27 August 2018

Orioles State of Centerfield: 2019-2023

Other columns in this series:

Like so much of the Orioles, the next five years fills the franchise with so many opportunities where previously there were none.  One of those is ceterfield where recently we have seen Adam Jones, the Orioles stalwart in centerfield over the past decade, hand his reign over to a new hope: Cedric Mullins.  Mullins received a warm welcome from the fans and garners great interest.  So far, despite a hip injury slowing him down, Mullins' performance at the plate is exceptional while his defense shows promise of the feats he achieved in the minors.  Never a prominent prospect, though one we have had our eye on since the beginning, Mullins carries some questions about whether he will secure centerfield or find himself a transient talent, like Luis Matos.

Taking a look at the centerfield outlook for the franchise, we see these options:

Centerfield Table
Name Age Lev BA OBP SLG Pos Summary
Jones, Adam32MAJ.278.311.423CF-105, RF-12, DH-3
Gentry, Craig34MAJ,H-A,AA.271.324.324LF-31, RF-26, CF-16, DH-2
Rickard, Joey27AAA,MAJ.255.344.421CF-37, RF-35, LF-30
Mullins, Cedric#23AAA,AA,MAJ.291.351.476CF-118, DH-3, LF-3
Diaz, Yusniel21AA.281.390.438RF-51, CF-35, DH-2, LF-2
Hays, Austin22AA,SS.232.262.386RF-39, LF-13, CF-11, DH-8
McKenna, Ryan21H-A,AA.319.412.463CF-114, LF-3, RF-3, DH-1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/27/2018.

There is a positive and a negative to immediately take away from the list above.  The positive is that the Orioles have four young options at centerfield in Mullins, Diaz, Hays, and McKenna.  The negative is that each of those prospects have significant questions as to whether they truly are options in centerfield.  Another negative that has yet to break the horizon is that there does not appear to be any promising centerfielders below Bowie.

The elder statesmen are two impending free agents: Adam Jones and Craig Gentry.  As we noted in an earlier column, it is difficult to see how Adam Jones continues on this club given the need to provide opportunities for younger players and to feed Jones the playing time he earns.  Gentry, at 34, is a useful outfielder on the bench.  He provides defense at all three outfield positions and has some level of offense adequate for a backup outfielder.  That said, his profile is not a starter's profile and he is well into the time frame where one can expect performance to crash.

Joey Rickard at 27 feels younger than he really is given how he broke into the Baltimore scene a couple years ago in the Rule 5 draft.  While he has the athleticism to play all three outfield positions, his skills have not exactly developed to utilize those skills and he tends to field without caution.  The offensive profile for Rickard could be useful, but over 700 PA into Rickard's career and it appears he is not dependable to play full time.

Further up in this post, I mentioned Cedric Mullins. Back in his Delmarva days in 2016 I summarized him as:
Cedric Mullins is a SWINO (Switch Hitter in Name Only). He rakes right handers and a left handed bat and becomes flummoxed by southpaws (115/90).  He profiles as a backup centerfielder, but does not have the size/strength to be expected to show well in left field.  With decent, speed, contact, and gap strength, we should see him progress steadily through the minors.  I imagine he might be ready for a 4th or 5th outfielder role in 2019 or 2020.
I think he has fit that projection to a T.  He still struggles greatly against left handed pitching.  In 2017, 863 vs 604 and 859 vs 707 this year.  Having a strong bat against right handers makes Mullins a starting option in centerfield as he will be facing a great number of right handed pitchers.  However, it does make him a bit of a liability deeper in games when opposing managers can slip in a favorable matchup.  The defense also still looks great.  Defensive metrics view him as a bit sloppy right now with MLB data, but I think that is more likely do to some situational issues.  He should be fine long term and may even be a legitimate starter if he can maintain his handling of right handers and becomes adequate against lefties.  That said, there is no great, grand ceiling similar to what a young Adam Jones had to offer.  Mullins offers the club the ceiling of a solid starter who might rattle off one season that garners All Star attention.  And, yeah, much of this was said of Luis Matos as well.

