2017 MLB Player Rankings for CF: Two new center fielders slot behind Trout at top

Spring Training is only one week away. Pitchers and catchers begin reporting to camp in just a few days, and in less than three weeks, Grapefruit League and Cactus League games will begin. We’re almost home.

So, with the offseason coming to an end, it’s time to look ahead to the upcoming season. And to do that, we’re going to break down the top 10 players at each position over the next several days. Some things to keep in mind:

  1. The players are ranked according to who we’d want for 2017 only. Contracts and salaries don’t matter. Simply put, if you are trying to win the World Series this year, who do you want at the position?
  2. These rankings are the result of voting by your four CBSSports.com baseball writers: R.J. Anderson, Mike Axisa, Dayn Perry, and Matt Snyder. We ranked the players individually and averaged them all together.
  3. These are not fantasy baseball rankings. You can find those here. It’s not just about offense. All-around play matters, especially here at an up-the-middle position.

It’s center field time, starting with a very obvious number one.

No need to even discuss number one here. USATSI
2017 MLB Player Rankings: Center Field
1
Mike Trout Los Angeles Angels CF
There’s not much reason to discuss this, really. If you don’t think Mike Trout is the best center fielder in baseball, there’s an issue with either willful ignorance, bias or revisionism. Given that he’s still only 25, the only thing that would keep him from staying put is a major injury.

Needless to say, the vote among our panelists was unanimous.
2
Starling Marte Pittsburgh Pirates LF
Arguably the best defensive left fielder in baseball has moved to center field in front of the 2017 season. Starling Marte brings a cannon (16 outfield assists in 2015 and 17 in 2016) and great speed. He missed time (129 games played) last year, but still managed 34 doubles, five triples, nine homers and 47 steals while hitting .311 with a 117 OPS+. He could stand to take more walks, but otherwise there’s everything to love about Marte’s all-around game. He’s still in his prime at age 28, too.
3
George Springer Houston Astros RF
Another mover to center, George Springer spent nearly his entire big-league career in right, but he’s sliding over this year. At the plate he hit .261/.359/.457 (124 OPS+) with 29 doubles, five triples, 29 home runs, 82 RBI, 116 runs and nine steals. He’s 27 and now settled into the leadoff spot, so there’s room for improvement in 2017 as well. Maybe his stolen base rate is one of those areas that gets better with more experience at the big-league level after he was nine of 19 last year. This is a guy who once stole 45 bases in 53 tries in a minor-league season.
4
Dexter Fowler St. Louis Cardinals CF
The “you go, we go” man for the 2016 World Series champion offense, Dexter Fowler will now be the offensive catalyst for the St. Louis Cardinals . He had a .393 on-base percentage with 13 steals and 84 runs scored last season, despite missing time (125 games played in the regular season) with a hamstring injury. His defensive metrics improved greatly by playing deeper in 2016, too. Even if his OBP comes closer to his career mark (.366) than around .400, expect another very good season from Fowler.
5
Lorenzo Cain Kansas City Royals CF
Like his Kansas City Royals , Lorenzo Cain took a big step back in 2016. He only managed 103 games thanks to injury, his average dropped 20 points, his OPS fell 91 points and his OPS+ went from 125 to 98. On the good side, the defense is still there, and injuries do have impact. Cain is going to be 31 this season, so it’s possible he jumps right back to 2015 form. If that’s the case, he’s probably under-ranked here. We just can’t erase what we saw last season, especially now that he’s north of 30.
6
Christian Yelich Miami Marlins LF
After 29 starts in center last year, Christian Yelich will be there full-time for the Miami Marlins this year. Yelich was already a polished hitter before last season, but his home-run power really took an encouraging leap in 2016. His previous career high in homers was nine, but last season he upped that to 21, going nicely along with 38 doubles. Overall, he hit .298/.376/.483 (133 OPS+). It’s hard projecting how he plays all season in center, but there’s bigger upside than sixth here for the 25-year-old.
7
Adam Eaton Washington Nationals LF
New Washington Nationals table-setter Adam Eaton is coming off a very good season in which he hit .284/.362/.428 with 29 doubles, nine triples, 14 homers, 14 steals and 91 runs. He scored out as an exceptional defender in right field, but now he’s moving back to center. He was rated pretty poorly in center in 2015, but very well in 2014. So we’re all over the board here. One thing we know is that he can handle the position. He won’t be awful. He’ll also get on base, run at times, hit lots of triples and score runs.
8
A.J. Pollock Arizona Diamondbacks CF
After what was likely his career year, Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock lost all but 12 games of the 2016 season to a freak elbow injury in the last week of Spring Training. He’s now 29, so there’s still part of his prime left. Will we see a return to 2015 level: .315/.367/.498, 39 doubles, six triples, 20 homers, 76 RBI, 111 runs, 39 steals and 14 defensive runs saved? If so, he’s way too low here. We’re at least confident enough that he did get one fifth-place vote and lands eighth overall.
9
Joc Pederson Los Angeles Dodgers CF
Joc Pederson strikes out and doesn’t hit for a high average, but he’s good at getting on base, hitting for power and playing defense. Thanks to 26 doubles, 25 home runs and 63 walks in 476 plate appearances, Pederson posted an .847 OPS (129 OPS+) last year at age 24. He modestly lowered his strikeout percentage and increased his average by 36 points from his rookie year, too. With more steady improvements, he gets closer to achieving his immense upside.
10
Kevin Kiermaier Tampa Bay Rays CF
Reminder that these aren’t Fantasy baseball rankings; defense -- especially up the middle -- matters. Kevin Kiermaier carries a career .258/.313/.425 batting line, but he’s generally considered the best defensive outfielder, if not best overall defender, in baseball. That deserves a big boost, and he also stole 21 bases in 24 tries last year despite injury limiting him to just 105 games.

Also receiving votes: Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox ; Ender Inciarte , Atlanta Braves ; Odubel Herrera , Philadelphia Phillies

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