Head to Head (Part 7): Ranking the Center Fielders in the NL East

By Cody Swartz

This is the seventh article in the series ranking the best players by positions in the NL East. This one compares the five starting center fielders in the division; listed alphabetically by last name as Rick Ankiel, Emilio Bonifacio, Michael Bourn, Andres Torres, and Shane Victorino.

If you missed the article on the catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops, or left fielders, please click here to read it.

5. Rick Ankiel, Washington Nationals: Rick Ankiel is an amazing redemption story of a pitcher who flamed out and came back as a hitter, but there probably isn’t too much left to his major league career. Ankiel batted just .239/.296/.363 with nine home runs, 37 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases in 415 plate appearances for the 2011 Washington Nationals, and he’s now been on four teams in four seasons.

Ankiel has power – he did hit 25 home runs in a season before – but he doesn’t have much left at this point. He walks too infrequently, he strikes out a lot, and at 32 years old, Ankiel is only going to get worse. He does play a pretty underrated center field, as he put up a .996 fielding percentage and made nine assists from the outfield, but that’s not enough to keep him from ranking fifth on the list.

4. Andres Torres, New York Mets: Like Rick Ankiel, Andres Torres hasn’t played in 2012 – well other than two at-bats before suffering a calf injury. He was downright awful in 2011 after a surprisingly successful 2010 with the World Series champion San Francisco Giants; Torres went from .268/.343/.479 to .221/.312/.330 in ’11.

His home runs dropped from 16 to four and his RBIs went from 63 to 19, even though he still racked up nearly 400 plate appearances in 2011. Torres’ .643 OPS in 2011 won’t help him keep his job too long in ’12, especially with young prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis having played well in limited at-bats (.294/.368/.471). Torres is really nothing more than a player taking up time until Nieuwenhuis takes over full-time or the Mets decide to go in another direction.

3. Emilio Bonifacio, Miami Marlins: Emilio Bonifacio is like Omar Infante, in that he’s a former super utility man that now has a full-time position. Bonifacio hit .296/.360/.393 in 641 plate appearances in 2011, and he stole a career-high 40 bases while legging out seven triples. He has good speed, and that has helped him to play multiple positions on defense – he can play both middle infield positions, third base, and anywhere in the outfield.

Bonifacio is off to a great start in 2012, as he’s hitting .353 in 34 at-bats, and he’s a young player that should serve as a valuable part of the Marlins for the next several seasons, both for his speed, good bat, and defensive versatility.

2. Michael Bourn, Atlanta Braves: Michael Bourn is a former fourth round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies, and he’s developed into a pretty solid center fielder. The Atlanta Braves picked him up via trade last July, and he is a speedy contact hitter that is a great option as a leadoff hitter.

Bourn has led the league in stolen bases three years running, and he batted .294 with 10 triples and 61 steals in 656 at-bats last season. Bourn has virtually no power – 13 career home runs in nearly 2,700 plate appearances – but he’s not on the roster for his big bat. Bourn plays solid defense, having won two Gold Gloves in Houston, and he’s a little power away from overtaking Shane Victorino for the spot as the best center fielder in the division.

1. Shane Victorino, Philadelphia Phillies: You may not think of him as such, but Shane Victorino is a legit five-tool superstar player. He can hit for average, hit for power, run, play the field, and he has a cannon of an arm. The only thing Victorino could stand to improve is his plate discipline, as he has never walked more than 60 times in a season.

Victorino batted .279/.355/.491 with 17 home runs and 61 RBIs in 586 plate appearances last season. He led the league with 16 triples, stole 19 bases in 22 attempts, and posted a 129 adjusted OPS that was by far the best of his career. Victorino finished 13th in the MVP voting, made his second All-Star team, and he likely would have finished even higher in the voting if he hasn’t trailed off late in the season: Victorino was hitting .314 with a .551 slugging percentage as late as August 23, and batted just .179/.257/.321 in his remaining 149 plate appearances.

He is due to hit free agency after 2012, and although he is 31 years old, Victorino should still be able to get a four-year deal worth over $50 million. Players of his kind are rare to find and the Philadelphia Phillies need all the offense they can get, which means he definitely should be back with the team in 2013 and beyond.

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