2022 Positional Power Rankings: Center Field

© Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today, Jason Martinez examined the state of left field. Now we turn our attention to those who roam center.

Center field is jam-packed with interesting depth charts. Magisterial superstars? We’ve got those — Mike Trout and Ronald Acuña Jr. feature prominently. Marvelous defenders? Byron Buxton is more than just that, but he certainly fits the bill, and Harrison Bader might be his equal with the glove. Exciting rookies? Julio Rodríguez and Riley Greene are both projected to play. Bounce-back candidates, 2021 breakouts who will be trying to prove it again, sketchy defenders who play the position anyway for want of better options — the center field landscape is truly diverse. Sure, Trout tops the list, and sure, the Rockies and Royals bring up the rear, but don’t judge a book by its front and back cover: this might be the most interesting collection of projections in this entire exercise.

2022 Positional Power Rankings – CF
1. Angels
Mike Trout 574 .273 .412 .566 .407 42.8 1.0 -1.8 6.4
Brandon Marsh 98 .245 .317 .375 .303 -1.1 0.1 0.6 0.3
Taylor Ward 21 .247 .335 .433 .332 0.3 -0.0 -0.1 0.1
Jo Adell 7 .240 .292 .445 .314 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .267 .396 .531 .389 41.9 1.2 -1.3 6.8

The last time the Angels weren’t No. 1 in these rankings was way back in 2013, when a then–21-year-old Mike Trout, fresh off one of the greatest rookie seasons in major league history, was stuck behind Peter Bourjos on Los Angeles’ center field depth chart. It didn’t take long for him to ascend to the top spot; he replaced Bourjos as the starter midway through the 2013 season, then took the PPR throne the next March. Three MVP awards, 67 WAR, and countless disposed challengers later, he’s still the king.

But after a decade on top, Trout’s hold on the No. 1 spot has loosened. What used to be enormous gaps between him and his lessers — twice as much projected WAR as the second-place finisher, more wins on his own than entire teams could field — have shrunk considerably. The twin issues are durability and defense. A severe calf strain cost him all but 36 games last season, and multi-week IL trips have become an annual expectation as he’s passed 30. The advanced metrics, meanwhile, paint him as average at best in the field and getting worse; a move to a corner is inevitable and fast-approaching. (It almost happened this spring, but Trout pushed back on a plan to have Brandon Marsh, a markedly better defender, take over in center.)

At the plate, Trout is still a world-conquering force who could beat that overall WAR projection with his bat alone. If he can’t, Marsh is a far better backup than the Angels usually manage, though his swing-happy ways mean that most of his value comes from his legs and his glove. He’ll remain a reserve in center as long as Trout is upright and able, but the day when the best player alive cedes his crown is coming — perhaps even as soon as next year.

2. Twins
Byron Buxton 567 .269 .314 .533 .355 18.2 2.4 7.2 4.9
Nick Gordon 56 .252 .300 .382 .296 -1.0 0.2 -0.2 0.1
Max Kepler 35 .237 .328 .455 .335 0.5 0.0 0.4 0.2
Gilberto Celestino 35 .238 .302 .373 .295 -0.6 -0.0 -0.2 0.0
Jake Cave 7 .237 .300 .395 .301 -0.1 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .264 .313 .508 .346 17.1 2.6 7.1 5.3

Stick Byron Buxton in the Weapon X project and coat his skeleton with adamantium, and he’s probably neck-and-neck with Trout for center field supremacy. Unfortunately, his regular human bones and ligaments are frustratingly prone to fractures and tears; a hip strain and broken hand limited him to 61 games last year, making 2021 his third straight full season with fewer than 100 games played.

So yeah, take those projected plate appearances with a boulder of salt; his career high in that department is 511, and that came five years and roughly 30 surgeries ago. But if Buxton can finally — finally — avoid those long stretches of convalescence, he’ll leave that WAR figure in the dust. To wit: the .370/.408/.772 line he put up over his first 24 games last season, including nine home runs, five stolen bases, a 216 wRC+, and tons of loud contact tied to better swing choices. That’s the potential that keeps the Twins, who signed him to a seven-year extension in the offseason, in Buxton’s corner, and that makes him our runner-up to Trout’s otherworldly excellence.

As for Buxton’s backups, none of them bring his combo of offense and defense to the table, or even come close to approaching it. Nick Gordon may be his equal on the track, but there are no signs yet that he knows which end of the bat to hold. Max Kepler’s 2019 breakout, meanwhile, looks more and more like it was fueled by the juiced ball, though his batted-ball peripherals suggest he’s been swamped by bad luck and aggressive defensive shifts since; he’ll serve as the team’s starting right fielder.

3. Braves
Ronald Acuña Jr. 399 .281 .388 .571 .402 25.6 1.3 1.3 4.3
Adam Duvall 224 .227 .289 .475 .322 -0.6 -0.3 1.6 0.9
Guillermo Heredia 63 .226 .310 .354 .292 -1.7 -0.0 -0.2 0.0
Drew Waters 14 .236 .300 .381 .297 -0.3 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .257 .347 .515 .365 23.0 1.1 2.7 5.2

At some point in late April or early May, Ronald Acuña Jr. will return from the torn ACL that cost him the back half of last season and resume terrorizing pitchers, and the Braves will rejoice, at least every time he steps to the plate. Our projections assume that he won’t miss a beat once he steps back onto the field; that triple slash is almost exactly what he produced last year. Given the videos of him in spring training swatting mammoth batting practice home runs at what looks like 10% effort, those estimates might be conservative.

The bigger question is whether Acuña belongs up the middle. Defensive metrics have never loved his work in right and are indifferent about his 2020 stint in center. Atlanta didn’t seem interested in a sequel last year, playing him there just twice in his 82 games. And back in 2020, he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “right field is a position I feel more comfortable at.” This doesn’t sound like the ideal situation for someone with a surgically rebuilt knee.

Then again, the Braves aren’t exactly flush with better options. They traded away would-be starter Cristian Pache as part of the package for Matt Olson, and Guillermo Heredia is better used as a fifth outfielder and team cheerleader. Barring Drew Waters obliterating Triple-A, that leaves Acuña and Adam Duvall, whose Gold Glove win last year feels like a typo and who, despite his new hardware, grades out as roughly average in center. Sacrificing defense for offense is par for the course for Atlanta’s 2022 outfield, though; it’s not as if Marcell Ozuna and Eddie Rosario belong out there. So long as Acuña can hack it, center field will be his — as much by default as anything else.

4. White Sox
Luis Robert 644 .281 .334 .502 .354 20.7 0.8 2.5 4.8
Adam Engel 35 .236 .293 .396 .298 -0.5 0.1 0.2 0.1
Adam Haseley 14 .242 .301 .372 .293 -0.3 0.0 -0.0 0.0
Leury García 7 .259 .311 .371 .298 -0.1 0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .278 .331 .493 .350 19.9 0.8 2.7 5.0

When Luis Robert went down in early May with a hip injury that knocked him out for the next three months, the White Sox were reduced to the discount trio of Leury García, Adam Engel, and Billy Hamilton in center, which is as vicious a downgrade as possible. (In a touching tribute to the final season of pitchers hitting, Hamilton put up a 78 wRC+, a 38.0% strikeout rate, and a single walk in 92 trips to the plate during those weeks.) Luckily for Chicago, the AL Central was a radioactive wasteland where Robert’s loss had no impact; the team actually went from 1.5 games back of first to a 10.5-game lead in his absence. Just as important: He returned and looked no worse for the wear, slashing .350/.389/.622 with a 173 wRC+ to wrap up the year.

