Nyjer Morgan is 31 years old and last season with the Milwaukee Brewers showed he might have finally found his niche. The centerfielder was only in his third year as a major league starter and after a poor 2010 showing in Washington, one had to wonder if he was cut out to make as a big-leaguer. He answered the doubts with a season where hit over .300 and played a key supporting role in the Brewers’ winning of the 2011 NL Central title and then winning the first playoff series over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Now it’s time for Morgan to show he can do it again and the key will be improvement of his on-base percentage. While a .357 OBP is solid, someone who hits over .300 should be able to do better with a little more plate discipline. If Morgan can get on via the walk, as well as the hit, he’ll be a much more consistent factor in the offense.
Morgan being on base more is going to be even bigger to the success of the Brewers’ this year than it was last season.
Manager Ron Roenicke didn’t rely on the stolen base much, and Morgan—who swiped 76 bases in 2009-10 combined, only stole 13 a year ago. With Prince Fielder joining Ryan Braun in the lineup, that caution made sense. With Fielder in Detroit and questions looming over how Braun will bounce back from the offseason tumult that engulfed him, the running game may be a bigger part of the offense. It’s imperative that Morgan be at the center of such a strategy.
Here’s a look at the centerfield starters around the NL Central…
St. Louis Cardinals: Jon Jay—The Cards put all their chips on Jay when they dealt Colby Rasmus last summer and Jay played well down the stretch in the historic World Series run. He’s still a question mark though, as we see how he handles a full season with pitchers getting to know him.
Cincinnati Reds: Drew Stubbs—A big liability on offense, especially given the favorable hitters’ park he has to work in.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen—He’s got the tools to be an MVP candidate and last season’s performance showed he’s already become an All-Star. McCutchen is the class of NL Central centerfielders.
Chicago Cubs: Marlon Byrd—A horrifying pitch off his face last summer marred 2011. Byrd’s track record is that of a respectable player capable of the occasional All-Star caliber breakout.
Houston Astros: Jordan Schaefer—When the Astros traded Michael Bourn last summer, Schaefer became the new man—or kid at age 25—in town. His 302 at-bats last year were his first real chance and it didn’t pan out well. 2012 will be a key year for him as we look for improvement.