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SnakePit Round Table: Center field, Part 1

A bumper batch of answers for this week's round table, as we discuss A.J. Pollock's breakout season. So, rather than throw all 3,800 words at you at once, I'm splitting this one into a couple of more easily-digestible installments.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
"All-Star A.J. Pollock". Did you think we'd be writing those words at this time last year?

Preston: I wouldn't have considered it beyond the realm of possibility, but I wouldn't have expected it either. NL outfield depth isn't exactly very strong, and Pollock's bat would play well in a corner, let alone center. Still, without an NL West manager, I'm not sure he gets in.

James: I have been a supporter of Pollock, trying to point out just how good he is since he was first brought up. I didn't expect this though. Mostly, I had no faith that the system would reward him quite so handsomely. Did I think he could be this good eventually? Yes. Did I expect anyone else to notice? No.

Makakilo: Mostly, my attention was on prospects and pitching instead of Pollock's all-star performance.

Xipooo: No.

freeland1787: Actually, I thought he had a good shot of getting in the game if he proved that 2014 early-season outburst was no fluke. Pollock was playing at an All-Star caliber level that year before the hand injury at the plate and in the field. Pollock not only proved the 2014 season was for real, but he even got better in 2015. His walk rate improved and his strikeout rate dropped drastically. Now he's a consensus Top 5 OF in baseball right now.

Jim: It wasn't impossible, since it's easy to forget what a good 2014 he had, posting almost four bWAR in only 75 games - on a per-inning basis, that made him more valuable for the D-backs than Paul Goldschmidt. Of course, you couldn't just double that and project he'd be worth eight WAR this year - though that's about what we got! So, if he wasn't an area of concern, I can't say I expected him to take it so convincingly to the next level.

What impressed you most about Pollock's play in center?

James: I think the most impressive part was when, back at the beginning of the season, I was wondering if Pollock might not be the best CF that this team has ever had. Finley and Young were both great center fielders in their time here, and yet I was already looking at Pollock in the same vein. Like those two, Pollock simply makes the job look effortless.

Makakilo: Pollock's 2016 was framed by golden bookends. At the beginning of the season there was talk about extending Pollock while his value was low. At the end of the season he won a gold glove. And in the center he was a candidate for MVP and an all-star player.

Xipooo: Dude can track down a ball.

freeland1787: The better question is what didn't impress me? The man can do everything you want from an elite CF. He makes near impossible plays look effortless and eats up a lot of field quickly. Pollock can catch any fly ball between left-center and right-center if it's still in the ballpark.

Jim: At the risk of avoiding the question, it was the all-round quality of Pollock's play - like Goldie, he combined great defense, excellent base-running, power, hitting for average and plate discipline. Not many 2015 center-fielders were second on their team in homeruns and walks. And none batted over .300 with thirty stolen-bases. I just expected something to happen every time he came to the plate.

Is there any area in which you think he could improve?

James: His game is fairly complete right now. I could say I would like him to walk more, yet walking more seems to have been exactly how he would get himself out of a bad rut. I could say I wish he took more pitches, especially when he bats leadoff, but he wasn't a poor performer in that area, and I would much rather him swinging when he is comfortable given his ability to put the ball in play and make good things happen. I think the one area where I might have been "disappointed" was how infrequently he stole bases during the heart of the season. However, when batting right in front of Goldschmidt, his opportunities decreased, since the philosophy seems to be to not run while Goldschmidt is at the plate. All in all, I would have to really nit-pick to find something concrete to take issue with.

Makakilo: First I looked at his numbers to identify a small change that could yield a big improvement. Nada. Would it be easy to increase his percentage of hard hit balls? Probably not. Then I looked beyond the numbers. Does he eat healthy? Does he have program to reduce the probability of injury? Does he have different approaches to the plate depending on where he hits in the line-up?

Xipooo: Sure. I'd actually like to see him be a bit more aggressive on the base pads. I don't think it will be a problem this year now that we have Senior Windmill as 3rd base coach now.

freeland1787: I'm not sure he can improve from this point forward, his game is basically maxed out at this point. You have a CF that's capable of hitting .300, rack up XBH, hit 20 HR, steal 40 bases, and play Gold Glove caliber defense in the most physically demanding position other than catcher. Only other player in baseball who can do that is Mike Trout.

Jim: He'd probably need to be bitten by a radioactive Mike Trout. Pollock did lead the team in hitting into double-plays this year, so there was that.

The MLB Network ranked him second among all CF. Too high, too low or about right?

Preston: Fangraphs agrees, at any rate. I'm not completely sold. He's certainly top-five, and he was certainly top-two last year, but I'd put him joint-top in the NL at this point, along with Andrew McCutchen. Odubel Herrera has a chance to come on strong, and while I don't consider Ender Inciarte to be as good a player as Pollock, playing in CF full-time could make him a 5 WAR player, too. So I'd say about right, with the caveat that there are probably five center fielders in a group, any one of whom could claim to be second best. (For reference, that group is Cain, McCutchen, Kiermeier, and Betts in addition to Pollock.)

