BBE 2018 Positional Rankings: MLB’s Top 15 Center Fielders

Over the offseason, the team of contributors at Baseball Essential voted upon every position on the diamond, compiling our comprehensive Top 15 countdowns for the 2018 season.

Major League Baseball is overflowing with youth and skill, but don’t forget about the rugged veterans we all know and love. These Top 15 rundowns will feature a splendid mix of young, exuberant athletes, and the aged, mature individuals who mentor them. As for the positions, we will unveil the top 15 starting pitchers, relievers, catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops, left fielders, center fielders, and right fielders, as well as the foremost designated hitters, utilitymen, and managers, over the next few weeks.

Our voting format is simple. The team of writers and analysts at BBE were given ballots a few weeks back for their top 10 individuals at each spot. A first-place vote is worth 10 points, second-place is good for nine, and so on.

As the spring training season starts to get underway, you will see these countdowns published prior to the beginning of another exciting MLB season. To keep track of the Top 15 lists you might have missed, stay posted to the Top 15 tag on the site.

In the rundown, we list the player, their position among the list, and how many points they have received in the voting. Now, you’re ready. Here are MLB’s Top 15 center fielders for the 2018 season.

Honorable Mentions:

Two players received votes but not did not score enough points to make the list: St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham and New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks.

Dexter Fowler – 15th (1)

Last season was not perfect for Cardinals center fielder Dexter Fowler, but the 32-year-old still set career highs in home runs (18) and runs batted in (64) while slashing .264/.363/.488. His year was shortened by several injuries, and the switch-hitter played in just 118 games over the season.

After his first of five years under contract with St. Louis, there’s more to come from Fowler, who is expected to move from center to right field in 2018. His career highs keep climbing season after season, and the athletic outfielder has a lot of quality, valuable baseball left to play.

Chris Taylor – 14th (2)

If you’re an average baseball fan, you probably hadn’t heard of Chris Taylor entering 2017. After a 4.8 Baseball-Reference WAR season and the National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player honors, the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder is on everyone’s radar. Taylor set career highs in basically everything, including a .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 home runs, 75 runs batted in, and 17 steals last season.

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Taylor was meant to be just a utility player when 2017 started in L.A., but the right-hander forced his way into the lineup as an effective, consistent leadoff hitter with quiet pop. The 27-year-old appeared all around the diamond, at five different positions, but his 49 games in center field topped the list.

Adam Jones – 13th (3)

Overshadowed by the Baltimore Orioles’ recent postseason swings and misses, Adam Jones has put together a career that would have the 32-year-old on a Hall of Fame bubble list. His resume features five All-Star Game appearances, four Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, and seven seasons in a row with 25 or more home runs. The O’s center fielder hit .285/.322/.466 with 26 HR, 73 RBIs, and 170 hits in 2017.

The athletic, powerful Jones is an impending free agent after the 2018 season, and it’s unclear what his future plans are or how the Orioles will carry out a potential extension. One thing is for sure: whoever has Adam Jones on their club is a lucky one, as the right-handed hitter will always provide steady value and production.

Odubel Herrera – 12th (9)

Odubel Herrera would rank first on a rundown of the coolest and most prolific bat-flippers, but the Philadelphia Phillies All-Star slides in at 12th here. Hitting .281/.325/.452 last season, Herrera knocked 14 long balls and a career-best 56 RBIs, posting 2.8 bWAR in 138 games played. The left-handed hitter led the Phillies with 42 doubles and 238 total bases in 2017, and also saved four runs defensively in center-field.

Herrera has looked like the future of the Philadelphia franchise for years, and at 26 years old, will play a major role in the new-look Phillies’ quest to contend for World Series titles again. With scary untapped power and an infectious swagger, Herrera is a player to keep an eye on come 2018.

