There has been a lot of discussion about the Reds options in left field for the upcoming season. Much of the discussion has been focused on Jonny Gomes and the possibility of obtaining Johnny Damon (because the left fielder must be named Jonny or Johnny, you know). Some people want to see Chris Dickerson get the majority of at-bats out there, and many want Laynce Nix to get some playing time. Heck, some have even suggested Chris Heisey or Todd Frazier be given a shot.

What about Wladimir Balentien?

I admit, I’ve kinda ignored Balentien since he was acquired in a pretty good move by Walt Jocketty late last summer. Frankly, with an OPS+ of 82 in just under 300 ABs last year (between Seattle and Cincinnati), it isn’t like Balentien has done much to make us all sit up and take notice.

For some time now, I’ve been meaning to look a bit closer at Wladimir. After all, he had a good reputation as a prospect, and he’ll just be 25 this year. Might the Reds have an asset on their hands? We’re going to find out this year; Balentien is officially out of options, so he’ll either make the team out of spring training or the Reds will risk losing him.

Balentien ripped through the minor leagues, with outstanding power numbers and adequate, if not-overwhelming on-base skills. He has shown progress with his plate discipline over his career, which is a good sign.

In the majors, of course, Balentien has been overmatched. In 559 ABs, Balentien has posted a dismal 73 OPS+ (655 OPS) with this line: .221/.281/.374 and only 15 homers and 52 RBI. Wins above replacement: 0.8. His contact rate has been abysmal (70%; the MLB average is more than ten percentage points higher), due mostly to his problems with breaking pitches.

That certainly won’t get it done as a major league corner outfielder, even though his defense in LF appears to be decent to good.

Projections for 2010 are somewhat encouraging however, depending on where you look. The most optimistic is the CHONE projection, which sees Balentien putting up an 829 OPS on the strength of a .265/.342/.487 line, with 20 homers. CHONE also sees 2.4 wins above replacement, which isn’t a bad number at all for a 25-year-old (and that’s as good or better than any of the other LF options).

Marcel, on the other hand, projects Balentien for .240/.306/.395 with 10 homers. Other projections are between those two extremes (all of these projections are based on part-time duty, 300-375 AB).

Balentien hits right-handed, so you would think it would be natural to explore a platoon with a lefty (Nix or Dickerson). Not so fast, my friend. As noted by FanGraphs, Balentien actually has a reverse platoon-split; he’s better against right-handed pitchers!

The more I look at Balentien’s career, the more I think he could be a realistic option as a starting major league left fielder. He’s still a bit of an enigma to me, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start off well, get a bunch of ABs as Dusty Baker tries to ride the hot hand, and really jump-start a decent major league career.

On the other hand, I could also see him swinging and missing a ton early and getting buried on the bench, destined to become the next Wily Mo Pena.

Personally, I hope he gets a realistic shot to be part of the left field conversation. He could be a big surprise, especially if he has made progress against breaking stuff.

Your thoughts?

65 Responses

  1. Glenn

    Balentien has always reminded me of the Pedro Cerrano character in the Movie major league. He crushes fastballs and looks totally overmatched once they throw him the curveball. I wonder if he has a little “Joboo” statue in his locker?

  2. Travis G.

    Obviously, I’m very interested to see what Balentien can do in a small sample size in spring training against a mix of veteran and minor league pitchers. But wouldn’t it have been a better use of everyone’s time for him to have gotten Nix’s at-bats last September against real-live Major League pitching?

    • hoosierdad

      Travis G.: Obviously, I’m very interested to see what Balentien can do in a small sample size in spring training against a mix of veteran and minor league pitchers. But wouldn’t it have been a better use of everyone’s time for him to have gotten Nix’s at-bats last September against real-live Major League pitching?

      I agree and remember a lot of RLN commenters at the time musing why Dusty didn’t gave Balentien more ABs. Also, when the Reds got him, I believe he was already out of options so he had to stay on the MLB roster. Another case of Dusty not looking ahead to the future and what is best longterm for the franchise?

    • Steve

      Travis G.: Obviously, I’m very interested to see what Balentien can do in a small sample size in spring training against a mix of veteran and minor league pitchers. But wouldn’t it have been a better use of everyone’s time for him to have gotten Nix’s at-bats last September against real-live Major League pitching?

