Tonight MLB Network will fire up the 2013 iteration of their “Top 10 Right Now” series at each position capped off with a “Top 100 Overall”. They will start with the both the centerfield and second basemen shows. I always enjoy this series and generally look forward to it after the New Year since I eat up just about any fresh baseball content I can as we wait for pitchers & catchers to report. Instead of putting up my lists after they air their selections, I’ll post mine ahead of time and then compare notes after the shows air. Again, this is not a fantasy list.
This was a bit tough because there is some legitimate transition at this position. Because it is a premier defensive position, we have some guys who are excellent with the leather, but lagging with the bat so deciding their fate was difficult. As such, I did some honorable mentions to cover these cases:
Chris Young (OAK) – He grades out extremely well with the defensive metrics even if your metric of choice happens to be your eyes, but his offense has never been great and has been on the decline since 2010’s peak. He’s now in a playing time crunch in Oakland.
Josh Hamilton (LAA) – He has been in center for exactly 52 percent of the time the last two years (130-of-250) with modest results. He is unlikely to see a single game there in 2013 or perhaps ever again as two of the best centerfielders will be playing in the same outfield with him.
Peter Bourjos (LAA) – A near-shoo-in for the 2014 iteration of this list, Bourjos is arguably the best defensive centerfielder in the game, but he was limited to just 195 plate appearances last year because his production at the dish imploded after a strong 2011. I feel like my list reflects how seriously I consider defense, it’s not just a list sorted by OPS, but Bourjos just didn’t do enough in the follow up to his breakout 2011 to warrant a spot.
Cameron Maybin (SD) – Similar to Bourjos in that almost all of his value is coming from his defense and base running right now with a lagging bat, except Maybin is logging 560-ish plate appearances of modest to poor bat work. Don’t even worry about bringing Petco Park, either. He was far worse on the road last year with a disgusting 572 OPS in 269 plate appearances
Ben Revere (PHI) – Revere is a ridiculously good defensive outfielder, but his time has been split between right and center with the best work being done in the former. The Phillies paid a handsome fee to the Twins for Revere’s services in order to make him a full-time centerfielder. He may well wind up on the 2014 list like Bourjos, but for now he’s merely an honorable mention.
10. Curtis Granderson (NYY) – Grandy was so exceptional with the bat in 2011 that most overlooked any defensive foibles, but when the bat regressed in 2012 his issues in center were exacerbated. He has really struggled with what the Fielding Bible labels as “Deep” plays the last two years which has result in some poor grades across all the defensive metrics. The bat and base running make a net-positive as a centerfielder, but the diminishing defense holds him back.
9. Bryce Harper (WAS) – He spent 92 of his 138 games kicking butt in centerfield during his rookie year, but the Nats set the precedent for the Phillies by also paying the Twins a handsome fee for a big time centerfielder when they acquired Denard Span at the end of November. Span has a deep enough track record in the field and with the bat so if he is healthy, he’s their guy in center and that’s why Harper is buried on the list. I’ll be interested to see how MLBN handles these cases since they won’t technically enter 2013 as centerfielders, but we know without question that they are very capable centerfielders.
8. Denard Span (WAS) – And here he is. I love Span’s defense, he is definitely one of the best out there with the glove and hopefully his concussion issues are behind him so he can stay on the field. He rebounded last year from a two year lull with the bat, but not quite to his exceptional level from 2008-2009. He still owns those bat skills and when combined with his defense, he is a near-elite centerfield.
7. Adam Jones (BAL) – His defensive reputation is definitely substantial as evidenced by a pair of Gold Gloves, but I don’t see an elite glove when watching him. I see some great player, but otherwise he’s a good-not-great defender. The defensive metrics aren’t particularly fond of him, especially for a two-time hardware winner, but reality and perception are often far apart when it comes to the Gold Gloves. Elsewhere, his bat continues to advance so even modest defense makes him a tremendous asset for Baltimore.
6. B.J. Upton (ATL) – This is one where my eyes and the metrics just don’t marry well. I see a silky smooth defender who uses his speed well and makes a lot of amazing plays. I think Upton has to fend off a lot of heat being labeled a disappointment because he isn’t a superstar and it looked like he would become one after 2007. He has been a remarkably consistent player value-wise save a 2009 blip in which he still delivered 2.4 fWAR. He was paid like a star for a reason, he is one.
5. Matt Kemp (LAD) – This is like an amped up Granderson case. Kemp’s bat is phenomenal, one of the absolute best in baseball the last two years even with him playing just 106 games last year. But his defense, while improved, still leaves something to be desired. I feel like he has been improving a lot since that debacle across-the-board in 2010, but the metrics are still down on him. If this were a fantasy list, he likely wouldn’t fall past two or three, but since we’re focusing on the complete package, he is down here.
4. Austin Jackson (DET) – I went back and forth on A-Jax and almost slotted him as high as second because I think his defense is truly elite and the bat took a major, sustainable step forward last year. Of course, he has just the one elite year with the bat so his outstanding glove earns him the four-spot. While the hitting improvements are definitely viable, he still has to go out and prove it with a strong follow-up.
3. Michael Bourn (FA) – Bourn hasn’t reached 105 wRC+ once in the last four years yet he has finished 4.9, 4.7, 4.1, and 6.4 fWAR. That is some serious defensive and base running value being delivered by Bourn. He is still lingering on the market, but someone is going to get themselves a fantastic centerfielder.
2. Andrew McCutchen (PIT) – I’m not a huge fan of his defense, but he has excellent and sustained bat to earn such a high spot. He is improving yearly with the bat and seems to be getting better in the field. He isn’t atrocious by any means, but I didn’t see a Gold Glove winner out there in 2012. When you’re crushing the hell out of the baseball like Cutch does, you don’t need to be Peter Bourjos-esque with the leather.
1. Mike Trout (LAA) – Of course, it doesn’t hurt if you are! It’s only the one season, but Trout was Cutch-plus with the bat all while playing Bourjosian D, predominantly in center (110-of-139 games). I know he isn’t going to start 2013 in centerfield, but he is still the best centerfielder in the game right now. Unlike with Span/Harper, Bourjos could lose his starting role if he performs poorly with the bat again and Trout would assume the role. Harper only moves back to center with a Span injury so he is more of a theoretical CF than Trout. I will be very interested to see how MLBN handles this tonight.