Spring Training Teasers: Couch Side’s top five left fielders for 2012

BY WADE MCMILLIN, Couchsideshow.com editor

For part seven of Couch Side’s 12 part series on the best baseball players by position for 2012, I’m going the be showing a lot of love for the National League’s top left fielders. This list was an easy pick before I remembered that Ryan Braun’s suspension had been lifted. So although I don’t agree with his actions, until the man is proven guilty, he’ll lead off Couch Side’s list of the best in L.F.

Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun is Couch Side's top left fielder after almost winning the triple crown last season. Photo by: Dinur Blum / Flickr

1. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

Like it or not, Ryan Braun was the N.L. MVP last season. And hate it or love it, he will be playing this season despite some faulty handling of his drug test. With that out of the way, let’s focus on how this guy plays. Braun almost won the Triple Crown last season, falling just short in each category by the slimmest of margins. By hitting for power and contact last year, Braun proved that he may just be the best hitter in baseball. And it’s hard not to call a guy who hit 33 bombs, 111 RBIs and carried a .332 batting average just that. You never saw guys like Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire hit for average. That’s why it’s hard for me not to love Ryan Braun just a little. He may have cheated, but at least he didn’t gun for the single season home run record. Instead, he was Mr. Baseball last season. And if he is completely innocent, I feel like he could be one of the best of all time. After all, the guy is an extremely talented outfielder, feared hitter and a threat on the base paths with 33 swipes last season.

2. Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers

If Hamilton can avoid injury and any sort of bad press by “relapsing,” he may just have a breakout season this year. It’s a stretch to say a former MVP is still capable of a breakout season, but Hamilton is due after missing solid stretches of time during the past two summers. We all know he is capable of 30 or even 40 home runs and is a lock to secure 100 RBIs. With a full season, he may just throw his name back into the MVP hat and Hamilton will certainly be looking to improve his numbers, considering this is the final year of his contract.

3. Carlos Gonzales, Colorado Rockies

Gonzales’ name was also in the running for an MVP a couple of seasons ago when the mighty left fielder chased the triple crown. His numbers the following year dipped off a little, but he is still a solid choice a the third best left fielder in the MLB. Gonzales dealt with an ailing wrist last season, managing to still hit 26 homers and 92 RBIs in 127 games. The 26-year-old also hit .295, proving he is an all-around threat at the plate. If Cargo didn’t miss 25 games in 2011, who knows what he would have been capable of.  My bet is he would’ve been a serious MVP contender. That title could still come in 2012 if the Rockies’ new lineup can gel and if Gonzales can stay away from the disabled list.

4. Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals

Again, we have another case of a stud who underproduced because of missed time on the disabled list. Holliday still showed pop despite missing 38 games. The 32-year-old veteran popped 22 homer runs and 75 RBIs while batting .296 in 124 games for the Red Birds last season. He missed the end of the regular season with a wrist injury, but proved he can bounce back from injury by making somewhat of an impact in 16 playoff games during the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series run. With slugger Albert Pujols out of the lineup, a lot of weight will be thrown onto Holliday’s shoulder. Can he manage being this team’s primary power hitter? Only time will tell, but the guy can play that roll, winning four silver slugger awards during his eight-year career.

Washington Nationals left fielder Michael Morse set career highs in batting average, home runs and RBI last season. Photo by: Scott Abelman / Flickr

5. Michael Morse, Washington Nationals

Simply put, Michael Morse had his best season as pro in 2011. He set personal bests is every major offensive category, batting .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs. It seems Morris is starting to hit his peak and a lot of the experts believe he has MVP calibur. This comes from a guy who averaged one homer per 100 at bats during his days as a reserve player with the Seattle Mariners. Since joining the Nats last season, Morse has done nothing but sore with his newly found playing time. He is a true diamond in the rough and one who pitchers must be aware of. For that fact, Morse rounds out our top five.

Honorable mentions: Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays; Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox; and Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals

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