BBE 2019 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 2019 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 comes to a close and the 2019 MLB season begins, you will see these countdowns published in conjunction with 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 pitcher, 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 2019 season.

15. Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays (Last year: 8th)

Kiermaier’s career has been defined by two things: superb defensive play and injuries. And over the past two seasons, those two factors have dominated the otherwise stellar career of the 28-year-old Rays center fielder. Over the past two seasons, the lefty batter has been limited to just 186 out of a possible 324 contests, slashing .249/.312/.413 with 22 home runs, 68 RBIs, 26 steals, 12 triples, and 27 doubles. His defense has remained exceptional, posting a 5.5 Baseball-Reference defensive WAR and 36 FanGraphs defensive runs saved.

The veteran is one of the best and most athletic center fielders in MLB, but injuries and inconsistencies at the plate have hindered his performance over the last couple of seasons. If the Rays are going to contend for a postseason spot, as many project, the two-time Gold Glover will surely be a focal point of their attack.

14. Mallex Smith, Seattle Mariners (Last year: not ranked)

The 2018 MLB season was the breakout campaign that had been expected out of Smith for a while. Playing all over the Tampa Bay outfield (especially center field, in place of the aforementioned and injured Kiermaier), the speedster blossomed for the surprising Rays team as one of their most impactful players in all aspects of the game.

Smith, now a Mariner after the Rays swapped him for Mike Zunino in the offseason, slashed .296/.367/.406 with 47 walks, 40 steals, 40 RBIs, and an American League-best 10 triples. Smith also posted three DRS in 2018 as a speedy and athletic defensive asset on the Tropicana Field turf.

13. Adam Jones, Arizona Diamondbacks (Last year: 13th)

NEW YORK, NY – AUGUST 1: Adam Jones #10 of the Baltimore Orioles bats during the game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday August 1, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images)

Jones the superstar center fielder is long gone. However, Jones the reliable and consistent veteran center fielder is still a valuable presence in a major-league dugout, and one taken by the Diamondbacks late in free agency. The Orioles’ fan favorite had a solid 2018 on a miserable Baltimore team, slashing .281/.313/.419 with 15 home runs, 63 RBIs, seven stolen bases, and 35 doubles. Before 2018 Jones had posted seven straight seasons of 25 or more long balls.

His defensive struggles are noted (-18 DRS in center field last season), but for a restructuring team like Arizona, where development is more important than winning right now, the savvy veteran presence of the right-handed 33-year-old will be key.

12. Albert Almora, Chicago Cubs (Last year: not ranked)

Kris Bryant once said that Almora is the best defensive center fielder he had ever seen. Though the youngster’s offensive game is still evolving, Bryant was right to hype the defensive side of Almora’s skill set; the former first-round MLB Draft pick posted nine DRS and a .985 fielding percentage in center field for the Cubs last season.

Again, his offensive game is not yet there, but his potential is what matters. The right-handed 24-year-old slashed .286/.323/.378 with five home runs, 41 RBIs, and 24 walks in 479 plate appearances last season, which isn’t quite up to par with the expectations for him coming into the majors, but he can, and will, improve.

11. Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates (Last year: ineligible — played left field)

Before 2018 Marte had never played more than 30 games in a season in center field, which is regarded by many as the hardest defensive position in the sport, then shifted over and played 140 games in the middle last season. The adjustment would be hard for the career left fielder, right? Wrong. Marte excelled on both sides of the game in his first year in center, slashing .277/.327/.460 with a career-best 20 home runs, 72 RBIs, and 33 steals in 2018.

The right-hander was able to hold his own on defense with one DRS and a 3.2 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). The leader of a young Pirates team, the 30-year-old will be relied on both on and off the diamond this season.

10. Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox (Last year: 11th)

Bradley is what he is: a subpar offensive center fielder on a team with many better batters, but truly one of the game’s most reliable defensive players. The former All-Star hit .234/.314/.403 with 13 home runs, 59 RBIs, and 33 doubles, all of which is solid, but a 92 OPS+ indicates that the left-handed hitter could be much better in this regard.

However, Bradley posted a 0.4 defensive WAR and a sparkling .984 fielding percentage to win his first Gold Glove Award in 2018. In addition, Bradley won American League Championship Series MVP honors by smacking two clutch home runs and driving in nine runners in his team’s five-game conquest over the Houston Astros.

9. Odubel Herrera, Philadelphia Phillies (Last year: 12th)

The Phillies batting order has no easy outs with Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen giving good at-bats every time they’re up at the plate. But Herrera is definitely part of that equation, with his power and unorthodox batting stance forcing pitchers to go outside with their fastballs. The lefty slashed .255/.310/.420 with career-highs in home runs (22) and RBIs (71) last season.

Often he looks lost in the outfield and on the basepaths, but is a lethal slugger when he gets into a groove, as he did with a 45-game on-base streak early in the 2018 season. He is one of many difficult outs in a loaded Philadelphia batting order, but perhaps the most entertaining and odd of them all.

8. Harrison Bader, St. Louis Cardinals (Last year: not ranked)

As one of the fastest players in pro baseball, fans and analysts in St. Louis knew it wouldn’t be long until Bader jumped into the center field role and completely dominate. The 24-year-old had a stellar rookie season in 2018, slashing .264/.334/.422 with 12 long balls, 37 runs driven in, 15 steals, and a 106 OPS+, and his work defensively solidified his position as the center fielder of the future in the Gateway City, posting 19 DRS in all outfield spots.

