Dec 13, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; the New York Yankees introduce new center fielderJacoby Ellsbury
during press conference at Yankees Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
1. Jacoby Ellsbury (New York Yankees)- Ellsbury was one of the major additions in the Yankees’ grand, expensive 2013-14 offseason which has seen them commit around half a billion dollars in salary. Ellsbury’s 7 year/$153 million deal was one of the larger contracts of the bunch, trailing only Masahiro Tanaka‘s 7 year/$155 million contract. As much as Red Sox fans wouldn’t like to admit it, however, he speedy center fielder has somewhat lived up to that contract. He will obviously decline as he reaches into his 30’s, but Ellsbury slashed .298/.355/.426 and led the league in stolen bases (52) for the third time in his career. Ellsbury has shown no signs of decline yet, and currently stands as the best overall center fielder in the AL East.
2. Adam Jones (Baltimore Orioles)- However, Ellsbury is not too far ahead of Adam Jones. Jones fits the desirable power-speed combination as last season, he slashed .285/.318/.493 with 33 home runs (a career high) and 14 stolen bases. Though it seems he’s been manning center field in Baltimore forever, Jones is just 27 years old and is in the middle of his prime. His defense leaves some skill to the imagination, but his good speed prevents from falling too far below the average. That, coupled with his near-elite offensive production leaves Jones as one of the best center fielders in not only the AL East, but in baseball.
3. Colby Rasmus (Toronto Blue Jays)- Last year, his third year in Toronto, Colby Rasmus made significant strides towards becoming the player he was once projected to become. A former top prospect for the St. Louis Cardinals, Rasmus spent some time on the disabled list but when healthy slashed a hefty .276/.338/.501 with 22 home runs and 66 RBIs in 118 games. Given that Rasmus will be just 27 for the 2014 season, it’s entirely possible that he could continue his development in Toronto. If Rasmus can remain healthy, then 2014 will be a big year for him as he looks to prove that 2013’s breakout was no fluke.
4. Desmond Jennings (Tampa Bay Rays)- Jennings, another former top prospect, had a solid season in his second full year at the major league level. In 139 games for Tampa Bay, he slashed .252/.334/.414 with 14 home runs and 20 stolen bases, showing off that coveted combination of speed and power. Jennings moved to center field in 2013 after playing left for most of his previous tenure in the majors and did not quite fit the bill defensively, registering a -7.0 UZR/150. However, at just 27 years old, Jennings absolutely still has the chance to make use of his ample tools on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
5. Jackie Bradley Jr. (Boston Red Sox)- Following a number of former top prospects, Bradley Jr. enters the season as a current top prospect. Ranked by many as the #2 prospect in the Red Sox’ system (following Xander Bogaerts, who will also start the year in the majors), Bradley Jr. is projected to start the season in center field following the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury in free agency. Bradley Jr. didn’t live up to the hype that he generated after an absurd spring training as he slashed just .189/.280/.337 in the majors. However, he showed plenty of potential in Triple-A Pawtucket as he slashed .275/.374/.469 for the PawSox, showing a glimpse of the player he may soon become. Expect 2014 to be a learning year for the soon-to-be 24-year old, but he should develop into a very solid player soon.