The Outfield Shuffle

When Bryce Harper was promoted from AAA this weekend, many people were surprised. After all, he had struggled to put up anything close to good numbers so far, and there were other players in Syracuse that were playing better. But after two games, he’s comported himself quite well, and while the numbers after two games should be irrelevent, his actions aren’t. He’s hit the ball hard and hasn’t looked anything like a 19 year old at the plate, while showing off a cannon for an arm. But before Harper’s recall, many thought that Tyler Moore, who’s already hit 7 HRs in AAA, was the one that would come up.

And so he did, a day later, when Mark DeRosa was sent to the DL. Moore is a 1B with little actual pro playing time anywhere else. And when I say little, that might insult the word little. In 436 minor league games, he’s played OF three times. I was doubtful that someone who scouts describe as unathletic could jump into LF immediately – not because I didn’t think he’d be ok there, but because he’s had no time there. But Amanda Comak assures us he’s practiced there plenty, so let’s assume he’s fine there. (Really, I’m ok with doing this). So the question that arises, now, is what is going to happen in the OF? Is Rick Ankiel consigned to a bench role? I don’t think so.

What probably makes the most sense is to platoon Ankiel and Moore. Ankiel is a lefty who can’t hit LHPs at all, but has done well against RHP.  This year, in typical Ankiel fashion, he has demonstrated a low OBP but real power vs RHPs. Moore is a righty who mashes the ball, and will almost certainly start vs LHPs. When the Nats face lefties, it makes sense to slide Harper over to CF and put Moore in LF. Against RHP, I assume Ankiel will start some of the time, but Moore will see some action as well. Ankiel will probably also be used liberally as a defensive replacement for Moore, moving Harper back to LF.

I think they see Moore as a bench bat who can play some in the right situation. And that’s not a knock on him, developing a guy who is a legit power bat off the bench is a good thing. And he really does have power. But don’t be fooled by his minor league AVG and OBP. Fangraphs said about him:

A career .286 hitter in the minors, Moore wil likely be more in the .230-.250 range at the big league level with his current approach at the plate. He’s overly aggressive and doesn’t walk much at all. His propensity for the strikeout (24.8% in ’11) will keep the batting average, and his overall effectiveness, down.

Despite this unremarkable projection, I really do think they’ll give him a chance to prove that he’s even better than that. And if he ends up playing part time, that’s ok. I don’t think he’s still a developing prospect, so this is a perfectly suitable role for him. I’ve stated many times that Steve Lombardozzi needs to be given 20+ PAs a week at his age and level of development, whether it’s in the majors or the minors. I don’t feel the same way for Moore.

Defense aside, I expect from Moore something like a RH Ankiel, in that he’ll have a low AVG and a low OBP, but he’ll have an ISO close to .200. Sure, that’s not spectacular, and you wouldn’t want it out of a starter. But having that from both sides of the plate, in a platoon, sure beats what they have now.

What’s unfortunate about this situation is that Harper should probably get a chance to sit against tougher lefties. He’s so young, has struggled against them, and should get a chance to hit mostly against righties. But with Mike Morse on the DL, that won’t happen. When Morse finally returns, assuming Moore shows some ability at this level, it makes sense to play Morse and Moore at the corners, with Jayson Werth in CF against really tough lefties. But that situation is for another day.

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