      And Gomes’ AB as well. More lineup malpractice by Baker.

      That’s the one overarching discouraging factor heading in to this year – Baker’s repeated lineup and roster blunders.

      Who here has any level of confidence that Baker will do a competent job assessing the outcome of spring training and crafting the right lineup out of it?

  3. GregD

    Some thoughts and questions:

    I would absolutely love to see this deal work out to the point the Balentien is a great every day left fielder.

    I’m torn between being the optimist hoping that he can build on a very small positive sample experience in Cincinnati last year vs. being a realist regarding his very poor, though still small sample, experience in the majors with Seattle.

    His k-rate in the minors, leads me to think he’ll struggle to bat over .250 (and struggle to get over 750 ops) in the majors over a full season.

    He did not walk a lot in A-ball, but drew more walks in AA and AAA. Does that represent a true improvement in batting eye/approach, or were opponents in AA/AAA pitching around the then 21/22 year old highly touted power hitter more?

    Can Cincinnati fans handle another leftfielder who strikes out 150-170 times in a full season?

  4. BJ Ruble

    I’m interested to see what he can do. I’m glad you mentioned the splits, I noticed that yesterday while I was looking at fangraphs. If he can’t do any better against LHP, his value to the team isn’t as high as it could be. Anyway, he is an interesting option, nonetheless.

  5. Kevin Mitchell is Batman

    Wladdy Bally was one of the first big moves the Mariners made to begin their offseason, one which most every baseball expert has widely praised. Their organization as moved towards a pitching/defense/contact/speed type lineup, leaning much more on guys like Ichiro and Chone Figgins than Balentien/Beltre types. I gave my sentiments in the Gomes’ thread about giving creedence to certain other organizations on their talent evaluations (the Rays, for instance), and the post-Bill Bavasi M’s have made some shrewd decisions, frankly.

    I just don’t think Balentien will stick. He’s a K waiting to happen, and he doesn’t fill the spot in our lineup where we need help (the 4 spot). I’d much rather run Dickerson out there to give us a chance at someone else being on base than watch Wladdy swing away from the 7 spot.

  6. JasonL

    I think I’d rather have Heisey, honestly.

  7. John

    I distinctly remember actual Reds fans thinking it was a good idea to keep Wily Mo Pena, who had no options but could not play baseball, instead of trading him for pitching. We can’t all be winners. I’m just glad very few of those fans are around RN, RR, etc.

  8. GRF

    I think the fact he is out of options, and the fact he is RH (reverse platoon split notwithstanding, I question whether Dusty pays much attention to that) is a big part of the reason they want Gomes on a minor league deal. My guess is he starts in the bigs until he proves he can’t hit.

  9. RedBlooded

    I think Balentien has to get a shot first because he is out of options (so we would either lose him or have to trade him at a low) and he seemed to be putting it together (finally) after he got to the Reds last year. That said, I think he will have a pretty short window because there are so many options for LF. One of of those options is going to get hot and look good in spring training or early in AAA. So I think the pressure will really be on Balentien. The fact that he is right handed and hit righties well is not really a deterrent as most pitchers are right handed. He should improve against lefties since he has an advantage against the breaking balls.

  10. JC

    Does anyone see any similarities to Nelson Cruz? Typical 4A player? Maybe this is the year it finally clicks for him?

  11. RedBlooded

    There is no comparison with Willy Mo, by the way. Willy Mo needed to be in the minors to develop or not. But because of a stupid contract signed by the Yankees he was forced to be in the majors at age 21. He was a minor league player playing exclusively in the majors. Not conducive at all to development. He probably would have been a bust anyway but he could have had a much better chance to learn and grow if he could have done it at his pace in the minors.

  12. GregD

    @GRF: I agree wrt Gomes. If they signed him on a major league deal, they be in a potential pickle come the end of spring training if both are doing well. The opening day favorite for the 5 OF spots going into ST, IMO, are:

    Dickerson, Stubbs, Bruce, Balentien, Nix.
    I would imagine that Nix has been in mind as the LH bat off the bench from the beginning, but the minor league deal allowed them roster flexibility during the offseason.