The White Sox remain the favorite in their division thanks in large part to Robert, who clearly made strides in his brief 2021. His walk rate on the year was a measly 4.7% (and just 3.6% during his torrid finale), but that came with a gigantic drop in strikeout and swinging-strike rate, fewer chases, and more contact versus 2020. That goes nicely with his elite hard-hit and exit velocity figures and excellent defense, which is especially necessary with Eloy Jiménez stomping around in left. But as Chicago learned last year, Robert is impossible to replace. Neither Engel, a superlative defender who can’t hit, nor García, who will be occupied with super-utility duties, should see more than one game a week here. Anything more than that might have fans on the South Side white-knuckling their way through the summer.

5. Mets
Brandon Nimmo 511 .258 .379 .430 .355 18.2 -0.6 -2.8 3.4
Starling Marte 147 .271 .333 .425 .327 1.9 0.8 -0.0 0.8
Travis Jankowski 28 .240 .331 .318 .289 -0.5 -0.0 -0.2 0.0
Mark Canha 14 .235 .352 .413 .336 0.3 -0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .260 .367 .424 .346 19.8 0.2 -3.1 4.3

Steve Cohen and company went into the offseason with a big shopping list, and for the most part, they got what they wanted. A postseason-tested ace to join Jacob deGrom atop the rotation? Max Scherzer fills that role nicely. More offense, particularly in the outfield? Ooh, check out this two-for-one deal on Starling Marte and Mark Canha. More infield depth? Look at this perfectly good Eduardo Escobar in the sale section!

Unaddressed was “a starting center fielder,” something the Mets have lacked for years and which Marte no longer is, having lost too many steps defensively. To be fair, the free-agent market was mostly dented and expired cans labeled BRETT GARDNER and KEVIN PILLAR, but in Brandon Nimmo, New York may already have what it needs. He’s long been one of the more patient hitters in the game; his 14.0% walk rate last year was better than all but 10 hitters with as many or more plate appearances. The main issue in his earlier attempts at patrolling center had been his defense, which graded out negatively via DRS, UZR, and Outs Above Average. But he improved in all three metrics in 2021 (albeit in a relatively small sample), with Statcast showing him getting better jumps and running more efficient routes. And while durability is an issue for Nimmo, which will result in plenty of Marte and too many at-bats for Quad-A players like Travis Jankowski, a combo of competent defense and getting on base 40% of the time will make him plenty valuable when he is on the field.

6. Blue Jays
George Springer 560 .262 .349 .506 .363 19.3 -0.0 -2.0 3.8
Raimel Tapia 98 .270 .321 .392 .309 -1.0 0.2 -0.1 0.3
Teoscar Hernández 21 .262 .320 .496 .346 0.4 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Josh Palacios 14 .224 .298 .343 .283 -0.5 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Dexter Fowler 7 .217 .311 .362 .297 -0.1 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .262 .343 .484 .353 18.1 0.2 -2.4 4.2

Toronto’s attempt to put a Springer in its step (sorry) last season never quite worked, mostly because Springer couldn’t stay on his feet. An oblique strain, a right quad strain, and a left knee sprain limited him to 78 games in 2021, almost half of which came as the designated hitter, resulting in way too much Randal Grichuk in center, where he posted a meager 84 wRC+ as a below-average defender. For a team that missed out on the postseason by a single win, Springer’s absence may have been the difference.

The good news is that when Springer was active, he looked like his usual self, putting up numbers and peripherals in line with his stellar Houston years, and his projections reflect that. The bad news is that human beings still age in just one direction, and at 32, he’s no Springer chicken. (Again, sorry.) There’s also the question of how much longer he can handle center. The defensive metrics aren’t calling for immediate regime change, but with 30 further and further in the distance and lots of innings on turf in the future, his glove and body may soon need the less taxing responsibility of holding down right or left.

The main backup here if Springer goes down again is no longer Grichuk but Raimel Tapia, whose offensive game is oriented toward grounders and slap-hitting instead of gripping and ripping. Still, he’s a better fit for what Toronto needs in a reserve outfielder as a speedy defense-first player, and a better long-term option in center than Teoscar Hernández, who is already challenged enough in right.

7. Cardinals
Harrison Bader 595 .246 .324 .429 .322 3.0 1.0 8.7 3.5
Dylan Carlson 91 .259 .336 .443 .335 1.5 -0.1 0.3 0.5
Lars Nootbaar 14 .249 .323 .405 .314 -0.0 -0.0 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .247 .325 .430 .323 4.5 0.9 9.1 4.0

Harrison Bader will probably never be more than a terrific defender with a so-so bat, and as such, he’s a good entry point into the second tier of center fielders, where the blemishes and the gaps between ceiling and floor get bigger. Bader’s barometer and bugaboo is BABIP, which — unsurprisingly for a fast guy with questionable plate discipline and inconsistent power — needs to sit above .300 for him to provide value on offense. He just snuck above that mark last season, and lo and behold, it resulted in his second-best season at the plate, WAR-wise.

Not that BABIP is the be-all, end-all for Bader. Last year also saw him drop his strikeout rate to a career-low 21.2%, down from 32.0% in 2020, which is a good sign for someone whose driving philosophy at the plate in seasons past was “see if you can swing hard enough to set your bat on fire.” The next step is fine-tuning the decision-making and pitch recognition; Bader remains far too aggressive on the edges of the strike zone and has plenty of work to do against breaking balls. Nonetheless, when you’re as good defensively as he is — he finished second among center fielders in dWAR and third among outfielders in Outs Above Average in 2021 — whatever the bat produces is gravy. St. Louis would likely prefer something more the just-add-water instant stuff, though.

If Bader stumbles, Dylan Carlson would likely slide over from right. He brings most of Bader’s problems at the plate with none of his defensive upside. That would also open more time for Lars Nootbaar, a tertiary Thomas Pynchon character who showed some decent plate discipline but not much else in his debut last year.

8. Dodgers
Cody Bellinger 504 .245 .333 .478 .342 10.1 0.5 0.7 3.0
Chris Taylor 98 .247 .330 .430 .327 0.8 0.2 -0.7 0.4
Gavin Lux 42 .251 .328 .422 .323 0.2 0.0 -0.1 0.2
Kevin Pillar 28 .247 .284 .419 .300 -0.4 0.0 -0.0 0.1
Mookie Betts 21 .279 .374 .505 .374 1.0 0.1 0.3 0.2
AJ Pollock 7 .264 .320 .480 .338 0.1 0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .247 .331 .466 .338 11.8 0.8 0.2 3.8

At this point, your guess is as good as mine or anyone else’s when it comes to Cody Bellinger. Just two years removed from an MVP-winning campaign, one of the rocks upon which the Dodgers looked to build their future has crumbled. Among players with 350 or more plate appearances last year, his 48 wRC+ was “beaten” only by Jackie Bradley Jr.’s 35. His hard-hit and barrel stats took a dive in 2020 and stayed supine on the floor last year, muttering about a left hook coming out of nowhere. Speaking of left hooks: Southpaws held Bellinger to a .116/.208/.174 line, rendering him a platoon player at best.

