Newman’s Own: Best Center Fielders of 2012

Seeing prospects in person is my passion. In 2012, I was fortunate enough to visit parks in five different leagues — collecting information and video on 200 legitimate prospects or more. The lists released over the next few weeks will highlight the best prospects I’ve seen in person at each position during the 2012 season. The rankings will be adjusted based on projected position at the major league level, not present position (in italics if ranking includes position shift). After writing the first three lists, I realized there’s really no way to keep statistical information out of the equation completely and focus on scouting/projection alone. This has caused me to hedge my bets a bit on high ceiling talents and focus more on the complete player. Additionally, understand this is not meant to be a complete list of the best prospects at each position across all of Minor League Baseball, but the best of what I’ve seen.

Previous Rankings:
The Catchers
The First Basemen
The Second Basemen
The Third Basemen
The Shortstops
The Corner Outfielders

1. Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins

For all of the prospect chatter about “five tool players”, few actually live up to those expectations in person. Buxton did and then some. In batting practice, he tattooed baseballs like few others I’ve seen and flashed elite defensive tools in outfield practice. He struggled in game action, striking out and tallying three, 6-3 ground outs, but I had already seen enough. In terms of ceiling alone, he’s up there with the best prospects I’ve scouted in person. My one concern is that prospect followers will lose faith if his power doesn’t play immediately. Based on his flat plane swing and line drive display in BP, tapping into his power potential will take time.

2. Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics

Once these pieces have included, I may wind up sliding Yoenis Cespedes into the top spot on my corner outfielders list. Until that time, he ranks as the second best center fielder seen in person this season. At 26, comparing him to a teenager (Buxton), is a bit of an apples and oranges argument. But if Cespedes is a 3-4 win player through his prime, then I’ll take Buxton as I perceive his floor to be similar due to added value from defense and speed. In the spring, my “Yoenis Cespedes: Instant Legend” piece was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but his progress throughout the season was remarkable.

Read my previous piece on Yoenis Cespedes

3. Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds (SS)

The most exciting player in minor league baseball, Hamilton ranks third due to the floor his speed and defensive potential allow for. I’m not sure how much Hamilton will hit at the Major League level, but if he can post an OBP of .330 with scratch defense, he’s a 2-3 win player with the potential for additional value. Never have I seen a player literally steal runs on a baseball field like Hamilton. Add to this his high OBP at the upper levels and I’m left no choice but to rank him higher than both Williams and Kepler — Players who I believe to have higher offensive ceilings.

Read my previous piece on Billy Hamilton

4. Mason Williams, New York Yankees

Williams has a higher ceiling than anybody on this list not named Buxton, but a ranking on floor alone would leave him out of the top-5. At his peak, Williams could be a plus defender with 15 home run, 30 stolen base potential and contact skills strong enough to offset so-so plate discipline. That’s an impact player in terms of WAR value. However, shoulder surgery and questions about temperament force me to question the likelihood of his being able to max out his potential.

Read my previous piece on Mason Williams

5. Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins

If I were certain Kepler’s future lies in center field, the temptation to rank him in the top-3 may have been too great. After watching him take batting practice, I came away extremely impressed with his swing and potential to hit for both average and power. Unfortunately, Kepler is already filling out meaning he may have to move to a corner at some point. After three season in short season baseball, Kepler will make his full season debut. I can’t help but wonder if his seemingly having been around forever already will negatively affect his prospect value. I’ve seen worse players this season who will crack a number of top-100′s.

6. Leonys Martin, Texas Rangers

Martin’s single best quality is he has a balanced set of skills and won’t hurt an organization in any area. If he pushes .280/.340 at the Major League level with 10-15 home runs and steals, that’s a pretty good player — Especially if his defense is in the average range. If Michael Brantley and Alejandro De Aza produced 2.7 WAR seasons in 2012, then I’m comfortable calling Martin a 2.5-3 win player at the Major League level through his prime.

