Nothing concrete at center field in AL West
There are no guarantees when it comes to center field in the American League West.
The only lock in center on Opening Day figures to be in Anaheim where Peter Bourjos will start. But he's got the organization's top prospect behind him.
Texas has several options in center and Oakland's two highest-paid players have played the position throughout their careers. Seattle's best bet – Franklin Gutierrez – figures to open the season on the disabled list.
Here are the rankings in the West as of now.
1. Los Angeles – The Angels have no lack of speed in center with Peter Bourjos, who took over as the full-time center fielder for the Angels last year and continued to progress as the season went on. He ended up hitting 12 homers and collecting 43 RBI to go with 22 stolen bases. Despite his speed, Bourjos doesn't figure in the mix as a leadoff hitter because he still strikes out too much (124 times last season) and doesn't get on base enough (.327 OBP). What he does do, though, is run down every ball in center. Bourjos hasn't been pushed this spring by uber prospect Mike Trout because Trout has been slowed by an illness that's sapped him of his strength and has kept him from seeing any action in the Cactus League as of yet. Eventually, the Angels are going to have a position battle in center between Bourjos and Trout, but the job is Bourjos' for now.
Team production in 2011: .257 average, 13 home runs, 48 RBI, .720 OPS
Expected production in 2012: .275 average, 15 home runs, 70 RBI, .775 OPS
2. Oakland – The Athletics have put most of their money into players who can patrol center. The incumbent is Coco Crisp, who is coming off one of his best seasons and resigned with Oakland in the offseason – he was briefly the team's highest-paid player. Crisp stole 49 bases last season and had eight homers and 54 RBI. Those numbers could end up in left field, though, as Oakland made a big splash by signing Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four year, $36 million deal. Oakland doesn't give that kind of money to a player unless he's going to play. He might not start the season in center and could end up splitting time with Crisp, but he's going to play somewhere. He was a centerfielder in Cuba and has been splitting time with Crisp so far this spring. If Crisp starts, he's move of a known commodity. If it's Cespedes, he's an unknown with huge upside.
Team production in 2011: .266 average, 8 home runs, 64 RBI, .704 OPS
Expected production in 2012: .260 average, 20 home runs, 75 RBI, .700 OPS
3. Texas – This ranking is subject to change depending on what the Rangers decide to do in the outfield. Josh Hamilton prefers to play center, which would move the Rangers to the top of the rankings. However, the Rangers prefer him to play in left, which is where he's seen the majority of action the last two years. That leaves center in the likely hands of either Craig Gentry or Julio Borbon. The Rangers could end up platooning the two with Gentry hitting from the right and Borbon from the left. Gentry played in 64 games, hit .271 and played well in center. His biggest problem has been remaining healthy – he sprained his left wrist Tuesday. Borbon has been the Opening Day starter in each of the last two years. Injuries and inconsistency killed his 2011 season, and he ended up having ankle surgery after suffering an injury while playing in the minors. The Rangers would like one of the two to win the job, which would free up a bench spot. Of course, there's always Hamilton looming.
Team production in 2011: .277 average, 15 home runs, 69 RBI, .737 OPS
Expected production in 2012: .270 average, 10 home runs, 60 RBI, .675 OPS
4. Seattle – A disastrous 2011 season for Franklin Gutierrez has already carried over to 2012. Gutierrez will miss the start of the season after injuring his right pectoral muscle earlier this spring. He's hoping to return in April. Injuries are nothing new to Gutierrez, unfortunately. Last year, he played in just 92 games for Seattle because of a strained oblique and a stomach issue. When he did play, he wasn't very effective, batting just .224 with one homer and 19 RBI. He was healthy in 2009 and 2010 and averaged 15 homers and 67 RBI during that span. He's also an excellent defender, having won a Gold Glove in 2010, not having made an error in 279 games. Until Gutierrez is healthy, the Mariners will mix and match in center, with Michael Saunders, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson and Chone Figgins all being possibilities.
Team production in 2011: .201 average, 7 home runs, 39 RBI, .532 OPS
Expected production in 2012: .250 average, 10 home runs, 50 RBI, .650 OPS