Can anyone play center field?
Charlie Blackmon’s defense in center field regressed badly in 2018, leading Bud Black to move Chuck to right field, where he’s been … not great (but not as bad as he was in center). Black has had a dickens of a time trying to fill that void in the massive Coors Field grass this season, and the job for 2020 is still up for grabs.
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Black’s first choice was Ian Desmond, who was mediocre enough in left last season to make the manager think that he maybe he could handle center. He couldn’t. Desmond compiled a -2.0 dWAR and -19 defensive runs saved (DRS) in 74 games at the position, prompting Black to look for other options.
David Dahl was next in line. He fared better than Desmond, though still graded out as below league average (-3 DRS) … and then he suffered a high ankle sprain, which has a tendency to hurt your overall range. Dahl is likely back in September, so he’ll probably get more time to show if he can handle the position (though given his injury history, maybe he’d be better off staying in left).
Raimel Tapia could have been an option, as he has decent foot speed and gets solid jumps on the ball (via Statcast), but he just hit the injured list with a bruised left hand. Injuries aside, FanGraphs rates Tapia’s arm as 46 out of 55 qualified outfielders and he can also make the occasional misplay in the field. Overall, he’s been slightly below average in center according to DRS and UZR. With more chances, however, it may be possible that Tapia could nail down the starting job – or at least a reasonable timeshare – heading into next season.
The options du jour have been Garrett Hampson and Yonathan Daza, both of whom have graded out as about league average in center … and well below league average at the plate. If either can show that they can handle big-league pitching, they could be the player with the inside edge on the job heading into 2020.
The Rockies also just called up 25-year-old Sam Hilliard, who made his debut by starting in center on Tuesday against the Red Sox. Hilliard has set offensive records in Albuquerque and, true to form, he homered in his debut. He’s also spent most of his AAA time in right and, on Tuesday, made an ugly misplay in the field. Currently, the position is as wide open as Coors’ expansive center field itself.