7. Bubba Starling, Kansas City Royals

Given my serious reservations about Starling’s swing, his ranking wound up being much lower than readers will expect. To be clear, the Royals prospect is not a top-100 guy for me, nor is he a guy I’d aggressively push to acquire via trade if in a competing organization. However, if he can peak as a Chris Young lite, through his prime, then Starling is still an above average regular. In truth, Starling is the center field version of Tim Beckham for me. When I first saw the Rays product in 2009, I didn’t understand the hype surrounding him at all. The same can be said for Starling as far as I’m concerned.

Read my previous piece on Bubba Starling

8. Glynn Davis, Baltimore Orioles

For me, Glynn Davis had seven figure tools nearly as impressive as those of Mason Williams. However, his baseball skills were significantly less refined. Speed and athleticism are Davis’ calling cards, and influence everything he does on a baseball field. With reps and experience the hope is Davis’ baseball skills catch up to his tools and allow him to excel, instead of survive off of tools alone. If these rankings were based off of the ratio of signing bonus-to-tools, Davis and his $100,000 bonus would occupy the top spot.

9. Ryan Lamarre, Cincinnati Reds

I’ll be the first to say, “I just don’t see it” when discussing Lamarre’s potential to become a viable starter at the big league level. But for me to completely ignore the fact he was better than a league average hitter with some secondary skills to boot would be unfair of me. To be clear, he’s not a player I’d be looking to acquire, but he’s yet another guy with fourth outfielder possibilities. When that can be had on the cheap, it does have value.

10. Ben Gamel, New York Yankees

Gamel possesses the classic fourth outfielder profile of speed, left-handedness and the ability to play all three outfield spots. I’ve fielded questions about whether Brett Gardner and Gamel are a good comparison, but it just doesn’t work for me. Not only does Gardner walk twice as much at the game’s highest level, but his speed is significantly better as well. Without those traits, Gamel is more of an extra outfielder at the Major League level or strong organizational player.

11. Zach Cone, Texas Rangers

My infatuation with Zach Cone as a prospect is somewhat illogical, I admit. The Rangers prospect has above average raw tools, but presents as a bit stiff in his baseball movements. At 22, a 17 home run, 10 stolen base campaign in the South Atlantic League is fine on paper, but Cone was older than my personal cut off for prospects at the level. Regardless, I’d take a shot on him having seen Cone in both 2011 and 2012. In my first run through, Cone was ranked inside the top-10, but I was forced to drop him due to poor WAR values of backup outfielders with low average/moderate power skill sets.

12. Matt Lipka, Atlanta Braves

To Matt Lipka’s credit, his performance improved in the Carolina League after a disappointing full season debut in Rome. His best tool is speed, but the rest of Lipka’s game lags behind — Especially power where his inability to drive the baseball is his greatest negative. At present, the former first rounder is a fringe prospect with limited upside.

Friend in baseball, Jonathan Mayo, was kind enough to let me list and link back to his top-10 outfield prospects for FanGraphs readers to use as a frame of reference. Players I’ve seen will be bold/italicized. As this was a reader request, let me know if this is something you’d like to see added to previous “Newman’s Own” pieces as well.

Jonathan Mayo’s Top-10 Outfield Prospects

1. Wil Myers
2. Oscar Tavares
3. Christian Yelich
4. Bubba Starling
5. Byron Buxton
6. Jake Marisnick
7. Jackie Bradley
8. Mason Williams
9. Albert Almora
10. George Springer




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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.

27 Responses to “Newman’s Own: Best Center Fielders of 2012”

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  1. philosofool says:

    I’m confused by the presence of Yoenis Cespedes in this article. He’s a pro-ball player, not a prospect, at this point. If he’s qualified to be on this list, so is Mike Trout, right?

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  2. Heathcliff says:

    I’ve noticed that there are no Giants players are any of your lists, but the Giants’s top prospect is a center fielder. Is this a bad sign for their farm system?

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  3. JCA says:

    With neither Brian Goodwin nor Jackie Bradley Jr. on your list, did they not impress you or did you not see them?

