Braun doubles against the Cardinals during the 2011 NLCS. (Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE)

Ranking the NLC Left Fielders: Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday Lead Field

Say all you want about Ryan Braun and his potential 50 game suspension for elevated levels of synthetic testosterone and the surroundings of such. He’s clearly the top guy here.

What made this so intriguing was that I used the depth charts according to team websites. In Cincinnati we know there is likely to be more than one guy that will see ample playing time. We also know there are a couple of somewhat unproven youngsters that may or may not make a form of a splash in 2012.

Those two factors made this difficult…as you will see. Easy to choose a vet over a guy that has yet to show consistent production at the big league level. Did I just fall in the Dusty Baker trap? We’ll see…

1. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
He has “upgraded” his defense and can smack the cover off a ball. There’s that pesky deal I referrred to earlier, but even if the results are upheld, he’s still the best.

What will be interesting will be what the Brewers will do in those 50 games. Move Nyjer Morgan to left? Maybe Carlos Gomez goes there?

Estimated WAR: 5.7

2. Matt Holliday, St. Louis
As clearly as Braun is the top, Holliday is second. 2012 will provide a real telling of how good a player Holliday can/will be considering his protection is gone. Even as a Reds guy, I don’t see a huge downturn.

Lots of respect for Holliday. Even when that Pujols guy was struggling, teams still elected to pass #5 and pitch to him. Made them pay quite a lot.

Estimated WAR: 4.6

3. Alfonso Soriano, Chicago
Here’s where things get iffy. His offense has carried him. That’s in decline. His defense has always been a detriment. Still, can’t rule out a decent season and he did show slight forms of life in 2011.

If only the Cubs were allowed a DH…

Estimated WAR: 0.9

4. Chris Heisey, Cincinnati
I could put Heisey above Soriano, but the now well-known starter/bench splits catch up to him. So does batting against lefties. His defense is better than Soriano’s and even Holliday’s, but how much will Baker play him?

For all the positives that might be found in Heisey, you also have to consider walk and strikeout rates. They’re not pretty.

Estimated WAR: 1.1

5. J.D. Martinez, Houston
Martinez saw some playing time after Carlos Lee was transported to first base. In less than one-third of a season, the 24 year old played solid baseball with 6 HR and 35 RBI while producing a slash line of .274/.319/.423.

The OBP isn’t great (that whole walk and whiff rate got to him, too), but for an entire season…about 20 HR and 110 RBI. He’s projected for 16 and 90, respectively. Not bad at all.

Estimated WAR: 2.5

6. Alex Presley, Pittsburgh
Presley’s playing time will be determined by a couple of things. The Bucs brought back Nate McLouth. (Not ringing, I know). Garrett Jones could be placed in right field and Jose Tabata put in left if Casey McGehee rediscovers a swing and ends up as the everyday first baseman.

In other words, a lot hinges on Presley solidifying a starting job. Or others not…

Estimated WAR: 1.8

Recap

1. Braun
2. Holliday
3. Soriano
4. Heisey
5. Martinez
6. Presley

As I’ve already stated, the top two were gimmes. The other four, well, not gimmes.

I considered Martinez as high as fourth…and even briefly thought about third. I considered Presley at the #5 slot. I thought about Heisey at the bottom…and even at #3. There was no clear cut means to differentiate them.

Soriano is third, if for any other reason, is I think he knows his time in Chicago may be drawing to an end. He must increase his value. Sure, he’s three years (including 2012) left on his deal, but you must wonder how long before he’s shown the door and the Cubs (aka Theo Epstein) is willing to eat a substantial amount of dough. Call it a contract year as he must be able to read the writing on the wall.

Heisey and Martinez could be switched and I’d have not much of a problem except for one thing. We’ve seen over two seasons what Heisey can provide if given the opportunity. With the signing of Ryan Ludwick and the potential for possibly better power numbers, you got to have in the back of your mind that Baker will favor the veteran. Yes, we Reds fans hope Heisey is presented with an ample chance to play. All you have to do is check out the results of one of these polls.

And that leads to Martinez because he will get that opportunity. I think Astros fans will like what they have in Martinez. Not a great defender, but since when is left field looked at as a high defensive position anyway?

With Presely, I honestly don’t think I’m short changing him. He’s at that spot because I believe there are more possible questions about playing time for him that there is for Heisey. I could be wrong on that.

And you know me. Over the last year I’ve developed a bit of a taste for crow.

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Tags: Alex Presley Alfonso Soriano Baseball Chicago Cubs Chris Heisey Cincinnati Reds Houston Astros J.D. Martinez Matt Holliday Milwaukee Brewers MLB NL Central Division Pittsburgh Pirates Ryan Braun St Louis Cardinals

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