September 23, 2011; Pittsburgh,PA, USA: Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) doubles against the Cincinnati Reds during the third inning at PNC Park. (Image: Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE)

Ranking the NLC Center Fielders: McCutchen Leads the Way

Ever have one of those things that you continually switch things around only to find you’re back at the first time you laid out your plans? I experienced that when it came to ranking the National League Central’s crop of center fielders. I attempted to rank them at least ten times…with ten outcomes.

Well, except for who I had atop my list. And there should be little doubt who that is, Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

After that is where I had all the difficulty. My second choice wavered no less than three times. The final three changed every time. Then I looked back at my first list…and I knew it was the one.

I’m sure this will bring about some discussion.

1. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
Clearly the top guy. Coming off a down year, but Cutch took on a different offensive role last season. Having a season to adjust (should Clint Hurdle keep him in the same role), McCutchen is set to do some awe-inspiring things in 2012.

Yes, a bit of a bounceback is in order.

Estimated WAR: 4.3

2. Drew Stubbs Cincinnati,
For all the grief we give him about, well, you know, he’s one of many players that are “just that close”. Control the obvious and this guy is as complete a player as there is on the Reds roster.

I see a better offensive season in 2012. A 20/40 season is not beyond a possibility.

Estimated WAR: 2.8

3. Jon Jay, St. Louis
Gets a little lost in the shuffle with the other names on the roster. Will most likely be the same for 2012 as well with Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran as the other guys in the outfield. Will most likely be asked to cover a little more ground defensively.

Was a key cog for the Cards in 2011.

Estimated WAR: 1.8

4. Marlon Byrd, Chicago
Still has a little pop and can hit for a decent average. With a new skipper, his role could change as the season wears on. The better the Cubs are with him in the lineup, the more we will see of him.

I hope the Cubs do start well as if there is one Cub for which I have a soft pot, it’s Byrd.

Estimated WAR: 2.0

5. Nyjer Morgan, Milwaukee
Who is this guy? Is he Tony Plush? Tony Gumbo? Nyjer Morgan? Once Morgan figures out who he is, then we can do the same.

For all the fuss about Morgan and his “attitude”, he’s not a bad player.

Estimated WAR: 1.6

6. Jordan Schafer, Houston
Another one where the depth chart may be a bit deceiving. The Astros got another guy by the name of Jason Bourgeois (listed as #2 CF) that should see a lot of playing time, too. How long before the Astros move to Bourgeios? He is a better offensive threat than Schafer.

Interesting thing is when I complied the WAR estimates, both Schafer and Bourgeois are identical.

Estimated WAR: 0.7


1. McCutchen
2. Stubbs
3. Jay
4. Byrd
5. Morgan
6. Schafer

Putting the McCutchen as the #1 was by far the easiest move. Same could be said about putting Schafer at the bottom, too. It’s those four spots in between where I tussled with this.

In the end, it came down to Stubbs as second and I honestly believe he is the best of the remaining four. I know Byrd is an All-Star. I know Jay contributed a lot to the Cards 2011 season. I know Morgan can stir a pot better than anyone. Honestly, Stubbs has the biggest upside of the four. Reds fans, including myself, maybe expect a little too much from him, but the talent is surely there. We haven’t seen a package like the one Stubbs owns in quite a while.

That contribution from Jay in the Cards drive to the 2011 World Series title is exactly why I could not place him below third. That left Byrd and Morgan. You might say I overlooked Morgan’s role in the Brewers winning the division last season. Both could be pushed by others in order to keep their starting job.

True, but I can see Byrd being a starter for a longer period of time. In fact, I’m not so sure Carlos Gomez won’t be tabbed as the Brewers starting center fielder when 2012 starts. If the possible 50-game suspension of Ryan Braun were to affect anyone outside of Braun, it might be Morgan as he would be the benefactor of more playing time.


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Tags: Andrew McCutchen Baseball Chicago Cubs Cincinnati Reds Drew Stubbs Houston Astros Jon Jay Jordan Schafer Marlon Byrd Milwaukee Brewers MLB National League NL Central NL Central Division Nyjer Morgan Pittsburgh Pirates St Louis Cardinals

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