The AL East will be the home of a formidable group of center fielders in 2012. The position is represented by Adam Jones (Baltimore), Jacoby Ellsbury (Boston), Curtis Granderson (New York), B.J. Upton (Tampa Bay) and Colby Rasmus (Toronto).
Here, we will compare the value of each team's representative to determine which squads will enter the season with a positional advantage over their rivals.
Blue Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus is hoping to have a breakout season, but he will collide with some of baseball's finest sluggers.
Rasmus' ranking reflects the talent level of the AL East center field crop more than it does his pitiful 2011 campaign.
That said, the only positive Rasmus can take away from 2011 was that he played a good center field. At the dish, well, there isn't a lot there.
Be that as it may, Rasmus has proven that he has 20-home run power and the ability to eclipse the .260 mark.
2012 will be the former prospect's last chance to live up to the hype that has followed him since his time in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system.
Here's the thing: Adam Jones is a top-10 center fielder in MLB. The fact that he comes in fourth in his division speaks volumes about the competition.
An argument could be made to rank Jones above Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton—he hit more home runs and had a better average last season—but his overzealousness at the plate keeps him in line.
Jones only walked 29 times in 2011, putting up a .319 OBP with a .280 AVG. These numbers are too close together.
Jones enters 2012 as the fourth-best center fielder in the AL East.
Upton began his career as a 19-year-old, putting up some impressive campaigns during his first few big league seasons. Over the past three years, however, he has struggled to keep his average above the .240 mark.
Contact issues aside, Upton possesses a rare blend of speed and power. He has broken the 40-stolen base barrier in three of the last four years and is a perennial threat for 20 dingers.
Upton is also an above-average outfielder. He uses his speed to patrol the gaps well, can make plays with the glove once he gets to the ball and has a good arm for the position.
Upton's approach at the dish is solid. He walked 71 times in 2011—good for a .331 OBP.
The Ray places third at the position behind two of the best center fielders in baseball.
Giving a second-place ranking to a center fielder that hits 41 home runs and steals 25 bases in a single season is not an easy decision. However, when that center fielder plays in the same division as Jacoby Ellsbury, it is a necessity.
Granderson's 41 knocks blow away his previous best home run mark of 30. In addition to this epic display of power, he managed to post a .364 OBP along the way. While he continued to strikeout a lot in 2011, his 169 whiffs are forgivable next to his other numbers.
The main question with Granderson is whether or not he can replicate his 2011 successes. The smart money is on no, but he may end up coming close.
Projecting that he is able to put in a strong showing in 2012, though one inferior to last year's, Granderson ranks as the AL East's second-best center fielder heading into the season.
Ellsbury stole 70 bases in 2009. He hit 32 home runs in 2011.
His home run totals from 2011 fall nine shy of Granderson's, but he did have a 59-point advantage in batting average and maintained a .552 SLG, which matches the Yankee's precisely.
As with Granderson, the question is, can Ellsbury match his 2011 power totals. Once again, I am skeptical. However, I do believe 20 home runs a year is reasonable.
If he can hit 20 home runs, steal 40 bases, hit for average and play a Gold Glove center field, that will do just fine.
Ellsbury ranks as the best center fielder in the AL East entering the 2012 season.
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