  13. preach

    Balentien might be worth dealing early before weaknesses are exposed. I think the Pedro Cerrano reference is not only funny, but true….and that doesn’t make it so funny.

  14. Kevin Mitchell is Batman

    @GregD: I’m not sure that’s the 5 OF’s I’d take with me if I was Walt/Dustbag. Given Balentien’s reverse splits, who is going to hit left-handed pitching from our outfield? We all know Bruce has struggled, and Nix isn’t exactly your lefty killer. Dickerson has barely OPS’d .700 versus lefties at the MLB level, and Stubbs hasn’t proven he can hit lefties OR righties for a full season yet.

    This all makes me hope that Balentien knocks the cover off the ball in ST so we can trade him for something of use. I’d bring Heisey up with the big leaguers and bat him vs. LH pitching and as OF depth.

  15. Chad Dotson

    Can’t disagree with anything any of you have said. WB is an interesting case. There are hints that he could be good, but I can’t argue with anyone who is skeptical.

    For me, the fact that he is just 25 weighs pretty heavily in his favor. I don’t like giving up on kids at that age when they’ve shown success in the minors.

  16. Chad Dotson

    @Kevin Mitchell is Batman: I don’t know if those are the five I’d bring east, either, but you can almost guarantee that those are the five that will make the team.

    That, of course, changes if Gomes or Damon are signed.

    (BTW, it sounds weird to type “bring east”; for years, we’ve always talked about the team the Reds are going to bring north.)

  17. GregD

    Reverse splits doesn’t mean he can’t hit lefties. It just means his professional numbers have been better against righties.

    Minor League Career
    Pitcher’s hand, at-bats, avg/obp/slg (ops)
    vs. LH 324 0.241/0.343/0.469 (.812)
    vs. RH 1292 0.277/0.348/0.519 (.867)

    2005
    vs. LH 83 0.253/0.323/0.518
    vs. RH 409 0.298/0.342/0.560

    2006
    vs. LH 88 0.227/0.349/0.432
    vs. RH 356 0.230/0.334/0.435

    2007
    vs. LH 108 0.250/0.357/0.481
    vs. RH 339 0.301/0.365/0.499

    2008
    vs. LH 45 0.222/0.333/0.422
    vs. RH 188 0.277/0.359/0.622

  18. GregD

    @Chad Dotson & @Kevin Mitchell is Batman: I’m not sure if that’s the 5 that should make the team. I’m just saying that I think those are the leading candidates prior to a single spring training practice.

    I agree that more than one of prospects are the possible long-term answer in LF, and if they are ready for the Show and done marinating in AAA, then he (Heisey, Frazier, etc.) should be the opening day LFer. In that scenario, the prospect is the opening day LFer, Dickerson/Balentien is the 4th/5th OFer, and Nix is in AAA on a minor league deal.

  19. Mark in CC

    Another thing Balentien has going for him is he was acquired by Jocketty and GMs give themselves every opportunity to not look bad.

    In looking at Walt’s last 2 trades only one of the three players he traded wasn’t released by the teams they were traded to. Rob Manuel released by the Mariners and Taveras by the A’s.

    I guess I would rather give WB a chance than signing another short term veteran. I can not see Gomes being signed with the idea of him being depth in the minors in case Wladamir doesn’t work out. I really would not want to see Gomes in the minors taking at bats from a young player who needs them. So I could see Gomes being signed to a minor league deal then released if he doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training.

    With Sutton and Miles both being switch hitters I am not sure Nix is a lock either. I mentioned Castillo yesterday and as a switch hitter also he could even fill that left handed pinch hitter/utility role (also providing the plus of a third catcher).

    Spring Training could be very interesting.

  20. Tom Diesman

    Just a little food for thought when considering Balentien and Francisco as prospects/suspects. Plus I tossed in Gomes just for comparison sakes.

    Minors Total PA K% BB% AVG OBP SLG OPS
    Francisco 1892 23.4 3.8 .281 .311 .482 .793
    Balentien 2417 24.7 9.4 .273 .345 .526 .871
    Gomes 2375 27.9 12.4 .272 .395 .532 .927

    Balentien did put up better than average numbers as a Red last season.

