The American League is a stacked spot in centerfield with several quality All-Star candidates frozen out by the omnipotence of Texas’ Josh Hamilton and the position got even more loaded this year by the surprise emergence of the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout. The 20-year-old who didn’t do anything noteworthy in 123 at-bats last season got another chance when incumbent Peter Bourjos struggled, and Trout just took off. He’s hitting .338 and leading the American League. He’s got surprising power, with seven home runs keying a solid .531 slugging percentage and he plays good defense. Because of Hamilton, he’s not the best player at this spot, but his sudden development makes him the most consequential in the playoff race and Trout’s a worthy candidate to at least make a trip to Kansas City for the July 10 All-Star Game.
Three more players have All-Star caliber numbers—and of course while TheSportsNotebook differentiates between centerfielders and corner outfielders the actual All-Star ballot itself does not, meaning any of this trio could be starting in Kansas City. One who surely will be is New York’s Curtis Granderson. The batting average of .243 might not impress, but his plate discipline serves to tack on 100 points to the on-base percentage and he’s hit 21 home runs. Personally I don’t feel Granderson should get a spot—his range is a liability, and the OBP is still a little lower than I’d like to see from an All-Star, but there’s no denying he’s good and close enough that the numbers could change when TheSportsNotebook does this again in September.
The man the Yankees gave up to get Granderson, young Austin Jackson, is having a dynamic year in Detroit, albeit one slowed briefly by a stint on the disabled list. Jackson’s .398/.520 line for on-base percentage/slugging percentage exceeds the player he was dealt for and Jackson does it in a more pitcher-friendly environment. Baltimore’s Adam Jones, secure with a new long-term contract, is the big gun for the surprising Orioles, at .346/.561 and his showing in the defensive metrics is starting to match up with his immense physical talent. I would slot Jackson & Jones as clearly in the 2-3 spots for American League centerfielders, with Granderson in fourth, then a significant drop-off from there.
Before we go into drop-off territory, let’s pay tribute to the man who should get everyone’s vote for the All-Star Game. Hamilton’s stat line is .380/.651, he’s hit 23 home runs and he also plays the best defensive centerfield in the American League. He’s the best player on the best team at an important position up the middle and there’s nothing not to love about him.
Four players fall into the category of being decent contributors, while a ways off from the All-Star discussion. Alejandra De Aza for Chicago leads up this group with his .363 OBP making him the one man who can set the table for Paul Konerko on the South Side. Denard Span for Minnesota and Michael Saunders in Seattle each have OBP as their calling card, although at .343 and .330 respectively, neither one is anything dynamic. Saunders hits for more power—eight home runs to Span’s three—while the Twin centerfielder is better defensively. And finally we come to Toronto’s Colby Rasmus, After a slow start he’s gotten his power stroke back and has hit 14 home runs, with a nice .502 slugging. Rasmus is the most likely candidate in this group to have a breakout run in the second half and separate himself from this group.
Coco Crisp in Oakland and Jarrod Dyson for Kansas City don’t help you with the bat, but each can cover some ground in centerfield. In the vast expanse of Oakland-Alameda, that’s vitally important and if the lineup surrounding Crisp weren’t so awful his talents would fit in much better. In the case of Dyson, he’s got the lineup support that his offense isn’t essential and he’s still young with a chance to develop the bat. He’s one of several young, everyday Royals’ players who have to be wondering if their starting pitching will ever give them a chance to compete for a division title.
Cleveland’s Michael Brantley and Tampa’s B.J. Upton are both disappointments, and in the case of Upton he’s been overrated so long I wonder why anyone expects any more of him than the terrible .315/.388 stat line he’s posted so far in 2012, to go along with being of limited help in outfield defense. And no team has had more disappointment in centerfield than the Boston Red Sox, who don’t even have a name to add to the discussion. Jacoby Ellsbury’s early-season shoulder injury created the void. Then they traded for Marlon Byrd, who got hurt and is now suspended for steroid use. Scott Podsednik was proving a decent veteran fill-in and then he got hurt. If nothing else, Ellsbury’s return is only about a month away.