Who Is The Phillies Center Fielder?

For four seasons after Jayson Werth departed Philadelphia via free agency, the Phillies had a depth crisis at the center field position. Their top four backups by playing time were John Mayberry Jr, Michael Martinez, Tony Gwynn Jr, and Cesar Hernandez. Of those four, Gwynn was a true center fielder, but the others represented varying degrees of defensive disasters at the position. This frustrating trend mercifully came to an end in 2015 when through either astonishing luck or masterful scouting (or, more likely, a beautiful marriage of both) the Phillies transformed a second baseman from Double-A named Odubel Herrera into a legitimate major league center fielder while the team’s former primary center fielder, Ben Revere, moved to left field as insurance. In 2016, the defensive situation has only improved with the addition of elite defensive center fielder Peter Bourjos to the roster. The Phillies are now in the enviable position of deciding which of two qualified candidates will be their primary center fielder: Odubel Herrera or Peter Bourjos?

With Aaron Altherr now sidelined for at least the majority of the season, there is little question that both Herrera and Bourjos will start the season as everyday outfielders for the Phillies. Bourjos is entering his seventh major league season and has made every single one of his 386 career starts in center field. Herrera is coming off a phenomenal rookie breakout season in which all of his 121 starts were in center. One of them is going to have to learn a new position and, with Opening Day less than three weeks away, there’s no time to waste. During Grapefruit League action so far, five of Bourjos’ eight appearances have been in center and the other three were in left field whereas all seven of Herrera’s have been in center. This would appear to hint at Herrera as the early favorite for the position, but is that the right call?


Before we break down the reasons each player should be the center fielder, let’s lay out a few key considerations to keep in mind.

  1. Peter Bourjos is only under contract for the 2016 season while Odubel Herrera is currently under team control for five more seasons.
  2. Although putting together a winning season isn’t necessarily the top priority for the 2016 Phillies season, the strength of the defensive alignment is relevant if for no reason other than the impact it will have on the team’s young pitchers.
  3. Bourjos could potentially be a trade chip this summer.
  4. Both Bourjos and Herrera are strong defenders in center with extraordinarily limited experience in a corner.

The Case for Odubel Herrera

Odubel Herrera was nothing short of a revelation last summer. One of the few joys of watching the 2015 Phillies was seeing Herrera develop in real-time from a Double-A prospect into one of the better center fielders in the league. [The only center fielders in the National League with a higher rWAR than Herrera (3.8) were Arizona’s A.J. Pollock (7.4) and Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen (4.9).] As the season wore on, he made noticeable improvements to his plate discipline, quality of contact and, most relevantly, his defense. He was known for taking bizarre routes last summer, with perhaps the most famous coming in the best game of the Phillies’ season. But despite the extra mileage on his legs from winding routes, he grew to be a well above average center fielder.

The growth and development he exhibited in the outfield was the result of just one year at the position. Keeping Odubel Herrera in center for 2016 will give him the opportunity to continue improving. If he can iron out his routes, his defensive potential is extraordinary thanks to his speed, instincts and decent arm. Then, add elite defense to his propensity for doubles pop (and beyond), hard contact, and an increasingly discerning eye at the plate and Herrera could conceivably be a 3-5 win player at the position for years to come. Moving down the defensive spectrum to a corner outfield spot at this key point in his development would be a costly mistake that could ultimately diminish his overall value.

The Case for Peter Bourjos

The biggest contribution Bourjos is likely to make to the Phillies is his elite outfield defense and there is no reason to believe he won’t be able to put that on display no matter which outfield position he mans, regardless of prior experience. If he were likely to remain with the Phillies organization for an extended period of time, deciding between Bourjos and Herrera could be as simple as answering the question “Who is the better defensive center fielder?,” and it’s certainly possible that the answer to that question is Bourjos. Of course, that’s not the situation in which the Phillies find themselves. It’s worth noting that stellar play in center field could help boost Bourjos’ trade value, but because Bourjos’ stint in Philadelphia will be brief and his trade value relatively minimal, the significantly more pressing consideration is Herrera’s development. Therefore, the case for playing Bourjos in center is better presented as the case for moving Herrera to a corner.

