Possibly the second most important defensive position on the field after shortstop, a good centerfield can be the difference between a pitching staff that gives up a lot of pop flies and a staff that gives up a lot of doubles. At one point, it looked like the Cardinals had their center fielder for the foreseeable future in Colby Rasmus, but he was traded away. That deal has been discussed to death, but, in the long run, it looks like the Cardinals have some center field depth to deal with the loss. Not to mention, the trade gave us the necessary tools to bring home an eleventh World Series trophy. Currently, the Cardinals have Jon Jay slated as the starting center fielder with Carlos Beltran likely seeing time at the position once Allen Craig is healthy. Beltran is obviously a stopgap and Jay will need to show that he can hit for average consistently. If not, one of these players may be gunning for his job very soon.
C.J. McElroy – McElroy was drafted in the third round out of high school. He didn’t show much in the GCL but it was only a 23 game sample size. When he was drafted, his scouting report said that he has a plus bat with a bit of pop which is good for a center fielder. He is also very athletic and a fast runner. We will see more of McElroy this season as he plays a full season. Offensively, he should be fine. The question will be whether his athletic ability will lead to success at a premium defensive position.
Oscar Taveras – Taveras is the big name for the Cardinals. Right now he is either the number two or three prospect in the system depending on whose list you go off of. He has a ton of upside potential as his batting average and OPS are already solid. As he gets older and his power develops more, he could add on to the eight home runs he hit in 78 games last season. It’s also important to add that he played in a very pitcher friendly league last season. The sky is the limit for Taveras as he is definitely the best offensive prospect the Cardinals have seen since Rasmus.
Nick Longmire – Longmire followed up a solid rookie season with a slight regression but has the skill to bounce back. He still showed power in 2011, but his peripheral stats dipped. Defensively, he should have no problem sticking in center field, but his offense will continue to suffer unless he works on his swing. Longmire has a slight uppercut in his swing that causes him to lose some bat speed, but that is fixable with some minor league seasoning.
Tommy Pham – Pham had a breakout season in 2008, but has struggled with injuries and fatigue since then. He showed he has the ability to hit 20 home runs, but needs to put together a full season. His peripheral stats have been strong at AA, but he has only played 78 games combined in the last two seasons. If he stays healthy this season, he is more than capable of a breakout and a call-up to AAA.
The Cardinals aren’t hurting at center field. With the first three players on pace to be ready around the same time, we could see a few center field prospects switch to the corners. Taveras, for one, may be better suited for right field. In general, though, the depth at center field is very strong in the Cardinal system. This will prove to be a great strength as it is a position that is becoming increasingly hard to fill at an affordable price via free agency.
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