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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Breaking Down the NL East: Centerfield

The NL East Centerfielders are a varied bunch. There is a power hitting, run producing machine, a Flyin’ Hawaiian, and former prospect coming into his own, and two youngsters cracking a major league lineup. In this group, only really two stand out, with the potential for a third growing with each season. All five of these guys, however, will have something to prove this year. Here they are.

First (Score = 1.375): The New York Mets' Carlos Beltran has not provided the dividends that the team and its fans were hoping for. The idea of bringing him in, winning a bidding war and paying him a ton of money, was to get them over the hump and consistently into the playoffs. Well, that hasn’t happened once. It isn’t necessarily Beltran’s fault. He’s driven in over 110 runs each of the last three years, so he’s doing most of what he can. I say most because it doesn’t appear he has that intangible that turns a good player into a great player, a competitor into a winner. He is in essence a younger version of Bobby Abreu. This upcoming season it will be more of the same for Carlos. He’ll see .279/37/114 for a second place team.

Second (2.25): Before last season there were question surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies as to whether or not Shane Victorino could be an everyday outfielder but by the time September rolled around, there was no doubt that he was the best centerfielder the team had had since Lenny Dykstra. His series in the playoffs against Milwaukee was amazing, supplying the sparkplug that made the Phillies engine go. Last year on the whole he mixed some power with good speed and although he won’t be called upon to hit a grand slam, he will hit .284/10/47 in the second spot in the Phillies lineup in 2009.

Third (2.25): The National’s Lastings Milledge loses out to Victorino in a tie break mainly because of the impact each has made on their team and at this point in his career, Milledge has shown he can hit major league pitching but not be an integral part of a winning team. Milledge has a very nice junior year in the show hitting .261/14/61 and getting some full-time experience. Can he do it again? There is no reason to think otherwise. As long as he stays healthy, this year will tell whether he is doomed to mediocrity on bad teams or whether he is a star in the making….on a bad team. He will reach .255/16/59 this year as he comes of age as an average ballplayer.

Fourth & Fifth (4.375 & 4.625): The juries are still out on Atlanta Braves’ Josh Anderson and the Florida Marlins’ Cameron Maybin. They have played a combined total of 93 games in the majors and project so close to each other, I might as well surgically connect them at the hip. Both likely to hit just above the pitcher in the lineup, Maybin has the better shot at helping his team. With the Marlins pitching and the organizations propensity to field good young players (Uggla, Cabrera, Willingham, Beckett, & Willis just to name a few) Cameron will show why the Fish wanted him in that blockbuster trade that sent two Marlin stars to Detroit. This is not to say that the younger Anderson in the Brave outfield won’t have a chance to shine; I just expect Maybin to shine brighter a bit faster. Same projection for both, despite my obvious bias toward Maybin: .283/7/43.

I realize that in my opening paragraph I put Victorino in the same category as Carlos Beltran and that might have been getting ahead of myself. Beltran is a better all-round hitter, hands down, but what he brings to the Mets and what Victorino brings to the Phils cannot be compared, in my opinion. The two slot of the Phillies’ lineup is his and he is just about the perfect guy to hit behind Jimmy Rollins. He can be kind of a slacker at times, but the energy he brings to the everyday batting order is why he is more important to Philly than Carlos to NYC.

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