There’s a lot wrong here, to put it briefly, and no immediate or obvious fix. Our projections are sunny (or at least less cloudy), but it doesn’t seem like things are getting better: He’s struck out in 17 of his 28 trips to the plate this spring as he continues to tinker with his swing, apparently daily. And while the man himself is taking things in the kind of relaxed stride you’d expect from a dude whose eyes are permanently half-closed, the Dodgers are presumably less chill about their center fielder who hits like a pitcher. There are several options to pick up the slack if Bellinger remains adrift, though each brings their own flaws. Chris Taylor is needed everywhere all at once; Gavin Lux is neither a center fielder nor a right-handed hitter; and Kevin Pillar is literally Kevin Pillar. This group will only go as far as Bellinger can carry them, and right now, it’s an open question as to whether he’s capable.

9. Padres
Trent Grisham 602 .247 .341 .435 .335 9.5 0.7 4.0 3.6
Trayce Thompson 49 .197 .274 .382 .285 -1.3 -0.0 -0.3 0.0
Jurickson Profar 42 .241 .328 .386 .313 -0.1 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Wil Myers 7 .240 .318 .424 .320 0.0 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .243 .335 .428 .330 8.2 0.7 3.4 3.8

Trent Grisham is a patient hitter with one big problem: He can’t hit fastballs. That’s not entirely accurate; he did hit fastballs in 2020, when he put up a .413 wOBA on heaters and a 122 wRC+ overall. But those numbers and many more crashed last season, with stats closer to his punchless rookie campaign in 2019. In both, four-seamers ate him up, but it was particularly pronounced in 2021: a .361 slugging percentage and .307 wOBA, to go with a -23 on balls in the heart and edges of the strike zone, per Statcast’s Swing/Take metric. When pitchers challenged Grisham, he meekly backed down more often than not.

Some of this is the work of defensive shifts: Grisham saw them nearly half the time he stepped to the plate last year, and they held him to a .299 wOBA. Then again, he posted a .358 mark against them the season before, when he saw them more often. The key is that, in 2020, Grisham was regularly able to poke balls over the shift and into the gaps or seats; without that power, he’s at the mercy of BABIP. That puts a cap on his offensive value, but luckily for San Diego, he’s taken quite well to center, earning top marks in DRS and OAA (though UZR was less positive). That buys him some time to get the bat going once more and figure out his fastball follies. The uninspiring backup combo of Trayce Thompson, who re-emerged late last year with the Cubs after two-plus seasons in the Triple-A wilderness, and Jurickson Profar, already tasked with starting in left, should also give Grisham plenty of rope.

10. Orioles
Cedric Mullins 658 .261 .327 .454 .333 7.8 2.0 0.8 3.5
Austin Hays 28 .257 .306 .462 .327 0.2 -0.0 0.1 0.1
Ryan McKenna 7 .220 .305 .375 .298 -0.1 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Chris Owings 7 .216 .281 .365 .280 -0.2 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .260 .325 .452 .332 7.6 2.0 0.9 3.7

The biggest breakout and surprise of 2022 was Cedric Mullins, who ditched switch-hitting, whiffed less, walked more, and hit the ball harder than ever en route to more WAR than Shohei Ohtani (at least as a hitter), Matt Olson and Freddie Freeman, among many others. Be skeptical if you’d like, but the tools were already present; as a prospect, he carried above-average grades on his hit tool, raw power, and speed. Nor do his 2021 peripherals suggest a massive regression is coming. The Mullins we saw is largely the Mullins we should expect to get in 2022.

If you would like some potential red flags to worry about, Mullins is unlikely to repeat his .322 BABIP or his .299 batting average on groundballs, neither of which are outlandish but both of which are well above the league average. And though he struck the ball with more authority on average, that was relative; his barrel and hard-hit rates finished in the middle of the pack league-wide. But he made significant and sticky improvements across the board, particularly when it came to plate discipline, and at 27 years old, he’s on the right side of the age curve for exactly this kind of breakout. Orioles fans used to disappointment (or at least the absence of hope) should have faith.

Still waiting for his breakout is Austin Hays, if he can ever figure out some semblance of plate discipline. He didn’t in 2021, and he won’t be more than a fourth outfielder until he does.

11. Mariners
Jarred Kelenic 273 .231 .303 .433 .315 1.3 -0.0 -2.4 0.9
Julio Rodríguez 259 .277 .341 .463 .345 7.6 0.3 3.7 2.1
Kyle Lewis 126 .239 .313 .407 .312 0.3 -0.0 0.0 0.5
Billy Hamilton 35 .202 .261 .290 .245 -1.9 0.2 0.2 -0.0
Taylor Trammell 7 .206 .292 .360 .287 -0.1 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .248 .317 .431 .322 7.1 0.4 1.6 3.5

Last year, the Mariners were faced with a conundrum: start the season with top prospect Jarred Kelenic on the roster, or send him down to Triple-A to save some money at some point in the distant future? Seattle went with door No. 2 (although not without first saying the quiet part out loud), opting for Taylor Trammell and Kyle Lewis in center and a combo of Jake Fraley, José Marmolejos, and Sam Haggerty in left. Shockingly, that didn’t work, but neither did whatever the plan was with Kelenic. A 23-game major-league stay in May resulted in a ghastly .096/.185/.193 line and a demotion back to the minors; a second call-up went better but not by much (.209/.291/.402 and a 28.0% strikeout rate).

There’s no more financial gain to be wrung out of screwing with Kelenic’s service time, so this year, he’s set to be the Opening Day starter in center — only now there’s a super-prospect nipping at his heels in the form of Julio Rodríguez. Our projections are a big fan of the latter, in part because his defense grades out far better; OAA, UZR and DRS were all aghast at Kelenic’s lack of range and poor routes. But part of that is also Kelenic’s 2021 being so brutal that it’s hard to know what to expect. Hitters who run strikeout rates close to 30% and BABIPs in the Bengie Molina range usually don’t generate the happiest outcomes. Granted, he only turned 22 last July, but until and unless Kelenic can make more and better contact, he’s more potential than production.

Does that mean Seattle should be gun-shy about Rodríguez? (Yes, say the team’s owners as they count their money.) The need isn’t immediate, with Kelenic, Jesse Winker and Mitch Haniger all present, and he probably isn’t a long-term center fielder anyway — our prospect writers project him to a corner. But on the strength of a bonkers 2021 season in the minors that earned him the No. 4 spot on our preseason Top 100 list, Rodríguez should be part of the conversation before long, especially if Kelenic’s struggles continue. It should help that Seattle’s choices aside from him are Lewis, whose balky knee makes him a poor fit in center and who won’t be ready for Opening Day anyhow, and the punchless duo of Trammell and Billy Hamilton.

12. Pirates
Bryan Reynolds 462 .279 .363 .480 .359 14.8 -0.4 -2.9 2.8
Travis Swaggerty 168 .243 .314 .382 .304 -2.2 0.1 0.8 0.5
Greg Allen 42 .249 .324 .366 .304 -0.6 0.1 0.2 0.1
Hoy Park 21 .239 .340 .379 .316 -0.1 -0.0 -0.1 0.1
Anthony Alford 7 .225 .304 .381 .298 -0.1 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .267 .348 .445 .340 11.8 -0.2 -2.0 3.5

Behold, one of the better rankings the Pirates have, thanks to a player who almost certainly won’t finish the season in Pittsburgh. Bryan Reynolds put his miserable 2020 behind him by re-orienting his approach at the plate, taking fewer swings outside the strike zone and more within it, as well as hunting first-pitch strikes. The result: higher contact rates, more barrels, fewer strikeouts, more walks, and Bonds-ian numbers on fastballs (a .342 batting average, .620 slugging percentage, and .438 wOBA). Sometimes baseball is just that easy.

