MLB Position Power Rankings: B/R's Top 30 Center Fielders

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2017

MLB Position Power Rankings: B/R's Top 30 Center Fielders

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Ranking players at the center field position is a bit different than their corner outfield counterparts.

    Defense carries considerably more value up the middle, so teams are often content to toss a light-hitting player with a standout glove into the everyday lineup to man center field.

    While it's easy to place the superstars at the position, it's a bit tougher to decide where someone like Kevin Pillar fits compared to Adam Jones.

    But that was the task at hand as we set out to identify the top 30 center fielders in the league heading into the 2017 season.

    Here are a few things to consider before we get started:

    • League averages: For the sake of reference, the league average triple-slash line for a center fielder last season was .262/.329/.416.
    • Eligibility: A player must have played at least 300 innings in center field last season to be eligible for inclusion on this list. The exception to that rule was players set to make a position change this coming season. That notably included the additions of Curtis Granderson, Starling Marte, George Springer and Christian Yelich, as well as the subtractions of Andrew McCutchen, Marcell Ozuna, Trea Turner and a few others.

    The other important thing to note is that the goal here was to identify the 30 best center fielders for the 2017 season—and the 2017 season alone.

    Someone like Manuel Margot has more upside than Jacoby Ellsbury going forward, but is he going to be better this year?

    Think of this as a big board for the position if the entire league was doing a redraft for one all-or-nothing season in 2017.

     

    Note: DEF represents a player's total defensive value to compare across positions. The DEF number presented on each slide has been adjusted to show only CF value for those who play multiple positions. Zero is league average.

    Previous top 30 series entries: Catchers, First Basemen, Second Basemen, Shortstops, Third Basemen

30. Jake Marisnick, Houston Astros

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    2016 Offensive: .209 BA, .588 OPS, 60 H, 24 XBH (5 HR), 21 RBI, 40 R

    2016 Defensive: 9 DRS, 4.3 UZR/150, 3.6 DEF

    WAR: 1.7

     

    Player Outlook

    Jake Marisnick has the glove to be an everyday outfielder.

    His 46 DRS over the past three seasons rank sixth among all outfielders, and he's done that while averaging just 749 innings per season.

    His bat is another story.

    With a career .607 OPS, he ranks 342nd among 351 active players with at least 1,000 career plate appearances, and that dipped to a .588 OPS over 311 plate appearances last season.

    He'll continue to be a 2.0 WAR player and a valuable fourth outfielder on the strength of his glove, but if he's ever going to get a shot at everyday playing time, he'll need to take a dramatic step forward at the plate.

     

    Honorable Mentions: Peter Bourjos (CWS), Lewis Brinson (MIL), Tyler Collins (DET), Delino DeShields Jr. (TEX), Austin Jackson (CLE), Jon Jay (CHC), Mallex Smith (TB), Michael Taylor (WAS), Charlie Tilson (CWS), Bradley Zimmer (CLE)

29. Juan Lagares, New York Mets

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    2016 Offensive: .239 BA, .682 OPS, 34 H, 12 XBH (3 HR), 9 RBI, 15 R

    2016 Defensive: 8 DRS, 17.6 UZR/150, 5.7 DEF

    WAR: 0.8

     

    Player Outlook

    Even in a crowded New York Mets outfield, Juan Lagares should see semi-regular playing time thanks to his elite-level defense.

    It looked like he had a chance to emerge as an everyday option when he hit .281/.321/.382 during the 2014 season, but he's hit just .254/.292/.364 since, and that's a fair expectation for him going forward.

    The 28-year-old does fair a bit better against left-handed pitching with a .735 OPS for his career against southpaws, so he could be used in a platoon capacity.

    At any rate, his glove remains elite, and that's enough to earn him a spot in these rankings, even if he doesn't earn a significant chunk of playing time with the Mets.

28. Denard Span, San Francisco Giants

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    Mike Carlson/Associated Press

    Age: 33

    2016 Offensive: .266 BA, .712 OPS, 152 H, 39 XBH (11 HR), 53 RBI, 70 R

    2016 Defensive: -7 DRS, -10.0 UZR/150, -6.1 DEF

    WAR: 1.0

     

    Player Outlook

    Recovery from core muscle surgery, two separate disabled-list trips for back tightness and left hip inflammation that eventually led to season-ending surgery—an awful lot of people had more fun than Denard Span in 2015.

