2017 MLB Player Rankings for LF: Cespedes is the man, young Cub cracks top five

Spring Training is a week away. Pitchers and catchers begin reporting to camp in just a few days, and in less than three weeks, Grapefruit League and Cactus League games will begin. We’re almost home.

So, with the offseason coming to an end, it’s time to look ahead to the upcoming season. And to do that, we’re going to break down the top 10 players at each position over the next several days. Some things to keep in mind:

  1. The players are ranked according to who we’d want for 2017 only. Contracts and salaries don’t matter. Simply put, if you are trying to win the World Series this year, who do you want at the position?
  2. These rankings are the result of voting by your four CBSSports.com baseball writers: R.J. Anderson, Mike Axisa, Dayn Perry, and Matt Snyder. We ranked the players individually and averaged them all together.
  3. These are not fantasy baseball rankings. You can find those here. It’s not just about offense. All-around play matters, even at a less defensive-minded position like left field.

Today, we’ll hit on left field. Yoenis Cespedes , who re-signed with the New York Mets this winter, came out on top in our voting. Here are the rest of the results.

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Cespedes is our top-ranked left fielder. USATSI

2017 MLB Player Rankings: Left Field
1
Yoenis Cespedes New York Mets LF
As promised, Cespedes takes the top spot. Always a thrilling athlete, he’s done the best hitting of his career in New York, where he’s maintained a 140 OPS+ through nearly 200 games. Cespedes posted a career-high walk rate last season, giving him an even broader offensive skill set, seeing as how he could already hit for average and power. Cespedes is entering his age-31 season, so he could be on the decline sooner than later. Still, we foresee him holding on to the top spot for at least another season.
2
Gregory Polanco Pittsburgh Pirates RF
Previously a right fielder, Gregory Polanco will slide to left this year as part of a newly aligned Pittsburgh Pirates outfield. Polanco’s bat deserves as much, if not more attention than his glove, however. He homered 22 times last year after homering 16 times in his first 242 games. What’s more is he turned up the power without sacrificing much in the way of contact. Sure, he struck out a hair more, but he also hit for a higher average (albeit slightly). Polanco is entering his age-25 season, and we expect him to continue to improve.
3
Ryan Braun Milwaukee Brewers LF
Ryan Braun has dealt with PED trauma and health-related woes in the past several seasons. But, with the exception of 2014, he’s posted an OPS+ of 130 or better in each of his other nine seasons. Yes, he’s 33 and there’s certainly attrition risk that comes with entering the mid-30s. Yet is there any real reason to think he’s going to slow down in the next year or two? Dude can hit. Dude can most definitely hit.
4
Marcell Ozuna Miami Marlins CF
Is it just to call Marcell Ozuna ’s season a breakout effort when he posted a higher OPS+ in more plate appearances just two seasons prior? Whatever the case, Ozuna is sliding to left field this year, where he’ll attempt to keep up his above-average-hitting ways. Everyone knows about his 20-plus-homer pop, but he improved upon both his walk and strikeout rates in 2016, notching career bests in both categories. Good signs.
5
Kyle Schwarber Chicago Cubs LF

Kyle Schwarber ’s appeal is simple: he’s a baseball rat who knows how to hit. Even after missing most of the season due to a messed up knee, he returned in the World Series and went 7 for 17 with three walks. Schwarber’s never going to be a graceful defender, and there’s no telling how his body will age. All the same, there’s reason to think he’ll post healthy on-base and slugging percentages for, oh, the next decade or so.

t-6
Michael Brantley Cleveland Indians LF

It’s a little hard to believe the Cleveland Indians were a win away from clinching the World Series all the while receiving just 43 plate appearances from Michael Brantley . In the previous two seasons, Brantley had hit .319 while averaging 45 doubles, 18 home runs, and 19 stolen bases (on 20 tries). Consider it a shame, then, that shoulder woes sabotaged his age-29 season. Brantley will try to get back on track this season, and if he does, he should be higher on the list next year.

t-6
Andrew Benintendi Boston Red Sox LF

The least experienced player on the list, Andrew Benintendi has just 34 major league games to his name. He’s earned this spot, however, by showcasing a well-rounded offensive skill set. Benintendi hit .295/.359/.476 while proving to be capable of taking the extra base during the run of play. Scouts are of the opinion that he can threaten the .300 mark while racking up doubles. There’s heretofore been no reason for skepticism about that forecast.

8
Justin Upton Detroit Tigers LF
Known foremost for his streaky nature, Justin Upton recovered from a brutal first half -- he hit for a .670 OPS -- by slashing .260/.337/.579 after the All-Star Break. Nonetheless, it was his worst offensive effort per OPS+ since his first full season ... back when he was a 20-year-old. Upton won’t turn 30 until August, and he has the raw ability to be a top-five left fielder. Whether he returns to that post or not is anyone’s guess.
9
Brett Gardner New York Yankees LF
Following consecutive seasons of uncharacteristic power production, Brett Gardner reverted to more of his old slap-hitting ways in 2016, posting just a .101 ISO. To his credit, he remained a capable count-worker who could hit for a decent average and swipe nearly 20 bases. Likewise, Gardner remains an asset in left field. He’ll turn 34 in August, and depending on how his bat plays, he could drop off the list in the coming year.
10
Alex Gordon Kansas City Royals LF
Another day, another Royal in the 10th spot. Alex Gordon would rank higher, except he’s a 33-year-old coming off his worst season in years. The most concerning aspect of Gordon’s 2016? A sharp uptick in strikeout rate. Gordon had previously never fanned in more than 22 percent of his plate appearances. That rate shot up to 29 percent last season, with an accompanying decline in contact rate. An aberration or a sign of problems to come? We’ll find out -- and it’ll determine whether Gordon is even on this list next year.

Also receiving votes: Khris Davis , Oakland Athletics ; Randal Grichuk , St. Louis Cardinals ; Nomar Mazara , Texas Rangers

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