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Monday, February 16, 2009

MLB Prospect Watch: CF

While college basketball braces itself for the final stretch of conference play, ball players and fans alike are flocking to Florida and Arizona.  That's right, spring training has begun!  One of the things I'm most intrigued by is the possibility of seeing as many as eight rookie center fielders break camp with their big league club.  Although that number is a bit far-fetched, what is likely is seeing three or four earn opening day nods as the new starters.  Here's a quick glance at who I'm talking about:
  • Colby Rasmus, StLRasmus is probably the best center field prospect in the game.  He is a true five tool player who's defense is excellent.  He did struggle for the first half last year in AAA but his second half showed he figured things out.  I fully expect this guy to be a perennial all-star.  The Cardinals must think he's ready because Skip Schumaker has been working out at second base with the release of Adam Kennedy.  With Rasmus on the roster, Rick Ankiel will likely move to right field giving the Cards possibly the best outfield in the division.
  • Dexter Fowler, Col: Ryan Spilborghs is not the answer.  Fowler is the organization's top prospect and last year was given a September call up.  He doesn't have a lot of power but is blazing fast and plays good defense--an essential quality for that massive outfield.  Fowler's main competitor is probably Carlos Gonzalez but having Gonzalez in one of the corners seems to make more sense.  I see Fowler as the team's opening day leadoff hitter as well.
  • Cameron Maybin, Fla: Most die-hards will remember Maybin as the focal point of the package the Marlins received from Detroit for Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera.  After struggling to find a center fielder the last couple of years (Cody Ross can only hit like a CFer), the Marlins are poised to call up their man.  The strikeouts will always be a concern but the power and flashy leather are MLB ready.  Put him in the middle of the order and watch him grow.  He's as good as Mike Cameron right now.  
  • Andrew McCutcheon, Pit: The Pirates are keeping mum on where McCutcheon will start the season.  It seems likely they want him to earn his place.  The Pirates defense will improve significantly when he's out there since Nate McLouth is an awful defensive center fielder.  If McCutcheon doesn't earn an opening day nod he'll be sent back to AAA so he can play every day.  I think he makes the team.
Here's a few guys that are likely to debut and stick with the team some time during the summer:
  • Drew Stubbs, Cin: Another excellent defensive center fielder.  He has shortened his swing to improve his contact rate.  Even though it has resulted in limited his power it has n improved his on base percentage.  He also has the speed to steal 50 bases.  With Jay Bruce entrenched in right and future hall of shamer Wily Taveras in center, I think Stubbs is up by July.
  • Jordan Schafer, Atl: Schafer is probably most known for his 50 game suspension last year after he was linked to purchasing HGH.  That is now behind him so hopefully he will let his skills do the talking.  He has plus power, a good batting eye, above average speed, and is probably the best defensive center fielder in the minors.  That being said, he still struggles against lefties and tends to have slow starts reminiscent of Ryne Sandberg.  If Atlanta calls him up it won't be until someone has proven they can't handle being an every day starter (Francouer?).  I think he comes up in July-August.
  • Austin Jackson, NYY: Being pimped as the #1 prospect for the most famous baseball team in the world can't be easy, but Jackson has worked his way to the point where he's worth getting a chance in spring training.  He's not a great defender but has decent power and good speed.  Melky Cabrera, you have been warned.
  • Michael Saunders, Sea: Last season was Saunders' worst as a professional but the skills are there.  He has a good batting eye and lots of power.  Tacoma tends to be a difficult environment for offense so his stats look worse than they are.  If he has a solid first half I could see him getting called up to the bigs to form an outfield with Ichiro and Franklyn Gutierrez.  Wladimier Balentien probably gets moved to 1b/DH in that scenario. He's not the next centerpiece of a franchise like Griffey or ARod but this is exactly the type of player you want to build around if you're Seattle.
Am I forgetting anyone?  What do you think of the current list?  Please post your thoughts in the comments section.
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