He is measurably one of the speediest dudes in the sport, and therefore, his defense and baserunning can provide depth value for a revamped Cardinals team for years to come.

7. A.J. Pollock, Los Angeles Dodgers (Last year: 9th)

LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 7: A.J. Pollock #11 of the Arizona Diamondbacks stands in the on-deck circle during Game Two of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on October 7, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks/Getty Images)

One team had to take a chance on Pollock, a man with superstar potential whose career has been decimated by injuries. That team was the Dodgers, after the D-Backs allowed the oft-injured center fielder to test free agency, and L.A. can only hope to receive the services of the healthy All-Star version of the 31-year-old, rather than the ailed one we are all accustomed to.

In 2018 Pollock — who fought injuries, again — hit .257/.316/.484 with 21 home runs, 65 RBIs, and 13 steals with a six DRS in center field, showing glimpses of his all-around brilliance, when healthy. In his last full season (2015) the former Gold Glover hit .315 with 20 bombs and 39 stolen bases. What kind of Pollock will the Dodgers get? There is no way to predict it, but his ceiling allows him to maintain a high spot on this rundown.

6. Ender Inciarte, Atlanta Braves (Last year: 7th)

Inciarte is not only an elite center fielder, but he might be the single-best defensive center fielder in all of MLB, and has value in other aspects as well. His 17 DRS in the middle of the SunTrust Park outfield grass is what sticks out, as the 28-year-old just makes everything look easy out there, but he also slashed a respectable .265/.325/.380 with 10 home runs, 61 RBIs, 28 stolen bases, and 49 walks.

He won the Gold Glove in 2018, his third straight for NL center fielders. The left-hander is one of the best in the game, in terms of providing versatility to a batting order and defensive stability to the Braves outfield.

5. Aaron Hicks, New York Yankees (Last year: not ranked)

Hicks used to be a one-trick pony: a defensive specialist without much potential to become anything more. Over the past two seasons the Yankees outfielder has blossomed into a lethal offensive player while maintaining his high-grade defensive chops. Hicks slashed .248/.366/.467 in 2018 while setting career-highs in home runs (27), RBIs (79), walks (90), and OPS+ (123).

Hicks posted a .993 fielding percentage in center field last season, showing off his defensive capabilities. The switch-hitter signed a seven-year contract extension with New York before the 2019 regular season, having posted a 8.6 bWAR over the past two seasons.

4. George Springer, Houston Astros (Last year: 3rd)

An All-Star for the second time in 2018, Springer’s consistency and masterful control has been key in the Astros’ rise to dominance in the AL West. Though 2018 was actually a bit of a down year for the 29-year-old, the 2017 World Series MVP remains a scary sight for opposing pitchers. He slashed .265/.346/.434 with 22 home runs, 71 RBIs, and 64 walks last season while also playing a considerable amount of time in right field, providing some versatility for manager A.J. Hinch.

Springer’s 2017 was a work of art, as he hit .285 with 34 home runs in the regular season while also hitting five bombs in the World Series against the Dodgers later that season. The righty is a great athlete with a naturally powerful swing and will be back to his Silver Slugger-winning ways in 2019.

3. Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies (Last year: 2nd)

DENVER, CO – SEPTEMBER 30: Charlie Blackmon #19 of the Colorado Rockies runs into the dugout after playing defense in the top of the eighth inning of a game against the Washington Nationals at Coors Field on September 30, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

It isn’t a secret that Blackmon benefits from the thin, mountain air at Coors Field, but attributing all of his success to Denver’s mile-high elevation would be unfair. The bearded Rockies center fielder slashed .291/.358/.502 with 29 home runs, 70 RBIs, 12 steals, and seven triples in 2018, a year removed from finishing fifth in the NL MVP voting with a .331 average and 37 long balls.

Yeah, he hit .249 away from Coors Field and was a -28 DRS player in center field this season, but the left-hander is perhaps the game’s most efficient and powerful leadoff hitter and is capable of running the bases well for the power bats of Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story ahead of him in the order. He has flaws, as does every center fielder, but the three-time All-Star is still one of the sport’s best at his position.

2. Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers (Last year: 5th)

Cain is 32, but has the athleticism and pure speed of someone 10 years younger. He is an anomaly in that regard, and to this point in his career, has effectively been immune to the effects of the so-called aging curve sweeping through the sport. The former AL MVP finalist with the Kansas City Royals hit .308 last season — the fifth time in his career with a .300 or better batting average — with 10 home runs, 38 RBIs, 30 steals, 71 walks, and an .813 OPS.

His defensive game remains outstanding, posting 20 DRS in center field for Milwaukee last season. Again, he’s 32, and at a point where most players slow down (both literally and figuratively), Cain is only getting better.

1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (Last year: 1st)

Trout is the sport’s best player, and whoever is in second (that’s an argument to be had another day) is nowhere close. The 27-year-old just signed the richest contract in the history of North American pro sports (12 years, $428.17 million), and it can be contested that the Angels underpaid him. The right-hander finished second in the AL MVP voting last season, posting a .312/.460/.628 slash line with 39 home runs, 24 steals, 122 walks, a 1.088 OPS, and a 191 OPS+, invoking fear in the opposing pitcher and being intentionally walked 25 times.

At just 27, Trout has already notched a 64.2 career bWAR, entering just his ninth season in the big leagues. The seven-time All-Star and two-time MVP will go down as one of the best and most talented players in history when he is finished, but for now, let’s appreciate that there is a player who is comparable to Willie Mays playing in our game right now.

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