    Cin. Total PA AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
    Balentien 125 .264 .352 .427 .779 104

    I’m hoping the success he had after coming to the Reds gave him the confidence boost he needed to start producing in the majors at the rates one would expect from his minor league numbers. His Chone projection of .265/.342/.487/.829 is not all that far fetched given his minor league numbers.

  21. hoosierdad

    Anybody know if Balentien played any fall ball?

  22. Matt McWax

    Don’t forget about him hitting the longest homer in the bigs last year. It doesn’t really add much to the discussion but I suppose it does bring Wily Mo to mind with his batting practice displays. Wily Mo didn’t work out as a major league bat as we know but don’t forget he put up an .843 ops in ’04 (1.039 against lhp and had 19 homers in 212 at-bats in the second half). He trailed off in ’05 but wasn’t exactly embarrassing (.796 ops and .881 against lhp).

    He had inconsistent playing time and that has continued to be the case with other teams, although injuries were to blame later. He also showed some ability to go the other way as that was what pitchers were forcing him to do. Getting Arroyo was a good move in hindsight but those of us who were unsure about the move shouldn’t be considered some kind of outcasts. That his power eventually faded is the most instructive thing, though, because pitchers continually worked outside and Samson’s hair was chopped. I think our options are better than they were at the time as Heisey, Dickerson, and Stubbs should be seeing the bulk of the time. They are more well rounded and less likely to be exploited in the long haul.

    If we can move Balentien for someone with some upside, I’m for it. I think at least he’s worth more than Manuel who we gave up for him.

  23. GreatRedLegsFan

    Correction: Balentien played winter ball in Dominican Republic. He played the final with Leones del Escogido and they won it, but he didn´t go to the Caribbean Series in Venezuela.

  24. Steve

    Shockingly, the A’s were unable to trade Willy Taveras so today the released him. I predict that someone signs him for the league minimum. Kansas City?

  25. mike

    what are the odds the Reds resign Taveras? I give it about a 67% chance

  26. mike

    @Steve:

    no chance KC signs him. They have more options in the OF than the Reds
    Brian Anderson, Ankiel, Dejesus, Guillen, Podsednick and a bunch of other lesser-knowns

    If the Reds don’t sign Taveras I imagine he’ll start the season in AAA on some team with a questionable CF.

  27. Travis G.

    Don’t the Mets need a CF until Beltran comes back? Their GM makes some questionable decisions.

    Continuing on that train of thought, I love this agents’s quote about the Mets roster: “How can you have that payroll and still not have a starting catcher or first baseman, a second baseman you hate and no legitimate starters after Johan?” Ouch. That team is a mess, and they don’t really even have any prospects.

    • mike

      Travis G.: Don’t the Mets need a CF until Beltran comes back? Their GM makes some questionable decisions.

      I think that’s why the Mets wasted money on Gary Matthews Jr who is very likely the most over-paid player in baseball.
      Martinez can play CF but can’t hit. Pagan should beat out Matthews but probably won’t be given the chance.

      and the Mets don’t have prospects? Maybe none that are ready for the bigs but…

      Mejia, W Flores, F Martinez, Davis, Niese, Havens, Allen and Familia
      are probably as good a group as
      Chapman, Frazier, Alonso, Leake, Heisey, Francisco and Boxberger

      • mike

        mike: and the Mets don’t have prospects? Maybe none that are ready for the bigs but…

        Mejia, W Flores, F Martinez, Davis, Niese, Havens, Allen and Familia
        are probably as good a group as
        Chapman, Frazier, Alonso, Leake, Heisey, Francisco and Boxberger

        I should add that I’m not knocking the Reds minor league system.
        The Reds have a surprisingly deep system despite losing a LOT of prospects to the big over the last 2 years.
        Our system is a very good system when you think the system only recently lost Bailey, Cueto, Fisher, Herrera, Hanigan, Janish, Votto, Bruce and Stubbs

        Lets not forget that at different times Bailey, Bruce and Stubbs were considered among the best prospects in baseball.