    Despite that laundry list of health woes, the San Francisco Giants rolled the dice on the longtime leadoff hitter with a three-year, $31 million contract last offseason.

    A .287 career hitter entering his first season with the Giants, Span batted a career-low .266 but partially offset that by slugging a career-high 11 home runs.

    He's not the defensive standout he was earlier in his career, and he doesn't run like he used to either, as he swiped just 12 bases last season. However, a modest recovery in his batting average and plenty of runs scored atop the lineup seem like reasonable expectations.

27. Leonys Martin, Seattle Mariners

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Age: 29

    2016 Offensive: .247 BA, .684 OPS, 128 H, 35 XBH (15 HR), 47 RBI, 72 R

    2016 Defensive: -2 DRS, 4.2 UZR/150, 5.8 DEF

    WAR: 1.2

     

    Player Outlook

    It's been a bumpy road for Leonys Martin since he posted a 4.6 WAR in 2014 as the Texas Rangers' everyday center fielder.

    The following season, he lost his job to Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields Jr. and spent time in the minors, and then Texas traded him to the Seattle Mariners last offseason.

    That change of scenery looked to be just what the doctor ordered when Martin posted an .822 OPS with nine home runs and 20 RBI over the first two months of the 2016 season.

    Things quickly went south from there, though, as he went on to hit .241/.292/.338 with just six home runs and 27 RBI over his final 409 plate appearances.

    The 29-year-old is an above-average defender with the ability to steal 20 bases, but it's tough to count on much of anything as far as his batting average and power numbers are concerned.

26. Rajai Davis, Oakland Athletics

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Age: 36

    2016 Offensive: .249 BA, .693 OPS, 113 H, 37 XBH (12 HR), 48 RBI, 74 R

    2016 Defensive: -5 DRS, 3.6 UZR/150, 2.3 DEF

    WAR: 0.4

     

    Player Outlook

    Rajai Davis has 365 career steals, ranking fifth among active players, and he led the league in thefts for the first time in his career last season when he swiped 43 bases in 49 attempts.

    The 36-year-old also set new career bests in home runs (12) and runs scored (74), playing a key role in helping the Cleveland Indians reach the World Series.

    Now he's set for his second go-around with the Oakland Athletics, and he stands to get all the playing time he can handle as the everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter.

    While he may not be the best defensive outfielder, his plus speed does give him above-average range.

    After making good on a one-year, $5.25 million deal last season, he could be a bargain again after earning a slight raise to $6 million.

25. Tyler Naquin, Cleveland Indians

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    2016 Offensive: .296 BA, .886 OPS, 95 H, 37 XBH (14 HR), 43 RBI, 52 R

    2016 Defensive: -17 DRS, -9.4 UZR/150, -3.8 DEF

    WAR: 0.9

     

    Player Outlook

    Just how far is Tyler Naquin going to regress?

    The 25-year-old emerged as a surprise standout for the Cleveland Indians last season in place of the injured Michael Brantley, finishing third in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

    However, there were some serious red flags.

    Most notably, a .296 average that was propped up by a .411 BABIP, tops among all players with at least 200 plate appearances.

    He was also a well-below-average defender, despite a strong throwing arm that tallied six outfield assists.

    A strong 9.9 percent walk rate should keep his offensive value from bottoming out if his average does in fact dip, and his 15-homer pop is legit.

    Ideally, he'd be utilized in a platoon and perhaps stationed in left field, but for now, he's still young enough to offer some upside.

24. Albert Almora Jr., Chicago Cubs

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    David Banks/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    2016 Offensive: .277 BA, .763 OPS, 31 H, 13 XBH (3 HR), 14 RBI, 14 R

    2016 Defensive: 0 DRS, 0.7 UZR/150, 2.8 DEF

    WAR: 0.7

     

    Player Outlook

    Albert Almora Jr. might already be one of the best defensive center fielders in the game.

    After all, the 22-year-old earned a spot on the Chicago Cubs' postseason roster last year over standout pinch hitter Matt Szczur almost solely on his ability as a defensive replacement.

