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Miami’s Centerfield Vice

Posted By Eno Sarris On December 5, 2011 @ 2:15 pm In Outfielders | 14 Comments

The first domino has fallen in Miami. Jose Reyes will be the shortstop, for the next couple of years at least, and Hanley Ramirez will play third base. That second domino has pushed the Marlins’ remaining position battle into centerfield. Who will emerge from the three-headed beast at that position in 2012? Crockett got the occasional urge for stability in his life, but it’s chaos that produces fantasy value picks. Let’s break down the three candidates.

Chris Coghlan
After a ROY debut in 2009, Coghlan took a Testarossa down the WAR curve in his second and third years. Some of it was injury, for sure — knee surgery felled him for just less than half a season in 2010, and that same knee cost him another two months in 2011. Strangely enough, the second DL stint for the knee problem came as a result of a public admission from Coghlan that his knee still hurt. That admission only came upon learning that he was going to be demoted for his poor play. So the knee is an issue, and it alone could push Coghlan to the minor leagues to prove he’s healthy to begin the year. Recent rumors have said as much.

But some of his poor play can also be blamed, to some extent, on his BABIP. When he was the toast of the town in his rookie year, hitting .321 with nine home runs and eight stolen bases in 565 plate appearances, his BABIP was .365. When he hit .268 with five home runs and ten stolen bases in his follow-up (400 PAs), his BABIP was .336. When he struggled along to a .230 batting average and five home runs and seven stolen bases in 298 PAs last season, his BABIP was .263. As a guy who hits more of his balls on the ground (career 1.70 GB/FB) and has some speed, his BABIP could sit comfortably above .300. In fact, his career BABIP (.332) and xBABIP (.328) line up pretty well.

Give him that BABIP, and a full healthy year, the 26-year-old lefty could easily put up a batting average just short of .280 with 10/10 upside… and plenty of runs atop a revamped Miami lineup. But how likely is all of that to happen, especially with the other players on this roster?

Emilio Bonifacio
Speaking of BABIP, here’s a player that’s even more dependent on his BABIP than Coghlan. Bonifacio put up a .252 batting average with a .312 BABIP in 509 PAs in 2009, so he depends upon an extreme BABIP to put up fantasy value. Extreme, like last year’s .372 number. He didn’t even manage a .300 batting average with that BABIP! Even with wheels like a Ferrari and 24% line drives, Boni’s xBABIP last year was .361 — and in all likelihood, the career 21.6% line drive hitter won’t repeat that stroke again next year. Give him his career line drive percentage, and his xBABIP drops to .354.

If Coghlan doesn’t have much power, his career ISO (.131) is still almost twice as nice as Bonifacio’s career ISO (.079). If Coghlan’s defense is a work in progress, Bonifacio’s has been a proven negative at every infield position. If Coghlan’s patience could take a step forward (8.6% career), he’s already a step ahead of Bonifacio (8.2% career). Bonifacio strikes out more, too.

But Bonifacio’s defense does look fine in the outfield. In over 750 innings in the outfield, he’s managed a +7.1 UZR/150 — and he obviously has the wheels to handle center. Since the 26-year-old switch hitter is coming off a strong season as utility guy on the infield, he’s probably the favorite for the centerfield role going into the season. And, as a guy that will probably have eligibility at shortstop (67 games), third base (36 games), every outfield position (32/16/15 LF/CF/RF), and maybe even second base (five games), he’ll be a great bench piece, backup, or head-to-head utility piece on teams lacking speed late in drafts next year.

As Crockett once said “First a junkie, now a hooker. I think I’ve been in the business too long, I’m starting to fall for the players.” Don’t fall for Bonifacio too hard — beware the BABIP regression, and his total lack of power.

Bryan Petersen
Hey, the Marlins actually have a player that was groomed for centerfield on their roster. He has experience at the position! Hey, if Miami hasn’t got it, they haven’t invented it yet, am I right.

If they want to go with the actual centerfielder they’ve got and not invent a new one, they might actually get the player with the best plate discipline in Petersen. In his first extended playing time last year, the 25-year-old rookie walked 10.8% of the time, and that’s right in line with his minor league work. He struck out 20.3% of the time, but his worst rate in the high minor leagues was 17.1% at Triple-A. He could whittle some of that league-average strikeout rate down.

His power was spotty down on the farm, oscillating from a .099 ISO in Triple-A in 2010 to a .218 number on the same team a year later. Most feel that he could manage league-average power, even if he’s a threat to struggle against same-handed pitchers (he showed less power against lefties at most stops in the minor leagues). Petersen does add some speed. He stole seven bases against one caught stealing last year and would be a threat to add double-digit stolen bases with more playing time.

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Given that Petersen has the most experience at the position, he’s probably a lock to make the roster out of spring training. If Bonifacio’s good batted-ball-luck continues through spring, he might earn the starting role as the season begins, but the team will still need a defensive replacement and lefty hitter on the bench, so Petersen will get a major league uniform.

Coghlan needs to recover his standing on the team and will most likely begin the minor leagues. Don’t forget about him completely, though. Since he strikes out less than Petersen, and has some power upside of his own to go with similar speed, and was a second baseman by trade, the potential for a starting role somewhere on the team (and fantasy relevance) is still there for him. He might be taking the low road to that value, but the low road sometimes takes you the more interesting route.


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