred hitters did better; it was unimpressive and cost him a lot of money as he fell to the middle of the second round in the draft.

What was impressive is that he jumped straight to the Sally League (bypassing short-season ball) and raked at a .319/.377/.448 clip, not superstar levels but great for a guy in his first full season with the wood. (Reed had played well in summer league, and with Team USA, using a wood bat, so the fact he would translate well was widely suspected.) What was gobsmackingly impressive, was 2003.

AARON: Reed has been disappointing this year, but that’s partly due to how high my expectations were for him following his incredible 2003 season. I ranked him as my #4 prospect in all of baseball prior to the start of this season and, while I talked about his power and defense being “marks against him,” I also made comparisons to Tony Gwynn.

Well, so far, Reed is hitting more like Chris Gwynn this season. He is currently at .274/.362/.409 through 63 games. That’s not bad, obviously, but it’s a far cry from the .409/.474/.591 he hit at Double-A in the second-half of last season, or even the .333/.431/.477 he hit at Single-A.

Still, there are things to like about Reed’s performance this season. First and foremost is that he continues to do a tremendous job controlling the strike zone. He has 33 walks this season, along with only 29 strikeouts. Here’s a look at Reed’s Isolated Discipline (on-base percentage minus slugging percentage) …

2002     .058
2003     .085
2004     .088

Reed’s on-base percentage is way down this year, but it’s all due to batting average. He’s actually getting on base via the walk (and hit by pitch) at a slightly higher rate than he did last season, and significantly more often than he did in 2002.

And really, his power hasn’t gone down much at all either. Take a look at his Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) numbers …

2002     .129
2003     .164
2004     .135

As you can see, Reed’s actual power is right in line with the rest of his career. His slugging percentage is way down, but that’s almost all because of his batting average being 100 points lower than it was last season.

All of which is a long way of saying that what type of player Reed becomes is probably going to hinge on his batting average. While his .274 batting average this season is not encouraging (though still not horrible), I still feel fairly confident choosing Reed, based on his .356 batting average in 188 minor league games coming into this season.

Here’s an interesting stat on Reed … A left-handed hitter, he batted .352 against left-handed pitching and .378 against right-handed pitching last season. Back in 2002, he actually hit much better against lefties (.356) than he did against righties (.309).

Also, check out his career batting averages in months when he’s played at least 10 games …

MONTH           AVG
July '02       .315
August '02     .321
April '03      .282
May '03        .382
June '03       .384
July '03       .365
August '03     .434
April '04      .325
May '04        .263
June '04       .218

Not bad, huh? As you can see, prior to this season he had only one sub-.300 month. You can also see that it was business as usual at the start of this year, as he hit .325 in April. He’s been slumping for about six weeks now.

I won’t be mentioning him the same breath as Tony Gwynn unless/until he gets his batting average north of .300, but I’m still feeling good about Reed becoming an impact player. Oh, and Craig, since you’re not particularly high on Reed, what young leftfielder would you take instead?

CRAIG: No, there’s no one else! Do you see anyone competitive? If this were roto, I might like Crawford, but not in a real game.

AARON: I was looking hard at Crawford, and I actually like him a bit more than I did before we started this thing, but I agree. I figure Crawford and Reed will both hit around .280-.300 most years, they’ll both play solid D in LF, and neither has much power. I like Reed’s walks a lot more than Crawford’s stolen bases, especially since Reed has a little speed of his own.

Previous Positions:
The Magic Twenty (Right Field)
The Magic Twenty (Center Field)

The Teams So Far:

POSITION            CRAIG                    AARON
Right Field         Miguel Cabrera (1)       Austin Kearns (2)
Center Field        Laynce Nix (2)           Rocco Baldelli (1)
Left Field          Adam Dunn (1)            Jeremy Reed (2)

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