Diaz and Hays can be lumped together here.  Both have promising bats (Diaz more so) and both, if you squint, have the potential to pull off a center field (Diaz more so).  The reality though is if either of them are occupying centerfield instead of Mullins that the plan is testing the rails.  While both look to be good right fielders (though some doubt Hays out there), both are seen as fringe defenders in center.  Their bats would need to speak up a bit more to manage lackluster gloves.  All in all, fringe rightfield star profiles drop to decent centerfield role player projection in center.

Ryan McKenna is the last name on this draw.  McKenna is the kind of player who gets an amazing amount of positive coverage because he just went bananas against some fairly poor pitching combined with hitting them where they ain't.

Ryan McKenna
Year Age AgeDif Lev BA OBP SLG OPS
All All All .278.362.397.759
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/27/2018.

What makes his A+ stint in 2018 so amazing, a .436 BABIP that super charged his batted ball production.  What feels more genuine is that his rates returned to expectations in Bowie.  To be clear, none of this is really bad news.  He is a fairly young player for the levels who is holding his own.  A 21 year old providing useful play for  AA Bowie is an achievement.  His struggles there though reinforce some of the issues seen before and reduce the expectations some had for him with his demolishing of Frederick.  Perhaps slightly concerning is the evaporation of his running game, which may point to his physical development impeding upon the average/plus speed he was showing in previous seasons. 

As it stands, he looks like a lesser version of Cedric Mullins, which makes the profile redundant.  However, redundancy is good in the minors because Mullins certainly is not a sure thing.

Five Year Planning
While the catching scenario looks like all the eggs in the basket broke, center field has a clear, though wobbly, answer in Cedric Mullins and a backup answer a couple years off in Ryan McKenna.  Yes, it is more likely that both of them fail, but that is simply what prospects do.  Both though provide great fourth outfielder options and should be able to provide the club with talent similar to Gentry or Rickard.  That might feel like a loss, but that sort of bench depth is valuable and less you focus spending on higher targets.  And, well, the ceiling outcome is that both are viable starting center fielders.

All in all, this is a good state of affairs.


Unknown said...

I keep hearing the narrative that there is no place for Jones in the outfield next year, but who is going to fill the outfield rotation? Outside of Mullins (who earned it), none of the Orioles minor league prospects has proven themselves to be worthy of a serious chance. Austin's production has plummeted this season, Diaz has struggled since coming to Bowie, and DJ Stewart shouldn't even be projected as a MLB bench player. If Austin and Diaz are promoted in September and continue to struggle, how can the Orioles justify starting either of two next season?

I'm confident Diaz will come through at some point, he is only 21 after all, while Hayes is certainly intriguing. But you have to prove yourself in the minor league system before you step up to the majors.

Pip said...

What about John Andreoli? He seems like a head scratcher. He’s older than Rickard and less successful but he also tops out as a fourth outfielder. He’s totally redundant, and his brief major league time hasn’t shown anything more than Rickard offers, and Rickard himself is a fourth OF. Why get more fringe?

Jon Shepherd said...

Aaron - We wrote this a month ago: http://camdendepot.blogspot.com/2018/07/it-is-hard-to-see-adam-jones-in.html

PT - He cost pretty much nothing and he will not be going to arbitration any time soon, so if he profiles similar to Rickard then he might be a better guy to have around. Regardless, both players are fairly fringe.

Unknown said...

I hope they take fliers on players having down years for the open OF spots ( Trumbo is prob locked into one ). Maybe have one play well enough to garner a Prospect at the deadline.

Unknown said...

Andreoli is cheap and here. They lose nothing by using him until a better option exists. Hays absolutely rakes ans forces his way up its easy to detonate a Rickard/Andreoli. He plays good enough you flip him out for a lottery ticket prospect.