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After a week off from the series to make space for the Cincinnati Reds Top 25 Prospects List, State of the Farm returns today to look at the center fielders. The Reds are in a strange situation currently with their outfield. Center fielder Billy Hamilton is coming off of an atrocious season at the plate and also underwent shoulder surgery this offseason. Right fielder Jay Bruce was crushing the ball at the trade deadline, but went into a 2-month slump to end the season and has been mentioned as being on the trade market recently. The team doesn’t seem to currently have a left fielder. Three spots. Three huge question marks moving forward. For today though, we are only going to focus on those players who look like they could be center fielders. Next week we will look at the corner outfielders in order to break the article down to less than about 20 players as a general “outfielders” article.
The Louisville Bats had a good share of non-veteran types playing the outfield this season. Yorman Rodriguez led that group, spending time in both center and in right field. He got out to a slow start, posting a .638 OPS through May 20th. Part of that was due to a low BABIP, but he had some struggles outside of there as well, striking out 27% of the time as well. Over the next two months he would hit .313/.349/.460, cutting his strikeout rate down to 23% and showing some of the hitting tools that he’s always had, but hasn’t consistently been able to use. The 22-year-old suffered a calf injury in late July and it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Venezuelan outfielder. Less than two weeks later the Reds had two spots open up in the outfield and he was unable to join the club and get plenty of playing time as he would miss the remainder of the season.
Rodriguez spent more time in right field than in center because Ryan LaMarre was also on the Louisville roster and LaMarre is one of the better defenders in the organization. He began the season on the disabled list, but returned in the last week of April. Offensively he was quite inconsistent throughout the year. He slumped hard in May and June, but rebounded well in July before slumping against in August and September with a call up to the Reds. His plate discipline, which had been strong in the past, was an issue in 2015 as he struck out 27% of the time to go along with a walk rate of 5.5%. Both of those rates were easily career worsts for him.
In Pensacola a large majority of the starts in center went to Beau Amaral as he started nearly five times as many as anyone else on the roster. While he’s not the fastest guy in the system, his outstanding reads and routes make him arguably the best defender in the organization at the position. His defense is the good side of things, but his offense was on the other side of the ledger in 2015. Amaral hit just .224/.280/.289 on the season, a year after hitting .292/.352/.440 (though a majority of that did come in the friendly confines that were Bakersfield and the California League). Like LaMarre, Amaral posted career worsts in both his walk rate (barely – it was within range for his career rates) and strikeout rate (easily the worst of his career – nearly an increase of 33% over his career).
Daytona saw Junior Arias spend a majority of the time in center, but he elected free agency earlier this week. Phillip Ervin saw the next most playing time in center and there’s still an outside chance he can stick at the position. He got out to a great start in April, posting an OPS over 1.000. He couldn’t carry that forward the rest of the year as he didn’t post an OPS over .700 in any given month the rest of the way. The Florida State League had an average OPS of .650, and he was certainly better than that overall before being promoted to Double-A, but his production did dry up. He spent the final three weeks in Pensacola were he would OPS over .800 and spend some time all around the outfield. The post-April struggles are concerning, but his peripherals were strong as he walked 12.2% of the time and struck out just 18.1% of the time and hit for power. He also added in 34 steals, the second straight season in which he had 30 steals.
Dayton saw a trio of guys each get 30+ games in center field. 19-year-old Narciso Crook led the way. He shared time there with Brian O’Grady (36 games) and Jonathan Reynoso (31 games). O’Grady hit the most, but he will be discussed with the corner guys. Crook hit the least among the group, but was also easily the youngest. The good sign was that he hit for a good amount of power, hitting 33 extra-base hits in just 402 plate appearances as a teenager. The bad sign was that he struggled mightily to hit for an average or get n base. He walked just 15 times and had 103 strikeouts as he struggled with pitch recognition. He’s got plenty of tools to work with, and time is on his side, but for now he’s got a lot of work to do in order to turn those raw tools into on-field skills. 22-year-old Jonathan Reynoso hit .273/.316/.356 with 17 walks and 54 strikeouts. He’s a toolsy player who runs well, but he’s been unable to get the most out of his tools to this point in his career. He was repeating the level and showed improvements in contact rate and power output, but saw his walk rate drop.
Billings saw Zach Shields and Ed Charlton split time in center. Shields didn’t hit much, posting a .220/.250/.268 line in 55 games. He made plenty of contact, striking out in just 13% of his plate appearances, but he walked in just 2.8% of them as well. He also struggled to hit for any power, which isn’t too surprising given his 6′ 2″ and 160 lb. frame. He brings plenty of glove to the baseball field, but his bat is going to need to improve. Charlton hit quite a bit better, posting a .267/.349/.455 line with 21 walks and 54 strikeouts. His strikeout rate was a tad higher than you’d like to see, coming in at 25%, but he also walked at a good clip (10%).
The Arizona League Reds were similar to the Mustangs in that two guys saw a majority of the time at the position. Jose Siri started 30 games at the position, while Miles Gordon started 19 games. The 19-year-old Siri was repeating the level and took a step backwards in his second go around in many aspects. He showed off very good power, smacking 19 extra-base hits in just 43 games, but his walk rate went from 7% down to an unfathomable 1.7% and his strikeout rate went from 20% to 37%. He’s got plenty of tools to work with, but it appears he sold out for power in 2015 at the plate, and while the power did show up, the rest of his game suffered drastically. Gordon was among the youngest players in the league. The 4th round pick in the 2015 draft was just 17-years-old and he showed signs of that as he struggled at the plate. The left handed hitter posted a .220/.262/.305 line with just seven walks and 26 strikeouts in 31 games played. He’s another toolsy player in this group, but he’s also easily the youngest and most inexperienced as well.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Reds made a splash in international free agency by signing 16-year-old Cristian Olivo out of the Dominican Republic for $1M. He hasn’t yet played, but he seems to have a well rounded set of tools, including above-average speed that could keep him in center field.
While there isn’t a premium prospect on the list, there are two Top 10 overall prospects on it and behind them are more than a few toolsy guys who have time to try and get things figured out, but there’s a lot of uncertainty at the position behind Phillip Ervin despite more than a few options. The Reds will likely stick with Billy Hamilton to begin the 2016 season, but he’s going to have to hit better and soon if he’s going to remain the starter. Both Ervin and Yorman Rodriguez could soon be fighting for playing time in center if Hamilton can’t improve at the plate.
Top Center Field Tools
Let’s remember that these are raw tools and not necessarily reflective of current skillsets. The closest tool here to call was the speed tool. All of the guys are at least above-average speed guys and none of them are plus-plus runners.