    Now the offseason departure of Dexter Fowler opens the door for him to step into a more significant role in 2017.

    Almora will begin the year in a platoon with veteran Jon Jay, but he represents the team's future in center field and will get every chance to seize the majority of the playing time.

    "He's a star in the making," reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant told Paul Skrbina of the Chicago Tribune. "Everybody has seen what he can do, what he's going to give you on defense. More importantly, you know he's … going to play his heart out every single day."

    The question now is how quickly his offensive gamewhich is highlighted by a polished approach and solid gap powerwill catch up to his glove.

23. Carlos Gomez, Texas Rangers

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    2016 Offensive: .231 BA, .682 OPS, 95 H, 36 XBH (13 HR), 53 RBI, 45 R

    2016 Defensive: -4 DRS, -1.7 UZR/150, 1.7 DEF

    WAR: 0.1

     

    Player Outlook

    There may have been no upcoming free agent who boosted his stock more than Carlos Gomez did over the final two months of last season.

    Gomez hit a dismal .210/.272/.322 over 323 plate appearances with the Houston Astros to begin the season, leading to his eventual release Aug. 18.

    Looking for a replacement for the injured Shin-Soo Choo, the Texas Rangers scooped up the former All-Star in free agency, and it proved to be one of the more impactful late-season additions in the league.

    In 33 games with the Rangers, Gomez hit .284/.362/.543 with six doubles, eight home runs and 24 RBI for a 0.9 WAR, showing enough for the team to bring him back on a one-year, $11.5 million deal shortly after the start of free agency.

    While he may never again be the superstar-caliber player he was during his time with the Milwaukee Brewershighlighted by an 8.5 WAR and Gold Glove during the 2013 seasonhe has a chance to be a major catalyst for the Rangers this coming season.

22. Curtis Granderson, New York Mets

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Age: 36

    2016 Offensive: .237 BA, .799 OPS, 129 H, 59 XBH (30 HR), 59 RBI, 88 R

    2016 Defensive: 1 DRS, 1.7 UZR/150, 0.8 DEF

    WAR: 2.5

     

    Player Outlook

    Curtis Granderson is now three years into his four-year, $60 million deal with the New York Mets, and it's been a mixed bag so far.

    The 36-year-old struggled in his first season with the team, but he's posted an .810 OPS and averaged 28 doubles and 28 home runs over the past two seasons.

    Sliding over to center field won't do him any favors defensively, as he's better suited as a right fielder at this point in his career, but he's capable of being an average option there thanks to his experience from earlier in his career.

    He won't provide much in the way of batting average, and his on-base percentage dropped from .364 to .335 last season, but he's more than capable of another 30-homer season, regardless of where he's slotted in the lineup.

21. Manuel Margot, San Diego Padres

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    2016 Offensive: .243 BA, .649 OPS, 9 H, 5 XBH (0 HR), 3 RBI, 4 R

    2016 Defensive: 3 DRS, 36.9 UZR/150, 2.6 DEF

    WAR: 0.6

     

    Player Outlook

    Manuel Margot has all the tools to be a top-of-the-order catalyst and a perennial Gold Glove candidate for the rebuilding San Diego Padres.

    The 22-year-old hit .304/.351/.426 with 39 extra-base hits, 30 stolen bases and 98 runs scored in a full season with Triple-A El Paso.

    Now he's set to take over as the everyday center fielder at the MLB level.

    "Margot's quick bat and outstanding hand-eye coordination help him to generate hard contact to all fields from the right side of the plate, and his improving feel for managing the strike zone suggests he'll reach his ceiling of a plus hitter," wrote MLB.com's Prospect Watch.

    It's his defense that stands out, though.

    MLB.com added, "He's viewed by scouts as one of the top defensive players in the minors," giving him 70-grade defense and a 60-grade arm.

20. Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    2016 Offensive: .225 BA, .714 OPS, 67 H, 35 XBH (10 HR), 38 RBI, 44 R

    2016 Defensive: 3 DRS, 6.4 UZR/150, 5.3 DEF

    WAR: 1.9

     

    Player Outlook

    Will this be the year Byron Buxton finally delivers on his vast potential?

    The 2016 season may not have gone as hoped from start to finish, but he returned from a minor league assignment when rosters expanded in September and turned in a stellar final month that could serve as a steppingstone to that long-awaited breakout season.