Jackie Bradley Jr. – 11th (10)

If you find yourself looking for a defense-first outfield presence, they don’t come much better than Jackie Bradley Jr., the Boston Red Sox’s defensive maestro on the Fenway grass. Bradley is an underwhelming hitter, slashing .245/.323/.402 in 2017, but makes up for it on the other side of the game, as the former All-Star posted 1.4 defensive bWAR and 10 defensive runs saved last season.

Despite rumors of a proposed offseason trade that would have sent the left handed-batting Bradley to the Dodgers, “JBJ” will be a pivotal defensive force for a Sox team that wishes to ride a new manager’s influence back to the postseason. The 27-year-old had 17 home runs and 63 RBIs last season.

Andrew McCutchen – 10th (10)

A former National League MVP being sent off by a rebuilding club to one with World Series hopes was a common trend this offseason. Giancarlo Stanton moved over to the Yankees, and Pittsburgh Pirates fan favorite Andrew McCutchen is now with the San Francisco Giants. The right-handed McCutchen fills an outfield void for San Fran, bringing his Gold Glove and four Silver Sluggers as a center-fielder to the right field position at AT&T Park.

The 31-year-old hit .279/.363/.486 last season and showed he still has a lot of value left in him, even if he doesn’t hit his MVP season bWAR mark of 7.9. The five-time All-Star has been one of the better players of the generation and has been phenomenal for his new team in spring training (.384 batting average).

A.J. Pollock – 9th (19)

If we didn’t have to account for how health impacts the success of an outfielder, Arizona Diamondbacks righty A.J. Pollock would be far higher on this list. When he can play, Pollock is worthy of his All-Star appearance and Gold Glove, hitting .315 with 20 homers, 76 RBIs, and 39 steals in his last full season (2015). However, Pollock was limited to just 112 games last season and slashed .266/.330/.471 with 14 home runs, 49 RBIs, and 20 stolen bases.

Pollock was good for eight DRS and 3.0 bWAR in his shortened season, showing his two-way value when he can. Maybe the 30-year-old center fielder is the difference maker for the D-Backs and can turn them from fringe postseason team to pennant contenders with consistent health.

Kevin Kiermaier – 8th (23)

With longtime infielder Evan Longoria out of Tampa, all eyes around the Tampa Bay Rays shift to marvelous center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. The two-time Gold Glove winner is not ever short of highlight reel defensive plays, but he has tremendous offensive upside as well; the 27-year-old hit .276/.338/.450 with 15 homers and 39 RBIs in 98 games. Despite little time to compile large numbers, Kiermaier posted 5.1 bWAR and led all Rays players in that department.

The lefty hitter hits for power, hits for average, steals bags, and plays glorious center-field defense. The franchise cornerstone has saved a ridiculous 103 runs defensively in his four-year career. If Kiermaier gets a full season under his belt in 2018, the Rays could make some noise.

Ender Inciarte – 7th (25)

As a controlling, reserved defensive center fielder, Ender Inciarte is a baseball scout’s dream. For the Atlanta Braves, Inciarte as blossomed into one of the premier outfielders in baseball while hardly having to generate power offense. The 27-year-old has won the past two NL Gold Gloves for his fielding excellence, and he has hit .298 since joining the Braves, albeit with just 14 home runs in his 288 games with Atlanta.

A sensational contact hitter who gets on base at will and a superb defensive outfielder is all the lefty, who slashed .304/.350/.409 last season, needs to be. Enciarte, with 69 career defensive runs saved, is exactly the kind of player Atlanta should want to carry their top farm system into the majors.

Byron Buxton – 6th (27)

Last year was a breakout year for the highly touted Byron Buxton, who very well might be the fastest player in Major League Baseball. The defensive wonder who tallied 24 DRS last season hit .253/.314/.413 with 16 home runs, 51 RBIs, and 29 stolen bases. The 24-year-old was worth 5.2 bWAR (2.8 of that is just on defense) in 2017, helping the Minnesota Twins secure a surprise postseason berth.

The sky is the limit for the right-handed former second-overall pick. Still young, the outfielder will only keep improving for a Twins club that has done likewise over the past few seasons with Buxton at the helm.