The roster turnover phase of the Phillies current rebuild began in a real way last summer with the emergence of Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, and others at the major league level. Over the next couple summers, more young talent will join them including players like J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, Andrew Knapp, Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, and Mark Appel. At just 24 years old and already having major league success to his name, Herrera is in a position to be an important part of this emerging core. When the Phillies attempt to assemble a winning team with their next generation, roster flexibility will be a valuable commodity and it’s something the Phillies would be giving up by allowing Herrera to focus solely on the center field position this early in his career.

Perhaps Herrera is the center fielder of the future but, then again, perhaps that role will belong to Roman Quinn. Some of the team’s current prospects will be regulars for the team, others may be bench players and others still may flame out entirely. At this point in the rebuild there’s no way to know which prospects will be which. The Phillies ought to use this season and Bourjos’ presence as an opportunity to have Herrera work in a corner and expand his versatility in order to best prepare him for the unknown of the Phillies future roster needs.


Absent any revelations from the coaching staff, the only real way to predict who will begin the season in center is by tracking their playing time this spring. Given that Herrera has been kept in center more consistently than Bourjos the safest bet would appear to be Herrera getting the center field nod. Although I think the case for expanding Herrera’s versatility with work in a corner outfield position is compelling, it’s difficult to find fault with keeping him at center for the time being. If he continues improving from where he left off last season, he could be an above average regular at one of the more challenging defensive positions on the field and that’s a scenario which is hard (and perhaps even irresponsible?) for the Phillies not to give Herrera the opportunity to pursue. No matter how the Opening Day alignment ends up, though, Bourjos and Herrera will give the Phillies at least two plus defenders roaming the outfield in what will be a clear upgrade on Phillies outfields of recent past and, hopefully, a valuable boon to their young and developing pitching staff.

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  1. Dante

    March 15, 2016 08:34 AM

    I’m glad you brought up Roman Quinn, because that seems to be the longer term consideration here, and seems to be more the way this new Phillies management prefers to focus. From what I’ve heard, Herrera can handle 2B, and the Phils don’t have anyone bearing down on that position for around 2 more years (assuming Kingery pans out). I would propose Herrera stay in CF until Quinn is ready, then shift to 2B. They can always work him into other positions in the meantime (I would think he could handle LF at least as well as CF, and maybe try out 3B?), but they shouldn’t let the presence of a journeyman on a 1 year deal derail potential mastery of his current position. While versatility is useful, having an elite player at one of the toughest positions to fill should be the priority.

    • Steve

      March 16, 2016 07:40 AM

      Ideally, i agree with you. Quinn in CF, Williams at a corner, Herrera at 2b or another corner, really depending on who pushes him first, Kingry or Randolph.
      Everything has to right in that scenario though, and as of now, Herrera is the only player on that list that has proven he can play even 1 good season in the Majors. I wouldnt move Herrera until the long term CF of the future is called up. Quinn has a ton of question marks to go along with all that potential.

  2. Romus

    March 15, 2016 09:00 AM

    Next season’s possibility , and for sure in 2018, will be Carlos Tocci’s name in the CF mix discussion, with also a possibility of one Aaron Brown.

    • BobSmith77

      March 17, 2016 01:52 AM

      Tocci needs to show he can hit with any kind of power and develop more size to hold up over the course of a MLB season.

      Bet he gets promoted to Reading in the next year and gets eaten alive offensively.

  3. Kurdt Kobeyn

    March 15, 2016 09:48 AM

    IMO, CF is probably one of the positions where the Phils have depth – Herrera, Quinn, Altherr, Bourjos can all play CF with Quinn, Williams as quality prospects that can fill position as early as this season.

    Down the pipeline, Tocci, Brown and Juan Luis are going up and can be easily Top 30 prospects.

    For 2016, CF is for Herrera to lose and with Quinn as the most likely threat to move Herrera to LF. Bourjos will be the main backup and might be traded so that Quinn or Williams can go up.

