Note: In the mini-series “Position Prerankings,” I’ll go position-by-position for each team in the NL Central and say which projected starter I’d rather have on my team this season, along with a runner up and honorable mention. It should be noted that we’re only talking this year’s production, so age, contract status, likeability of the player as a person, etc is not counted.
A busy weekend has prompted me to do one final super combo post for the rest of Baseblog’s Position Prerankings. Take a look at the top right fielders, shortstops, and second basemen in the NL Central according to yours truly.
The Best: Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals
The Cards lost a first baseman this offseason, but shifting Lance Berkman to the old Puj-hole allowed them to sign a right fielder to replace him instead. Injuries have marred the past few years of Beltran’s career (he played just 145 games in 2009 and 2010 combined) but can be an elite player if he remains healthy. I like Corey Hart, my right field runner-up as a safer pick, but Beltran has the ability to out-produce him. It’s just a matter of seeing if he does.
The Runner-Up: Corey Hart, Milwaukee Brewers
Hart will lose some starts to Nyjer Morgan, Carlos Gomez, or Norichika Aoki at the start of the season due to some problems with his knees, but in the long run remains one of the premier guys in right field in the NL Central Division. He is a very close second to Carlos Beltran and will give his division rival a run for his money. Hart has been on the field for the most part of recent memory and averaged 28 home runs, an .866 OPS and almost 4 WAR over the past two seasons.
The Honorable Mention: Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
This first time all-star in 2011 is just 25 years old but is a force to be reckoned with. He set career highs in most non-averaged statistics last season (more at-bats gave Bruce’s 2010 average, slugging, etc a slight edge) and is heading up from here. The Rest of the NL Central right fielders includes David DeJesus, Chicago Cubs; Jose Tabata, Pittsburgh Pirates and Brian Bogusevic, Houston Astros.
The Best: Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs
Castro may not be the best shortstop in the league, but it’s hard to argue that he’s not the best shortstop in the National League Central Division. There’s really not much to say – Castro is an exciting young player who I hope continues to succeed. I’d take him over any of the other candidates in 2012.
Everyone Else …
I really don’t know where to go from here (I’ll admit defeat, it’s late). Two bright young sports exist in Zack Cozart for the Reds and newly acquired Jed Lowrie for the Astros. Alex Gonzalez of the Brewers and Clint Barmes of the Pirates are defense-orientated players with pop, and then there’s Rafael Furcal of the Cardinals. And Furcal is better than Ryan Theriot. So the Cardinals have that going for them. I’m going to cheat and leave some Bill James projections (from FanGraphs) for these players here and let you decide.
Alex Gonzalez: 14 home runs, 145 games, .237/.278/.381 batting average, OBP, slugging triple slash
Clint Barmes: 13 HR, 142 G, .248/.303/.393
Zack Cozart: 13 HR, 131 G, .256/.306/.404
Jed Lowrie: 8 HR, 101 G, .271/.348/.437
Rafael Furcal: 10 HR, 124 G, .270/.338/.394
Since I should probably choose the Runner-Up and Honorable Mention for my Position Prerankings recap, I’ll go with Rafael Furcal and Jed Lowrie, respectively. How’s that for a whim?
The Best: Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds
Phillips is a gold-gold defender at second (2011, 2010, 2008) and a reliable piece to the Reds’ lineup. The fewest games Phillips has played in a season since coming to Cincinnati in 2006 is 141. During those years he has been consistant with the bat, with a triple slash of .280/.331/.449 and 124 home runs, averaging 21 a season. Phillips’ consistency and history of decent health put him at the top of my list.
The Runner-Up: Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers
Weeks is another great second baseman but has had injury problems the past few years, missing all but a month and a half in 2009 with a torn hand muscle and two months in 2011 after running too hard to first (but props for the hustle). When healthy, Weeks has more isolated power than Phillips, .199 and .195 the past two years to Phillips’ .157 and .155.
The Honorable Mention: Neil Walker, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates’ 2004 first round pick will be their starting second baseman in 2011 after appearing in 159 games for the Bucs in 2011. Out of the remaining NL Central second basemen, Walker has shown the most power at the big league level with 12 bombs in both 2011 and 2010. The Rest of the NL Central second basemen includes Darwin Barney, Chicago Cubs; Jose Altuve, Houston Astros and Tyler Greene, St. Louis Cardinals.