It all hinges on Brandon Guyer

Once again, the Rays are talking with other teams about a potential B.J. Upton trade. The trade, if it happens, will be a blockbuster deal that nets the Rays some very good prospects, at least one of whom would be a catcher or first baseman. However, the question for the Rays is if they trade Upton, who would take over for him in centerfield? Well, if you’re talking specifically about centerfield, that would be Desmond Jennings. But considering Jennings is currently penciled in as the Rays starting left fielder, the Rays would have an outfield spot open. And the obvious candidate to fill that spot would be outfield prospect Brandon Guyer, a legitimate 5-tool prospect who dominated Triple-A in 2011 and received big league playing time in the latter part of the season. Sure, the Rays could sign a player like Josh Willingham, but they certainly wouldn’t trade Upton to sign a player like that. Really, a B.J. Upton trade is dependent on how confident the Rays are in Guyer.

But it’s really more than that. The B.J. Upton trade will determine the direction of the Rays entire offseason. If the Rays trade Upton, they may not trade a starting pitcher, and even if they do trade both Upton and a starter, the haul on the Upton trade will affect what the Rays ask for in return for the starting pitcher. So what’s the verdict on Guyer? Is he good enough that the Rays can and should trade Upton?

Guyer, who will turn 26 in January, put up some staggering numbers at Triple-A Durham in 2011. He hit .312 with 29 doubles, 5 triples, 14 homers, 61 RBI, 16 stolen bases, a .384 OBP, and a .512 SLG in 107. There’s nothing not to like about his .905 OPS. Defensively, Guyer played all three outfield positions, posting a .992 Fld% (for what it’s worth) and compiling a multitude of outfield assists, 17 to be exact. He actually was a bit worse than he was in 2010 at Double-A Tennessee in the Cubs organization, when he hit .344 with 39 doubles, 6 triples, 13 homers, 58 RBI, 30 stolen bases, a .398 OBP, and ridiculous .588 SLG in 102 games. But that can actually be explained. Guyer missed 16 games with an “undisclosed injury” according to Baseball Prospectus, and the injury affected hm for some time before he went on the DL in late July as he hit just 2 home runs in June and July. But after coming back in mid-August, he hit 6 doubles and 3 home runs, so he appears to be fine. In terms of the lack of stolen bases, the injury was somewhat the cause once again as he stole just 1 base in July (although he did steal 6 in June), but part of the problem was Guyer’s first half power surge when he hit 22 doubles and 10 homers. He stole just 1 base in April because he was hitting for a ton of power (8 doubles, 5 homers), and probably was thinking of himself as a power hitter. Guyer may not be quite as good as he played in 2011, but he’s still a very good prospect. He can hit, hit for power, run, field at elite level, and he has a rocket for an arm. Guyer could be the kind of player who has the potential to put up a .300/.375/.500 line in the big leagues with 20 homers and 30 steals while playing Gold Glove defense.

In a 15 game major league stint (43 plate appearances), Guyer hit just .195, but with 1 double, 2 homers, and 3 RBI. One of the homers was in his first career major league plate appearance. I also really liked what I saw from Guyer defensively as he made some really nice catches in right field, and I wasn’t alone on that- Baseball-Reference game him a 0.4 dWAR (defensive wins above replacement) despite his limited playing time, and Fangraphs gave him a 3.9 UZR (ultimate zone rating) overall in the outfield, which amounts to a ludicrous 82.5 UZR/150 (ultimate zone rating per 150 games). On the surface, Guyer seems like an outstanding, major league-ready prospect and the type of player who can be a key element of a championship ballclub. But before you get too excited, let’s did deeper and go into the underlying statistics that are just important as the statistics above.

There’s no denying Guyer has the tools. But he has really put it all together and ready to be a productive major league player? Well, not everything seems positive at first glance. According to Minor League Central, Guyer posted just a 15.0% line drive percentage at Triple-A in 2011 compared to the league average of 19.5%. Despite that extremely low LD% Guyer posted a .362 BAbip compared to the league average of .308.  Guyer also needed a 17.2% HR/FB (percentage of flyballs to the outfield that went for home runs) to hit 14 home runs. Are those legitimate reasons for concern? The answer is no. The high BAbip isn’t much of a fluke because Guyer’s great speed allows him to beat out a lot of groundballs for infield singles. He’s also a very good bunter who bunted for several hits and 6 sacrifices, and 3.5% of his batted balls were bunts. If you take out the 3.5% bunts and 1.9% unknown batted ball type from Guyer’s batted ball tendencies, Guyer’s LD% goes up to a more reasonable 15.9% right after the bat. But that still isn’t a very good value. But really the problem with line drive percentage is that there are some well-hit balls that are not classified as line drives. Some flyballs are rockets that land in the seats or go off the wall, and some groundballs are bullets that go for doubles into the outfield corners. The 17.2% HR/FB indicates that Guyer was hitting a ton of rocket flyballs. Durham Bulls Athletic Park has bigger dimensions than Smokies Park, where Guyer played in 2010 (375 ft compared to 330 ft in both right-center and left-center), so that’s certainly not the reasons his HR/FB jumped from 12.7% to 17.2% from ’10 to ’11. Maybe Guyer was somewhat lucky, but that luck will cancel out with Guyer being healthy. I don’t think the Rays need to have any major concerns regarding Guyer.

It’s obvious why the Rays would hold off on a B.J. Upton deal. Upton is an established big league player while Guyer is talented, but unproven. But Upton is a year away from free agency, and nobody in the world thinks that Upton would possibly sign an extension with the Rays. The Rays are waiting for the right offer, and if that happens, then they’ll pull the trigger. That they Rays are even considering trading Upton while they’re trying to contend is testament to their belief in Guyer’s talent. If somebody offers them the right package of prospects, the Upton trade will transpire and Guyer will get his opportunity. But no matter how much the Rays like Guyer, it doesn’t mean that trading Upton should be a certainty. If the Rays trade Upton and Guyer is a bust as a rookie, the Rays will be unremittingly ripped by every analyst around. The chances are that the Rays would sign a veteran outfielder as well as a failsafe, but no veteran outfielder the Rays can afford could step in and mimic Upton’s production. Guyer has the ability to be just as good as Upton has been so far as a major leaguer, but right now, Guyer has done nothing while Upton is a player the Rays know they can rely on. For the Rays to trade Upton would mean that the Rays are certain that Guyer can translate his talent to big league performance. We’ll have to sit tight and see whether than the Rays have that type of confidence in Guyer.

Topics: Brandon Guyer, Winter Meetings

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