Rob Neyer is predicting who will be the best players of this decade at each position. You can view all his previous selections here as he makes them.
The year 2011 does not figure to be a good year for center fielders. Sure there are a lot of really good players who played at least some center field in 2010 ... but Josh Hamilton, Carlos Gonzalez, and Brett Gardner are all penciled into other positions this spring. Granted, one or more of them might return to the middle pasture at some point. But we can't really count on it, can we?
Andres Torres played wonderfully last season, and he's still the Giants' center fielder. He is also 33 years old. We're looking for the Center Fielder of This Decade. Toward the end of this decade, Andres Torres will probably be spending his summers with his children, on a vast estate somewhere in Puerto Rico.
We're looking for actual center fielders who were actually born since 1980.
So who do you like? Michael Bourn? Chris Young? B.J. Upton? Franklin Gutierrez?
Probably not. This time we gotta go young. Maybe a lot younger.
With apologies to Drew Stubbs and Adam Jones, I think we should skip ahead to a trio of 24-year-olds: Austin Jackson, Colby Rasmus and Andrew McCutchen.
Austin Jackson nearly won a Rookie of the Year Award last year. He also struck out 170 times.
Colby Rasmus didn't play real well as a rookie in 2009, but played exceptionally well as a sophomore in 2010. According to the hitting stats, anyway. According to the fielding stats, he was really good in 2009 and really not so good in 2010. Also, Tony La Russa doesn't seem to care for him.
Something tells me all those little issues are, with time, going to take care of themselves, and that Rasmus will soon become one of our continent's very best center fielders.
And then there's young Andrew McCutchen. In 2009, he batted .286 with a .365 on-base percentage. In 2010, he batted .286 with a .365 on-base percentage.
Has our young Mr. McCutchen stalled? Well, maybe a little. He actually hit for less power in 2010. But so did a lot of other guys, right? Plus it was just a touch less power. Relative to his league (the National, because he plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates), McCutchen's 2010 was virtually identical to his 2009. Which isn't exactly what you like to see, but on the other hand he's convincingly demonstrated that his outstanding 2009 wasn't some flukish flukey-fluke.
I don't know for sure, but think this kid's going to be pretty good.
There are even more kids, though. Younger kids. Really younger kids.
Angels farmhand Mike Trout will play this entire season at the age of 19. He is exceptionally fast, is happy to take a walk, has a .344 batting average as a professional ... oh, and there are people who think he's going to develop home-run power as he matures. Trout hasn't played above Class A yet, but has the sort of talent that could get him to the majors quickly. Except the Angels have a pretty loaded outfield - thanks, Vernon Wells! - and of course Torii Hunter is firmly ensconced in center field, with a contract that runs through 2012. As good as Trout might become, he's going to start with a two- or three-year disadvantage to his opponents in this little skirmish.
So will Bryce Harper. Maybe four or five years actually. Harper will be 18 this season, and hasn't played an inning of minor-league ball. Still, John Sickels has seen enough to write, "I have no doubt that Harper is the premier offensive prospect in baseball, with the natural ability to be a perennial MVP candidate once he reaches and adapts to the majors."
That can't happen until 2013, though, right? Even the most incredibly talented players - Ken Griffey and Alex Rodriguez come to mind - haven't been ready to dominate in the majors when they were 19. Granted, if Harper does play well in the majors in '13 and he's as good as everyone thinks, he could wind up dominating this decade anyway. I don't believe that's going to happen. But it's possible.
Not possible enough, though. The choice isn't easy, but I think we have to go with Andrew McCutchen by a nose (or two) over Colby Rasmus.