    The 23-year-old hit .287/.357/.653 with six doubles, nine home runs and 22 RBI in 113 plate appearances in September.

    "He was playing free and easy, and you could see the talent start to come out," All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier told John Perrotto of FanRag Sports. "You could see why he was considered the best prospect in baseball."

    Buxton is already a stellar defensive center fielder thanks in large part to his plus-plus speed. If all the pieces fall into place, he still has legitimate five-tool potential.

19. Keon Broxton, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    2016 Offensive: .242 BA, .784 OPS, 50 H, 20 XBH (9 HR), 19 RBI, 28 R

    2016 Defensive: 9 DRS, 23.2 UZR/150, 6.3 DEF

    WAR: 2.1

     

    Player Outlook

    Keon Broxton was hitting .125/.253/.188 over the first three months last season when he was demoted to the minors in early July.

    He returned roughly a month later a changed player.

    The 26-year-old hit .294/.399/.538 with 18 extra-base hits and 16 stolen bases over his final 169 plate appearances, making him an intriguing breakout candidate heading into the 2017 season.

    On top of his impressive performance at the plate down the stretch, Broxton was a standout defender in his first extended action, giving the Milwaukee Brewers a potential building block for the future.

    While top prospect Lewis Brinson is closing fast on an MLB job, Broxton will have every chance to hold him off and establish himself as a long-term piece of the puzzle.

18. Jacoby Ellsbury, New York Yankees

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Age: 33

    2016 Offensive: .263 BA, .703 OPS, 145 H, 38 XBH (9 HR), 56 RBI, 71 R

    2016 Defensive: 8 DRS, 2.1 UZR/150, 2.7 DEF

    WAR: 2.8

     

    Player Outlook

    Jacoby Ellsbury cashed in with a massive seven-year, $153 million deal prior to the 2014 season, jumping ship from the Boston Red Sox to the rival New York Yankees.

    The 33-year-old has hit .264/.326/.382 with an 8.0 WAR over the first three seasons of that deal, and he turned in a standout defensive season last year with eight DRS and above-average range.

    There's a wave of prospect talent closing in on the big leagues, including Clint Frazier, Aaron Judge, Dustin Fowler and perhaps Jorge Mateo if he makes the full-time move out of an equally crowded infield picture.

    That makes Ellsbury's long-term place on the team somewhat unclear, but for now he remains a consistent 20-plus-steal threat and a solid catalyst atop an up-and-coming Yankees lineup.

17. Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Age: 31

    2016 Offensive: .265 BA, .746 OPS, 164 H, 48 XBH (29 HR), 83 RBI, 86 R

    2016 Defensive: -10 DRS, -9.9 UZR/150, -7.8 DEF

    WAR: 1.1

     

    Player Outlook

    Baltimore Orioles fans won't like this placement one bit, but there are some undeniable holes in Adam Jones' game.

    We'll start with his career-long disinterest in taking a walk.

    Jones has taken a free pass just 4.5 percent of the time in his career, and the result is a .318 on-base percentage, including a .310 OBP last season that ranked 116th out of 146 qualified hitters.

    His .746 OPS last season also represented his lowest single-season total since his first year as an everyday player back in 2008.

    Then there's his rapidly declining defense in center field.

    A Gold Glove winner as recently as 2014, Jones ranked 15th out of 17 qualified center fielders in defensive value with a minus-7.8 DEF.

    All of that said, he's still a safe bet for 25-plus home runs and plenty of RBI, and his catch in the World Baseball Classic was nothing short of awesome.

16. Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds

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    Fred Vuich/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    2016 Offensive: .260 BA, .664 OPS, 107 H, 25 XBH (3 HR), 17 RBI, 69 R

    2016 Defensive: 15 DRS, 17.2 UZR/150, 14.9 DEF

    WAR: 2.8

     

    Player Outlook

    If Billy Hamilton can consistently get on base at even a slightly below-average clip, he'll be a nightmare for opposing pitchers and catchers alike.

    A modest improvement in his walk rate (6.2 to 7.8 percent) and positive regression in his BABIP (.264 to .329) resulted in a climb in his triple-slash numbers from .226/.274/.289 to .260/.321/.343.

