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2016 Baseball Position Battles: Outfield

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Baseball season starts one week from today with a 3 game series at The Hawk against the University of San Diego Torreros. Back to the only sport that matters. Today, we take a look at the outfielders.

"My neck!  I'm not supposed to get fastballs in it!"
"My neck! I'm not supposed to get fastballs in it!"
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Let's begin with two seemingly incongruous facts:

1) After going to back to back CWS finals and losing the #1, #8, and #24 pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, this is going to be a rebuilding year.

2) We are ranked as highly as #3 heading into the season.

On this, 30 Helens agree, and yet... how???  Well, 'crootin, of course.  Not only have we had the #1 class of incoming freshmen two years running, once Donny Everett and his 98mph heater turned down $2.5 million, you could argue we have the equivalent of two #1 recruiting classes fighting for playing time as freshmen this year.  Corbs has set up a Baseball factory in Nashville, and his recruiting prowess since he's taken over the program in '03 (exponentially so in the last 5 years) make Nick Saban look like a right-side up, mouth-drinking Butch Jones.

What does this all mean?  Besides the fact that between the months of February and June, I come out of hibernation to remove the football and basketball induced cloak of malaise from the Anchor of Gold Community, teach you all how to smile again, and provide lessons on how to strut around like the cock of the walk at your office while singing Dynamite without getting fired, not a whole hell of a lot.  But hell, isn't that pretty much all there is to life?  No?  Well, I'll try to talk about bourbon and beer, too, then.  Happy?

Today, let's take a look at the outfield: our departing players, returning players, and the positional battles that will all but assuredly result in pretty fluid lineups (I fully expect Corbs to try a lot of young'ns, fiddle with the lineup and defensive alignment, etc., until these position battles work themselves out) until at least the start of SEC play, and likely until the postseason.  Tomorrow, we'll look at the infielders, and on Sunday, the pitchers (where it doesn't appear any role, outside of Kyle Wright on Fridays or Saturdays, is locked in) and catchers will get the treatment.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree; in Nashville, we've got Hawkins Field.

Outfield

Departing Players

RF Rhett Wiseman

2015 stats: .317/.415/.566, 19 2B, 4 3B, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 12-14 sb-att

While losing The Natural to The Nationals this past MLB draft means losing a potent power bat and solid defender, what we will miss most is this:

Can any of the young guns take a 95mph heater to the throat and then come back and jack one out of here his next at bat?  We can hope... but it's unlikely.  Zombie Wiseman will surely be missed.  I mean, what's going to happen to this twitter account?

Returning Players

#20 CF Bryan "The Aluminum Foil" Reynolds

Junior S/R 6'2" 210lbs

2015 stats: .316/.388/.462, 18 2B, 4 3B, 5 HR, 49 RBI, 17-19 sb-att

If this is the first you're hearing of the All-American, 2014 Freshman All-American, 2 time USA Baseball team member, future first round pick, master of the methodical batters box routine and perv-stache, you get the hell out of this article right now, you crum bum!  Go on, now!  Git!

What he does well: Everything.  He's an average and OBP maven who drives pitchers insane with his refusal to take fewer than 30 minutes between each pitch to adjust his batting gloves, take deep breaths, and pour a glass of rum for Jobu.  He's displayed an elite hit tool and high baseball IQ since day 1 (seriously, he batted .600 in his first series, a 3 game sweep of the Long Beach State Dirtbags that set the tone for our first National Championship).  While he lacks the elite speed of a Jeren Kendall or Alonzo Jones, he has "game speed," as seen by his ability to track pretty much everything hit to the outfield, and his 17 stolen bases in 19 attempts last year.  He's a solid all-around player, a team leader, and is coming into his draft year looking to prove he's the best outfielder on the market.  He's poised to be this year's Dansby Swanson, minus the hair that raised vaginal humidity in Hawkins field to the level of "bring an extra pair of pants."  Expect his line-up spot, 3rd, to be written in pen.

What he does poorly: You shut your whore mouth!  Okay, for a little while last year, he had a hole in his swing on sinkers and sliders down and in (while batting from the left side), but he fixed the glitch in time for the postseason, so, you know, shut up.

#3 OF Jeren Kendall

Sophomore L/R 5'11 180lbs

2015 stats: .281/.394/.530, 10 2B, 6 3B, 8 HR, 40 RBI, 19-23 sb-att

I'll just go ahead and leave this here.

What he does well: Not to repeat myself, but... umm... everything?  Simply put, he oozes talent, and the Freshman All American is the most likely candidate on this team to move from "solid regular" to "team MVP."  Frankly, it would be a disappointment if Kendall's speed and defensive skills don't at least force Corbs to sweat over whether it should be him or Reynolds manning CF.  Traditionally speaking, it takes players coming from northern climates (Kendall is from Wisconsin) longer to adjust to SEC play than those coming from baseball hotbeds such as Georgia, Louisiana, and Florida.  This was seen in former Commodore CWS hero John Norwood and, to a lesser extent, Rhett Wiseman.  Kendall did not need much of an adjustment period.  Kendall was a day 1 starter in CF last year, but an early season injury allowed Reynolds to lock down the position, and kick Kendall to LF.  Kendall will definitely have a starting job in the outfield this year, but he will likely start the year at a corner OF spot (likely RF, unless someone with a stronger arm gets the other corner OF job).  With his combination of elite speed and fast hands, Corbs will likely bat Kendall 2nd, though if he improves his eye, he would be a natural lead-off hitter.  Either way, Corbs will want to get his .924 OPS in the top of the line-up.