      • Travis G.

        mike: I think that’s why the Mets wasted money on Gary Matthews Jr who is very likely the most over-paid player in baseball. Martinez can play CF but can’t hit. Pagan should beat out Matthews but probably won’t be given the chance.

        and the Mets don’t have prospects? Maybe none that are ready for the bigs but…Mejia, W Flores, F Martinez, Davis, Niese, Havens, Allen and Familia

        are probably as good a group as Chapman, Frazier, Alonso, Leake, Heisey, Francisco and Boxberger

        I forgot about Matthews while thinking of him in the back of my mind as evidence of Minaya’s blunders, if that makes any sense. FWIW, I like the Reds list a lot better than the Mets list.

  28. carolinaredsfan

    If nobody has said it, I’m just thankful we don’t have to worry about Crappy P. and/or Willy T

  29. Jason in Toronto

    Wow, I wish Glenn hadn’t started with my thoughts about Balentien. He’s like Pedro Cerrano. His only hope may be to become president, then lead a covert military unit and do commercials for an insurance company.
    I want Chris Heisey to get his shot.

    • hoosierdad

      BJ Ruble: @Steve: Astros will sign him to a minor league deal, that is my guess.

      Could be the Braves would show WT some love. Turner Field is spacious which would/should suit him better. If you look at what they’ve got on hand to play CF he (at worst) fits right in. A minor league deal with an invite to ST would not be out of the question and would cost the Braves next to nothing.

  30. Steve

    If WT signs with the Astros I will laugh my a$$ off. Two friends of mine who were most brutally ribbing me about him last year are die-hard Stros fans.

    The only reason I suggested KC was they seemed receptive to taking low OBP guys. They are one of the few remaining teams (along with, sigh, the Reds) who are still in the dark ages in that regard.

    ATL has plenty of OF already, with some big-time prospects on the way. I’d be surprised.

    But then again, what team would be stupid enough to sign WT regardless? (Oh, sigh again.)

  31. Chad Dotson

    Hey guys…”The Forgotten Outfielder” doesn’t refer to Taveras. 😉

    I WISH I could forget that guy.

  32. Greg Dafler

    @Tom Diesman: Francisco’s minor league numbers are surprisely low for a prospect as touted as he is. Most people don’t realize players like Balentien and Sutton have had better minor league numbers.

  33. Steve

    I’m in agreement with the OP. As I mentioned above, more Baker managerial malpractice (not sure if it meets a negligence standard, Judge) by not getting Balentien more AB last year. We played Gomes and Nix too many games, particularly Gomes, at the end last year.

    I’m for giving Balentien a solid chance to win a job with the Reds, although he might be fighting Heisey for a job there, and in that case I might prefer Heisey, although they are close in age.

    Nix has got to be, uh, in the mix, right? As the left handed bat off the bench.

  34. hoosierdad

    @Steve: The Braves do have plenty of outfielders, but the better ones play the corners. They don’t have a CF they are satisfied with, so signing WT to a minor league contract would make a lot of sense. No big money involved and no long-term contract to worry about.

    If Balentien gets plenty of ABs this ST and doesn’t make the trip NE, he will have nobody to blame but himself. I just wonder if DB will give him those ABs. Anybody seen a ST schedule including SS games?

  35. Mark in CC

    Weren’t the Indians of Pedro Cerrano winners? If so I hope Wladamier is another Cerano. I will even buy him a Joe-boo if it helps!

  36. Mark in CC

    @Matt McWax: Wily Mo Trivia. He is the only Reds player to hit a Home Run on his own bobblehead night.

  37. preach

    @Mark in CC: and isn’t it interesting that we would even have had a “Wily Mo Pena bobblehead night”.

    That’s up there with the Todd Benzinger calendar and the Todd Coffey refrigerator magnet giveaway.

  38. Travis G.

    From Rob Butcher: IF/OF Juan Francisco has been named the Dominican Winter League’s Most Valuable Player after hitting .302 with 11 HR and 42 RBI for league runner-up Gigantes del Cibao…he was the league’s Rookie of the Year last off-season…Class A Lynchburg manager Pat Kelly has been named the Puerto Rican Winter League’s Manager of the Year…he led Arecibo to a league-best 25-14 record…today’s spring training notebook is attached.