    With that came new career highs in walks (36), runs scored (69) and stolen bases (58), though he's still seeking his first stolen base title despite stringing together three straight seasons with 50-plus thefts.

    Then there's his defense.

    Originally drafted as a shortstop, Hamilton moved to center field shortly after reaching the majors, and his 37 DRS over the past three seasons trail only Kevin Kiermaier (68) and Lorenzo Cain (40) at the position.

    Few players can impact a game with their legs the way the 26-year-old can, and he'll be getting an equally speedy partner in crime this season in Jose Peraza.

15. Ender Inciarte, Atlanta Braves

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    2016 Offensive: .291 BA, .732 OPS, 152 H, 34 XBH (3 HR), 29 RBI, 85 R

    2016 Defensive: 13 DRS, 14.9 UZR/150, 13.4 DEF

    WAR: 3.8

     

    Player Outlook

    The Shelby Miller trade won't go down as one of the worst in baseball history because the Arizona Diamondbacks gave up Dansby Swanson in the deal.

    It will go down as one of the worst in history because they gave up Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte.

    It's not like his 2016 performance came out of nowhere.

    In his final season with the D-backs, Inciarte hit .303 with 21 stolen bases and tallied 29 DRS along all three outfield spots.

    A nice uptick in his walk rate from 4.6 to 7.8 percent last season is a good sign that he's still making adjustments offensively, and he was as good as ever with the glove.

    The Braves gave the 26-year-old a five-year, $30.53 million extension during the offseason that includes a team option for 2022.

14. Adam Eaton, Washington Nationals

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    2016 Offensive: .284 BA, .790 OPS, 176 H, 52 XBH (14 HR), 59 RBI, 91 R

    2016 Defensive: -2 DRS, -0.3 UZR/150, 0.1 DEF

    WAR: 6.2

     

    Player Outlook

    Adam Eaton is a tough player to slot in these rankings because so much of his value last season was tied to his defense in right field.

    With 22 DRS and a 25.5 UZR/150, he was the most valuable defensive right fielder in baseball, but as you can see above, he didn't grade out nearly as well in his 373.2 innings of action in center field.

    Taking that a step further, Eaton posted awful defensive metrics (-14 DRS, -10.6 UZR/150) as the Chicago White Sox's everyday center fielder in 2015.

    Now he's set to slide back over to center in his first season with the Washington Nationals after the team paid a king's ransom in prospect talent to acquire him during the winter meetings.

    Eaton is a dangerous catalyst atop the lineup thanks to his high contract rate, good on-base skills and solid speed. He also has some sneaky pop, slugging 14 home runs each of the past two seasons.

    He'll wreak havoc hitting alongside Trea Turner at the top of the Nationals lineup. Just don't expect another 6.0 WAR season now that he's back in center field.

13. Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    2016 Offensive: .246 BA, .847 OPS, 100 H, 51 XBH (25 HR), 68 RBI, 64 R

    2016 Defensive: 1 DRS, 0.4 UZR/150, 3.2 DEF

    WAR: 3.4

     

    Player Outlook

    A roller-coaster ride of a rookie season made Joc Pederson a tough player to peg heading into the 2016 campaign.

    An .851 OPS with 20 home runs in the first half had earned him a spot on the NL All-Star team, but he followed that up with a dismal .178/.317/.300 line and just six home runs in the second half, as he was dropped in the order and began losing playing time down the stretch.

    This past season, his slugging percentage climbed from .417 to .495, and while he hit one fewer home run than he did as a rookie, he did it in 109 fewer plate appearances.

    The 24-year-old is always going to strike out a fair amount and will probably never be more than a .250 hitter, but his plus power and solid defense are enough to make him an asset going forward.

    Pederson has a chance to be a perennial 30-homer threat. Not many players at the center field position can say that.

12. Kevin Pillar, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    2016 Offensive: .266 BA, .679 OPS, 146 H, 44 XBH (7 HR), 53 RBI, 59 R

    2016 Defensive: 21 DRS, 26.3 UZR/150, 23.6 DEF

    WAR: 3.4

     

    Player Outlook

    Kevin Pillar took a step back across the board offensively last season.

