The CF wave

Baseball is a highly cyclical environment. Over time, we see shifts in strengths between positions due to seemingly random patterns. In the mid-90s, MLB saw an influx of offensive talent at shortstop that surpassed any that had been seen before – Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejada pushed the SS position into new offensive territory.

Then, it shifted, and third base seemed to be the spot where talent was flowing. Adrian Beltre, Aramis Ramirez, Eric Chavez, Troy Glaus, Hank Blalock, and Mark Teixeira all arrived within a few years of one another.

There’s another one of these talent surges in process right now, and it’s taking place in center field. The amount of talent currently playing center field in major league baseball is just astounding. Here’s the list of CFs, aged 26 and younger, who have gotten playing time in the majors during the first month of the 2009 season.

Grady Sizemore, Cleveland, 26
Franklin Gutierrez, Seattle, 26
Michael Bourn, Houston, 26
Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston, 25
Chris Young, Arizona, 25
Denard Span, Minnesota, 25
Elijah Dukes, Washington, 25
Brett Gardner, New York, 25
B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay, 24
Matt Kemp, Los Angeles, 24
Melky Cabrera, New York, 24
Ryan Sweeney, Oakland, 24
Adam Jones, Baltimore, 23
Dexter Fowler, Colorado, 23
Carlos Gomez, Minnesota, 23
Colby Rasmus, St. Louis, 22
Cameron Maybin, Florida, 22
Jordan Schafer, Atlanta, 22

That’s 18 young center fielders headed towards the prime of their careers. Obviously, guys like Sizemore, Upton, Jones, and Kemp are on another level compared toBourn, Gardner, and Sweeney, but it’s still fairly easy to pick 10 or so of the guys off that list and call them future all-stars. Or, in a couple of cases, current all-stars.

This is just a ridiculous amount of talent all coming into age at the same time. Even moreso than the SS/3B waves mentioned earlier, this one contains both elite talents and a lot of depth. Half of the teams in major league baseball are in possession of a young, talented center fielder. Some of them will flame out while others will move to the corner OF spots, but overall, we’re looking at CF becoming a very strong position going forward for the next 5 to 10 years.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

30 Responses to “The CF wave”

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  1. azruavatar says:

    Colby Rasmus will be the best player on that list.
    /bias

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    • Shaun says:

      I am myself a large Card’s fan azru, but its hard to deny the level of play Sizemore has already established. Other than that, though, Rasmus looks to be able to be the next best.

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      • cpebbles says:

        Rasmus is starting to lose some of his luster to me. He’s only 22, but after his offseason workout regimen I suspect he’s as physically strong this season as he’s ever going to be, and he just isn’t showing enough power to be a star. It’s not a matter of lacking a “power stroke” either: Several times he’s swung for the fences, made solid contact, and came up just short of the warning track. I hope he proves me wrong, but I’m starting to think he’s a 15 HR guy in his prime.

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      • tom s. says:

        @cpebbles

        Uhh, I thought power peaks between 28 and 30 or so. Not 22. And didn’t rasmus already have a 29 homer season at aa? In the hitter-unfriendly texas league?

        Going on 50-60 pa’s to say that a 22yo will never develop serious power seems a little overboard.

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      • cpebbles says:

        He had a big year in a bandbox in Springfield, though he performed on the road also. The Texas League, however, is a definite hitters’ league. I acknowledged his age, but the guy spent the entire offseason adding muscle and it resulted in warning track power despite the refined swing. I’m not sure why he isn’t hitting the ball harder, but I do know that he isn’t doing it. Maybe he’s going to pack on more muscle and make good, but as of now what I see is a guy with a power hitter’s approach and swing, but not his power. He’s still a good player, but I’m starting to doubt his upside.

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      • Fresh Hops says:

        29 home runs in a hitters league at 20 is still 29 home runs at 20. Too much weight on a small sample. Honestly, it’s almost like you’re schilling to get someone to trade this kid to you in a keeper league.

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      • cpebbles says:

        I hate fantasy baseball, and I’m not putting my weight on a small sample of statistics, I’m putting it on subjective observation. He’s hit the ball quite well several times this season, and it simply didn’t carry enough to be out of the park unless it was down the line.

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      • Davidceisen says:

        I remember watching Chase Utley right when he came into the majors and constantly seeing him making solid contact only to fly out to just before the warning track. He was also about two years older than Rasmus. All of this really means nothing, except don’t trust subjective judgments on young players.

        Also, even if Rasmus is a 15 HR guys, I think it speaks to the depth of CF that this would be looked at as a disappointment.

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  2. Fresh Hops says:

    You could put Jay Bruce on that list too. I know he’s been in RF more than half his short career, but the kid has the range of a average CF. He struggled with errors, but not with range, as a defender last season. Also, with Corey Patterson available (and no one particularly better) it made sense to shifty Bruce to RF. He might not have plus defense in center, but his WAR is going to eclipse several guys on this list.

    Isn’t Jason Heyward a CF too?

    BTW, aruavater, while bias may be the source of your comment, I’m not sure that you aren’t right nevertheless. Rasmus approach at the plate is pretty incredible; if he finds a power stroke, he’ll become an all-star.

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  3. heroes_villains says:

    sure josh hamilton is 27 (a year older than the cutoff for the article) but i think he deserves a inclusion in this discussion

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    • Eric Cioe says:

      If you open it up to 27, I think you can include Curtis Granderson in that discussion too. Even going a bit older, there is Andruw Jones and Torii Hunter. It is really interesting to track how some positions work over time. I’m just waiting for clubs to start taking advantage of 2B for offense. I can’t believe that there aren’t more players in the Utley/Kinsler mold there.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Alternatively, I can’t believe that more clubs aren’t taking advantage of third base for defense. If the positional adjustments are correct, defensive value at second, third, and center are all roughly equivalent, yet two are seen as premium defensive positions, and one as a power position.

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      • joser says:

        Second is still the “quick feet” position, and smaller guys who can turn the double get put there, so that tends to filter out the power bats. At the lower levels, the guys who have great skills and athleticism but just happen to be small end up at second, and that continues through to the majors. Pedroia is the model, not Utley.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        I didn’t say they required the same defensive skill sets, I said that the defense was worth approximately the same.

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  4. Jordan Gillis says:

    Justin Upton isn’t a CF?

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  5. matt says:

    I agree – Granderson should be on this list.

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  6. steve says:

    Andrew McCutchen should be on this list as well.

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  7. Evan says:

    Damn you, Bill Bavasi. Damn you.

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  8. R M says:

    For all the guys mentioning prospects, one of the requirements was MLB playing time in 2009.

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  9. e poc says:

    Nary a mention of Lastings Milledge. I don’t want to believe he’s flamed out, but he sure fell off the radar pretty quick.

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  10. mattsd says:

    Matt Kemp has had a phenomenal start.

    He is still striking out at a really high rate, but he is aslo walking. If he can maintain his defensive improvements (and stick in CF), even if his offensive numbers normalize to just above average instead of elite, Kemp is a really good player.

    Is there a better under-25 player in baseball that was pretty much ignored by the scouting community?

    Kemp appeared on BA’s top 100 only once- at 96. And he seems to be exactly BA’s cup of tea. Huge, fast, strong arm, power potential, etc.

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  11. ldd233 says:

    Wait a minute, the other day ESPN said the hot new position was second base. Who should I believe?

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    • Davidceisen says:

      With much the same language as well…

      The difference would be, though, that 2nd is filled with players in their primes, whereas CF is filled with potential stars in the making entering their prime.

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  12. biased also says:

    i think of all those players, Rasmus has the highest ceiling(Sizemore-esque or Jim Edmonds would be good comps). Fowler, Kemp, Jones, and Upton will be regular all-stars.

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  13. Tom says:

    Hey, isn’t it time for another “Elijah Dukes is the best player ever’ pieces by the fangraphs staff? It’s been almost two weeks!

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    • Kevin S. says:

      There’s a big difference between “He’s the best player ever” and “he’s a young talented player who should be getting at bats every day and not riding the pine in favor of aging hack who have no future with a terrible team.”

      Oh, and he’s got a .348 wOBA right now, and have we mentioned he’s only 24 years old? But yeah, by all means, the staff here isn’t wrong for criticizing the Nats giving Austin Kearns and Josh Willingham PT over him.

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      • Tom says:

        It’s ok if you guys have mancrushes on Dukes. I think it’s rather cute. FYI Austin Kearns has an wOBA of .411.

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  14. Kevin S. says:

    Austin Kearns has an established track record of being not good and has no immediate future with the team.

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  15. Beckham says:

    ?????? ? ??????? ????? ???????? ?????-?????? ?????????? ???????, ?? ??? ?? ??????????! :)

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