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Jeren Kendall, Buddy Reed And The Fourth Outfielder "Floor"

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Jeren Kendall (Bill Mitchell)

Jeren Kendall and Buddy Reed are two of the most exciting outfielders in the minor leagues.

Both are capable of a highlight-reel catch at any time. Both can absolutely fly in the outfield and on the basepaths. Both have plus arms that can gun down a runner at any base, at any time. Both can change a game in an instant, either with a momentum-turning defensive play or by creating a run where there was none with their speed.

But as electrifying as they are, Kendall and Reed both face serious questions about how much they can hit.

Kendall slashed .215/.300/.356 as an age-appropriate player at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers) in 2018. Reed broke out with high Class A Lake Elsinore (Padres) after two miserable offensive seasons, but hit .179 with a 32 percent strikeout rate after a promotion to Double-A.

Players with Kendall and Reed’s immense skillsets—plus center field defense, plus speed, a plus arm and questionable hitting ability—are often referred to as having the “floor” of a fourth outfielder in the majors, simply because their defense and speed alone should get them to the big leagues even if they don't hit.

It is a popular, oft-repeated refrain by scouts and team officials.

It is also a false one.

Inspired in part by Kendall and Reed, I looked at every player who served as a reserve or platoon outfielder in the majors in at least one of the last four seasons (2015-18).

Short version: the average major league reserve or platoon outfielder hit .283/.357/.439 in his minor league career. Barely any hit below .260 or had a on-base percentage below .325.

At present, Kendall is a career .225/.303/.380 hitter in the minors and has yet to play above A-ball. Reed is closer, but he still falls below the average with a .256/.311/.403 career slash line.

Through the end of the 2018 season, based on precedent, neither crosses the minimum threshold of offensive production needed to actually project as a reserve or platoon outfielder in the majors.

A player qualified for our sample if they received between 200-400 plate appearances in a season—the range of a backup or platoon player—while primarily playing the outfield. To control for starters who fell into the 200-400 plate appearance range due to injury, all players who started at least 90 percent of their games that season were removed.

Because minor league data is what we’re seeking, players who signed as foreign professionals and played less than a half season’s worth of minor league games on their way up the ladder—such as Nori AokiHyun-Soo KimLeonys Martin and Guillermo Heredia—were also removed.

That left us with a 124-player sample. As mentioned, the average major league reserve/platoon outfielder hit .283/.357/.439 in their minor league career. Only nine of the 124 hit below .260 as minor leaguers, and just 10 had an on-base percentage below .325.

Some were young players who were working their way up to eventually starting. Examples include Aaron HicksEddie RosarioMichael ConfortoAlbert Almora and Jackie Bradley.

Some were former starters who moved into a reserve/platoon role as they aged, e.g. Nick SwisherShane VictorinoSeth Smith, Jose Bautista, Grady Sizemore and Hunter Pence.

Others have been reserve/platoon outfielders their entire careers—such as Brandon GuyerAlex Presley and Ezequiel Carrera—and yet others were career infielders who only later began playing the outfield primarily, e.g. Howie KendrickRickie WeeksLonnie Chisenhall and Chris Owings.

But regardless of their history, profile or pedigree, they all hit as minor leaguers.

Take a look. Here are the career minor league numbers for all 124 players who served as either a reserve or platoon outfielder in the majors at least one of the last four seasons.