    His 35 doubles were the only notable stat that represented an improvement over the previous season, as his OPS (.713 to .679), home run total (12 to 7) and stolen base total (25 to 14) all notably dropped.

    However, news that Pillar played through a torn thumb ligament for most of the second half provides plenty of reason for optimism that he can at least return to his 2015 level of production.

    His defense, on the other hand, was as impressive as ever.

    With a 23.6 DEF, he was statistically the third-most valuable player in baseball defensively, trailing only shortstops Brandon Crawford (28.0) and Francisco Lindor (27.8).

    The 28-year-old has now piled up 43 DRS over the past two seasons, but he's still looking to unseat Kevin Kiermaier to win his first Gold Glove.

11. Odubel Herrera, Philadelphia Phillies

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    2016 Offensive: .286 BA, .781 OPS, 167 H, 42 XBH (15 HR), 49 RBI, 87 R

    2016 Defensive: 6 DRS, 3.3 UZR/150, 6.1 DEF

    WAR: 4.2

     

    Player Outlook

    What do Roberto Clemente, Johan Santana and Odubel Herrera have in common?

    They're all Rule 5 draft success stories, and for a rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies team, finding such a valuable diamond in the rough could not have come at a better time.

    More than a few people were skeptical whether Herrera could duplicate the .297/.344/.418 line he posted as a rookie in 2015, especially considering it was accompanied by a .387 BABIP.

    Sure enough, they were right. He didn't duplicate it—he improved on it.

    A spike in his walk rate from 5.2 to 9.6 percent made all the difference in the world, and the fact that he nearly doubled his home run total and stole 25 bases was icing on the cake.

    The 25-year-old has also been better than anyone could have hoped defensively considering he spent the bulk of his time in the minors playing second base.

    A five-year, $30.5 million extension that includes team options for 2022 and 2023 represents the first long-term commitment the Phillies have made toward their next contender.

10. Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    2016 Offensive: .287 BA, .747 OPS, 114 H, 29 XBH (9 HR), 56 RBI, 56 R

    2016 Defensive: 8 DRS, 13.6 UZR/150, 8.7 DEF

    WAR: 2.9

     

    Player Outlook

    Lorenzo Cain would have challenged for a spot inside the top five in these rankings at this time a year ago.

    The Kansas City Royals were fresh off a World Series title, and Cain was arguably their best player, having hit .307/.361/.477 with 34 doubles, 16 home runs, 72 RBI and 28 stolen bases en route to a 7.2 WAR.

    However, an injury-plagued 2016 season and his relatively short track record of success are enough to bump him down several spots.

    Cain played in just 103 games last season and battled a nagging wrist injury for a good portion of them, helping to explain his downturn in power production.

    He remained a top-tier defender, though, and he was by no means a liability at the plate with a .287 average and .747 OPS.

    Now the 30-year-old is facing a contract year, and if he can come close to returning to his 2015 levels, he'll set himself up for a monster payday.

9. Dexter Fowler, St. Louis Cardinals

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    2016 Offensive: .276 BA, .840 OPS, 126 H, 45 XBH (13 HR), 48 RBI, 84 R

    2016 Defensive: 1 DRS, 1.0 UZR/150, 2.8 DEF

    WAR: 4.2

     

    Player Outlook

    The biggest knock on Dexter Fowler when he hit free agency for the first timefollowing the 2015 seasonwere his lackluster defensive metrics (-12 DRS, -1.9 UZR/150).

    Much of that stemmed from the fact that Fowler played shallower than any other center fielder in baseball, and the decision to move him back to a more standard alignment proved to be the right decision.

    It also proved to be the difference between a one-year, $13 million deal and a five-year, $82.5 million deal.

    Granted, a standout season setting the table for the World Series-winning Chicago Cubs and his status as one of the better clubhouse guys around didn't hurt.

    Now he joins the rival St. Louis Cardinals, where he should help upgrade their outfield defense and transform their lineup with Matt Carpenter now able to slide down into more of a run-production role.

    How important was Fowler to the Cubs' success last season?

    They were 85-40 (.680) with him in the lineup compared to 18-18 (.500) without him.