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Goodwin was on the DL when Hagerstown passed through Rome. I was going to head to Greenville for the Sally league playoffs late in 2011 to see Bradley, but they lost a tiebreaker.

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  4. rusty says:

    Lord, every post, same questions (from readers who didn’t read the disclaimer paragraph)…

    Anyway, Mike, I know you haven’t seen David Dahl yet, but from what you’ve heard, do you think he’ll be in a full-season league next year? If he makes Asheville, I’ll look forward to your report.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Yes, I definitely expect to see him with Asheville. In looking at the Rome schedule, Asheville passes through in both April and May, so I should have plenty of information early on.

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  5. Steven says:

    Read the primer on the piece, guys. These are the prospects that he has seen IN PERSON.

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  6. stan says:

    As a Cardinal fan maybe I should just stop reading this columns. Somehow Newman has avoided seeing any Cardinal farm teams all year.

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    • El Vigilante says:

      Somehow = this is his hobby and he doesn’t live near Cardinals affiliates

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Mike Newman to Cardinals Affiliates

      Memphis = 409 miles
      Springfield = 657 miles
      Palm Beach = 633 miles
      Peoria = 666 miles

      I’ll refrain from snark, but the use of “somehow” implies that I live around the corner and ducked into a bathroom to dodge Cardinals prospects. Wait, that was snark. Sorry about that.

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  7. Phantom Stranger says:

    Leonys Martin will easily hit more than 10-15 homers in the small Texas park, once he gets accustomed to MLB pitching. He has a nice swing that will generate decent power once he grows into his man body.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      So you say. I’ll believe it when I see it.

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    • The Real Phantom Menace says:

      If only us gullible readers didn’t listen to the paid prospect analyst who has years of experience and knowledge and listened to the guy who posted this comment who has no experience and can’t even define what he proposes is the player’s qualities. WHEN WILL WE LEARN???

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      • Mike Newman says:

        It could happen, but I’d be surprised. Martin is a nice player, but not one that I’d consider to be an impact talent. I like him more for his high floor than whatever ceiling is left.

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  8. matt says:

    how is gregory polanco not on this list

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  9. Scott Ferris says:

    WHY DIDN’T YOU RANK MY FAVORITE PLAYER FROM THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST YOU DISCRIMINATING HATE MONGER!!!

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  10. chucknchino says:

    Great work — was a pleasure reading the whole series!

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  11. Richard Leo says:

    Hi mike,have you seen slade heathcott this year? why was he left out of your list?

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    • The Real Phantom Menace says:

      There is something about players who strike out more than once a game every season, don’t hit for much power and who can’t stay healthy that makes them not seem like a top prospect. I don’t really know why that is, though. Basically, though, he listed every legitimate CF prospect he saw. Heathcott is definitely a legitimate prospect, but he isn’t listed so……MAYBE he didn’t see the guy. Or maybe he hates the Yankees. Or maybe he hates people from the Northeast in general because of how they pronounce Worchester. Or maybe the Dodgers have hired someone to hold Mike hostage and type out prospect reports that will behoove Yankee fans making Yankee fans seem even more ridiculous which could eventually lead to the Dodgers becoming “America’s team”.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      I saw Heathcott in 2010 and didn’t like him much at all. At the time, I comped him to Melky Cabrera (when he was really bad) and took quite a bit of heat for it. If you check my chat with Marc Hulet from yesterday, I addressed Heathcott and discussed the swing-and-miss I mentioned then which still appears to be an issue.

      I was STUNNED at Heathcott being ranked #2 by Baseball America. To me, it’s more of a sign that the organization is down right now than the fact Heathcott is really a great prospect.

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  12. Mike says:

    What about Slade Heathcott? Back from injury, has been performing well, seems to have some hype back. Did you see him play this year?

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  13. YanksFanInBeantown says:

    Do you think you’ll ever get to go the AFL or is that just way, way, way too far a trip?

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