I did the same thing last year, after seeing MLB Network’s rankings. I think this is a great opportunity for discussion, opinions, and probably some arguments. The problem with the outfield spots for the upcoming season is that there are likely some guys moving to new positions. Choo is expected to move to CF in Cincinnati. Harper might be moving to LF in Anaheim. But, who knows? For the sake of my rankings, I’ll stick with where MLBN expects the players to end up. So, let’s start by looking at how MLB Network ranked the top 10 center fielders for 2013.
- Mike Trout (LAA)
- Andrew McCutchen (PIT)
- Matt Kemp (LAD)
- Austin Jackson (DET)
- Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS)
- Shin-Soo Choo (CIN)
- Curtis Granderson (NYY)
- Jon Jay (STL)
- Adam Jones (BAL)
- Michael Bourn (ATL)
I’ll get started with some honorable mentions, for my list. Angel Pagan isn’t winning Gold Gloves or MVPs, but he’s very good at what he does. Michael Bourn has a few things going against him: he’s already 30, he struggled down the stretch in 2012, and in spite of possibly being the best defensive center fielder in the league, his overall run production (measured by wRC+) is below average at 99. And, doesn’t it speak volumes that it’s almost the end of January, and no one has signed him yet? A surprise name for me, when I was doing the research was Denard Span. His defense is nearly as good as Bourn, his run production is comparable (95), and his OPS is actually better (.732) than Bourn. But, all three of these fell just short of my list, which starts with . . .
#10 – Chris Young (ARI). My only addition to the list that MLBN had. It was close between Young, Bourn and Pagan. Young has the best slugging (.436), OPS (.767), and home run average (20) of the group over the last three seasons. Young rates very closely to Bourn, defensively, and is just a hair behind Pagan in wRC+ over the last three seasons (103). And, of those three, Young is the . . . well, the youngest (29).
#9 – Curtis Granderson. 32. That’s the primary reason I drop Granderson this low. He’ll be 32 in March, and that puts him 2 years older than anyone else on this list. As great as his years in New York have been (.843 OPS, 126 wRC+), I’m expecting some decline this year. He also doesn’t rate as highly defensively as you might think (-16.4 UZR, -4 DRS).
#8 – Jon Jay. Very good in the field, and a wRC+ of 116 the last three seasons. Not an especially high OPS in the same period (.773), but he has shown 20+ stolen base potential, and might possibly approach 20 home runs when he reaches his full potential. He’s not as young as some on this list (28), but he still has several good years ahead of him.
#7 – Adam Jones. Jones will just be hitting his prime this year, entering his age-27 season. His home run, stolen base, and OPS numbers have all gone up each of the last three seasons, culminating in a 32-home run, .839 OPS season in 2012. Over the last three years, he hasn’t rated real high defensively, but he has improved enough to win the Gold Glove last year.
#6 – Austin Jackson. A fantastic center fielder (rates up there with Ellsbury), but not as consistent of an offensive threat as some. But, his strikeouts are going down, his home run totals are going up, and he had a great 2012 with an .856 OPS. And, the best part is that he will turn just 26 next month.
#5 – Jacoby Ellsbury. I knew that I wanted Ellsbury on my list, but trying to decide where to put him was incredibly difficult. An MVP-type season in 2011. But, only 92 games, total, in the two seasons surrounding that fantastic year. And, those 92 games weren’t exactly spectacular, offensively. But, if you look back a little further, you see that Ellsbury has unbelievable speed on the base-paths, and can steal 50+ bases if healthy. He also has 30+ home run potential, and in spite of poor production lately, he still has a wRC+ of 121 the last 3 seasons. Going into his age-29 season, Ellsbury is still an elite center fielder, if he’s completely healthy.
#4 – Shin-Soo Choo. Center field might be new to him, but even if he just rates out as average in CF, Cincinnati fans will be ecstatic to see just how great of a run-producer Choo is. wRC+ of 131 over the last three seasons. No, he’s not a huge home run threat (averaged 15 each of the last three seasons), nor a big stolen base threat (average of 18). But, he finds a way to drive in runs, and create runs that’s nearly unmatched in CF. Oh, and an .826 OPS the last three years ain’t too bad either.
#3 – Andrew McCutchen. Second only to Matt Kemp over the last 3 seasons with a wRC+ of 137. An .863 OPS. Right around a 25/25 average the last three years, and was an MVP candidate until he slumped at the end of last season. And, the best part? He’s just about ready to hit his prime. He will only be 26 this season! Who knows what kind of numbers we could see in the next few years from McCutchen?
#2 – Mike Trout. I’m crazy, right? I’ve got to be the only person in the world that thinks he shouldn’t be #1. wRC+ of 152 in his first season. First rookie ever to achieve a 30/30 season. Great fielding stats. And, he’s just going to be 21, this season! So, why isn’t he #1? How many rookies have we seen have phenomenal seasons, only to follow it up with a stinker? No, we haven’t ever seen a rookie season quite like Trout’s. But, as pitchers got more familiar with him, down the stretch of 2012, his numbers began to slip. I think he will make the adjustments and have a great year in 2013. But, I also think he will take a slight step back before fulfilling all the potential everyone sees in him.
#1 – Matt Kemp. How quickly we forget just how close he was to both a Triple Crown and a 40/40 season in 2011. No, Kemp doesn’t rate as an elite fielder, based on the metrics, but he’s no slouch in CF (2 Gold Gloves). Kemp has the best wRC+ over the last 3 seasons in CF (139) – meaning he is creating runs with his bat and with his feet at a rate 39% higher than the major-league average. This in spite of having an injury-shortened year in 2012. A healthy Matt Kemp going into his age 28 season (still in his prime – and could even get better!) is, right now, the best option in CF.