Lorenzo Cain – 5th (41)

As a former AL MVP finalist, Lorenzo Cain should not have had to wait so long to ink a free agent contract. However, it feels like he chose the right option in signing with the loaded Milwaukee Brewers. With Cain, you always know what you’re getting, with value and consistency being that; his 2017 slash line was .300/.363/.440, combined with 15 home runs and 49 runs driven in on a non-playoff Kansas City Royals team.

It’s unsure how manager Craig Counsell and the Brewers plan to deploy the 31-year-old in an already stacked outfield come 2018, but it would be foolish to have a career .290, 92 DRS righty outside of your everyday lineup. Cain’s second stint with the Brewers should be a fun one, with the 2015 ALCS MVP joining a team that seems to be pointing in the right direction.

Christian Yelich – 4th (54)

On the same day they signed the aforementioned Cain, the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich, of Miami Marlins fame. Yelich had been overshadowed by Stanton and Marcell Ozuna in SoFlo, but he was a budding star himself in center field, hitting .282/.369/.439 with 18 home runs and 81 RBIs in 2017. Yelich posted 3.9 bWAR last season a year after winning Silver Slugger honors in 2016.

Yelich is projected to have a monster season for Milwaukee, and Miller Park is far more hitter-friendly than Marlins Park, especially for a lefty like the 26-year-old Yelich. Decent center-field defense and 25 homers are not out of question, and in that super outfield with Cain, Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton, and Domingo Santana, that will do.

George Springer – 3rd (60)

In 2017, George Springer did something no player in MLB history has ever done: the righty hit a home run in five separate World Series games as the Astros center fielder took home Fall Classic MVP honors. Perhaps the game’s best leadoff hitter, Springer slashed .283/.367/.522 with 34 home runs and 85 RBIs in 2017’s championship campaign, all of which were career bests in a year during which he won the Silver Slugger and was named an AL All-Star.

Seen as the face of the Astros’ rebuild in a 2014 issue of Sports Illustrated, the 28-year-old stole the show in the World Series title SI predicted in that famous magazine cover four years ago. The athletic power hitter has totaled eight defensive runs saved, 16.0 bWAR, and a career .986 fielding percentage in his time in MLB.

Charlie Blackmon – 2nd (67)

Charlie Blackmon takes your “COORS” and wins batting titles with that chip on his shoulder. The Colorado Rockies outfielder led the NL in plate appearances, runs, hits, triples, batting average, and total bases while slashing .331/.399/.601 in 2017, placing fifth in the NL MVP voting and being named an All-Star for the second time. To say it was a career year for the 31-year-old wouldn’t do him justice.

Blackmon knocked 37 home runs, 104 RBIs, and stole 14 bases, having literally the best example of the Coors Asterisk Phenomena; if you put up those numbers elsewhere, you’re an MVP finalist without a second thought. The 31-year-old lefty has gotten better all around every year, and is looking to take another huge leap in 2018 in a Rockies postseason return effort.

Mike Trout – 1st (80)

Mike Trout was another anonymous selection to the first-place spot at his position. Not only is he the top center fielder in baseball, but the right-hander is the best player in MLB. Trout has been worth 54.2 bWAR over his career and, at 26, is just getting started. Last year would have perhaps been his third AL MVP campaign until an early-season injury derailed the Los Angeles Angels superstar, but he did hit .306/.442/.629 (leading the AL in OBP and slugging) with 33 home runs and 72 RBIs in just 114 games. At 6.7 bWAR, Trout’s full-season WAR pace was 9.5 wins above replacement.

There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe a guy like Trout, a six-time All-Star and five-time MVP finalist. His greatness is to a point where it’s a let-down when he doesn’t win the MVP. With the best Angels team around him in his whole career, Trout has a chance to do perhaps the he only thing he hasn’t done thus far in his young career in 2018: make a splash in the postseason. Fans deserve to watch the best player on the biggest stage.

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