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Opportunity In Center Field

Last week we began taking a look around the National League Central position by position to see where how the St. Louis Cardinals stack up heading into the 2012 season. We started with right field where St. Louis has the decided edge in both starting talent and depth. This week we slide over to what is for sure the most crucial position in the outfield and possibly on the diamond altogether…center field.

Cardinal nation has grown accustom to excellence in center field over the years. From the likes of Willie McGee to Jim Edmonds it was not just about All-Star selections, batting titles and Gold Gloves. Okay well it was, but it was also about longevity. Since Edmonds left St. Louis following the 2007 the Cardinals have had a revolving door out in center usually reserved for second base. Rick Ankiel, Colby Rasmus and Jon Jay have shagged most of the balls out there over the last four seasons.

Going into this spring Jay looks to solidify the spot and make it his own. For the Cardinals this presents the weakest of the three outfield positions. But perhaps the one with the most upside. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak views Jon Jay as the team’s everyday center fielder rather than the left-handed half of a platoon.

Jay has certainly held his own against southpaws in his career, sporting a .296/.356/.377 batting line as compared to a .298/.348/.436 line against right-handers. The splits evidently have Mozeliak and the Cards prepared to run Jay out there every day rather than find a right-handed hitting complement for him, which enhances his value.

Here is a look around the National League Central and how Jon Jay stacks up against his peers.

 

Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd finished 2011 with nine homers, three steals, 35 RBIs, 51 runs scored and a .276 batting average. Byrd can supply a solid batting average but his lack of power and speed makes him a weak everyday outfielder. At age 34, it’s hard to predict any improvement in his 2012 numbers.

Reds outfielder Drew Stubbs swiped 40 bases in 2011, to go along with 15 homers, 44 RBIs, 92 runs scored and a .243 batting average. Stubbs reached the 40-steal level for the first time. But, the 27-year-old hit just .233 with four homers in the second half. This isn’t the profile of a leadoff hitter and the Reds could look for other options at that spot for 2012. The first Reds player with 40 steals in a season since Deion Sanders had 56 steals in 1997. Unfortunately, it can’t hide Stubbs’ struggles at the dish.

Astros outfielder Jordan Schafer hit .242 with two homers, 13 RBIs, 46 runs scored and 22 stolen bases in 2011. Schafer was traded to the Astros for Michael Bourn after failing to meet expectations in the Braves organization. The 25-year-old former top prospect had mixed results in limited time last season but remains the club’s best in-house option. Jason Bourgeois will continue to fill-in at all three outfield positions, while J.B. Shuck and Brian Bogusevic are also in the hunt . Schafer has enough speed (24 steals in 469 career at-bats) to warrant attention if he can get a full-time role in 2012. But he can’t steal first base and Schafer’s .228 career batting average could keep the 25-year-old from securing regular work.

Brewers center fielder Nyjer Morgan hit .304 in 2011, stole 13 homers, went deep four times, drove in 37 runs and scored 61 times. Morgan continued to be one of the game’s loudest players also let his bat do the talking with the second highest batting average on his team. Surprisingly, the Brewers didn’t let Morgan run the bases aggressively, as he stole 21 bases fewer than in 2009 despite collecting nearly as many hits.

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen smacked 23 homers, swiped 23 bases, drove in 89 runs, scored 87 times and hit .259 in 2011. McCutchen posted his first 20-20 season but his other numbers weren’t as rosy. The 25-year-old was caught stealing 10 times, the same number as in 2010, despite attempting 10 fewer base swipes. He also hit .216 in the second half. There is still plenty of upside here, but several holes too.

Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay smacked 10 long balls, drove in 37 runs, scored 56 times, swiped six bases and hit .297 in 2011. Jay’s development was a key factor in the midseason trade of Colby Rasmus, as manager Tony La Russa wanted to get Jay into the lineup more often. Despite struggling at the dish in the postseason, the 26-year-old could be a big asset if he can exceed 500 at-bats in 2012.

Here is how I rank the center fielders heading into 2012.

  1. Andrew McCutchen
  2. Nyjer Morgan
  3. Drew Stubbs
  4. Jon Jay
  5. Marlon Byrd
  6. Jordan Schafer

Looking Ahead

Jon Jay will not be relied on to match the offensive numbers of his outfield mates Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran. Rather Jay will be looked to for defensive support, which he proved more than capable of providing in 2011. However In part-time at-bats, Jay has proven to be a solid offensive player, hitting for a high batting average with at least serviceable pop. If he can average his production out over a full season it will mean good things for the 2012 Cardinals.

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2 Responses to “Opportunity In Center Field”

  1. Matthew Streeter says:

    Nice write-up. I think I may have to do something similar for the Royals.

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