Comparing Adam Jones, Jacoby Ellsbury, Colby Rasmus, Desmond Jennings, and Curtis Granderson.
We continue this comparison series with a tough group: center fielders. There is a lot of talent at that position, including on the Orioles where Adam Jones has not only become a very good baseball player, but also a great citizen of Baltimore.
Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles
It often seems like Orioles fans don't quite know what we have in Adam Jones. We complain about his defense, about his tendency to flail at the low, outside pitch, etc. But I think that the reason for that is that it's just so easy to imagine Adam Jones as a superstar. He seems so close that it's even more frustrating when he's not.
Anyway, 2012 was the best year so far in Jones' career. It's hard to believe that he just turned 27 in August given that it was his fifth season with the Orioles. In 2012 he hit .287/.334/.505 and even with his negative fielding marks, FanGraphs still gave him a WAR of 4.6. That ranked 29th among hitters in baseball and 15th among outfielders.
I think 2013 will bring more of the same from Adam. I expect 25-30 home runs, 30-40 doubles, acceptable but at times frustrating on-base skills, and decent defense with the occasional spectacular play. And I'm doing to do my best to appreciate him for the very good baseball player he is.
After a good season in 2010 with the Cardinals, Rasmus wore out his welcome in St. Louis and was traded to the Blue Jays, much to my chagrin. But to this point I've had no reason to have worried. Rasmus has shown power, hitting 23 home runs last year, but the dude just cannot get on base and he can't hit left-handed pitching.
The good news for the Blue Jays is that Rasmus will only be 26 in 2012, so it's too early to call him a bust yet. But it's really hard to get past his .223/.289/.400 hitting line last season.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox
So I know I'm supposed to hate all things Red Sox, but I have to admit that I do not hate Jacoby Ellsbury. I don't want him to do well because he plays for a division rival, but otherwise I have no problem with him.
Ellsbury has been injured in two of the last three seasons, but in the one season the wasn't, he was awesome. It's hard to say what he'll do at the plate if he's healthy for all of 2013, but I think his defense will be strong and his base running skills will be above average. He probably won't OPS .928, but he'll still be a great guy to have at the top of a lineup.
Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees
As long as Curtis Granderson is on the Yankees, he'll most likely hit a ton of home runs. He's always had power, but Yankee Stadium is the perfect fit for him, homer-wise. His OBP dropped last year to .319, but I expect that'll bounce back to a more respectable level in 2013, especially since he's always been a guy who will take a walk. If you're into the projections, Bill James projects that he'll hit .244/.332/.480, compared to his actual 2012 line of .222/.319/.492.
Granderson will be 32 in 2013, which makes him the old man of A.L. East center fielders, and it's last year before hitting free agency.
With the departure of B.J. Upton, Desmond Jennings is set to take over in center field for the Rays. Jennings played CF almost exclusively in the minors, but his time so far in the majors has been mostly in LF due to Upton.
It's tough to guess what Jennings will do in 2013. In the minors he showed very good on-base skills and good, but not outstanding power. He has played in just over 200 games in three seasons in the majors, with 132 of them coming in 2012. He saw both his OBP and SLG take a dip, but it could easily rebound with a full season in the majors.
Jennings is touted for his defense, and moving to center field will certainly increase his value for the team.
My rank? It's tough and I'd say that other than Rasmus firmly in last place, the talent level is pretty clustered together. But I'll go Ellsbury, Jones, Granderson, Jennings, and Rasmus. Jennings is certainly capable of jumping up a few notches, but hasn't proven himself yet. Ellsbury might not bounce back fully from his injuries or could get hurt again, who knows? I do think that there is a ton of talent here, and it wouldn't surprise me to see any of these guys (even Rasmus) with a big year.