What he does poorly: Other than provide an obvious nickname for us to call him, he could probably do to be a bit more selective at the plate, and take more walks.  As for the nickname difficulty, this is not on him, obviously, as we could easily call him "Je-RUN," but that seems forced to me.  Last year, he was the Chairman of the Freshman Party.  Obviously, that won't work this year.  "Crazy Legs" Kendall has that home-spun charm, but it doesn't feel like a fit.  "The Wisconsin Kid?"  Aargh.  I'll get on this.  Hopefully, he does something early in the year to make it easy on me.  Alas, they can't all be Turd Ferguson.

So Who Will Replace Rhett Wiseman's Neck?

The Veteran Candidates

#1 OF/DH Ro "Don't Call Me Gary" Coleman

Junior S/R 5'5" 150lbs

2015 stats: .295/.402/.394, 15 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 26 RBI, 5-10 sb-att

Listen, we could fill a volume with my complaints about Ro and/or Corbin's use of Ro, but he was, without a doubt, the most improved player from '14 to '15.  He has elite speed, but a slow first step, so it's more useful rounding 2nd or 3rd than swiping bags or beating out 3 hop grounders to middle infielders.  In other words, you need to stop comparing him to Tony Kemp.  However, he could become a useful player in his junior year, especially if he wins the LF job.  If he has done so, that means he has made strides to be a plus defender in the offseason.  Also, he's been able to generate a lot more pop in his bat than his frame belies.  In the three Black and Gold games this preseason, Ro knocked two over the fence.  What does this mean?  The hell if I know, but Ro, maddening though he is, is clearly a favorite of Corbs, so expect him to get a lot of playing time, either in LF or DH.  Hopefully, he's batting "2nd lead-off" in the 9 hole, but you just know he's going to lead off.  Ah hell, time to accept it, and ready my vocal chords for a season of yelling WHY THE HELL DID YOU SWING AT THAT?!?!?!

The Even Veteran-er: #39 OF/1B Kyle "Man Mountain" Smith

Senior R/R 6'4" 220lbs

2015 stats: .063/.211/.125, 1 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 1-1 sb-att

If you're wondering why Ro may be the favorite amongst the veterans for the LF job, look no further than Kyle Smith's 2015 stat line.  However, I've been told he's getting serious consideration for the LF, 1B, and DH spots.  Perhaps this is all simply the respect due a senior who's stayed in the program despite little playing time, or perhaps Smith has finally come through on the massive power potential he showed as a freshman.  We shall see.  He can certainly thump one, but barring a garbage time double in the postseason last year, Smith would have batted .000 for the season.

#18 OF/MI/PH Nolan Rogers

Junior L/R 5'9" 175lbs

2015 stats: .247/.396/.288, 3 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 1-1 sb-att

At this point, Rogers is likely a late inning defensive replacement or left handed bat off the bench.  He's a 4th or 5th OF on this team, and has had perhaps more shots than warranted to disprove that contention.

The Upstarts/Unknowns

#8 SS/2B Alonzo Jones

Freshman S/R 5'10" 200lbs

2015 Stats: N/A

This is where you expect me to explain that the next Bryan Reynolds or Jeren Kendall is waiting in the wings, full of superstar potential, and champing at the bit to take the LF job. Well, not quite.  Our two OF commits signed deals with the MLB clubs who drafted them, so if a starting OF comes from this bunch, he will have to be converted from a middle-infielder.  It is conceivable that Corbs could try speed-freak 1st Team Perfect Game All American Alonzo Jones at LF and move him to 2B or SS next year (like he did with Tony Kemp), so he is the most likely guy.  Jones oozes potential, as he has legit 80 speed, but I get the sense that Corbs is going to give him every shot to compete at SS, and would likely rather have him play back-up SS and DH this year.  I'd like to see what his speed can do in the outfield, but not everyone can switch positions seamlessly.  Jones would be the upside pick, and will likely get a lot of "PUT IN THE BACKUP QB!!!" support from the commentariat, but I'm not sure he's our best option until our middle infield is clearly settled.

That said, I'm already fully prepared to bang the drum for him with every mistake made by Ro Coleman.

JUST PUT HIM IN ALREADY, CORBS!!!  COLEMAN'S PICKING FLOWERS OUT THERE!!!

*Sorry.  That one slipped out.

*If He Doesn't Win the 1B or DH Job...

#16 IF Penn Murfee

R.S. Sophomore R/R 6'2" 190lbs

2015 stats: .256/.330/.385, 5 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 2-4 sb-att

I could have written an entire article titled "Where Do You Put Penn Murfee?"  Murfee came in as a 2B, but barring an injury to Tyler Campbell, the defensive drop-off is just too high for this to happen, especially as Corbs will likely be breaking in a freshman SS.  He's in the mix (with Green, Smith, and Sabino) for Zander Wiel's vacated 1B spot, and last year his bat, at times, showed promise.  Murfee also received some reps in the OF last year, and while not elite, was serviceable.  With all world defenders Reynolds and Kendall manning the other two spots, any deficiencies on defensive range would be pretty much covered.  As such, LF might be a way to get Murfee's bat into the lineup, especially against LHPs.  We shall see, but this is an intriguing option.

Others Listed on the Roster But Likely to Resdhirt

Walker Grisanti

Stephen Scott

Kiambu Fentress