LF: Atlanta Braves, Starter: Ronald Acuña Jr.
Left field is one of the most powerful positions in the NL East. 2019 NL East starting outfielders slugged a total of 109 homers in 2018. This is another position that could be up for grabs in 2019. The way things currently stand, Ronald Acuña Jr. holds the title of the best left fielder. The 21-year-old from Venezuela slugged his way to the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year award and his efforts helped the Braves win the division. Acuña has displayed all 5 tools early on. In order to avoid a sophomore slump, Acuña must realize that the league will make adjustments to his approach at the plate and he will likely see a steady diet of fastballs low and away.
Another player to watch in left is Mets slugger Michael Conforto. The former Oregon State Beaver had a rollercoaster season his first year back from torn capsule surgery. Despite a rough start to the season, Conforto’s play picked up after the All-Star break, driving in the second most runs in the NL (trailing only MVP Christian Yelich) and hitting the fifth-most home runs in that span.
Conforto’s defense has been better than advertised and his strong arm and athleticism make up for his occasionally slow first step. Conforto needs to improve his plate discipline: he swung at 27.6% of pitches outside of the strike zone and was among the league leaders in strikeouts. When Conforto’s on, he sprays the ball to all fields with power. The Mets can expect Conforto to make bigger strides this year and provide protection in the lineup behind Robinson Canó.
The Nationals have moved on from Bryce Harper and perhaps another homegrown teenager could help minimize the absence of Harper from the lineup. 20-year-old Juan Soto mashed 22 home runs for the Nationals after a midseason call-up. His .923 OPS during those 116 games is an impressive mark for any player, not to mention a 20-year-old. Soto needs to cut down on strikeouts significantly in order to take the next step. He has an adept eye at the plate and his raw power paired with veteran-like plate discipline have scouts drooling. Soto should excite Nationals fans for years to come.
The 2013 NL MVP will likely start in left field in his first season with the Phillies. McCutchen has shown signs of decline the past few seasons and his defensive rating has dropped drastically since his Pittsburgh days. In a season split between the Giants and Yankees, Cutch’s batting average dropped 24 points and he struck out a career-high 145 times. McCutchen’s defense warranted a move to left in 2018.
The former MVP is still a serviceable player is far better than the league average left fielder. McCutchen may have lost a step or two; this doesn’t make him a defensive liability. It could be expected of McCutchen to play steady outfield defense and crank 25 homers, making him a valuable player to have. Nick Williams will likely back him up in left. 25-year-old Roman Quinn will fight for a roster spot in 2019.
A familiar face has moved on to Miami. Curtis Granderson will open the 2019 season at Miami’s starting outfielder. The Grandy Man will be an important veteran presence in the Marlins locker room. Granderson will serve more as a teacher role to the younger players and if he is productive, will likely be moved by the trade deadline to a contender. The 15 year veteran posted the worst WAR (0.9) since his rookie season in 20014. Granderson will enter his age 37 season.