Now comes the hard part: doing that again atop one of the weakest lineups in the game for one of the worst teams in the majors against pitchers who probably won’t be piping in many 0–0 fastballs anymore. If Reynolds can sustain last year’s gains, his reward will probably be a trade, as the cost-cutting Pirates are doubtful to keep him around much longer. (We’re talking about someone who will make all of $4.5 million this year, but that might as well be $45 million for Bob Nutting.) If and when Pittsburgh does ship Reynolds out for a plethora of prospects, expect Travis Swaggerty and his Top 40 Billboard country chart name to get the call from Triple-A to replace him. Per our Eric Longenhagen, who ranked Swaggerty 13th on this year’s Pirates list, he’s a plus-plus defender whose bat is far behind the glove and who lost a lot of development time the last two years due to the pandemic and injury.

13. Red Sox
Enrique Hernández 581 .255 .333 .458 .339 7.5 0.4 2.7 3.3
Jackie Bradley Jr. 84 .218 .293 .365 .288 -2.5 0.1 0.7 0.1
Jarren Duran 28 .251 .307 .402 .307 -0.4 0.0 -0.0 0.1
Alex Verdugo 7 .289 .351 .445 .341 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .251 .327 .444 .331 4.8 0.6 3.4 3.5

For most of the offseason, Boston’s 2022 plan for center field was “Enrique Hernández when available.” The former Dodgers super-utility player was a steadying force at the position for the Red Sox throughout 2021, but they went into the winter apparently planning to use him part-time to fill the Big Dig-sized hole at second base. How exactly they were going to deal with the at-bats that opened up in his place in center given the total lack of viable options there was TBD.

Instead, Boston smartly pivoted, snatching up Trevor Story and plugging him in at second and leaving Hernández as the full-time starter in center. Given his mediocre numbers against righties — a 99 wRC+ and .322 wOBA last year and career marks of 86 and .298, respectively — he probably belongs in some kind of platoon situation, or as a jack of all positional trades, as he was in Los Angeles. But he’s a strong defender who can grind out at-bats and has plenty of pop. He’s the simplest solution, and sometimes, that’s all you need.

Behind Hernández is, essentially, a gaping maw. Jackie Bradley Jr. is a graceful, sublime defender whose best catches should be permanently playing on a loop at the MoMA, but his non-existent bat makes him impossible to stomach as a regular. And while prospect Jarren Duran may be the future, he’s clearly not quite ready for primetime after striking out 40 times in 112 plate appearances in the majors last year.

14. Tigers
Riley Greene 476 .262 .331 .454 .336 7.5 0.5 -2.3 2.4
Derek Hill 84 .236 .290 .365 .285 -2.2 -0.1 -0.4 0.0
Victor Reyes 70 .272 .309 .414 .310 -0.4 0.1 0.2 0.3
Akil Baddoo 42 .253 .329 .435 .328 0.4 0.1 -0.1 0.2
Daz Cameron 28 .229 .302 .390 .301 -0.4 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .258 .322 .435 .325 5.0 0.7 -2.8 2.9

Former first overall pick Spencer Torkelson will get most of the headlines if he does break camp with the Tigers as the starter at first base, but don’t forget about Riley Greene. Detroit’s other top position player prospect laid waste to Double-A last year despite missing the entire 2020 season due to the pandemic and making the jump from A ball, with a .391 wOBA, 145 wRC+, and walk rate just shy of 12%. Then, just to add a cherry to those numbers, he hit Triple-A pitching even harder in an end-of-season call-up. Oh, and he’s only 21 years old. Our projections think he’d already be an above-average regular at the plate, and though there isn’t much of a track record to work with here — just 809 plate appearances over two seasons — the tools and results suggest that we’re right to be excited.

Greene will need to make the team first, though, and right now it’s unclear if the Tigers will head north with him in tow. Charitably, there’s no good reason not to. It’s understandable if Detroit doesn’t want to toss one of its crown jewels into the fire so quickly, but for a team that made a fair bit of noise this winter about getting better, the best version of this roster is one with Greene as the starter on Opening Day. Contention won’t come through Derek Hill, a former first round pick with speed for days and a steady glove but an offensive profile reliant on batted-ball luck. That’s a fourth outfielder, not a starter; the same goes for the patience-challenged Victor Reyes. Regardless, if Greene isn’t there at the beginning of the season, he definitely should be there by the end.

15. Guardians
Myles Straw 560 .266 .342 .348 .308 -4.1 2.9 3.7 2.3
Bradley Zimmer 56 .220 .313 .349 .295 -1.0 0.1 0.3 0.2
Oscar Mercado 42 .242 .310 .391 .305 -0.4 0.1 0.2 0.2
Steven Kwan 42 .282 .345 .434 .337 0.7 -0.0 -0.1 0.2
Total 700 .262 .338 .356 .308 -4.8 3.1 4.2 2.9

Cleveland’s outfield has been a running joke in the majors for a while now, and center is no exception. No Guardians center fielder has cracked even 2 WAR since Tyler Naquin squeaked past that bar in 2016, and he wasn’t even the full-time starter there. (Unsurprisingly, the team has finished 22nd, 28th, and 22nd in our last three rankings here.) Will that change in 2022?

Enter Myles Straw, a 2021 trade deadline addition who boosts Cleveland from the bottom quartile to middle of the pack. It’s easy to see why the Guardians like him: He’s a great defender and baserunner, finishing fifth in the majors in OAA at +11 and stealing 30 bases at a terrific 83% success rate. And he’s still three years away from free agency, freeing up money to add to the ever-expanding pile somewhere in Paul Dolan’s beach house. But his lack of thump puts a hard ceiling on his numbers; even with a good walk rate and a friendly BABIP last year, he topped out at a .306 wOBA and 98 wRC+. And though that resulted in 3.7 WAR overall, which is more than any regular outfielder Cleveland has rostered at any point in the last seven seasons has produced, it also came with a 1.3% barrel rate and .076 ISO, the latter of which was the lowest mark among all qualified outfielders last year. Aaron Judge he ain’t.

Any extra production will have to come from the cast behind Straw — who, it should be noted, played 158 games last year. Bradley Zimmer and Oscar Mercado blew their earlier shots at this job and are unlikely to get another thanks to their redundant Straw-lite profiles — good gloves, plenty of speed, confused whimpering at the plate. Prospect Steven Kwan is the most intriguing hitter of this group (albeit an average defender), but he’s likely to be the starting left fielder. Center field, in other words, belongs entirely to Straw, for better and for worse.

