I was debating whether or not I should even write this piece. I typically don’t love spending a few hundred words talking about a single player, but I felt that I was justified in making an exception here, because Mark Canha is wildly under-appreciated. It’s okay though, I’ll keep it quick.
The true final straw in my decision to write this was MLB Network’s ‘Top 100 Right Now’ list, which completely omitted the 30 year old left fielder. Now, as strongly as I disagree with this, it particularly upsets me because of a very similar player’s placement. Rays left fielder Austin Meadows was ranked as the 45th best player in baseball, despite being at most, slightly better than Canha.
Mark Canha has three, full big league seasons under his belt, the first of which came in 2015, when he was just about league average. He posted a .323 wOBA, 102 DRC+, .315 xwOBA, and a measly 6.8 BB%. After both injuries and a crowded A’s outfield limited him to just over 200 PA’s across the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Canha came back in 2018 and built on his rookie campaign with a very solid year, posting a .341 xWOBA to go along with a 115 DRC+.
However, Canha’s true breakout came in 2019, when he erupted for a .386 wOBA, .362 xwOBA, 135 DRC+, and an incredible 13.5 BB%. 13.5%. Such an elite walk rate was actually a long time coming, as across parts of 8 minor league seasons, he walked at a rate of 11.2%, suggesting that his 2019 mark is no fluke. His impeccable plate discipline helped him amass 4.0 fWAR this past season, despite only appearing in 126 games.
Meanwhile, back on the east coast, Austin Meadows was putting up pretty similar numbers in his first full season. His .380 wOBA, .372 xwOBA, 135 DRC+, and 9.1 BB% helped him acrew—funny enough—4.0 fWAR. Unlike Canha’s consistently impressive walk rates throughout the minors, Meadows walked in 8.6% of his minor league plate appearances, which isn’t bad by any means, but certainly doesn’t project quite as well going forward.
Getting back on track, the two seem to be pretty comparable offensively, but let’s see how they stack up on the other side of the ball.
Canha has seen steady improvement in his defense over the years, culminating in -2 DRS and +2 OAA in 2019. Similar story with Meadows, whose -6 DRS and -2 OAA were unspectacular, yet better than his 2018 marks. Neither of these outfielders are spectacular in the field, and while Canha may have a slight edge, neither of the two hold a clear advantage over the other.
That said, it still baffles me that while Meadows is widely regarded as a future star, while Canha is brushed aside as a late-bloomer at a position with more established talent.
Sure, Meadows made better contact than Canha in 2019, but not by much at all. Meadows’ 42.9 Hard Hit % and 90.4 MPH Exit Velocity edges out Canha’s 41.1 HH% and 89.1 MPH EV, but not by a wide enough margin to draw any firm conclusions.
Meadows’ prospect pedigree is the most likely explanation for the perceived differences in the two players’ value. Dealt to Tampa in the now infamous Chris Archer trade, the former 1st round pick was Baseball Prospectus’ 6th best prospect heading into the 2018 season. Conversely, Canha rose through the minor leagues slowly, never finding himself atop any major prospect lists, despite some impressive minor league production.
Of course, as Meadows is six years younger with three fewer years of service time, you could argue that he has much greater value than Canha, but in terms of comparing true talent level, these shouldn’t be factors. Will Austin Meadows have a bright future in the league? Almost certainly. And truth be told, he’ll probably end up with a better career output than Canha when it’s all said and done. But none of that matters if we play by MLB Network’s rules, which is to say, we evaluate each player based on the value they can provide right now.
And none of this is an effort to sell Austin Meadows short. He’s produced at an incredible level and proved many of his doubters wrong, and he should be celebrated accordingly. That said, this should not stop us from celebrating other players who, at the very least, are cut from a very similar cloth.
For the 2020 season, my personal projections have Canha slightly outperforming Meadows, assisted a great deal by his impressive walk rate. It would not surprise me at all if I was wrong—I’m no stranger to that feeling—but the fact that it’s this close in the first place tells us that we ought to be giving Mark Canha a much closer look going forward.