Center field has become one of the best positions in baseball today. Young players have come in and made a huge impact right away. In 2012, we witnessed two of the greatest rookie seasons in major league history from Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, both of whom saw a significant amount of time in center field. Even with those two most likely switching to left field in 2013, we still see a tremendous amount of talent. In the past two seasons, we have seen 5 center fielders finish in the top 5 for the MVP voting. This position shows a tremendous combination of both power and speed. Guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Kemp, Mike Trout, and Andrew McCutchen have proven to excel with this rare combination. We also see huge power numbers from guys like Curtis Granderson, who has put up at least 40 bombs in each of the past two seasons. This position requires great defense as well, needing a ton of ground to be covered and being the leader of the outfield. We saw great defense from guys like Michael Bourn and Mike Trout in 2012 and that certainly should continue. With a great mix of different guys providing power, speed and defense, center field is absolutely one of the brightest positions in the game right now.
5. Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles
Adam Jones has been getting better and better since he came over to Baltimore in a lopsided trade that sent Erik Bedard to Seattle. The 26 year old center fielder played in all 162 games in 2012 and was a huge reason why the Orioles were able to jump into the postseason. Jones batted .287/.334/.505 with 32 big flies, 39 doubles, 16 stolen bases and an OPS+ of 125. Every one of those numbers were career highs for Jones. One thing that he struggles just a bit with is patience and striking out. He walked just 34 times and struck out 126 times in 2012 and has a career OBP of just .323. Nonetheless, Jones was a well above average offensive player in 2012 for the Orioles and I expect him to have another fabulous season. Defensively, Jones picked up his second career gold glove in center field, despite saving -16 runs in 2012. He also had 7 outfield assists and 8 errors. Overall, Jones was a 3.4 win player in 2012 and I’d expect him to be around that number again in 2013.
4. Michael Bourn, currently a free agent (Braves in 2012)
Michael Bourn was about an average offensive player in 2012 (99 OPS+). He batted a pedestrian .274/.348/.391 with 9 home runs, 26 doubles, 10 triples and 42 stolen bases. The element of speed is what makes Bourn such a feared leadoff hitter. He has stolen at least 50 bags 3 different times in his career. The knock on Bourn is his strikeouts. He struck out a career high 155 times in 2012, which is way too high for a guy who can better utilize his speed by simply making contact and putting the ball in play. What puts Bourn this high in the rankings is his defense. It can be argued that he is the best, if not one of the best, outfielders in all of baseball. Bourn saved 24 runs in 2012 for the Atlanta Braves, and committed just 2 errors with a fielding percentage of .995. A decent offensive player combined with a tremendous defensive player was good enough to make Bourn a 6 win player in 2012. Although the defense is expected to come down from his superb 2012, he should still be very productive and a 4.5+ win player in 2013 even though he will be 30 years of age next season.
3. Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers young center fielder broke out and had his best season in 2012. Jackson hit .300/.377/.479 with 16 long balls, 29 doubles, a league leading 10 triples, 12 stolen bases and an OPS+ of 130. Jackson’s stolen base rate, however, declined as he failed to steal 20 bases, which he had done in both 2010 and 2011. Detroit’s leadoff man, Jackson also cut down on his strikeouts. He worked with Jim Leyland and hitting coach Lloyd McClendon with creating less movement in his load with his front foot and leg kick and it paid off big time. Jackson still struck out 134 times, but that was 47 less than what he had in 2011. He also established a career high in walks with 67, which is a good sign for Tigers fans. Defensively, Jackson has never saved less than 5 runs, and has saved 47 for his career. This is extremely impressive being in the spacious outfield in Tiger Stadium. Jackson was a 5.2 win player in 2012 and I’d expect more of the same again for 2013.
2. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
Matt Kemp has emerged as one of the best players in the game today, and some can argue that he is number one. Kemp was bit by the injury bug in 2012, but in 106 games he still put up outstanding numbers. He batted .303/.367/.538 with 23 home runs, 22 doubles, 9 steals, and an OPS+ of 147. When he played a full year in 2011, he finished as the runner-up in the MVP voting. That year, Kemp batted .324/.399/.586 with 39 home runs, 33 doubles, 40 stolen bases, and an OPS+ of 172. Kemp has been a bit below average in center field however, saving -55 runs for his entire career, despite winning 2 Gold Gloves. Kemp is still just 27 years old, and coming back at full health in 2013, I expect him to have a monster season for the L.A. Dodgers. He was a 7.8 win player in his MVP caliber 2011 and I would expect him to be around 6 wins in 2013.
1. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Andrew McCutchen broke out in a huge way in 2012 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, finishing third in the National League MVP race. He batted .327/.400/.553 with 31 home runs, 29 doubles, 6 triples, 20 stolen bases and an OPS+ of 164. These numbers are all well above his career averages and it only figures to get better for him as he is still just 25 years old. Even with 132 strike outs, McCutchen was still able to shatter his career highs in a lot of major offensive categories. On defense, McCutchen was just below an average fielder for the Pirates in 2012, saving -5 runs. He did however commit just one error and boasted a fielding percentage of .997. Andrew was a 7 win player in 2013 and it is hard to expect another season like that. McCutchen has all kinds of talent and I’d expect him to be just under a 7 win player at around 6-6.5.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox
Angel Pagan, San Francisco Giants
B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves