What a night for baseball. I spent the evening switching from channel to channel, watching: the Cubs clinch the National League Central with a win and a Brewers loss to the Padres that also guaranteed San Diego at least a tie for the NL wild card; the Red Sox sew up the American League East with a victory and an improbable Orioles rally against the Yankees; the Phillies amazingly surging into first place in the NL East with a win and yet another loss by the Mets; and the Diamondbacks wrapping up a playoff spot by ending the Rockies' 11-game winning streak.
That's all in one night. Wow.
With much less fanfare, the Devil Rays also did some clinching of their own on Thursday. Their 3-1 loss to the Yankees earned them the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft, making them the first team ever to have the top choice two years in a row.
Lots of interesting center-field thoughts to ponder, so I'll jump right in.
Justin Upton just started playing center field in 2006. Young is a more natural center fielder and between the two of them, Upton has the stronger arm and is better suited for right field. In his first 40 big league games, Upton played only right and it looks like he's there to stay.
Not to take anything away from Granderson, who keeps improving and is having a fabulous season, but Maybin is a superior athlete and is the better center fielder as well. Complicating matters, however, is the fact that he also has a stronger arm than Granderson and would fit better in right field once Magglio Ordonez is done. Don’t be surprised, however, if neither Granderson nor Maybin is Detroit's center fielder of the future. I could see Gorkys Hernandez in center, with Granderson in left and Maybin in right, forming one of the game's best defensive outfields.
Rasmus ranked as the best defensive outfielder in the Texas League. He's not going to be a Gold Glover, but he'll able to stay in center field. He'll probably take over in St. Louis at some point in 2008, as he's just about ready for the majors and Edmonds is just about done (though due to make $8 million next year).
Bruce's athleticism is underrated. He's not a classic center fielder, but he has enough speed and instincts to get the job done there. I think he'll probably first surface in the major leagues as a center fielder, with Josh Hamilton sliding over to right field and either Adam Dunn or Ken Griffey Jr. getting traded in the offseason. A couple of years down the line, after he loses a step, Bruce will shift over to right field.
Schafer will be the Braves' center fielder of the future, but he's not ready to step in if Andruw Jones departs as a free agent. Brandon Jones (no relation) is an interesting athlete, but he spent 2007 in left field, so I don't think he's the answer. It's the same situation with Lillibridge, who played some outfield in college but has seen time only at shortstop this year. If Andruw leaves, Atlanta probably will try to get by with Willie Harris at first and then could turn to Jeff Francoeur until Schafer is ready in 2009.
Though McCutchen didn't have a great season, he's still the best prospect in the Pirates system. He's a gifted center fielder, and Chris Duffy and Nate McLouth won't be able to stop him from claiming that spot in Pittsburgh in the near future.
As for B.J. Upton, scouts long had said that center field might be his best position. He moved there in June after Rocco Baldelli got hurt yet again, and there's no reason for Tampa Bay to move him. And yes, he'll be the game's premier offensive center fielder for the decade—in part because his two biggest challengers (Bruce and his younger brother) look like they'll be right fielders in the long run.
In his two years in full-season ball, Young led the minors with 87 steals (in 118 tries) in 2006 and ranked second this year. He's one of the minor leagues' most disruptive players, and he's making progress toward realizing his goal of following in the footsteps of his father, the Rockies' first-ever second baseman.
A 30th-round pick in 2003 who signed as a draft-and-follow the next spring, Young is a decent prospect but he'll have to keep proving himself. His 2007 statistics were nothing special for a 22-year-old in a high Class A hitter's league where teams batted a cumulative .271/.344/.426. He's nothing special defensively at second base, and he doesn't have the arm to step over to shortstop. He also would benefit from more patience after drawing just 46 walks.
Keep an eye on Young and his game-changing speed, but don't write him into Colorado's future lineup just yet. Troy Tulowitzki looks like he's going to keep the shortstop job for a while, which means that rising shortstop prospects such as Chris Nelson, Hector Gomez and Jonathan Herrera may move over to second. Daniel Mayora already made that transition, and Ian Stewart may try to shift from third base to second next year.
No different standards. We just look at big league at-bats and innings, and not the other rookie limit of 45 days of pre-September active service time. As a result, relievers sometimes qualify for our organization prospect lists despite spending extended time (without racking up a lot of innings) in the majors, as Smith does.
The most famous example came in 2005, when Bobby Jenks joined the White Sox in July and wound up as the dominant closer on a World Series champion. Because he only pitched 39 regular-season innings, he ranked as Chicago's No. 1 prospect in the offseason.
Sometimes hitters exceed the rookie service-time threshold while staying just under the prospect/rookie at-bat limit. This happened with Joe Mauer in 2004, when knee problems ended his first big league season after 107 at-bats. We ranked him as the top prospect in baseball in 2005, but he wasn't rookie-eligible.