8. A.J. Pollock, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    2016 Offensive: .244 BA, .716 OPS, 10 H, 2 XBH (2 HR), 4 RBI, 9 R

    2016 Defensive: 3 DRS, 17.3 UZR/150, 1.5 DEF

    WAR: 0.5

     

    Player Outlook

    A.J. Pollock was an absolute stud in 2015.

    He hit .315/.367/.498 with 39 doubles, 20 home runs, 75 RBI, 111 runs scored and 39 stolen bases, taking home Gold Glove honors and finishing the season with a 7.4 WAR.

    Expected to continue his ascent to superstardom last year, he instead suffered a fractured elbow during spring training and wound up playing a grand total of 12 games.

    New manager Torey Lovullo likes what he's seen so far this spring.

    "I have to take a step back once in a while because he looks so comfortable, and he's so ready that I forget he's missed last year," Lovullo told the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "But we have to be careful with him. We're going to make sure that he's in the right place moving forward."

    Pollock could easily push for a spot inside the top five, but until he proves he's back to 100 percent, it's tough to rank him any higher just yet.

7. Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    2016 Offensive: .324 BA, .933 OPS, 187 H, 69 XBH (29 HR), 82 RBI, 111 R

    2016 Defensive: -2 DRS, -11.9 UZR/150, -8.4 DEF

    WAR: 4.4

     

    Player Outlook

    There have been a lot of players over the years who were a product of Coors Field.

    Charlie Blackmon is not one of them.

    • 2016 Home: .335 BA, .939 OPS, 15 2B, 12 HR, 47 RBI, 61 R
    • 2016 Road: .313 BA, .926 OPS, 20 2B, 17 HR, 35 RBI, 50 R

    He's just a good hitter.

    The 30-year-old took his offensive game to new heights last season as he surpassed his previous high in home runs by 10 and also set new career bests in hits (187), doubles (35), RBI (82) and runs scored (111).

    His stolen-base total declined considerably (43 to 17), and he remains a below-average defender, but there's no ignoring the impact he makes at the plate.

6. Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    2016 Offensive: .267 BA, .835 OPS, 149 H, 63 XBH (26 HR), 87 RBI, 94 R

    2016 Defensive: 11 DRS, 5.1 UZR/150, 6.9 DEF

    WAR: 5.3

     

    Player Outlook

    A 29-game hitting streak highlighted what was an all-around breakout performance for Jackie Bradley Jr. in his first season as a true everyday player.

    His second-half decline is a bit concerning, though.

    After posting a .926 OPS with 14 home runs and 55 RBI to earn a spot in the starting lineup on the AL All-Star team, his production dipped to a .728 OPS with 12 home runs and 32 RBI after the break.

    There was no decline in his defensive work, though.

    On almost any other team, Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi would be lining up in center field and would be standout defenders at the position, but they're both pushed to a corner spot in favor of Bradley.

    His defensive metrics didn't quite rival those of Kevin Pillar and Kevin Kiermaier, but there's little doubt he belongs in that upper echelon of defensive center fielders.

5. George Springer, Houston Astros

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    Juan DeLeon/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    2016 Offensive: .261 BA, .815 OPS, 168 H, 63 XBH (29 HR), 82 RBI, 116 R

    2016 Defensive: 1 DRS, -2.8 UZR/150, 0.0 DEF

    WAR: 5.0

     

    Player Outlook

    The offseason addition of Josh Reddick and the departures of Carlos Gomez and Colby Rasmus mean George Springer will shift from right field to center field this coming season.

    That's where he played as a standout at the University of Connecticut, as well as his first two professional seasons, so that experience should make it a relatively smooth transition.

    At any rate, it's his bat that remains his moneymaker, and he enters the 2017 season with an .816 career OPS over parts of three MLB seasons.

    While he set career highs in hits (168), doubles (29), triples (5), home runs (29), RBI (82) and runs scored (116) last season, the most promising stat of all was that he played in all 162 games.

    His rookie season was cut short by a quad injury, and his 2015 campaign was limited to 102 games after he suffered a broken wrist.

    Springer is the definition of a catalyst atop the Houston Astros lineup, and he's still young enough that he may not have reached his ceiling.

4. Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    2016 Offensive: .246 BA, .741 OPS, 90 H, 34 XBH (12 HR), 37 RBI, 55 R

    2016 Defensive: 25 DRS, 24.2 UZR/150, 13.8 DEF

    WAR: 5.5

     

    Player Outlook

    Kevin Kiermaier is widely regarded as the best defensive outfielder in baseball.

