Potential in center gives LA the edge in West

March 20, 2013

There are lots of questions in centerfield in the American League West.

Can Peter Bourjos take the job in Los Angeles? How about Coco Crisp in Oakland? Who's in center for Texas? Can Franklin Gutierrez hold up in Seattle.

There's lots of talent in center in the division but there are no guarantees either.

Here's a look at the rankings in the AL West.

1. Los Angeles – Maybe this should be No. 1 with an asterisk by it. The Angels would love for Peter Bourjos to put a stranglehold on centerfield in Los Angeles. If he does that, then the Angels are set with Josh Hamilton in right and Mike Trout in left. But if Bourjos can't get the job done, Trout and Hamilton enter the picture and the Angels would have to tinker with what they hope is a powerful lineup. Bourjos rarely played for the Angels after the All-Star break last season, finishing the season with just a .220 average in 168 at-bats as Trout played center. No one doubts his speed or his defensive ability, but he has to hit a little to play. He's capable of doing it. He batted .271 for the Angels in 2011 and was an everyday player. He's shown it again this spring, batting .368 through his first 14 games this spring.

Team production in 2012: .292 average, 24 home runs, 79 RBI, .835 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .280 average, 20 home runs, 70 RBI, .750 OPS

2. Oakland – The Athletics have two solid options in center but are going to go with the veteran Coco Crisp to start the season. Chris Young, who was acquired from Arizona, will back up Crisp and play elsewhere in the outfield as well. Crisp started slowly last season but over the final four months of the season he hit over .270 with 11 home runs. He finished the year batting .259 and stole 39 bases. Young is a different kind of centerfielder. He doesn't steal bases like Crisp but has more power. He had 27 home runs and 91 RBI two seasons ago but has never hit for average. He batted .236 in 2011 and that number dropped to .231 last season as he played in just 101 games. But if Crisp can't get the job done, Young gives them a solid second option.

Team production in 2012:
.262 average, 24 home runs, 80 RBI, .776 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .275 average, 25 home runs, 80 RBI, .725 OPS

3. Texas – The Rangers would like either Leonys Martin or Craig Gentry to step up and win the spot, but the club is also comfortable mixing and matching the two. The left-handed hitting Martin has more offensive upside than Gentry, but the right-handed hitting Gentry is a better defender right now. Martin has done everything the club has asked him to do this spring, and came into Wednesday's spring games hitting .350 with seven RBI. But he hasn't hit in the limited action he's had in the regular season with Texas. Gentry had a career high 240 at-bats with Texas last year and hit .304 when the club didn't play the departed Josh Hamilton in center. But there are those in the organization who believe Gentry will be hard pressed to repeat those kinds of numbers, especially with more playing time.

Team production in 2012: .296 average, 27 home runs, 101 RBI, .870 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .275 average, 15 home runs, 60 RBI, .700 OPS

4. Seattle – Just a couple of years ago Franklin Gutierrez was on his way to being a superstar in Seattle. Gutierrez won a Gold Glove in 2010 and accounted for 30 home runs and more than 130 RBI in 2009 and 2010. But in the last two seasons Gutierrez has limited him to 132 games total and his production has been dreadful. Last year Gutierrez played in just 40 games because of a torn pectoral muscle and a concussion. He's been slowed by leg woes some this spring but said he's just being cautious. The three seasons Gutierrez has been able to stay healthy he's been able to produce. The Mariners need another season like that out of him because there's not much in center behind Gutierrez. Michael Saunders played the majority of the season in center but the Mariners would like him to play right this year.

Team production in 2012: .244 average, 20 home runs, 67 RBI, .714 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .250 average, 15 home runs, 60 RBI, .675 OPS

5. Houston – It should show just how dire things are in Houston that the only thing set in the outfielder is Justin Maxwell in center. The same Maxwell who is coming off his first full season in the majors and batted a whopping .229 last season. While it was his first full year, Maxwell isn't a youngster. He'll turn 30 this season and has bounced between the majors and minors for the last five seasons, finally sticking with Houston in 2012. While he didn't hit for average, Maxwell did show some pop in center by hitting 18 homers with 53 RBI. That's the kind of production that makes you a middle-of-the-lineup hitter in Houston. He has to improve his selectivity at the plate, as Maxwell struck out 114 times in just 315 at-bats last season.

Team production in 2012:
.209 average, 13 home runs, 59 RBI, .607 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .240 average, 20 home runs, 60 RBI, .625 OPS