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Talking Chop Round Table: Braves Center Fielders

As part of season reviews for major league players and top prospect ranking for minor league players, we here at Talking Chop thought it would be a fun idea to get all of our bloggers together with the help of Google Docs and debate the various aspects of each position in the Braves organization.

The participants are, yours truly (gondeee, indicated by MG), yondaime4 (indicated by MF), royhobbs (indicated by DH), and cbwilk (indicated by CBW).

The round table for center fielders in the Braves organization is after the jump.

MGCan Nate McLouth become one of the top center fielders in baseball, or will he always be sort of an average defender and average hitter?
CBW: Well, if you average out his career numbers over a 162 games, you're looking at a .260 average, .796 OPS, 33 DB, 20 HR, and 22 SB. I don't know what numbers he has to put up to be one of the top center fielders, but if that's average, I'm great with it. In pretty much any lineup, if you can get that kind of production out of center field, you're going to be more than happy. And he was pretty much in line with his career numbers for Atlanta, with a bit less slugging and a bit more OBP. And he's a guy that makes me think even more that UZR is total crap. I keep hearing about how he was negative 40 or whatever last year and negative again this year, and I wonder if they were watching a different player. To me, he made all kinds of great plays, got to a lot of balls that I didn't think a center fielder could get to, and generall played great defense. His arm is pathetic, but most center fielder's are. Frankly, I think McLouth is a great player, and as much as I love Gorkys, Charlie, and Locke, Atlanta straight up stole him from Pittsburgh.
MF: I'm not sold that McLouth is a good CF, defensively. I didn't really like what I saw of him, and I haven't seen his UZR stuff. I just wasn't as impressed with his skills, though I think he can manage. Offensively I think he definitely has the pop to be one of the better CF in the game. What we saw of him in a Braves uni this season probably wasn't indicative of his true ability and I don't think he was being used properly. He is a well rounded player but I just don't know if he fits at the top of the lineup (maybe his ability to steal bases does). I'm not really sure where he should fit though. Maybe 2 or 6. CB is right, we fleeced Pittsburgh in that deal. Gorkys will never be an MLB starter, Locke still has potential but he wasn't good this year and Morton maybe needed to change locations to really blossom, but he's probably never more than 3 anyways.

MG If Jordan Schafer were still a prospect, where would he rank?
That's tough to sort out because he's essentially lost a whole season the last two years between an injury and a suspension. Do you go off of his stats last year as a major leaguer (when he was injured part of the time), or his track record in the minors. I'd like to say that he would slot pretty high, probably in the 2-to-4 range, I think I'd put him at 4.

CBW: Probably 4th. I'm a huge fan of Schafer's and have been for several years. I'm not putting much stock into his struggles because I think they were largely the by product of his wrist injury. I have no idea how to explain why he looked lost in center field, because I've only known him to be a superlative outfielder and a guy who I think can win a gold glove in the future. I'm willing to write that off as a fluke. I think he's going to come back in 2010 about as strong as anybody. I'm telling you, betting against this kid is just stupid. He's confident in himself and he's willing to put in more work than anyone out there.
MF: He would be 3 for me. The guy has at least average tools across the board and if you use John Sickels 7 Skills which include hitting for average, hitting for power, strike zone judgment, baserunning ability, fielding range, fielding reliability and throwing utility. A quick glance at that says that Jordan Schafer can do all of those things at a premium defensive position. He may never hit for an extremely high average but I do believe he can hit .280 in his prime and add 15-20 homers. Again for a CF this is phenomenal and I can't wait to get him back on the team.