16. Yankees
Aaron Hicks 546 .228 .343 .408 .329 6.4 0.5 -3.7 2.4
Tim Locastro 63 .242 .325 .376 .310 -0.3 0.2 -0.2 0.2
Estevan Florial 35 .215 .288 .384 .292 -0.7 -0.0 0.0 0.1
Ender Inciarte 28 .231 .300 .328 .278 -0.9 0.0 0.1 0.0
José Peraza 14 .251 .298 .377 .293 -0.3 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Aaron Judge 14 .275 .369 .539 .384 0.8 -0.0 0.2 0.1
Total 700 .230 .337 .402 .324 5.1 0.6 -3.7 2.8

This is the first Yankees center field depth chart without Brett Gardner since [checks notes] the fall of Rome to the Visigoths. I imagine Brian Cashman has had to be physically restrained multiple times from re-signing the longest tenured member of his roster, but it’s for the best; the 38-year-old would have been a long shot to provide anything beyond replacement value.

Now living on a farm upstate where he can play and run around with all the other veteran outfielders, Gardner wasn’t a realistic option for New York in center field anyway. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the players actually on the roster are any likelier to help. Aaron Hicks has made six different trips to the IL in the last five seasons, including a five-month stay last year with a torn wrist tendon, and all those strains and sprains have brutally sapped his speed, his power, and his range in center. Defensively, he’s not cut out for the job anymore, and unless he runs into a mistake pitch, he’s going to produce a lot of 4–3 putouts and weak fly balls. Better health would help, though if we’re going to wish for things that aren’t realistic, he might as well ask for a jetpack.

As glum as the thought of Hicks in center regularly has to be for Cashman and Yankees fans, though, things get far worse if and when he goes down. Tim Locastro is maybe the best pinch-runner in the majors and an acceptable defensive replacement, but he hits like a pitcher. Estevan Florial looks more and more like a bust, and while Ender Inciarte can still pick it, his bat is an undercooked noodle. The collapse potential for the Yankees at this position is huge, and while there are some intriguing names down on the farm (Jasson Dominguez and Everson Pereira in particular), they won’t be of any help in 2022.

17. Marlins
Jesús Sánchez 245 .249 .313 .453 .325 1.9 -0.6 0.8 1.1
Avisaíl García 238 .260 .322 .440 .325 1.9 -0.3 0.3 1.1
Bryan De La Cruz 133 .267 .321 .413 .316 0.1 -0.2 -0.4 0.4
Delino DeShields 70 .233 .326 .340 .298 -1.0 0.3 0.1 0.2
Roman Quinn 14 .219 .292 .334 .278 -0.4 0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .254 .318 .427 .320 2.6 -0.8 0.7 2.8

You may have missed it in the transaction logs, but over the offseason, the Marlins quietly cut ties with two players acquired in their post-2017 teardown. At the end of November, the team let Lewis Brinson, the headliner of the Christian Yelich deal, hit free agency after five completely lost seasons. And in the middle of spring training, the club DFA’d Monte Harrison, the other top outfield prospect who had come from Milwaukee to Miami, and who appeared in just 41 major league games with the Fish, hitting .175/.230/.263.

Why am I talking about these two failed prospects here? Because either or both were supposed to be the long-term solution in center in Miami once Yelich was booted out. Instead, neither panned out, and as such, the Marlins have had to turn to a second, younger wave of prospects to do what Brinson and Harrison couldn’t. The best of them here is Jesús Sánchez, the 10th-ranked prospect on our 2021 Marlins list who graduated off of it last summer, posting a .339 wOBA and 116 wRC+ down the stretch. Power is his calling card; he earned a 70 FV grade on his raw from Eric Longenhagen on that 2021 list, and his 42.9% hard-hit rate would’ve slotted him above Jared Walsh and Mookie Betts on the Statcast leaderboards. As you’d expect of a young power hitter who takes big cuts, that comes with lots of whiffs: a 31.1% strikeout rate and 13.4% swinging-strike rate, plus egregious numbers on breaking balls.

If Sánchez stumbles, Miami could turn to fellow prospect Bryan De La Cruz, who brings more contact but less power and the same iffy plate discipline, or it could give us all a laugh by throwing the lumbering Avisaíl García into the mix. Either way, it’ll be take two in center for the Marlins, who have to be hoping hard against a repeat.

18. Brewers
Lorenzo Cain 476 .265 .335 .392 .318 -2.0 1.0 4.1 2.1
Tyrone Taylor 196 .239 .301 .431 .314 -1.6 0.1 1.1 0.7
Corey Ray 14 .210 .273 .375 .280 -0.5 0.0 -0.1 -0.0
Jonathan Davis 14 .204 .295 .331 .280 -0.5 0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .256 .324 .401 .316 -4.6 1.1 5.2 2.7

Now in the final season of the five-year, $83 million deal he signed with Milwaukee in 2018 and set to turn 36 a week after Opening Day, does Lorenzo Cain have anything left in the tank? His 2021 results suggest that we’re down to vapor. He missed nearly three months of the season with a pair of soft-tissue injuries to his legs, and his numbers were more in line with those of a fourth outfielder than a regular starter when he did play. Defensively, he still grades out positively, though he’s no longer elite, and Statcast thinks he’s lost a step or two over the years and is struggling with coming in or going back on balls.

With that in mind, penciling Cain in for 450-plus plate appearances and hoping for it to become 2015 again through science or magic doesn’t come across like the Brewers being proactive or particularly inventive. But with how allergic ownership is to spending — only Christian Yelich out-earns Cain on this roster — and with a dearth of better options on the market, you can see how the team ended up here anyway. Plus, Cain is still owed another $17 million this year; might as well squeeze as much as you can out of him, right?

Should said squeezing fail to produce more juice, Tyrone Taylor is around to fill in or take over as needed. Well, he is in theory; though he’s defensively up to snuff for center, his offense is lacking, and he missed out on crucial late-season at-bats because of an oblique strain. Already 28 and with only 324 plate appearances in the majors to his name, he needs to show something this year to stay on top of the organizational depth chart once Cain is gone.

19. Rays
Kevin Kiermaier 518 .233 .298 .375 .291 -7.4 0.6 6.8 1.9
Manuel Margot 147 .254 .316 .403 .310 0.2 0.0 0.8 0.7
Brett Phillips 14 .191 .290 .364 .287 -0.2 0.1 0.2 0.1
Josh Lowe 14 .238 .314 .414 .315 0.1 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Vidal Bruján 7 .238 .301 .366 .292 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .237 .302 .381 .296 -7.5 0.7 7.7 2.7

If you started a baseball team tomorrow, the Rays would probably call you within an hour of incorporation to see if you’re interested in Kevin Kiermaier. He’s the odd man out on the roster thanks to his $12 million salary this season, or roughly a sixth of the team’s total payroll, and despite his jaw-dropping defense, excellent speed, and Tiger Beat model looks, a 31-year-old who’s a lousy hitter and making eight figures is hard to swallow. That’s particularly so given how Tampa’s farm system produces cheap 4-WAR hitters that can each play six positions with IKEA-like efficiency.

If the Rays do move Kiermaier, the starting role would pass to Manuel Margot, who’s essentially a Kiermaier clone with a little more pop but from the right side. That makes them an easy platoon for the time being — though one complicated by the need for Margot to spend time in left and right every now and again — and adds up to a useful enough player. What’s missing here is any real upside; the projections think both players have maxed out what they’ve got. Nor is there any to be found in Phillips, a great defender who (you’ll never believe it) can’t hit. But this is a short-term problem for the Rays, given the presence of Josh Lowe — No. 2 on the team’s 2022 prospect list and No. 46 on our overall Top 100. The 24-year-old battered Triple-A in his first taste of it last year, and while he may not be good enough a defender to handle center full-time, he brings a nice combo of speed, power, and plus pitch recognition that should help Rays fans forget all about Kiermaier’s dreamy eyes once his time comes due.