    • Romus

      March 15, 2016 10:25 AM

      Agree…CF has plenty of depth, and so far this spring, Williams looks to be the guy they want to settle in at one of the corners. I thought I heard Pete Mack say at one point before ST that in Herrera there is that option, at some point down the road beyond 2016, he could be moved back into the infield.
      But IMO they way he has progressed defensively, that would be a tough decision to be made.

    • Francisco (FC)

      March 15, 2016 10:27 AM

      If this qualifies as an embarrassment of riches, once the Phillies are sure of the quality of the talent they will have in the OF at the Major League Level it’s possible the Phillies will use this depth to trade for areas in which they are lacking.

      • Kurdt Kobeyn

        March 15, 2016 05:13 PM

        Tocci will likely the best trade candidate – considering his age and depth in CF position. Altherr and Goeddel can be traded too or they can be 2 reserve OF. I can see a Herrera-Quinn-Williams OF until Randolph force one to move out or to be traded.

        Cozens will likely end up in 1B. Brown and Pujols will be the dark horses. Pujols has louder tools but I can see Brown as more likely to succeed.

  4. Francisco (FC)

    March 15, 2016 10:30 AM

    So at this point we can say the Phillies have managed to find two high quality CFs using the Rule 5 draft within a 10 year time frame? How likely is that? It’s like catching lightning in a bottle twice: 2005 Shane, 2015 Odubel, I’m going to be watching the 2025 Rule 5 draft with interest.

    • Romus

      March 15, 2016 10:58 AM

      Could have a third in Goeddel, maybe not a CFer right now, but has played it in the minors.
      They seem impressed with him so far.
      Mack even said that he could be an ideal lead-off guy since his plate discipline and pitch count are what he looks for in a lead-off hitter.
      Why do players who choke up on the bat have decent hit tools?

      • Duane

        March 15, 2016 06:20 PM

        I would say that is because they are swinging for contact first, as opposed to power. Swinging for contact normally gives a better chance at putting balls in play, and getting on base, as opposed to striking out, and moving back to the dugout.

  5. Francisco (FC)

    March 15, 2016 10:42 AM

    Who Is The Phillies Center Fielder?

    Yeah I’m also shocked! I thought Odubel had a lock on the position, or at least Bourjois. Who really came out of nowhere to take the roster spot.

  6. Eddie

    March 15, 2016 02:50 PM

    “…roster flexibility will be a valuable commodity and it’s something the Phillies would be giving up by allowing Herrera to focus solely on the center field position this early in his career.”

    I don’t see the logic here at all. He adapted to CF last year after spending years at 2B. Somehow two seasons in CF is going to make it impossible for him to learn LF in 2017 or 2018? If anything, I’d say give him another year of mastering CF before moving him to yet another position. Guys move off center to the corners after years in CF all the time.

    That would be a concern if they were thinking of moving him back to 2B, because guys moving from OF to IF is much less common; doing it after multiple years on the grass is even more rare. They’ve given no public sign of considering that, however; on the other hand, they probably wouldn’t, given the solid season Cesar Hernandez had in 2015.

    But our new, analytically savvy FO surely has considered the distinct possibility that Hernandez will regress, and noticed that they have no prospects at the position in either AAA or AA. Certainly Herrera’s bat fits at 2B a lot better than it does in LF. If they think he is a possible long-term answer there (and they should), and if Hernandez shows that he isn’t (and he likely will), it would make very good sense to get Herrara back on the dirt as soon as possible.

    I was mildly surprised that they brought in Bourjos as opposed to bringing back Frenchy as the veteran 4th OF. But if they’ve been considering moving Herrera back to 2B all along, the move makes perfect sense.

    • JRVJ

      March 15, 2016 05:36 PM

      I absolutely agree with this.

      Look, it’s ok if the Phillies give Herrera a game here and there at the corners, but CF is the highest outfield on the defensive spectrum, and it’s not like Herrera has played CF so long that he doesn’t need more seasoning there.

  7. Frank S.

    March 15, 2016 04:32 PM

    Did you mean Shane Victorino instead of Jason Werth?

    • Steve

      March 15, 2016 05:23 PM

      No, Werth was the primary backup CF. When he left so did the depth. Revere was servicable, despite his arm. After him our back-up option were god awful, as Corrine noted. Now, we have two or three legit CF options.

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