Coming into the season, there were a lot of high expectations for the game's newest crop of young center fielders. I mean, everybody loves hoping that the next Griffey, Beltran or Andruw Jones emerges, an all-around beast that thrives both at the plate and at one of the game's most difficult and valuable positions.
As of today, though, I think that most people would comfortably say that the vast majority of that class of players have seriously underwhelmed. Alas, I'm certainly not getting on Colby Rasmus or Andrew McCutchen, those two have already emerged as the two best candidates to take place as the game's best center fielder sometime soon. Rather, I'm talking about pretty much everyone else. While some of them have actually played somewhat well in spite of their lack of discipline as hitters, that's mostly because of the otherworldly tools and skills that got them to the majors in the first place despite their lack of a developed approach at the plate. Oh, and a little thing called luck, too.
Here's a quick look at the bevy of center fielders, along with their subpar K/BB rates:
- Drew Stubbs, Cincinnati: 9.8% BB%, 31.4% K%, 0.35 BB/K
- Gerardo Parra, Arizona: 5.3% BB%, 19.4% K%, 0.29 BB/K
- Cameron Maybin, Florida: 7.0% BB%, 30.8% K%, 0.25 BB/K
- Austin Jackson, Detroit: 6.0% BB%, 26.8% K% 0.24 BB/K
- Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado: 3.7% BB%, 22.0% K%, 0.18 BB/K
- Adam Jones, Baltimore: 3.1% BB%, 22.0% K%, 0.15 BB/K
- Julio Borbon, Texas: 1.6% BB%, 14.4% K%, 0.12 BB/K
That's seven of the most talented young center fielders in the game, and all three of them are currently flashing definitively below average walk-to-strikeout ratios. Even the guys that are showing respectable walk rates, like Maybin, Stubbs and Jackson, are having serious issues with making consistent contact. Some of these guys have been skating by lately on high BABIP's and above average power output, but in general few players can really thrive with the kind of plate discipline that these guys have been showing.
Obviously these guys are some of the most toolsy, talented players on the field generally, as playing center field and getting to the majors requires a large amount of those things. But even for a guy with pretty much every tool in the shed, like Mr. Jones or Mr. Gonzalez, it's just really difficult to thrive at the world's highest level without an approach that forces the world's best pitchers to miss some pitches and make some mistakes.
The sea of fallen prospects is full of tattered remains from failed CF prospects, guys like Felix Pie and Brian Anderson (Chicago really sucks with CF, right..? Oh wait, Byrd and Rios have been awesome this year. For the moment, never mind). But they weren't guys that failed because they didn't have the athleticism to stay in center or the tools to hit in the majors. They failed for the exact same reasons that some of these guys have been struggling this season: a truly sub-par approach as a hitter. Both Pie and Anderson have similar BB/K ratios, but the theme is common, and it's too many strikeouts and not enough walks.
Sometimes players can shake off those early-career issues and make good on their talent, as we've seen Pie show some significant improvement since being dealt to Baltimore before the 2009 season. But other times, it just never works out. Just look at Anderson, who signed with the Royals before this season but opted to take the Sergio Santos Route and turn to pitching. A few of these guys will probably end up finishing the season being regarded among the best young outfielders in the game. But right now, it's worth keeping an eye on their walks and strikeouts, because some improvement there could go a really long way for these guys.