20. Giants
Mike Yastrzemski 259 .241 .322 .453 .331 3.0 -0.0 -0.0 1.2
Steven Duggar 252 .239 .309 .383 .299 -3.6 0.2 0.5 0.6
Heliot Ramos 84 .235 .292 .380 .292 -1.7 -0.0 -0.6 0.1
Austin Slater 56 .247 .335 .412 .325 0.4 0.2 0.1 0.3
LaMonte Wade Jr. 28 .240 .331 .426 .327 0.2 -0.0 -0.2 0.1
Joc Pederson 21 .238 .317 .453 .329 0.2 -0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .240 .315 .414 .314 -1.5 0.3 -0.2 2.4

Mike Yastrzemski’s enemies list is long: lefties, breaking balls (he posted a .229 wOBA against them last year), defensive shifts (which he saw 72.9% of the time in 2021 and which held him to a .309 wOBA versus .372 without one), a home park that suppresses his power, the missing E between the R and the Z in his last name. His 2019 breakout and ’20 fireworks ran headfirst into a brick wall last year, raising questions as to whether he’d actually found a new talent level or simply ridden a long hot streak. At 31, it’s more likely that this version of Yastrzemski — a two-win player with acceptable defense — is the reality, and that may be all there is to him.

The best way to minimize Yastrzemski’s warts would be to stick him in a platoon, something that the Giants love doing and did routinely last season. But that strategy only works if you have the complementary bats to make it work, and San Francisco lacks enough right-handed outfielders to create that scenario for everyone who needs it. The obvious fit here is Austin Slater, but he’s both LaMonte Wade Jr.’s platoon partner in left and, with Wade now hurting, likely to start there in the early going. (As for right, the projected starter there is … Yastrzemski, where he’ll be backed up by lefty-swinging Joc Pederson.) As is, Steven Duggar, who also hits from the left side, will probably take what at-bats remain. He brings better defense to the equation than Yaz, but not much more.

21. Cubs
Jason Heyward 259 .245 .323 .396 .313 -2.2 0.3 0.9 0.8
Rafael Ortega 189 .248 .321 .405 .315 -1.2 -0.1 -0.2 0.5
Michael Hermosillo 147 .227 .314 .422 .319 -0.6 -0.0 0.1 0.5
Ian Happ 70 .240 .340 .459 .344 1.2 0.0 -0.2 0.4
Jonathan Villar 21 .249 .318 .395 .310 -0.2 0.1 -0.1 0.0
Nico Hoerner 14 .277 .342 .383 .316 -0.1 -0.0 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .242 .323 .410 .318 -3.1 0.3 0.6 2.3

Chicago did some offseason outfield shuffling with names both familiar and new. The biggest addition is Seiya Suzuki, whose arrival will push Jason Heyward out of right, where he’s been since signing with the Cubs back in 2016, and into center, with Ian Happ now setting up regular stakes in left (though he’ll still slide over to center on occasion). Heyward’s defense should transition relatively well to center; he was still grading out positively in right, and while OAA doesn’t love his routes, it thinks he hasn’t lost a step yet when it comes to his jumps. As for his bat … did I mention that his defense should transition well enough to center? The improved walk rates that fueled his 2019 and ‘20 rebounds didn’t last, crashing to a career-low 7.6% in ’21, as Heyward routinely got himself into bad counts and reached for pitches he couldn’t damage. Pitchers noticed and started bombing him with two-strike breaking balls and offspeed junk, hastening his collapse.

Should the Cubs get tired of pretending like any part of this is working, Michael Hermosillo and Rafael Ortega are on deck. Both are undisciplined hackers who aim for the fences with every swing and will tattoo any pitcher stupid enough to throw them fastballs. Of the two, there’s probably more potential in Hermosillo, who turned heads in Triple-A last season and is only 27. Both are also so-so fielders who project to be better reserves than starters, though at least they’ll do so for cheap.

22. Diamondbacks
Daulton Varsho 357 .252 .323 .450 .330 1.7 0.6 -1.3 1.4
Jake McCarthy 154 .224 .293 .379 .292 -4.1 0.5 -0.5 0.2
Alek Thomas 126 .263 .326 .430 .326 0.2 -0.2 0.1 0.5
Ketel Marte 42 .290 .352 .485 .356 1.1 0.0 -0.0 0.3
Stuart Fairchild 21 .229 .302 .376 .297 -0.5 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .250 .318 .431 .322 -1.7 1.0 -1.7 2.3

Fun fact: Last season, Daulton Varsho became only the fourth player in major league history to appear in at least 30 games at catcher and in center field (41 and 30, respectively) in the same season, joining Craig Biggio (1990), Wally Schang (1920), and Roger Bresnahan (1905). And two of those guys are Hall of Famers, so the odds are pretty good that we see Varsho giving a speech in Cooperstown in 2042, right? As you can tell, that particular kind of versatility — and to that, he added time in left and right, too — is rare and an artifact from the game’s more fluid past, but how useful Varsho is depends on where he stands (or crouches, as it were). As a catcher, that .330 wOBA is practically cause for celebration; in center field, not so much.

Varsho will probably spend more time in center than at catcher, assuming good health and production on Carson Kelly’s part; in reality, he’s a backup catcher who also plays center. That he’s in center is more a testament to his flexibility than anything else, as the defensive metrics don’t particularly like him out there. This is more about finding a place for his bat and holding down the fort in center until top prospect Alek Thomas is ready. If that time is sooner than expected, the Diamondbacks could shoot up our rankings. He likely won’t play center long-term, but he tore through the minors last year and looks like an above-average major league hitter right this minute. The other option is Jake McCarthy, who clocked in at No. 25 on our 2022 Diamondbacks prospect list. He’s the best outfield defender on the roster, but even with him discovering more power last year, he doesn’t add up to more than a speedy backup.

23. Astros
Jake Meyers 357 .246 .308 .421 .314 0.5 -0.1 1.4 1.5
Jose Siri 182 .229 .279 .399 .291 -3.2 0.4 -1.4 0.3
Chas McCormick 84 .236 .312 .393 .307 -0.4 -0.0 0.7 0.3
Lewis Brinson 70 .218 .270 .363 .275 -2.2 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Kyle Tucker 7 .283 .351 .533 .372 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .238 .298 .407 .304 -5.0 0.2 0.7 2.2

When the Astros sent Myles Straw to Cleveland at last year’s deadline, it was ostensibly to clear the decks for either Chas McCormick or Jake Meyers in center. Both were late-round draft picks in 2017 (the former in the 16th, the latter in the 13th), both are roughly the same age (McCormick turns 27 in April, Meyers turns 26 in June), both made their major league debuts last year, both swung and missed too much, and both lost time to injury. Meyers, though, remains sidelined after offseason shoulder surgery that will cost him the first two months of the season. Does that make McCormick the choice to start on Opening Day?