MGDoes Matt Young ever get a chance to be a big leaguer? He should be at triple-A next year, but now he's blocked by Schafer. Young will also be old next year, for a prospect, at 27. I know we ranked him first on our center field list, but in retrospect I think that's more of a nostalgic ranking, when we should really be putting guys like Rose and Harrilchak ahead of him. CB, I think you got it right by putting those two in first and second and Young in third.
CBW: Hey, always nice to be told you're right. I like Matt Young a lot and I think he's going to get a shot to play in the Majors. He's shown a ton of speed and that's somthing that isn't easy to ignore. He could have a lot of value as a 4th or 5th outfielder, especially to playoff caliber teams with clunkers in left field, like Manny Ramirez or Raul Ibanez. I think there's a good possibility that Schafer does go back to AAA to start next year, but I dont' see anyone in AA that seems likely to come up and play LF, so Young could fit in well right there. I have to say, after doing the writeup, I'm higher on Rose and Harrilchak that I was before. When I saw Danville, Harrilchak was definitely the second most impressive player (behind Myke Jones). It may sound dumb, but he just looks like a professional. And he put up an outstanding season in his debut. Like with RSF, I can't get too excited about it, cause he was old for the league, but it's still worth valuing. And he's got a ton of athletic tools. I really think he's going to devlop well. My guess is he starts 2010 at Myrtle Beach, skipping Rome entirely. Because he's a year younger, and in a certain context the GCL and Appy league are fairly equal, I put Rose first though. When you really crunch the numbers on those stolen bases, the amount that he was able to get is astonishing. I haven't seen him play, so it's a bit odd that I chose to put him first, but those kind of steal numbers, even against Rookie ball catchers, were enough for me to put him ahead of the pack.
MF: I think if Young doesn't get a real shot next year he probably won't ever get his chance. I think the only reason I didn't rank Rose and Harrilchak ahead of Young was simply because they hadn't played in full season ball. I have a hard time ranking guys very high until they get into full season ball and show me something. Like I have said before I usually consider a guys first season in pro ball a wash, even if it is good. Its just hard to get a read on their skill sets in such a short time with such varied competition. So yeah, Harrilchak and Rose are probably better prospects in the traditional sense of the word (and I am actually really excited about both guys) but I feel like Young gets the nod in my book because of what he has done in the past couple of seasons and his proximity to the majors. Don't forget also how difficult it is to hit in Mississippi.

MG Our centerfield depth is pretty slim. After Schafer and Young, you have to go to rookie ball to find a viable prospect. Guys like Ware, Culver, and Miles just haven't done anything in pro ball.
CBW: I think when you factor in that Concepcion Rodriguez and Willie Cabrera play a good bit of center field it looks a bit better. Both of those guys are fairly viable prospects, and if they reached their top offensive potential I'd be more than comfortable with them patrolling center. Frankly, Culver didn't even enter into my thoughts. He didn't get regular playing time and didn't play well. Miles is interesting because I think he's actually beginning a transformation that will establish him as a decent prospect. He's been somewhere between awful and less than great at different points in his career, but I'm encouraged by the fact that his overall season this year was better than last, and that his second half was better than his first. The kid is has absolutely no power, sometimes you think he might get knocked backwards when he makes contact, but he's got a ton of speed. If he can learn how to use his tools well, we might be talking about him like we're talking about Matt Young in a few years. I have to admit, I'm completely biased for LV Ware. Not only do I think he's one of the best people in the Braves' system, I think he's one of the best people I know. And his character and makeup bleed all over his performance on the field. I love that he was able to improve in Danville this season instead of pouting. It was a crappy situation that he absolutely made the best of. And I'm willing to write off his struggles in Rome. When a guy plays a little poorly, it's a sign that he's just not good enough, but when a guy absolutely bombs like he did, there's more to it. Ware is a superb athlete and I think he's a talented player. I'm not going to say he's an amazing prospect who will save the team, I had him 4th on my list just like everyone else, but I do think he can develop into a useful player for the Major League team, even if it takes a little while.
MF: People keep talking about how weak our upper minors are on position prospects (and even pitching to some degree) but the counter point here is that we have a good portion of our young nucleus locked up through 2012. Lets just look at this for a second (I'll assume for a second that Heyward and Freeman pan out)
C: McCann -  Till 2012 (2013 with options)
1B: Freddie Freeman (if he makes the majors next year he is a FA when? 2016?)
2B: Martin Prado we've got him till at least 2012 probably longer
3B: Chipper Jones signed through 2012 with an option for 2013 (if he keeps up an 800 OPS for those seasons he is still above average at 3rd)
SS: Yunel Escobar we have control of til at least 2012
LF: McLouth just tossing him here for the moment Club option in 2012
CF: Jordan Schafer till 2014 or so
RF: Jason Heyward for a long time
Thats just the position players. All of which are good for another 3 seasons. And that isn't really a bad lineup though I can expect some attrition from Chipper and growing pains from Freeman and maybe Heyward. But if we can't get some solid depth back in the ranks of position players by 2012 then Frank Wren will be having issues. Sorry that was a little more off topic, but still to the point I think.

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