Today we're arguing the relative fantasy merits of two young outfielders with five-category upside. Both are available beyond Round 10 in early mock draft action, so there's clear profit potential. In keeping with Spin Doctors tradition, Brandon Funston and Andy Behrens are each allowed 250 words to build their cases. (Italicized words count double, syllables are unlimited, hyphens must be cleared by the rules committee). Let's play the feud…
Behrens for Bruce: It always feels wrong when we refer to professional athletes as "unlucky," but, speaking strictly about balls-in-play, no one in baseball had less luck than Bruce in 2009. He posted MLB's lowest BABIP among players with 300 plate appearances (.222). Before fracturing his right wrist in July, Bruce appeared to be our game's best buy-low candidate. The fantasy stats didn't match the underlying skills.
Thus it was no great surprise when Bruce mauled opposing pitchers in September after returning from the DL. He hit .326/.426/.652 with four homers over the season's final three weeks, reminding us of the talent that made him the 2007 Minor League Player of the Year. He still projects as an eventual star. Entering his age-23 season, it's much too early to limit Bruce's ceiling. He's a career .334 hitter at Triple-A; he managed to hit 22 home runs for Cincinnati last year in just 101 games, in a campaign that disappointed everyone. Don't sleep on him on draft day.
Bruce actually improved his plate discipline and contact rate in 2009 – check the outside-swing and zone-contact percentages here – so be careful not to overstate the extent of his sophomore-year struggles. And before you give a home park advantage to Gonzalez, understand that Great American has been more homer-friendly than Coors Field in four of the past five seasons. If Bruce maintains his '09 power pace over 550 at-bats, then he'll hit 35 bombs in 2010. If he improves, then he'll be the year's greatest bargain.
Funston responds: I'm not going to sit here and disparage Jay Bruce(notes), because you don't give up on a soon-to-be 24-year old with his upside. But we do know that there are some sizeable issues that he needs to overcome. Like 758 career at-bats at a .240 clip – 237 of those ABs have come against southpaws and have produced a sub-Mendoza line of .198. There's also the matter of just seven steals (and nine caught stealings) in that span, as well. That's two very significant holes in a standard five category roto set-up.
By contrast, Carlos Gonzalez(notes) may not possess the power ceiling of Bruce, but he has the all-around skill set that won't likely leave his fantasy owners unsatisfied in any one particular area. Last season, after the break, CarGo hit .320 with 12 HR, 24 RBI, 42 R and 11 SB – if you exclude RBIs, he was a top 20 level fantasy hitter in the second half.
CarGo is a former No. 1 prospect of the Diamondbacks, talented enough to have been a major component in deals for Dan Haren(notes) and Matt Holliday(notes). He brings tremendous bat speed and a graceful swing to the batter’s box, and judging by nearly all key metrics, he took positive strides in the ever-so-crucial plate discipline department last season. He also adeptly handled both lefty and righty pitchers in ‘09, unlike Bruce.
When the time comes to choose between these two players, frankly, I’ll forego the sub-.250 worry in favor of CarGo.
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