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Positional Breakdown: Center Field

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A look at the middle of the outfield and the majors and down on the farm.

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at Boston Red Sox Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next eleven days, we are going to take a look at the Red Sox depth chart to break down each position both in the short-term and the long-term. We’ll look at projected starters, bench pieces, depth options, top prospects, sleeper prospects, other prospects, where the starter fits in the division in terms of projected fWAR using FanGraphs’ Depth Chart system and an overall view. Today we move over to center field.

Starter

Jackie Bradley Jr.

If we look beyond the 2020 season, or obviously if the 2020 season does not ever come to be, there are some questions about who the starter is here. For the moment, though, at least most of the time it will be Bradley. He is a little bit strange as a player even at this point because he is at once wildly inconsistent from week to week and month to month, but at the end of the day he’s sort of settled in as something like a “he is what he is” kind of player. It’s weird to say, though, because that aforementioned inconsistency is what demands so much of the focus. It’s almost unbelievable how every year he has a stretch or two where he looks like a perennial All-Star but then another stretch or two in which it’s not clear he belongs in the majors, at least as a hitter.

But amid all of that, he has turned in remarkably consistent end-of-year totals once all the dust settles. In each of the last three years he has pretty much stayed healthy all year and has finished each of those seasons with a wRC+ of either 89 or 90. That’s not a great number, but he makes up for it by being one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball and all of it has combined for him to be pretty much a completely average regular every year. It seems like everyone, myself included at times, has a strong opinion one way or the other on Bradley, but ultimately he’s an average player which is both fine and unexciting as a whole. He’s a free agent prior to the 2021 season so it’s unclear what he’ll command on the open market and whether or not it’d be worth paying that price, but for as long as he’s here the bat may be a question but we at least get to watch stellar, all-world defense.

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Bench

Kevin Pillar

Pillar almost deserves to be mentioned in the starter role here much like Michael Chavis was at first base because this will likely be close to a straight platoon. I didn’t do it for two reasons, though. For one thing, if everyone is healthy I think Chavis will take more starts at first base against righties than Pillar will in center field. Additionally, I don’t think it will be quite a straight platoon in center. I do think that Pillar will play every game started by a lefty, but all three outfield starters are left-handed hitters. Bradley will likely sit the most of the trio of him, Andrew Benintendi and Alex Verdugo, but Pillar will spread his roles throughout the outfield. As far as his play on the field goes, Pillar is very similar to Bradley in that he is a defense-first center fielder who can go on streaks at the plate but will likely settle in worse than average.

Depth

Marcus Wilson, César Puello, Rusney Castillo

This is the same trio I talked about in the left field post, so I’ll link that here and move along.

Top Prospect

Jarren Duran

There are a couple of options here and I know some will disagree with me selecting Duran over the younger option, but I’m a big fan of Duran. There are certainly some questions and he did hit a wall in Double-A last year. That said, it was also his first full professional season and getting to Double-A at all is quite the feat. Plus, he did start to look better towards the end of the year, both by the numbers and according to those who saw him. The easiest way for a prospect to get on my radar and stay there is if they combine a good hit tool with speed, and that’s Duran’s game. The power is a question, but I think that can be overrated a bit with this skillset because the hit tool and speed can lead to more doubles and triples to go with the extra singles and value added on the bases. Defensively, he is a converted infielder so there are still some hiccups in center field, but the athleticism and reports on his make up reduce the worry a bit for me on that front.

Sleeper

Eduardo Lopez

The Red Sox haven’t gotten any of the top, top names on the international market for a few years, so some of the signees have flown a bit more under the radar. In the summer of 2018, Lopez was their top signee and he got a substantial bonus worth $1.15 million, more than double the second-biggest bonus they gave out that summer. Lopez made his professional debut last summer, and while his numbers didn’t really jump out he also didn’t flounder, hitting .255/.372/.363. He’s still about a month away from turning 18 and there are tools here to believe in, although there’s plenty of development here too. He’s another hit tool-oriented player, and while he doesn’t quite have the athleticism that Duran shows, he has the instincts and baseball IQ to remain up the middle anyway.

Other Prospects

  • Gilberto Jimenez was the other name in play for top prospect here, and while I like Jimenez I think the jump to Greenville could be more of a speed bump than some are anticipating, particularly as he’s still learning to switch hit.
  • Juan Chacon was the top signing from this past summer’s international class getting at $900,000 bonus and while we’re still waiting for his professional debut he’s a high-ceiling athlete who is very raw but has the tools to be very good.
  • Cole Brannen is a former second round pick who has disappointed in his first few years as a pro and is probably on just about his last chance of being someone to watch in the system.

AL East Projections

  1. Kevin Kiermaier, TB (2.2 fWAR)
  2. Jackie Bradley Jr., BOS (1.9 fWAR)
  3. Brett Gardner, NYY (1.7 fWAR)
  4. Randal Grichuk, TOR (1.5 fWAR)
  5. Austin Hays, BAL (1.4 fWAR)

Bradley comes in at number two here, but it is extremely close from top to bottom with no one being more than 0.3 wins away from the next spot on the leaderboard and only 0.8 wins separating first from last. Bradley and Kiermaier are similar in their defense-first qualities, while Gardner is coming off a surprising season but is at an age where a decline is becoming more and more likely. Grichuk and Hays, meanwhile, each have a bit more variance but also are closer to the upswings of their respective careers. It should be mentioned that a delayed season could play into the Yankees’ hands here as Aaron Hicks could return around the start of August from Tommy John surgery. He’s projected for 1.1 wins here in just 52 games. I also want to mention that Mike Trout is projected for 9.1 fWAR, which is out of this world.

Parting Thoughts

This is a position of frustration for many in the short-term, as Bradley’s glovework in center field isn’t enough to make up for the inconsistent bat in the eyes of a good chunk of fans. That said, this could be his last year in Boston and while there is upside coming up through the farm in the relative short-term, long-term and super long-term, it is also much more of an unknown quantity than Bradley. That doesn’t mean worse, of course, but it could. We just don’t know, and that’s the point.