Center field is a very important position on the field given that the fielder is required to cover more ground than anyone else and balls they don’t turn into outs can often go for extra-base hits. For the Reds it is even more important at this point in time because of the free agency of Shin-Soo Choo, leaving the Reds with a huge hole in their lineup to fill.
The Reds have a plethora of options at the center field position in the minor leagues. Perhaps the deepest position in the system, three of the top five prospects in the system find themselves able to cover the position and beyond them there is plenty of depth as well.
Billy Hamilton is the top prospect at the position as well as the closest to the big leagues, having spent his full season in AAA with the Louisville Bats before getting a September call up to Cincinnati. He struggled at the plate in 2013, especially in the first few months of the season. Once July rolled around things were a bit better as he hit .280/.327/.355 between Louisville and Cincinnati. His speed is absolutely game changing on both the base paths as well as on defense. With plus range in center, he can be a difference maker with the glove. He may be the favorite to start for the Reds on opening day in 2014 unless they go out and grab a free agent.
Phillip Ervin was drafted just this past June, but he made an immediate impact with the Billings Mustangs and Dayton Dragons where he hit a combined .331/.425/.564. Defensively he spent time all over the outfield, but he can play an average center field, though his value will be provided by his bat that is advanced and provides plenty of upside thanks to good power and strong plate discipline. There is a chance he winds up in the corner outfield as well.
Yorman Rodriguez spent the first half of his season playing center field with the Bakersfield Blaze and has also spent time playing there in the Arizona Fall League, though he played right field in Pensacola with the Blue Wahoos. One of the toolsiest players in the entire system, he rebounded well from a rough 2012 and took some big strides forward in several areas of his game. He hit .259/.324/.427 between the two levels this season. He has plus speed and can play both center and right field well. There is some risk with his bat given his high strikeout rate and if he can improve it, but there is a ton of upside with him and he is already on the 40-man roster.
As noted above, Yorman Rodriguez didn’t play center field once he reached Pensacola. The reason for that was because Ryan LaMarre was patrolling the position for the Blue Wahoos all season. Offensively he struggled for the season, hitting just .245/.327/.368, but he turned things around over the last two months of the year where he hit .281/.351/.459. He shows solid plate discipline, runs well and he shows a bit of power potential. His defense though is where he gets his reputation, where he is viewed as an above-average to plus center fielder.
Junior Arias is another one of the toolsiest players in the system and made the move from third base to center field in 2013. While he is still a bit of a work in progress defensively, he has plus-plus speed to lean on as he continues to learn the position where he projects to be an above-average defender with a plus arm. Offensively he hit .272/.305/.436 between Dayton and Bakersfield while stealing 60 bases. Plate discipline was a big concern though as he walked just 18 times on the year while striking out 132 times.
In the rookie levels there were four players who stand out as potential center field options down the road. At Billings Jonathan Reynoso spent most of the year manning the position before heading to the disabled list for the year with a knee injury. Another player with good tools, he had a down season after breaking out the year before in Arizona. He hit just .238/.259/.306, but has above-average speed and can play a good defensive center field.
Billings Mustangs teammate Gabriel Rosa played all around the outfield during the season but is another guy who can cover center field with above-average speed. He took some steps forward offensively during the 2013 season when it comes to his approach, but the numbers didn’t translate during 2013 where he hit .211/.327/.339 with 13 steals. Another real toolsy player, he made the transition to the outfield after spending the first two seasons of his career between shortstop and third base.
In Arizona Jose Fernandez got a majority of the time in center for the Reds. His first season stateside, the 19-year-old hit .284/.352/.422 with 17 steals and has some projection left in his 6′ 2″ and 175 lb. frame. A good defender who can remain in center field, he does have some plate discipline questions where he walked 8 times and struck out 29 times.
Kevin Garcia spent his season in Arizona with the exception of a last week call up to Billings where he played all around the outfield. The 20-year-old in his first season stateside hit .309/.383/.447 with 23 walks and 28 strikeouts. He has good speed and can handle all three outfield spots. Offensively he has a strong plate approach and showed a little bit of gap power in 2013.
Two other guys worth mentioning would be Juan Siva and Beau Amaral. Silva spent time all around the Bakersfield outfield, though he is more of a “can cover you in center if you really need it” kind of guy, he has a strong plate approach that helped him hit .271/.386/.414 during 2013. Beau Amaral spent his entire season in Dayton with the Dragons. He hit .258/.312/.324 with 40 steals. He has above-average speed and can play a good defensive center field.
While there is some repeat names from the corner outfield position, center field is very deep with options as well as a ton of upside with Top 5 prospects as well as some less developed but very toolsy players mixed in with several solid but unspectacular options as well that could turn into 4th or 5th outfielders who could play center. Two weeks ago I had said that the corner outfielders would likely get the highest grade of any position in the series, but I was wrong.
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