Fantasy Baseball

2016 Fantasy Baseball: Generation Next — Centerfielders

Center field is the premier position in the outfield, but changes in baseball have brought changes in the position. One of the things that has always been most fascinating to me is how changes in the balance between pitching and hitting changes the way teams approach building their teams. In the 1990s and 2000s, center field was dominated by the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. Sure, he was a good defensive outfielder, but he made his bones based on his offensive production.

Suddenly, in the 2010s, pitchers have begun to take control again. When pitchers began to take control again, teams changed their focus at certain positions. This has notably happened behind the plate, but it has happened at all the positions in the center of the diamond. Teams want more defense to support that pitching and with more defense comes a sacrifice of offense. So, when looking at the current rookies in center field, we should keep in mind that many of these players are there for more defensive support.

Joc Pederson— Los Angeles Dodgers

Key Stats: .210, 26 HR, 67 Runs, 54 RBI, 4 SB

Overview

Vin Scully has been broadcasting games for over 60 years. He said that Joc Pederson was the best defensive center fielder he has ever seen play for the Dodgers. That includes some pretty big names as you might imagine. The various defensive metrics don’t necessarily flesh that out, but Scully’s endorsement is significant nevertheless. Pederson showed impressive power in his first full season, but that was about it. Still, being healthy and somewhat productive beats a lot of the regulars that played in Los Angeles this season.

Barriers to Launch

Pederson has his hands on the job until he demonstrates that he won’t have it. Still, as a fantasy product he will always be marginal until his average grows to at least .250. Even in this depressed offensive market, there are far too many outfielders that offer similar power numbers and don’t kill your batting average. In Los Angeles, they are just happy to have cheap labor at at least a couple positions.

Odubel Herrera— Philadelphia Phillies

Key Stats: .297, 8 HR, 64 Runs, 41 RBI, 16 SB

Overview

Herrera actually is what Vin Scully thinks Joc Pederson is. He led all rookie outfielders with 3.8 WAR. He did that on the strength of his fielding and solid hitting. As a fantasy prospect, Herrera is a fringe regular. He hits for a good average, but he doesn’t have any other elite skills. He does enough of everything to be a regular in NL-only leagues or leagues that utilize five starting outfielders.

Barriers to Launch

Herrera is already the player he is destined to be. In real baseball he is a very valuable player to have. This is especially true in the next two or three seasons before he becomes much more pricey. If they Phillies can get two or three more players like him then they will be contenders in the NL East. As for fantasy, I wouldn’t expect him to be much more than he is right now.

Delino Deshields Jr.— Texas Rangers

Key Stats: .261, 2 HR, 83 Runs, 37 RBI, 25 SB

Overview

Delino Deshields represents the difference between an Odubel Herrera on a bad team and an Odubel Herrera on a good team. The runs scored was far superior despite the fact that he wasn’t purely an everyday player. Deshields also showed an ability to draw walks and get on base. As a fantasy prospect he might be superior to Herrera if he is able to play everyday. That ‘if’ factor is what drops him down here.

Barriers to Launch

Leonys Martin is officially arbitration eligible. Odds would seem to indicate that the Rangers would non-tender him in lieu of giving him a raise over the 4.75 million he made last season. That being said, they may bring him back and give him a chance in Spring Training. He’s had 2.2 and 1.9 dWAR the past two seasons, so he has some value to someone if he can hit just a little. So, Deshields isn’t out of the woods yet. He did play some left field last season when Josh Hamilton was out, but with Hamilton in left field and Shin-Soo Choo in right field, it would appear that center field is Deshields’ best opportunity to launch.

Billy Burns— Oakland Athletics

Key Stats: .294, 5 HR, 70 Runs, 42 RBI, 25 SB

Overview

Billy Burns is essentially Odubel Herrera in the American League. He hits for a good average, has a little less power than Herrera, but he swiped a few more bags. Like Herrera, he is stuck on a shaky offensive team, and with the Athletics’ lack of resources, he will likely be stuck on a shaky offense for the balance of his prime. Still, he fields the position well and is solid enough offensively to keep his spot. In fantasy terms, he is a solid reserve in mixed leagues or a solid regular in AL only leagues.

Barriers to Launch

Burns is not likely to get any better than what he is right now. Billy Beane has always been willing to wheel and deal, so it remains to be seen how long Burns will be an Athletic. He is a great player for them when his cost is down and his value is undervalued. When he starts to get in demand, Beane will likely deal him and look for the next Billy Burns. That can be a good thing for Burns depending on where that happens. It isn’t likely to happen in 2016 though.

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