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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Catching up with the CF prospects of 2009

Two years ago I wrote a post about the top center field prospects in baseball.  In that post I gave a basic rundown of the skills each player was expected to bring to the table as well as my best guess as to win they'd make their MLB debut.  In September I revisited the issue with an overview of how each player fared during the 2009 season but I've failed to look at these guys as a collective group since.  I've been in a bit of a rut so why not bring it up now?

Below I've ranked the eight players discussed in the two previous installments by their performance thus far (along with their career totals).

Andrew McCutchen, Pit: 326 G .287/.370/.465 75 2B, 16 3B, 38 HR, 67/87 SB, 10.9 WAR
McCutchen continues to exceed my expectations. After finishing a distant fourth in ROY voting in 2009, he duplicated his success in 2010 showing everyone it was no fluke.  This year he's elevated his game to a whole new level. He's already mashed 10 HR and stolen 12 bases while improving his defense to the point where not winning a gold glove would be a gross oversight by the voters. As of today he ranks third in the National League in WAR meaning he's achieved superstar status. Give the man a raise!

Drew Stubbs, Cin: 261 G .261/.333/.435 37 2B, 8 3B, 39 HR, 60/72 SB, 9.4 WAR
Once allowed to play everyday, Stubbs immediately brought power and speed to the lineup. Last season he hit 22 home runs and stole 30 bases. Not bad for a guy playing in his first full season. And currently, he leads the NL in runs scored although that is more a result of him being installed as the leadoff hitter than him being a great on-base man.  I noted earlier he plays excellent defense but he's actually better than that. While defensive stats are often questionable for single season data, Stubbs earned 5.2 defensive WAR last year alone! Whether that's perfectly accurate or not, it puts him in the category of Defensive God.

Colby Rasmus, StL: 355 G .264/.340/.448 62 2B, 11 3B, 44 HR, 20/30 SB, 7.1 WAR
I have not changed my stance on him one bit. This guy is going to be great. Luckily for Cardinal fans he's not far away from achieving it.  In 2008 he hit 16 home runs but only had a .307 on-base percentage to go along with his .407 slugging percentage. He did play a very good center field and put up a total WAR of 2.8.  Last season he was even better and hit 23 home runs while upping his percentages to .276/.361/.498. His defense did slip but he still put up 4.3 WAR - an excellent number for a center fielder. The only nitpick right now is he still struggles versus left-handed pitching.

Austin Jackson, Det: 218 G .282/.338/.393 47 2B, 15 3B, 7 HR, 37/45 SB, 4.7 WAR
Jackson narrowly lost out on winning the A.L. Rookie of the Year last season. A hot start catapulted his candidacy early but he couldn't avoid a summer fade. Jackson hit 34 doubles and 10 triples last year while stealing 27 bases. Speed has never been an issue but contact is as he also led the league with 170 whiffs last year. An average defensive player, as long as Jackson maintains his speed he'll be valuable. If he can up his walk to strikeout ratio (47:170) he'll be even more than that.

Cameron Maybin, SD: 220 G .251/.317.390 32 2B, 8 3B, 18 HR, 26/33 SB, 3.1 WAR
It seems like forever ago when Maybin made his debut with the Tigers, right? That was 2007 and he's been traded twice since then. Now in San Diego and still only 24, Maybin appears to have landed with an organization whose willing to let him learn through his struggles instead of sending him back down to AAA. He's never been expected to hit for average but he'll need to up his walk rate for teams to take him seriously.  There is power there but that's just one of the many aspects of his game that remains inconsistent. I can't say what to expect out of him anymore but I think at worst he can stick around in the league as a fourth outfielder.

Dexter Fowler, Col: 337 G .255/.349/.391 62 2B, 29 3B, 10 HR, 42/66 SB, 2.1 WAR
Fowler is a guy I was convinced would turn out to be an impact player. With his gap power and excellent speed, I felt like he was the perfect fit for Coors Field. Though he did lead the league with 14 triples in 2010, Fowler has really struggled since becoming a starter in 2009. He's still not a great base stealer and he's prone to stretches where he makes no contact (100+ strikeouts in '08 & '09 and 66 already this year).  Fowler desperately needs to find consistency or the Rockies may be forced to look elsewhere for a player who will provide more help to their playoff aspirations.

Michael Saunders, Sea: 191 G .203/.270/.318 17 2B, 5 3B, 12 HR, 14/20 SB, -0.3 WAR
No offense to Mr. Saunders but this is the one guy I wasn't sold on as a prospect.  Too many swings and misses with a below average walk rate meant he'd have to play good defense to stick. Unfortunately for Saunders, the Mariners have an elite defensive center fielder in Franklin Gutierrez, so Saunders was moved to left.  Newsflash sports fans: Michael Saunders doesn't hit well enough to be an everyday left fielder. Compounding matters is the fact that his GM is feeling a lot of pressure from the owner to put a competitive team on the field which likely reduces the amount of time Saunders has to prove himself. I'm sure he'll have a season or two where he manages to hit .250 with 20-25 home runs but that could be several years down the road and not in Seattle.

Jordan Schafer, Atl: 68 G .209/.312/.297 10 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 9/12 SB, -0.7 WAR
When Schafer was sent back to the minors in 2009 it was revealed he had a significant wrist injury that he tried to play through.  That injury not only cost him experience, it appears to have altered the type of player he will become. He no longer smokes line drives to the gaps or rips balls down the lines for extra bases. Instead he's relying more on speed; improving his bunting technique and excelling as a runner. Not that it's bad, but his defense hasn't been quite at the level that was expected either. A player with this skill set can play in the majors it just likely won't be with Atlanta. Still, with an injuries to the Braves outfielders an opportunity has presented itself for him to showcase his worth and prove his doubters wrong.
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