James: I think that when it comes to the complete package, yes, Pollock is second-best in baseball among center fielders. Preston listed some other talented guys that patrol center field, but I don't think any of them are as good or better than Pollock across the board, and only Kiermeier is in the same tier defensively.

Makakilo: About right. My view is that Mike Trout and A.J. Pollock are in a class by themselves. Trout edges out Pollock because his better hitting counts for more than Pollock's better fielding. I noticed that Trout had an edge in hard hit balls (40.8% vs 33.8%).

Xipooo: It's baby bearish to me.

freeland1787: Trout is clearly #1, so at best I expected Pollock to be around 3rd or 4th. Right now I think Pollock is at his athletic peak, which means we should expect 2 or 3 more seasons of him being a 6.0+ WAR player in CF. Pollock is clearly a top 3 CF at the plate and in the field in the National League, not even McCutchen can claim that.

Jim: Based on 2015 performance, seems legit. There's Trout - who is ten months younger than Jake Lamb, f'heavens sake - then there's the rest. I think Pollock does need to show a bit more consistency before he will be spoken of in the same terms as McCutchen, and perhaps start to get some traction as a potential starting All-Star in CF, which would be nice.

Here are the CF from the farm system in 2015. Are they all utterly blocked?
Name             Age Lev    PA   H HR SB CS BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
Breland Almadova 24  A+    434 104  4 25 10 40  80 .273 .348 .375 .723
Todd Glaesmann   24  3 lv  397 104 19  5  3 18  79 .278 .316 .540 .856
Evan Marzilli*   24  3 lv  203  48  1 10  6 27  43 .276 .374 .374 .748
Mitch Haniger    24  A+/AA 400 110 13 12  6 33  71 .310 .368 .515 .883
Colin Bray#      22  A     560 151  3 27  9 47 109 .308 .370 .410 .781
Zach Nehrir      22  A-    182  49  1 11  2 13  31 .297 .363 .418 .781
Joey Armstrong   21  Rk/A- 237  41  2  4  3 29  51 .205 .300 .270 .570
Maik Ehmcke*     20  Rk    119  22  0  2  1 10  29 .210 .274 .286 .559
Matt McPhearson* 20  Rk    196  41  0 30  7 18  53 .237 .318 .254 .572
V. Rodriguez*    18  FRk   262  63  1 20  7 19  45 .267 .319 .331 .650
Marcus Wilson    18  Rk    249  55  1  7  4 33  61 .258 .357 .338 .695

James: While I don't necessarily think all of them are totally blocked, I think one has to look fairly deep to find a candidate likely to break through. Colin Bray and Marcus Wilson both still look somewhat promising, though Bray needs to really step things up in 2016. The problem for Bray then, is he may indeed find himself blocked. If Glaesmann can hit again in 2016, he could push Brito for the 5th OF spot. I like Brito better, but if the team becomes in need of another RHB for the outfield, I would not be surprised if Glaesmann was considered, at least as a temporary "injury solution". Evan Marzilli looks blocked to me. Pollock and Brito both keep him down.

Makakilo: Glaesmann has great raw talent.

  • Hitting: Glaesmann can hit. In AAA, Todd Glaesmann had a higher home-runs per plate appearance (4.7%) than Pollock in the majors (3.0%). In AAA, Todd Glaesmann had BA/SLG/OPS of .286/551/.878. And it may have been showboating, but in high A baseball he hit for the cycle.
  • Defense. Glaesmann can field. Although he started out exclusively playing the corner outfield positions, in 2015 he played half his games in center. The best defensive outfielders play in center. In AAA, he made 2 errors in 1231 innings played, which confirms he can field well.
  • Throwing. Glaesmann can throw. An internet article said Glaesmann has a strong throwing arm.
  • A GM's expressed opinion. A GM with the initials KT said Todd Glaesmann was "...probably the key player in the deal" that traded away Heath Bell from the Diamondbacks. KT obtained Todd Glaesmann and Justin Choate.
  • A Quote. Todd Glaesmann justified why he plays baseball by saying, "If you don't give it everything you have, you're going to live a life of regret, thinking about what could have been, what kind of player you could have been."

Xipooo: Glaesmann I think has a future as a 4th outfielder, perhaps even as early as this year.

freeland1787: I see a lot of boom/bust prospects on that list. Probably the closest bet to the majors is Todd Glaesmann due to the need of a reserve OF that can hit LHP. The two guys I have circled are Bray and Wilson. Bray is the Dbacks best OF prospect IMO should advance to Visalia next season and how he hits in Visalia and Mobile will determine his future. Wilson has AJ Pollock type upside when his body and game matures. He's already walking a lot, which was a good sign for him and the strikeouts should come down when he gets more used to his body. The challenge is now adjusting to playing over the course of a 140-game season, which can be a struggle for a guy who isn't even 20 years old yet.

Jim: At least, with CF prospects, they can always move to the corner spots, if they can hit well enough - Glaesmann and Haniger seem the most-evolved in that department. But there doesn't appear any need to rush anyone, particularly in 2016.

We'll continue with the second part tomorrow, looking at where Pollock might hit, who'll be the backup and what the best movies of 2015 were in the SnakePit's opinion.