PlayerAVGOBPSLG
Kirk Nieuwenhuis.267.350.455
Jarrod Dyson.276.346.346
Travis Jankowski.294.365.369
Gerardo Parra.311.372.434
Mikie Mahtook.269.336.415
Ben Revere.321.377.402
Seth Smith.313.379.507
Rajai Davis.304.374.408
Tyler Naquin.287.357.484
Aaron Hicks.277.380.431
Eddie Rosario.294.340.484
Steve Pearce.292.370.518
Michael Conforto.333.404.525
Gorkys Hernandez.279.344.379
Brandon Guyer.293.360.469
Adam Engel.260.341.400
Howie Kendrick.358.402.567
Bradley Zimmer.268.370.449
Billy Burns.282.371.344
Jeff Francoeur.285.329.430
Leury Garcia.274.322.367
Brock Holt.304.370.407
Joc Pederson.298.401.515
Albert Almora Jr..290.322.416
Jake Smolinski.267.355.414
Ezequiel Carrera.283.357.374
Chad Pinder.279.332.449
Jose Martinez.294.355.411
Chris Coghlan.290.383.437
Matt Joyce.273.363.465
Ramon Flores.276.365.406
Alex Dickerson.309.367.501
Franklin Gutierrez.278.346.450
Scott Schebler.275.341.494
Domingo Santana.282.376.485
Brian Goodwin.252.342.400
Joey Rickard.279.388.394
Chris Young.271.362.509
Juan Lagares.281.322.402
Lonnie Chisenhall.280.347.462
Ryan Rua.275.355.475
Alejandro De Aza.286.367.415
Jorge Soler.286.352.530
Alex Presley.287.348.419
Trayce Thompson.236.312.419
Jake Marisnick.280.347.450
Ryan Raburn.272.359.490
Gregor Blanco.265.366.365
Danny Santana.276.317.412
Keon Broxton.256.335.419
Enrique Hernandez.268.324.394
J.B. Shuck.299.373.393
Michael A. Taylor.257.332.418
Matt Szczur.282.347.387
David Dahl.306.351.508
Tyler Goeddel.251.331.382
Michael Saunders.270.362.478
Nolan Reimold.276.374.474
Jose Osuna.282.335.445
Allen Cordoba.292.352.381
Desmond Jennings.288.372.446
Jeremy Hazelbaker.260.338.433
Oswaldo Arcia.300.365.535
Mallex Smith.293.376.392
Brandon Nimmo.280.388.418
Daniel Nava.304.399.464
Tyler Holt.271.363.346
Brett Eibner.244.334.437
Rickie Weeks.287.403.492
Patrick Kivlehan.284.346.481
Peter Bourjos.290.343.454
Delino DeShields.266.362.390
Rafael Ortega.293.359.412
Corey Dickerson.321.379.596
Chris Colabello.282.361.375
Tyler Collins.261.335.414
Jackie Bradley Jr..294.391.462
Nick Swisher.263.372.460
Randal Grichuk.278.322.504
Preston Tucker.281.350.486
Domonic Brown.282.353.437
Mike Aviles.296.336.492
Derek Dietrich.276.352.479
Abraham Almonte.271.352.407
Joey Butler.286.371.434
Jason Bourgeois.283.340.383
Jon Jay.300.366.464
Matt Joyce.276.363.465
Grady Sizemore.289.376.411
Travis Snider.300.377.490
David Murphy.271.341.405
Paulo Orlando.275.325.407
Will Venable.279.348.429
Shane Victorino.281.341.414
David DeJesus.300.399.459
Jonny Gomes.272.395.532
Justin Maxwell.256.348.437
Sam Fuld.284.371.405
Brandon Barnes.263.325.436
Scott Van Slyke.287.365.487
Melvin Upton Jr..294.387.450
Dustin Ackley.283.380.422
Shane Peterson.287.369.439
Chris Denorfia.291.364.431
Skip Schumaker.291.355.387
Dustin Fowler.289.321.458
Victor Reyes.298.347.389
Austin Slater.313.377.461
Johnny Field.270.330.440
Phil Ervin.254.346.407
Hunter Pence.305.375.547
Jorge Bonifacio.270.339.422
Melky Cabrera.298.349.422
Aaron Altherr.262.324.410
Greg Allen.277.380.377
Ben Gamel.290.350.408
Tony Kemp.312.389.420
Rosell Herrera.276.346.389
Jake Cave.284.345.421
Chris Owings.294.323.441
Nicky Delmonico.258.342.432
Austin Jackson.287.355.408
Cameron Maybin.296.386.470
Jose Bautista.283.374.466

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Padres' Depth Pays Off In California League Playoffs

Recent callups Adrian Martinez, Tucupita Marcano propel high Class A Lake Elsinore to California League championship series.

The numbers are loud, and they speak for themselves.

But are there different standards for lefthanded hitters or righthanded hitters? Or center fielders versus corner outfielders?

Glad you asked. Here career minor league averages for various subgroups in our sample.

Lefthanded hitters (53 players): .289/.365/.446
Righthanded hitters (63): .279/.350/.433
Switch hitters (8): .279/.356/.416

Center fielders (64): .281/.354/.420
Corner outfielders (60): .288/.359/.458

Career outfielders (101): .282/.358/.437
Converted infielders (23): .288/.356/.450

Some of the results are intuitive, such as corner outfielders having to hit for more power than center fielders. Others are the opposite of what would be assumed—lefties actually had to hit better than righties on average in the minors to make it as a major league reserve.

But in each case, every subgroup averaged at least a .275 batting average and .350 on-base percentage in the minors.

Kendall and Reed, along with many other speedy, defensively-gifted outfielders of their ilk, don’t cross those thresholds yet. That doesn’t mean they never will. Both Kendall and Reed, in particular, have immense levels of athleticism and years of development still to come. Both have a chance to have it all click, and if it does, they can be well more than just backups.

But it does mean is if they continue at their current paces and don't get better offensively, their "floor" isn't really a fourth outfielder—it's as a long-time minor leaguer. Even with their defense, speed and arm strength, they have to significantly improve as hitters to actually become reserve outfielders in the major leagues.

That's the truth for all the minor leaguers given the label of a fourth outfielder "floor." Speed, defense and arm strength are important, and they can be crucial separators as players climb the minor league ladder.

But at the end of the day, speed, defense and arm strength alone aren't enough to get a young outfielder to the majors and stay there.

As the actual reserve outfielders in the majors can attest, you have to hit to be a big leaguer.

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