  39. david

    So the Braves made a one year $4 million offer to Damon, with $2 million salary and $2 million deferred. So what your saying is that the Reds could have a 15/15 .360 OBP two hole hitter on a one year deal for $5 million? They aren’t doing this why?

  40. Travis G.

    I was just going to post something about that, david. The Times’ Tyler Kepner says that offer is just a little below the Yankees’ final offer.

    Boras really misjudged the market this year. Still wish the Reds would take advantage of that in this case.

    • Chad Dotson

      Yeah, Damon seems to make a ton of sense for this organization…especially given Jocketty’s semi-preference for veterans, and the fact that the Reds could use a stopgap for 2010 out there in LF.

      Can’t see it happening, though.

  41. Travis G.

    This team, while set up quite nicely for the future, has expended a not inconsiderable amount of its resources toward winning now. I think they’re very, very close to being able to do that, but I’m not comfortable with their current options (Gomes included) from a premium offensive position.

    As I’ve argued in nearly every thread this winter, Damon would plug a hole toward the top of their lineup and wouldn’t clog the position for more than a year or two. He would put butts in the seat this season and, in my estimation, make them a playoff team. Recent history shows teams selling out their ballparks a year after making the playoffs.

    That wouldn’t be worth $4 million or $5 million? The Braves are reportedly offering $4 million in deferred money, but from a baseball and business standpoint he offers considerably more than that in return.

  42. david

    Frankly, I cannot believe that the Reds aren’t jumping all over this. Hell, for $5 million he’s most likely a Red. It literally makes me want to rip my hair out. The Reds could have an OF of Damon, Stubbs/Dickerson, and Bruce with Balentien or Nix coming off the bench. That starting outfield’s projections

    .275/.355/.435 – Damon
    .280/.350/.400 – Stubbs/Dickerson platoon (based on lefty/righty splits)
    .274/.340/.537 – Bruce

    Which I think makes it as good, if not better, than most NL outfields.

    • Chad Dotson

      And it has a big PR benefit, too. The Reds always like signing guys who Joe Fan has heard of. The fact that the guy can still get on base is just a bonus.

      Yeah, I’m surprised the Reds aren’t making a big push for Damon. Makes too much sense for the team this year.

      Either the Reds ARE pursuing Damon, and keeping it quiet…or Castellini really won’t approve any more expenditures, no matter how minor.

  43. Travis G.

    I like to think Jocketty’s just keeping it close to the vest, as he does so well, but all indications point toward Damon signing elsewhere.

    But I don’t see how the Reds can’t afford this deal I cooked up this morning on the treadmill: $2 million this year, with $1 million player options ($500,000 buyout) for each of the next three years and a $500,000 bonus for any year the Reds make the playoffs with Damon on the 25-man roster. That gives Boras the flexibility to take his client back onto the open market, and it gives the Reds a quality veteran to keep around if he wants to stay and earn up to $7 million.

    The Reds created some buzz with the Chapman signing, but he’s not likely to see Cincinnati this season, and even if he does, he’s gonna take some lumps and disappoint casual fans. Damon, on the other hand, would get fans excited about this team. For example, it’s entirely possible that my mom has never heard of Albert Pujols, but she’s on record as saying she’d go see Johnny Damon if he played for the Reds.

  44. preach

    …and it’s entirely possible your mom throws better than Johnny Damon as well.

    • david

      preach: …and it’s entirely possible your mom throws better than Johnny Damon as well.

      You don’t have to have a cannon to play LF. Besides, Cincinnati had 8 outfield assists from LF last year, which was tied for seventh in the NL. Damon had 6 in 132 games played. So Damon’s arm really isn’t a downgrade from what the Reds got last season.

      • Dan

        david:
        You don’t have to have a cannon to play LF.Besides, Cincinnati had 8 outfield assists from LF last year, which was tied for seventh in the NL.Damon had 6 in 132 games played.So Damon’s arm really isn’t a downgrade from what the Reds got last season.

        Yes it is. It’s the worst outfield arm in baseball. HAS to be. The only reason he gets assists is that teams are ridiculously aggressive against him b/c they know how bad an arm he has.

  45. david

    I’m going to go ahead and say Taveras’ arm is far worse.