In part seven of my positional rankings, I look at the centerfielders in the American League East. Center field in the division is a fairly loaded position, composed of defensive stalwarts, speedsters, and offensive powerhouses.
The general of the outfield, the centerfielder of a team is usually one of the best athletes on the team, and the AL East is no exception, featuring seven Gold Gloves, seven All-Star selections, and two Silver Sluggers.
But who can claim the crown of the best in the division at the position? Each player presents a compelling argument, but only one can be the cream of the crop. So without further ado, the centerfielders of the AL East.
1. Adam Jones – Baltimore Orioles
2016: .265/.310/.436, 29 HR, 83 RBI
For Jones, the numbers speak for themselves: five All-Star selections, four Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, six straight seasons of at least 25 HR and 82 RBI. Whether batting first, second, third, or fourth in the order, Jones simply produces year-in and year-out.
Though Jones is not the best defensive centerfielder in the division, the San Diego native makes all the plays that he should, and some plays that he flat out shouldn’t. Not to mention, he has averaged 10 assists/year since 2010, tops in the division. But what really sets Jones apart from the pack is his leadership.
Manny Machado may be the face of the Orioles, but Jones is the fearless leader. Even on Team USA, basically an All-Star team, Jones is clearly the leader.
Adam Jones is staring to be called "Captain America" in the US clubhouse. Says he's more than happy taking on a leadership role
— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) March 16, 2017
With middle-of-the-order offensive potency, suffocating defense, and the ability to lead men, Adam Jones is the class of the division at the position.
2. Jackie Bradley, Jr. – Boston Red Sox
2016: .267/.349/.486, 26 HR, 87 RBI
Before 2016, Bradley probably would have found himself towards the bottom of this list. Oh what a difference a year makes.
In 2016, Bradley announced his presence with authority, finally realizing the potential that made him a first-round pick in 2011. Always superior in the outfield, Bradley’s bat caught up with his glove last season as the now 26-year-old set career highs in every single offensive category. From April 24-May 25, he recorded a hit every game (29 straight) en route to his first All-Star appearance.
For the Red Sox, an already potent lineup got even better thanks to Bradley in 2016, as evidenced by their league-leading 878 runs scored. Should Bradley continue his uptick in production, they should be at-or-near-the-top of the leaderboard in that category again in 2017.
3. Kevin Kiermaier – Tampa Bay Rays
2016: .243/.331/.410, 12 HR, 37 RBI
Though only playing in 105 games in 2016, Kiermaier put the rest of the division on notice that any conversation about centerfielders needs to include him. The AL leader in defensive WAR the last two seasons, Kiermaier is mostly known for his glove, making circus catch after circus catch. But his bat and speed are sneaky good.
Kiermaier puts the ball in play, as he doesn’t strike out a ton, and his eye at the plate seems to be improving. His 40 walks and .331 OBP were both career highs last seasons despite playing in a career-low 105 games. Kiermaier has developing power, can steal 20+ bags, and could be a 20-homer guy for the Rays (his 12 HR last season also marking a career high). The Rays are certainly confident in the player he is–and will be–signing him to a six year, $53.5M contract this offseason.
4. Jacoby Ellsbury – New York Yankees
2016: .263/.330/.374, 9 HR, 56 RBI
A few years back, Ellsbury would have been the top name on this list. An offensive spark plug during his time in Boston, Ellsbury led the AL in steals in both 2008 and 2009. In 2011, he was an All-Star, Gold Glove, and Silver Slugger selection while leading the league in total bases on his way to a runner-up finish for the MVP. All of this led to Ellsbury cashing in on a seven year, $153M contract with the Yankees prior to the 2014 season.
What the Yankees hoped they were getting was the player who slashed .297/.350/.439 in his seven seasons in Boston. What they got was a player who has slashed .264/.326/.382 in the subsequent three seasons; solid numbers, but certainly not worth nearly $22M/yr.
While Ellsbury is more than capable with the glove, his arm is the worst in the division, and it’s really not close. He still steals bases and gets on base a decent clip, but when there are rumblings that you might be the worst free agent signing in the history of the franchise (though incorrect in my opinion), your stock is definitely going to fall.
5. Kevin Pillar – Toronto Blue Jays
2016: .266/.303/.376, 7 HR, 53 RBI
Right now, Pillar and Kiermaier look like identical players to me. Both will hit about .260, steal 20+ bases, and play stellar, if not acrobatic, defense. The issue here is that Kiermaier looks like a player on the rise, while Pillar seems to be in the category of “what you see is what you get.”
Pillar is a very nice complementary player; somebody you’re happy to have on your team, but never a focal point. For the Blue Jays, that’s okay. They don’t need him to set the world on fire, which is a good thing, because he never will.
1. Chris Young – Boston Red Sox
2016: .276/.352/.498. 9 HR, 24 RBI
2016: Rickard: .268/.319/.377, 5 HR, 19 RBI; Gentry: Only 14 games due to injury
3. Ezequiel Carrera/Melvin Upton, Jr. – Toronto Blue Jays
2016: Carrera: .248/.323/.356, 6 HR, 23 RBI; Upton: .238/.291/.402, 20 HR, 61 RBI
4. Mallex Smith– Tampa Bay Rays
2016: .238/.316/.365, 3 HR, 22 RBI, 16 SB
5. Aaron Hicks– New York Yankees
2016: .217/.281/.336, 8 HR, 31 RBI
That does it for the center fielders in the AL East. As always, this list is up for debate, and is just one man’s opinion, nothing more. Up next, we take a look at the right fielders within the division.