Next stop, stardom: 2011 breakout picks – Colby Rasmus

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Colby Rasmus received more attention for his tense relationship with manager Tony La Russa becoming public than for his outstanding sophomore season, as he managed to lead all MLB center fielders in OPS as a 23-year-old without much fanfare.

La Russa benching him versus many left-handers (and then simply benching him for a while, period) kept Rasmus’ counting stats somewhat modest, but when given the chance to face southpaws he hit .270 with an .810 OPS off them and his overall production was spectacular for his age and position.

Rasmus joined Ken Griffey Jr., Fred Lynn, Grady Sizemore, Andruw Jones, Dusty Baker, and Lloyd Moseby as the only center fielders in the past 50 years to top an .850 OPS as 23-year-olds. That’s some pretty great company and the improvements Rasmus made in plate discipline and power from his so-so rookie year to his standout sophomore campaign have me believing he’s capable of even more.

His high strikeout rate is an issue and could keep Rasmus from ever posting huge batting averages, but the rest of his all-around game is strong enough to make him a superstar anyway. He’s a plus defensive center fielder with 30-homer power, above-average speed, and enough patience to get on base at a good clip even if his batting average is mediocre. His production last season flew under the radar somewhat, but assuming La Russa stops shielding him from lefties Rasmus’ counting stats will rise this year and should make it clear to everyone that he’s among the elite center fielders in baseball.

Tigers sign Edwin Espinal to minor league deal

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Free agent first baseman Edwin Espinal has signed a minor league deal with the Tigers, the infielder announced Saturday. The move has yet to be confirmed by the team.

Espinal, 23, capped a seven-year run with the Pirates’ minor league affiliates in 2017. He split his season between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, batting a cumulative .294/.327/.447 with 15 home runs and 31 doubles in 532 plate appearances. While he’s raked at nearly every level so far, he also profiles well on defense, and rounded off his 2017 performance with a perfect fielding percentage, 208 putouts and a Gold Glove award.

Espinal is untested at the major league level and it’s not yet clear if he’ll make the jump in 2018. He showed some positional versatility during his time in the minors, however, and could take reps at third base or DH if necessary. The Tigers are reportedly on the lookout for pitching depth and left-handed bats — two bills the right-handed Espinal doesn’t fit — and presumably have a lot of moves left to make this winter.