On his side are great defensive numbers — he tied with Straw in OAA last year at +11 — and lots of speed, plus a hard-hit rate that nearly reached 50% last season. Working against him is a 32.7% strikeout rate and a whiff rate 10 points higher than the big league average. Houston’s offensive identity has long been built on controlling the strike zone (whether legally or otherwise), and a free-swinger like McCormick has no place there. That’s led to more projected playing time for Siri, but that could flip quickly, as Siri is hardly a paragon of plate discipline himself, though he does damage when he connects. The job should be McCormick’s so long as he doesn’t do something like steal all of Dusty Baker’s toothpicks — but perhaps he’s already done that in spring training, as his grip on everyday reps appears to be slipping away. Our projections don’t expect the time share to persist very long, though. Meyer grades out as the superior option at the plate on the back of his slightly better plate discipline (and there’s no platoon to be had here, as all three are right-handed hitters).

24. Athletics
Cristian Pache 532 .225 .280 .385 .287 -10.3 -1.2 4.4 1.3
Ramón Laureano 91 .253 .326 .461 .337 2.0 0.2 0.4 0.6
Skye Bolt 42 .216 .288 .364 .284 -0.9 -0.0 0.5 0.1
Luis Barrera 21 .232 .289 .339 .275 -0.6 -0.0 0.1 0.0
Buddy Reed 14 .194 .260 .315 .253 -0.7 0.0 0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .228 .286 .391 .293 -10.5 -1.0 5.4 2.0

If Cristian Pache gets upwards of 500 plate appearances for the A’s, something has either gone very right or very, very wrong. The headliner of the trade that sent Matt Olson to Atlanta, Pache brings instant Gold Glove-caliber defense — an 80 grade, per our scouting report in our 2022 Top 100 list, where he ranked No. 73 — to Oakland’s vast expanses, where his elite speed should help him track down countless line drives and deep fly balls. The problems begin when he leaves the field, picks up a bat, and proceeds to swing through everything and anything thrown in his general direction. After he struck out 25 times in 68 plate appearances through April and May, Atlanta gave up and demoted Pache to Triple-A for the rest of the year, where, chastened, he perked up and lowered his strikeout rate from 36.8% all the way to … uh, 27.5%.

For as ready as Pache is defensively, he’s miles away on offense, and his weak numbers at Triple-A are deeply worrisome. Optimists can soothe themselves with scouting reports that talk glowingly of his big raw power, but the contact and pitch recognition have yet to show up in either the big leagues or the upper minors. That’s not the biggest issue for the A’s; a plus-plus defender with bad offensive numbers is still productive and, more importantly for ownership, very cheap. But given the dearth of better options — Ramón Laureano was already trending down on offense before his PED suspension, and Skye Bolt is a fifth outfielder at best — and what Pache cost them, they’ll likely want a little more than just a great glove.

25. Nationals
Victor Robles 504 .237 .319 .377 .304 -8.1 0.2 3.0 1.4
Lane Thomas 154 .237 .320 .420 .320 -0.6 -0.2 0.3 0.5
Andrew Stevenson 35 .251 .309 .384 .301 -0.7 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Donovan Casey 7 .221 .271 .367 .276 -0.3 0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .238 .318 .387 .307 -9.7 0.0 3.2 1.9

Once upon a time, Victor Robles was one of the best prospects in the entire world. It may seem very long ago, those hazy days of, er, 2019, but when we put out our Top 100 list that spring, there was Robles, sitting at No. 5 — higher than Eloy Jiménez, Bo Bichette, Kyle Tucker, Austin Riley, Ian Anderson, Luis Robert, Brandon Lowe, Pete Alonso, and many more. Three years later, Robles is potentially on the verge of losing his roster spot — not just the starting gig in center, but his whole-ass job — after an awful season-and-a-half (or so) in which he hit .209/.304/.302 with a 67 wRC+, a strikeout rate just south of 28%, and -1.0 WAR. Prospects, they’ll break your heart.

The problems are myriad. Robles can’t hit breaking balls. He doesn’t hit with any authority, ranking near the bottom of the league in every batted-ball peripheral. More patience at the plate has led not to better results but to pitchers sneaking fastballs by him. For all his speed, he was nabbed on six of his 14 steal attempts last year, for an awful 57% success rate. In 2020, he showed up to camp too heavy with too much muscle; last season, he showed up too slim, without enough bulk. Even the defense that’s supposed to be his calling card has looked more average than excellent. Washington will keep trying — there’s no point in giving up on someone who isn’t even 25 yet — but the odds are getting slimmer and slimmer that there’s anything more here than a speedy backup who has no clue how to hit a curveball. Hug your prospects, kids.

26. Rangers
Adolis García 336 .231 .275 .435 .302 -3.6 -0.4 2.5 1.1
Leody Taveras 140 .223 .291 .375 .288 -3.1 0.3 1.2 0.4
Eli White 112 .215 .290 .350 .282 -3.1 -0.1 0.2 0.1
Nick Solak 63 .258 .326 .402 .317 0.1 -0.0 -0.4 0.2
Jake Marisnick 49 .221 .281 .383 .287 -1.1 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .228 .285 .403 .296 -10.8 -0.1 3.5 1.9

In Adolis García, Leody Taveras, and Eli White, the Rangers have three very different paths they can choose to take toward finding a starting center fielder. García is the known quantity: a hyper-athletic power hitter who blasted 31 homers last year but also struck out in nearly a third of his plate appearances and would probably swing at a pickoff throw. Taveras is the prospect that was promised, who’s been in the Rangers farm system since he was 17 and is a superb defender but whose brief major league stints have revealed an impatient slap-hitter. And White is the spring surprise, as someone who was terrible in Texas in 2021 but looks like a different hitter in Cactus League play thanks to a new and improved swing.

Whichever option the Rangers pick probably won’t make much difference to their win-loss bottom line, but it’s hard not to be intrigued by White, mostly because “swing change” is the easiest way to turn an also-ran into a potential contributor. It also depends on Texas’ appetite for letting Taveras work through his struggles in the majors; he’s likely the best defender of the three, and at some point, the team needs to learn what it has in him going forward. Ultimately, García will probably get the lion’s share of the time here, but as exciting as he is, his hack-tastic ways don’t bode well for future improvement. Look for this to be a gradual transition from the known to the unknown.

27. Reds
Nick Senzel 476 .259 .322 .426 .323 -2.5 -0.8 -0.6 1.4
Shogo Akiyama 77 .255 .325 .378 .308 -1.3 -0.2 -0.1 0.1
Tyler Naquin 70 .259 .312 .442 .322 -0.4 -0.1 -0.0 0.2
Jake Fraley 49 .232 .329 .422 .325 -0.2 0.0 -0.2 0.1
TJ Friedl 14 .250 .329 .401 .318 -0.1 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Albert Almora Jr. 14 .238 .284 .369 .281 -0.6 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .256 .321 .421 .320 -5.1 -1.1 -1.1 1.8

The best explanation for the current state of the Reds, beyond Bob Castellini’s cheapness, is that when Nick Senzel was drafted back in 2016 with the No. 2 pick, some enterprising fan in southwest Ohio picked up their trusty monkey’s paw, shut their eyes, and said, “Please make Nick the face of the team.” Well, wish granted, I guess.