    His 68 DRS over the past three seasons trail only Andrelton Simmons among all players, and he's won consecutive Gold Glove awards at a spot that is loaded with standout defenders on the AL side of things.

    Now he might be ready to take his offensive game to another level.

    The 26-year-old more than doubled his walk rate last season (4.5 to 9.7 percent) and in the process improved his on-base percentage from .298 to .331.

    He also got hot down the stretch, hitting .274/.345/.428 with 16 extra-base hits and 12 stolen bases over the final two months of the season.

    A .750 OPS with 30 doubles, 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases is not out of the question, and that's all a huge bonus for a Tampa Bay Rays team that would run him out there every day on the strength of his glove alone.

3. Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Benny Sieu/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    2016 Offensive: .311 BA, .818 OPS, 152 H, 48 XBH (9 HR), 46 RBI, 71 R

    2016 Defensive: -2 DRS, -19.0 UZR/150, -1.1 DEF

    WAR: 4.9

     

    Player Outlook

    Starling Marte leads all left fielders with 68 DRS over the past four seasons, taking home a pair of Gold Glove Awards along the way.

    Now we'll see what he can do in center field, as the Pittsburgh Pirates finally pulled the trigger on shifting Andrew McCutchen to a corner spot.

    By almost all accounts, Marte took a major step forward offensively last season.

    His batting average (.311), on-base percentage (.362) and OPS (.818) all represented new career highs, and he also set a new personal best with 47 stolen basesgood for third in the NL.

    However, his home run total dipped to just nine after it had steadily improved in each of his first four seasons to a career-high 19 in 2015.

    If he can add 20-plus home runs to his otherwise stellar offensive line from a year ago, he'd essentially be the 2015 version of A.J. Pollock.

2. Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    2016 Offensive: .298 BA, .859 OPS, 172 H, 62 XBH (21 HR), 98 RBI, 78 R

    2016 Defensive: 0 DRS, -8.6 UZR/150, -1.4 DEF

    WAR: 5.3

     

    Player Outlook

    Christian Yelich for most underrated player in baseball, anyone?

    Already a standout hitter with a .290/.365/.406 career line to his credit over his first three seasons, Yelich took things up a notch last year.

    After hitting just 20 home runs total in his first 1,458 plate appearances, he slugged 21 in 659 plate appearances last season.

    With that, his OPS climbed 77 points to .859, and he also set new highs in doubles (38) and RBI (98) while stepping into a middle-of-the-order role.

    That may be just the tip of the iceberg for the 25-year-old, as there's legitimate 30-homer potential in his wiry frame, and a full season of protection from Giancarlo Stanton could also go a long way.

    He, too, will make the shift from left field to center field, a transition that began over the final month of last season.

    There's no reason he can't be at least an average defensive center fielder, which Marcell Ozuna never was.

1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    2016 Offensive: .315 BA, .991 OPS, 173 H, 66 XBH (29 HR), 100 RBI, 123 R

    2016 Defensive: 6 DRS, -0.4 UZR/150, 1.8 DEF

    WAR: 10.6

     

    Player Outlook

    Who did you expect?

    Fresh off his second AL MVP award and another season with over 10.0 WAR, Mike Trout remains the best all-around player on the planet, though Mookie Betts closed the gap considerably last year.

    His career WAR now stands at 48.5.

    That's the highest total ever for a player prior to his age-25 season, ahead of the likes of Ty Cobb (46.7), Mickey Mantle (40.9), Alex Rodriguez (38.0), Ken Griffey Jr. (37.0), Mel Ott (36.8), Rogers Hornsby (36.1) and Jimmie Foxx (36.0).

    Soak that in for a second.

    We're witnessing history here, folks.

    Whether you're a Los Angeles Angels fan or not, take some time to enjoy Trout in the years to come, because players like him don't come around all that often.

    All right, that's plenty of Trout praise for one day.

     

    Standard stats and WAR totals courtesy of Baseball Reference. Other advanced stats (DRS, UZR/150, BABIP, etc.) courtesy of FanGraphs. Contract information via Spotrac.