The centerfield position is one of need for the Reds, who got a .226./.282/.339 line from the position at the big league level this past season. While the position has been filled with quality defense, that sort of offense will not cut it at the Major League level.
The clear cut top prospect at the position is a guy who technically has yet to play an official game at the position, Billy Hamilton. After spending the first 4 years as a pro playing shortstop and second base the Reds sent him to the Arizona Fall League after the 2012 season to learn to play center. His offensive potential is interesting, if not often debated. For a player who can’t hit the ball over the fence, he is quite prone to the strikeout. At the same time he also draws a lot of walks. There is some debate as to how both of those will play out at the Major League level, but the question is more about will he be an average offensive player or an above-average one if the walk rate can come close to carrying over from what he showed in 2012. Then of course is the speed aspect of the game, where he is on an entirely different playing field than just about anyone in baseball. Defensive reports from Arizona suggest that he will still need a little bit of time to get better acquainted with the position, but that his range should be above-average and he shouldn’t have any issues once he is more comfortable out there. While shortstop is a more rare position, the drop off in value to center is minimal and Hamilton still has the upside to compete for MVP awards if he can reach his ultimate ceiling.
After Hamilton there is a decent drop down to the next guy, but to be fair, Hamilton is arguably the top centerfield prospect in all of baseball at this point. While Yorman Rodriguez didn’t play center much in 2012, he still shows the tools to play there with solid speed and a strong arm. Offensively he began the year with the worst slump of his career, hitting just .156 in 90 at bats for Bakersfield before being sent to extended spring training. He eventually returned to full season ball, but was with Dayton for the rest of the year where he flashed some offensive tools, but didn’t really produce numbers to match the set of tools as he hit .271/.307/.430 and struggling with plate discipline once again. Rodriguez has the highest ceiling of anyone in the Reds system, but so far in his career he has struggled to do more than show flashes of that potential. His plate discipline is a major hurdle that he will need to get over in order to become anything close to what he could be.
Ryan LaMarre played center for the Blue Wahoos all season and while he didn’t have any outstanding stats, he was solid across the board as he hit.263/.356/.353 with 30 steals despite playing the season with plantars faciitis. LaMarre shows off above-average range in center and has a strong and accurate arm as well. While he doesn’t have quite the upside that Hamilton does, he could be an above-average centerfielder if he can reach his ceiling and show a little bit more power.
Bryson Smith played mostly center while in Bakersfield, but headed to the corners in favor of LaMarre when he was promoted to Pensacola. Smith had a strong offensive season as he hit .310/.358/.429 between Bakersfield and Pensacola with 16 walks and 56 strikeouts in 404 plate appearances. The lack of walks may hold back his offensive game some, but he has a short swing that is tailored for contact and so far it has led to a career .322 average in the minor leagues. An above-average runner, Smith is an average defender in center and has a bat that could get the job done for the position.
Much like Smith, Jonathan Reynoso was a high contact, low walk and low power hitter in 2012 as he hit .311/.328/.411 for the Arizona League Reds. However, the 19-year-old has some power potential in his bat that Smith doesn’t. He also swiped a league leading 30 steals as he showed off some good speed. He is still quite young and will need plenty of time to develop, but the early returns both numbers wise and on the scouting side are promising.
After those guys there are still several intriguing players, starting out with Theo Bowe, who could challenge Billy Hamilton as the fastest player in baseball. After starting off very slow in Dayton he was called up to Bakersfield where he hit .314/.391/.383. For the season he also swiped 70 bags. Bowe has above-average range in center and can really cover ground. He has solid plate discipline, but may be more of a 4th outfielder than a starter. Beau Amaral was the Reds 7th rounder this past year and he had a solid debut with Billing, hitting .295/.355/.376 with 20 steals in just 57 games. He is a solid defender who relies more on outstanding routes and quick jumps than pure speed. His arm is average at best and may profile more as a 4th outfielder.
This is arguably the Reds strongest position with multiple players who could be quality starting players and several guys who could have a chance to be average ones. It boasts the systems top prospect and four of the Top 25. There is depth, star potential, safety and even more depth at the position. Overall I would say that centerfield is a Grade A- for the Reds, a very big position of strength with multiple options throughout the system.
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