Position Battles – Outfield Edition

Week 3 – Outfield Speed
Once upon a time in mid-April, Julio Borbon owners were frantically searching for a speedy replacement as the Texas outfielder’s average was plummeting to somewhere around that deep limbo level from Leo DiCaprio’s dreams. Journeyman vet Scott Podsednik was off to a great start, but many owners opted for the younger and more enticing Carlos Gomez who was tearing up the basepaths. Well flash-forward four months, when Scotty-Pods sits with a .300 average and 34 steals, while Gomez sits on the DL with a paltry .228 clip and just two swipes since June 8. Another encounter currently looms between two quick-footed outfielders, so here’s some help on how to choose wisely.

The Champ: Jose Tabata, Pirates – .306-2-16, 31 runs, 11 SB in 209 at-bats
17 percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues
The Skinny

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You say TA-but-uh, I say Tuh-BA-tah. The truth is, no one really seems sure how to pronounce the 21-year-old’s name, but no matter how they do, it’s been followed up by some very complementary adjectives of late. Tabata, who posted a .297 average over five-plus Minor League seasons beginning at age 17, was called up back on June 9 after batting .308 with 25 steals in 53 Triple-A games. After scuffling in June, Tabata started putting it together in July with a .333 clip, 19 runs and five steals. Over the last calendar month, the speedy left fielder has hit .388 (40-for-103) with an incredible 15 multi-hit games (currently three straight). All those who showered the Yankees with praise while lambasting the Bucs after this prospect was dealt for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte in 2008, well actually, no one blames you. This is a clear case of a blind squirrel finding a tasty, fantasy fruitful nut. 
The Challenger: Dexter Fowler, Rockies – .244-3-19, 47 runs, 11 SB in 254 at-bats
Seven percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues.
The Skinny

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We’ve been through this before with Fowler, who fluctuated between a hot pickup and a quick drop all throughout his rookie 2009 campaign. This year has been no different for the 24-year-old (cue lots of commas). Fowler came into the season as a sleeper, which wore off as he struggled to a .216 average through the end of May, got demoted and hit .340 for a month in Triple-A, raked in early July after being recalled, cooled off dramatically, and is currently back to tearing the cover off the ball. The rangy center fielder is batting a blistering .417 (15-for-36) with four doubles, two steals and 12 runs scored over his last nine games, while ripping multiple hits in six of his last seven starts.  
Root-ability
Unlike the first two editions of PB, these two players are pretty similar. Both exciting, young, highly-regarded prospects who seem to be emerging as quality big leaguers. The only real difference is that Fowler has gotten a lot more hype and press playing for a likeable and thriving franchise, while no one truly expected Tabata to pan out because it was the Pirates that traded for him. Fowler styles with the over-sized, straight-brimmed hat, which I’m pretty sure is still cool, and has flashed the ability to make some nasty catches in the outfield. One thing Tabata has in his favor is the entire Yankee-Hater Nation pulling for him, as it’s always enjoyable to see the Evil Empire screw up with a young player. That said, we’ll give the edge to Fowler here.
Future
As just eluded too, these guys are pretty much mirror images of each other as offensive potential goes. Both should be solid sources of steals and runs with Fowler leading off in Coors Field — always a plus — and Tabata locked in the two-hole for a seemingly rejuvenated Pirates lineup. However, Tabata, at a younger age, has currently put together a more consistent stretch of production than the higher-profile Fowler has ever been able to.
In reality, if Fowler was the guy batting .306 with Tabata’s recent hot streak, he’d be owned in three or four times the amount of leagues that Tabata is. Fowler is also hurt by the occasional day off in a crowded Rockies outfield, and the switch-hitter has been unable to master right-handed pitching with a .229 clip from the left side of the plate. So despite the streaky Fowler’s presently scalding bat, Tabata is the guy you’ll want to grab for the stretch run.
Winner: Jose Tabata

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