Okay, that’s not fair to Senzel (or Joey Votto), who isn’t responsible for the offseason desolation of this roster. But here he remains in part because he hasn’t done much at all since his debut (when he’s been healthy, anyway, which hasn’t been often). The contact and power that were supposed to be his star traits as a hitter haven’t shown up in the majors. His low strikeout and chase rates haven’t created more hittable pitches, mostly because when he does connect, he struggles to square balls up, running a minuscule 4.2% barrel rate last year. The batted-ball peripherals think he’s gotten somewhat unlucky — he had an expected wOBA of .357 and an expected wOBA on contact of .374 — but you make your own luck in this game, and his strategy of lots of pulled groundballs isn’t going to add up to much good fortune.

It’s not all bad news. Senzel is a fine defender, won’t turn 27 until June, and will get as much run as he wants given Cincinnati’s otherwise barren cupboard. Shogo Akiyama is no real threat for playing time after posting a 44 wRC+ at 33 years old in 2021, and Tyler Naquin is a platoon bat. The Reds will sink or swim with Senzel, though there’s probably nothing he can do to get them to float.

28. Phillies
Odúbel Herrera 329 .264 .317 .428 .320 -0.8 0.1 -1.9 0.9
Matt Vierling 315 .247 .306 .397 .304 -5.1 0.2 2.0 0.9
Mickey Moniak 49 .221 .277 .397 .286 -1.5 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Nick Maton 7 .217 .295 .348 .283 -0.2 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .253 .309 .411 .310 -7.7 0.3 -0.1 1.8

Like Ned Flanders’ parents, the Phillies have tried nothing and are all out of ideas. How else do you explain going into a season with Odúbel Herrera and Matt Vierling as your top-two center field options? The former has been mediocre at best going back to 2018 (he served an 85-game suspension in 2019 for domestic violence and didn’t play in the big leagues in ’20), with a 91 wRC+ and a grand total of 1.6 WAR over more than 1,200 plate appearances. The latter surprised by posting a 121 wRC+ last year in his debut, but that came with a high .420 BABIP that he can’t possibly replicate. And while we project a pretty even split between the two, this job will end up going to Vierling, at least to start, as Herrera will miss the first month-plus of the year with an oblique strain. It’s a sad state of affairs for Philadelphia, particularly given that whichever of Herrera or Vierling is standing in center will be flanked by some $400 million in free-agent contracts between Bryce Harper in right and either Kyle Schwarber or Nick Castellanos in left. Few things illustrate the ass-backwards way the Phillies have built their roster quite like that.

But to end on a positive note: Tuesday’s trade that sent Adam Haseley to the White Sox opened up a roster spot for Mickey Moniak, who’s spent the last six seasons looking like he’d be an answer to a trivia question about the worst ever No. 1 picks. He’s got a long way to go before he’s free of that label, but he’s impressed this spring, and given how pedestrian Herrera and Vierling are, he has a real opportunity to snag some serious playing time going forward.

29. Royals
Michael A. Taylor 539 .235 .290 .378 .289 -13.3 0.3 4.9 1.2
Kyle Isbel 98 .250 .313 .406 .310 -0.7 0.2 0.1 0.3
Edward Olivares 42 .258 .313 .424 .317 -0.1 -0.0 -0.1 0.1
Whit Merrifield 21 .281 .327 .410 .318 -0.0 0.1 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .240 .296 .385 .295 -14.1 0.5 4.9 1.8

So let’s get this out of the way: Yes, Michael A. Taylor won the Gold Glove in center last year; no, that has no impact on how bad he and the rest of Kansas City’s depth chart at the position project to be. The gap between assumed and actual defensive excellence can be very wide sometimes, but Taylor earned his trophy; per OAA, he was a +15 on the year, second only to Manny Margot in that statistic among outfielders. At the plate, he might as well be wearing his glove, but his defense makes him a starter, and a legitimate one, and while you can laugh at the Royals all you want for fielding a player who hits about as well as Madison Bumgarner, he’s still saving plenty of runs out there, and those all count.

Still, Taylor’s defense is the only thing that makes him a productive major leaguer, and it took one of the best defensive seasons in the entire league just to get him there. There’s no room for regression, and there’s no hope of reinforcements if he falls apart. Kyle Isbel has some power and also has yet to figure out how to tell a ball from a strike (though he made some strides in that department late in the year). I’m not convinced that Edward Olivares, who was called up and sent down eight separate times last year, including three times in September alone, is a real player (sorry, Edward). And Kansas City’s farm system boasting some future stars, there’s no help coming to center field any time soon.

30. Rockies
Randal Grichuk 322 .256 .301 .475 .329 -3.4 -0.5 -2.8 0.5
Sam Hilliard 273 .227 .296 .442 .313 -6.4 0.4 0.7 0.5
Garrett Hampson 56 .247 .304 .395 .302 -1.8 0.2 -0.2 0.0
Yonathan Daza 42 .276 .320 .385 .307 -1.2 -0.1 0.2 0.1
Ryan Vilade 7 .258 .309 .381 .299 -0.2 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .245 .301 .450 .319 -13.1 0.0 -2.1 1.0

A good way of admitting to the rest of the league that you have no plan or even the ability to make a plan is to make Randal Grichuk your starting center fielder on purpose. That’s the Rockies for you, a baseball team that builds its roster like Family Guy writers build jokes: randomly, with no logic, and very badly.

Grichuk is here because Colorado got tired of Raimel Tapia smacking 60% of his batted balls into the dirt and because Sam Hilliard struck out in over 36% of his plate appearances last year. You, the wise reader, could argue that maybe the team spinning its tires in the mud should give more playing time to Hilliard, who for all his flaws is still relatively young (he turned 28 in February) and has some upside. Instead, it’ll be Grichuk, a bad defender and impatient hitter who just took a swing at this sentence, who’ll be putting up 1-for-4 nights with two strikeouts on the regular. At least Coors Field will be a boon for him with its huge power alleys and thin air; expect to see him put up some absolutely wild home/road splits. Ultimately, he’s a placeholder, ostensibly for whatever prospect crawls out of the Rockies’ awful farm system to take his place. That feels right for this placeholder of a major league franchise.

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2 years ago

If a team ranked 15 for every position on the list would that lineup be expected to have average production or would the lack of stars or lack of holes make it deviate from average production in some way positive or negative?

2 years ago
Reply to  VinnieDaGooch

I’m obviously not the author, but my take: While it is tempting to think that, logically, a team that is middle-of-the-pack at every position would be average, my gut says they’d be better than that, maybe a 85-90 win team. Why? Because having no significant weaknesses is an added strength in and of itself. Teams tend to exploit the weaknesses of other teams, and with no real weaknesses, a team would be harder to exploit.

In other words, I think this is one of the areas in which purely statistical analysis breaks down a bit. That said, I’m guessing that someone has done a study comparing hypothetical lineups with three 9 WAR players and six 0 WAR players vs. nine 3 WAR players.

2 years ago
Reply to  Angelsjunky

The Angels have been doing a 3 nine WAR player and 6 zero WAR players for about a decade.

2 years ago
Reply to  VinnieDaGooch

Just by WAR, I think that lineup would be below average. Because as emphasized in the intro to the series, ordinal ranking is less important than the actual WAR value. I think that typically, the WAR value of the 15th ranked team would be below the average of all 30 due to the uneven distribution of WAR (stars skew the mean up – the same reason mean income is typically higher than median income). As for whether the distribution of WAR throughout a team’s lineup affects anything, I doubt it. If anything, it would be better to have an uneven lineup so that your better hitters can have more at-bats.