Spring Storylines – Twenty-Six Guys Who Can Play Some Center Field
Gone are the days of Michael Martinez. Gone are the days of John Mayberry Jr. Gone are the days of “maybe Cesar Hernandez” and “I don’t know man, Grady Sizemore?”. The 2016 Phillies have actual center fielders coming to camp to back up an incumbent. Odubel Herrera enters the spring with a firm grip on a starting role, but behind him, there is a crowd vying for the other outfield spots. Almost all of them have at least some ability in center, and one of them might even push El Torito to a corner.
Mercifully, the statuesque Darin Ruf, (that’s intended as a mean comment on his foot speed, not a nice comment about his body), figures to spend most of his time at first, platooning with Ryan Howard. And Cody Asche isn’t likely to take a single rep in center. But from there on down until the depth corner guys (David Lough and Cedric Hunter), the 2016 outfield has some real defensive potential up the middle.
Aaron Altherr, (who all the cool kids call “The Rhineland Rocket”), may well wind up the opening day right fielder, after racking up 1.7 WAR (BRef) playing mostly corner outfield in 2015. But earlier last year while in the minors, and a couple times in the majors, he continued to pass the eye test in center. His value would be greatest if he were able to play center everyday, so if the front office doesn’t see a role for him in the long term, (this remains to be seen), it may behoove them to get him some time in center to bolster his trade value. Maybe 25-30 games would do it, just so other teams get a good look and he stays fresh.
Also returning is Darnell Sweeney, who remains rookie eligible following a fair debut upon arriving from The Dodgers in that August trade that I’d prefer not to think about, but still have to because THERE’S FREAKING DARNELL SWEENEY ON THE ROSTER FROM DAY ONE, (unlike John Richy, who played it cool and is still hanging out in the minors). Sweeney played some center last year, mostly at AAA for LAD, and a bit in the majors for The Phils, and his future value lies in part in his positional versatility. He might challenge Cesar Hernandez for the second base job, but if he can’t win that spot outright, an ability to backup center, in addition to second and third, would be helpful.
Adding to the fun, new GM Matt Klentak nabbed Peter Bourjos off waivers from St. Louis. Bourjos was once a highly touted young player, putting up an All-Star caliber 2011 in Anaheim before being pushed out of center by a slightly better player named Mark Trott, (I…may have that name wrong). His bat is [dumpster fire photo], and in 2015, defensive metrics didn’t particularly care for his play in center, either. But, as we know, defensive metrics for a part-time player are [trash can emoji], and he still seems to be capable. He’ll get his chance to supplant Herrera in center, if the club feels that defensive alignment plays best. If not, he’ll likely play mostly in left, where, on paper, his defense should actually give him more value.
Also in camp are would-be rookies Tyler Goeddel, Nick Williams and Roman Quinn. Goeddel was the first pick in the Rule 5 draft, and will have to stick on the 25-man roster all year or be waived and offered back to Tampa for $25k if he clears. His defense in center is more suspect than anyone mentioned, mostly for lack of reps. With all the talent available to Pete Mackanin, I suspect Goeddel will be shagging in the corners only. But if he gets a chance, some reports out there suggest he could pass in center, though he may be less Torito and more MiniMart, in that regard.
Like Goeddel, Williams is not a lock to stick in center long term, though he’s a near-consensus Top 50-type prospect who did show some improvement in 2015 in the field, (as well as at the plate). He’s likely ticketed for AAA Lehigh Valley, where he’ll try to hold his gains and continue to get better. Quinn is the fastest real prospect in the Phils system, despite a number of injuries over the last few years. He switched to full-time center field just two summers ago, and reports about his defense there have been quite positive. Like Williams, Quinn’s stay in big league camp will be very short, so catch a glimpse of them in one of the early games if you can.
Now wasn’t that nice? You only have to squint at that one new guy to make seven center-field types in camp this year. Compare that to previous years and things are looking up in the grass. I don’t mind that one little bit, and I’m sure the guys on the mound don’t, either.