As we continue our series comparing the AL East position-by-position, we take a look at center field. Top to bottom, one could argue that this division features some of the best players in the entire major leagues. Gold gloves, silver slugger awards, and high expectations can be associated with each of the following players, making it hard to distinguish who among them is the best.
1. Adam Jones - Baltimore Orioles
Jones' combination of offensive production and defensive prowess put the Orioles on the top of yet another positional list. In 2013, the San Diego native tallied a career-high in both home runs (33) and runners batted in (108) on his way to a silver slugger award. After recording only two errors last season, a career-best number, Jones also collected his third gold glove. Jones has only missed two games over the last two seasons, and at only 27 years old, the three-time All-Star is in the middle of his prime. One downside to Jones, however, is that he does not draw very many walks, leading to a low on-base percentage. If he continues to hit 30+ home runs, as he has over the past two seasons, a low OBP is something that Buck Showalter and the Orioles can live with.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury - New York Yankees
This past offseason, Ellsbury traded in his Red Sox uniform for some pinstripes when he signed a seven year, $153 million deal with the Yankees. Although Jones' recent deal with Orioles came at a bargain price (six years, $85 million) compared to Ellsbury's, they are both worth every penny. One of the premier center fielders in the majors, when healthy, the career .298 hitter will bring a new dimension to the top of the Yankees lineup that the team has lacked in Derek Jeter's declining years. Although he just turned 30 and his stats will eventually decline, Ellsbury has shown no signs, yet, as he led the league in stolen bases (52) for the third time in his career.
3. Colby Rasmus - Toronto Blue Jays
One of the most underrated players in baseball, Rasmus' reputation has not allowed him to gain the recognition he deserves. Once a top prospect of the St. Louis Cardinals, Rasmus had a falling out with then-manager Tony LaRussa, ultimately leading to his departure from the Gateway City. An uninspired first season with Toronto, coupled with a Cardinals World Series championship made Rasmus into a scapegoat, but the 27 year old has been on a tear since. Back-to-back 20 home run seasons lead me to believe that it is possible that, if healthy, Rasmus can continue to progress into the five-tool player that he was once projected to be.
4. Desmond Jennings - Tampa Bay Rays
Although he is only 27 years old, Jennings' slow progression to the majors is his downfall. While he is still young and can obviously can progress into a star, Jones and Rasmus have two or three years more experience than Jennings, despite being the same age. In his second full year at the major league level, and first year in center after the departure of BJ Upton, Jennings showed off a combination of power and speed, tallying 14 home runs and 20 stolen bases. By no means was it an easy task moving from the corner outfield position, but if he can improve defensively, Jennings will move up this list.
5. Jackie Bradley, Jr. - Boston Red Sox
Ranked by many as the top prospect in the Red Sox organization, Bradley, Jr., will have some large shoes to fill during his first full season in the majors. After splitting time between the show and Triple-A, Bradley, Jr., will try to replace the departed Ellsbury in center field. An absurd spring training led many to believe he would light the world on fire last season, but the rookie had a tough time adjusting to the majors, batting only .189 in 37 games played. Despite this, his .275 batting average out of the lead off spot for the PawSox shows he has the potential to be a star for many years to come. However, it may take time for the 24 year old speedster to develop into an all-star worthy of better mention on this list.