Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images
It's gonna be strange this year, not having Chris Young on Opening Day - only Luis Gonzalez has more such starts in franchise history. But center field was a roller-coaster for the D-backs this year. It started brilliantly, had more than its share of issues, but the arrival of Adam Eaton ended things on an up note. Let's recap, and look forward.
Chris Young. That was pretty much the plan going in to 2013. After all, he had started all but sixteen of the 324 regular-season games there, since Opening Day 2010. Sure, his batting average hadn't been quite what we'd liked, but he had made up for that with decent plate discipline, and good power for a position not exactly known for it. Over those two seasons, only three center-fielders had hit more homers: Matt Kemp, Curtis Granderson and Vernon Wells. Add on to that his excellent defense, which made the capacious sward beneath the batter's eye at Chase look a lot smaller than it was, and we were set. Need a day off? Parra, when there's a tough rightie on the mound.
And it had all been going so very well, too. Young started the season at a quite epic tear. After the first 11 games, Young was hitting .410, with more walks than strikeouts, giving him a .500 on-base percentage. He had hammered five home-runs, driven in 13, and was enjoying a 1.397 OPS. Then, leading off the fourth inning of a game at Chase against the Pirates, Pedro Alvarez hit the ball deep into the left-center gap. Young showed his usual impressive speed, after a good jump, to close down the distance and jumped to take away extra bases from the Pittsburgh hitter. But before we could even rise to applaud another web-gem by Young...
It was one of those cases where as soon as he went down, your heart sank. And the longer he stayed down, the worse it seemed. The eventual prognosis was a deep bone bruise, and a slight tear of the ligament in the AC joint of his right shoulder, and despite him begging Kirk Gibson not to be placed on the DL, it was not a hard decision for the team - it was the first missed time due to injury of Young's career. Gerardo Parra took over as the every-day center fielder, with A.J. Pollock being called up from the minors to become the fourth outfielder, making his major-league debut on April 18.
Young would miss fractionally over a month, sitting out 28 games before returning to the Diamondbacks in mid-May. I've got a strong suspicion that he came back too soon, before the should was properly healed - at the end of the season, CY admitted as much, saying "I probably rushed back and never really found what I had." Certainly, when he did, the magic was gone, and his offense a pale shadow of its former self. In 38 appearances from there through to the All-Star break, Young batted only .143 (19-for-133), with an OPS of .491. The second half was better (.261/.327/.471), but a right quad injury restricted him to PH duty for the last month.
Parra was the main "beneficiary" of playing time, filling in solidly, at a position with which he wasn't particularly familiar - he had only three starts playing center in 2010, and a solitary contest there in 2011. He also produced his best offensive numbers in the spot. However, the real revelation was Adam Eaton, who was a September call-up, and due to Young's injury, became the regular occupant, starting 21 of the last 26 games. A .794 OPS is pretty good as a start to a career, helped by a K:BB ratio of 15:14, but his all-out hustle and grit endeared him to both fans and coaches. He was also a worthy winner of the 'Pittie for Play of the Year, thanks to this low-orbit ion cannon::
The trade of Young was no surprise, given his increasing cost ($8.5 million this year, an $11m team option in 2014) and the cheaper alternatives Arizona has in Parra and Eaton. Indeed, the trade with the A's for Pennington seemed logical, filling a position of obvious need at shortstop, and clearing the log-jam in the outfield. However, subsequent related moves were less obvious: the money saved by Young's departure was immediately given to the league's most expensive set-up man, Heath Bell, and the log-jam was restored with the signing of Cody Ross. Right now, we are looking at an outfield of Jason Kubel, Ross and Justin Upton, with Parra as 4th man, and Eaton in Reno.
However, it still seems probable that one of the five current outfielders will be traded, and that will shake things up. If it's the most likely candidates - Kubel or Upton - then Ross will move over to take over the vacated spot, and Eaton becomes the starting center-fielder (and, I suspect, lead-off hitter), with Parra remaining the Swiss Army knife. That would appear optimal: I think Eaton's plate discipline and speed are a great fit for the top of the order, and would give the D-backs the best option they've had there in a very long time. Hopefully, his other skills will also translate to the majors at a decent level: early signs were good, but small sample size applies.
In terms of offensive production overall, center-field was respectable enough, if not spectacular. Here's where they ranked, compared to the best by OPS (Pittsburgh), worst (Houston) and league average last season.
Other Pit opinions
soco: Chris Young was pretty good until someone cursed him after the first month. Adam Eaton looked pretty good until he was knocked out with an injury. Gerardo Parra exists. AJ Pollock looks vaguely like DbacksSkins.