Position Roundtables: Starting Center Field
Dave: Starting CF: Jeremy Reed or Randy Winn
It’s pretty widely assumed that Reed is going to get this job unless
he has a terrible spring or gets hurt, and we just talked an awful lot
about Randy Winn, so I’m going to focus on Reed for this discussion.
The national take on Reed has been pretty strange to watch. He was a
second round pick by the White Sox in 2002, then was immediately
assigned to full-season Kannapolis and hit .320 in his pro debut.
Despite his strong initial performance, he was basically off the radar
for most analysts heading into 2003. He was assigned to high-A
Winston-Salem and continued hitting for a high average, but also
posted a ridiculous 41/17 walk to strikeout rate in his 222 at-bats
before the promotion, though he was still flying somewhat under the
radar. BP hired me in the summer of ’03, and I wrote my
first column for them on Reed, who I had seen extensively, seeing
as I lived in Winston-Salem. It was the first major exposure Reed had
been given on the national analysis scene, so I became something like
the defacto driver of the Jeremy Reed bandwagon. Then bizarro world
Reed went to Double-A Birmingham and hit .409/.474/.591 after the
promotion. .409 for 242 at-bats, which is just unheard of. For half
a season in Birmingham, Reed was Ted Williams. And quicker than you
can say Splendid Splinter, the bandwagon overloaded. The statistical
analysis community piled onto the Reed bandwagon in droves. PECOTA
spit out comparisons to Tony Gwynn and Don Mattingly. He became the
poster child for all that a minor league prospect is supposed to be.
When we sat down to discuss the BP Top 50, I suddenly found myself as
the voice of dissent. I drove the Reed bandwagon down the “hey, this
guy’s a pretty good prospect that no one talks about” road, but when
the horde took over and switched over to “he might be a potential hall
of famer”, I got off at the next stop. Eventually, the consensus at
Prospectus won out, and Reed ended up #2 on the 2004 BP
This wasn’t just a Prospectus thing. The Hardball Times ranked him #4
overall. John Sickels called him the 3rd best hitting prospect in the
game. Despite my opinion on Reed never really changing, I was
officially a naysayer, the negative voice in the community, the guy
who was “down on Reed”, simply because I thought he was a lot more
likely to be Rusty Greer or Mark Kotsay than Tony Gwynn. It was a
weird experience, and I’m still not totally sure what to make of it.
So, 2004 rolled around, and Reed was pretty mediocre in Triple-A as
his average fell to a more human .289 with his usual lack of home run
power. At midseason, he was traded from the White Sox to the
Mariners, and during September, he got his first call to the big show
and partied like it was 2003 all over again. For 58 at-bats, he hit
.397/.470/.466 and whacked singles all over the park. The hot finish
to the season in his major league debut gave him a strong lead in the
fight for the everyday center field job heading into 2005.
So, where do we stand on Reed in ’05 now? We know he’s perfectly
capable of going on sustained hot streaks where he sprays line drives
and seeing eye singles like our current right fielder. We also know
he’s not much of a power threat at this point in his career, and like
Ichiro, his offensive value will be almost completely wrapped up in
how many singles he hits. So, how confident can we be in a projection
of a guy who is going to pepper the margins of fielder range by
hitting the ball just out of reach?
Like Ichiro (but to a less extreme degree), Reed has a skillset that
can create a wide range of possible performances. I’m guessing he’ll
hit something like .280/.340/.400, but the possibility of
.220/.290/.330 is there, as is the .330/.390/.450 upside. Talk about
a wild card. I could reasonably buy an argument that would have him
winning the rookie of the year in a landslide just as easily as I
could see him back in Tacoma by June. Reed is one of the key guys to
whether the M’s are going to contend in 2005 or not; they have several
wide-range-of-possibility guys on the roster, and they need more than
not to lean toward the optimistic side of the ledger.
Jeff: Jeremy Reed’s arrival in Seattle wasn’t quite like Beatlemania — it
lacked fainting, odd haircuts and Ringo — but there was much in the
way of joyful noise. I know, I made a few of the noises.
Part of the Reed hysteria among Mariner fans can be explained by the
team’s recent dearth of heralded position prospects. The fact that the
M’s acquired someone else’s top minor league talent led to what Alan
Greenspan might call “irrational exuberance.” This understandable
giddiness may have caused some unrealistic expectations. I’ll admit to
being guilty of this myself.
Reed is still a valuable player, though, and I don’t mean to sound
like I’m down on him. Indeed, I’m very excited to watch him play this
season and hopefully for years to come.
Neither Reed nor Randy Winn is the prototypical center fielder; both
lack the range and arm you would like to see. It’s clear (to me at
least) that Reed’s superior arm makes him a better solution, though
not an ideal one, and this statement makes me think of one of the
names Dave mentioned.
Mark Kotsay could wind up being a pretty good comparison for where Reed
is headed. Not a perennial All-Star by any means, but a helpful player
that astute teams value.
Kotsay entered the majors at a younger age than Reed, so he had a
couple of full seasons under his belt before he put up a line of
.298/.347/.443 at 24 years old. This performance was in the unfriendly
hitting confines of Florida, and looks remarkably similar to what
PECOTA suggests for Reed, who will turn 24 in June: .286/.353/.423.
You don’t hear Mark Kotsay and think “star player,” but last year,
only four regular center fielders (sorry, Ken Griffey and Jeff
DaVanaon) had an Equivalent Average higher than Kotsay’s .289.
Whether Jeremy Reed performs toward the lower or higher range of what
we can expect will, as Dave said, have a huge impact on whether the
Mariners can contend this year. Regardless, he is a commodity that
will likely prove very useful over the course of his career.
Maybe Reed won’t be John Lennon or Paul McCartney, but he’s not likely
to be the fifth Beatle, either.
Oh, and one more thing: I can believe I have never before noticed that
Jeremy Reed hails from San Dimas, Calif. — making him that town’s
third most-famous favorite son. Excellent.
Derek: I like Reed a lot, but I agree with Dave. In a way, Reed i’s like Jose
Lopez — in trying to talk people down from “future superstar” to
“future good player” it’s almost as if you’re attacking them, rather
than trying to be realistic about their futures.
Reed’s going to push the Mariners closer to being a contender if he can
stick in center field.
A question for Dave — didn’t Reed play most of his minor league time in
right? I don’t know of any players who were minor league RFers who moved
to center successfully, but I’ll admit that this is the kind of detailed
minor league data I don’t have.
Dave: Yea, Reed spent most of his time in right field in the lower minors.
When he was in Winston, we’d talk about his defense, and he felt most
comfortable in right. I talked to many White Sox personnel guys about
his future position, and they all said they didn’t think he had the
range to play center in the bigs. Then, he starts hitting .400, they
have Magglio in right field, and wam, he’s the center fielder of the
future because that was their glaring weakness at the major league
He’s played a significant amount of center field the past year and a
half, so its not like he’s learning a new position. But Derek’s
right; when just projecting him on his abilities and not “how do we
get him to the show the quicket”, they had him in right field, not