Greinke Fallout: Center Field

Carlos Gomez.

I felt pretty good about center field coming into this offseason. Lorenzo Cain looked excellent at the end of last year, hitting over .300, making some outstanding plays in the field and generally providing a spark. It was extremely refreshing to see after having to suffer through watching Carlos Gomez swing out of his shoes all season. Now, I don’t feel as good about center field, but I’m willing to deal as long as Zack Greinke is pitching every fifth day.

But, is Carlos Gomez the only option? What about Chris Dickerson? Is there another option outside of the system? First, let’s take a look at Gomez and Dickerson.

Carlos Gomez was, at one time, a good enough prospect to be the centerpiece of the New York Mets’ trade for Johan Santana – perhaps this served as a reminder to Doug Melvin last week that prospects are prospects, and aces are aces. In the seasons since that trade Gomez has shown his plus-plus speed and flashed a good glove, but has been an utter disappointment at the plate. In four seasons, he sports a career batting average of .246 and has never cracked a .300 on base percentage. He has stolen a decent number of bases, but given his speed, you would expect his success rate to be a little higher. In 2008, his best season as a major leaguer, Gomez stole 33 bases but was caught 11 times. In 2009, he stole only 14 bases and was caught 7 times. Last year he showed some improvement, stealing 18 bases and being caught only 3 times. People often forget that Gomez sports a big, muscular body (6’4, 215), and could perhaps one day become a 20 home run guy, but I’m sure coaches would prefer that he would stop trying to hit homers and just try to get his on base percentage above .300.

In short, Gomez is a player who still, at just 25 years old, has some real potential. He is an above average fielder with excellent speed, and could become a real asset if he could just make his plate discipline better. If you ignore Gomez’ ignorant comments from last year (“I just have to hit .260”), you could feel pretty good about having him as your center fielder moving forward.

The other in-house option is midseason acquisition Chris Dickerson. Dickerson is 28 years old and doesn’t hit arbitration until next year. He struggled quite a bit at the plate last year, hitting .208/.271/.264 in 45 games with the Reds and Brewers. However, in the two season before, he hit .304/.413/.608 (in 31 games in his 2008 rookie year) and .275/.370/.373 (97 games, 2009). That .370 OBP looks very, very nice when considering that the alternative could be a Betancourt-Gomez-Pitcher end of the order. Dickerson struggled with some injuries and lack of playing time last year, so it is certainly possible that he could still be a good player when given consistent playing time. He’s not a prolific base stealer but has some ability, stealing 20 bases while being caught 6 times in his three major league seasons (425 at bats). With the speed in the rest of the lineup (Weeks, Braun, Hart) the Brewers probably do not need to have any one guy steal 40 bases. As a fielder, Dickerson is serviceable. Not quite as good as Gomez, but he isn’t going to be throwing away runs.

Apparently the only existing picture of Chris Dickerson on the Brewers.

As far as other options, they are extremely limited. The free agent market for center fielders was slim already, and most of them have already been signed. The only remaining players on the market really capable of playing center field are people who are over the hill or replacement level players like Gabe Kapler, Jay Payton, Randy Winn and Corey Patterson – and it’s unlikely that any of them could play CF for a whole year. Reed Johnson is really the only player available who may be capable of playing CF well, and he will be 34 years old and has way less upside than either Gomez or Dickerson.

At this point, the Brewers will have to stick with Gomez and Dickerson – perhaps in a platoon, perhaps not (Dickerson is left-handed, Gomez right). The Brewers do not have a center field prospect knocking on the door – Erik Komatsu and Logan Schafer (the minor league position players of the year in 2010 and 2009, respectively) are still a couple of years away at least. Unless the Brewers make another trade, which is highly unlikely (and if they were to make a trade, I think they would address shortstop first), it will be Gomez and Dickerson next year in center. It isn’t a bad thing – the Brewers defense suffers heavily with the substitution of Yuniesky Betancourt for Alcides Escobar, and they will need above average defense (Gomez) in center or it might get ugly. For now, I’m fine with it – but I haven’t had to suffer through any Gomez at bats for a few months, so my mind could still change. I would like to see what Dickerson is capable of, but I expect that Melvin will do as much as he can to justify the Gomez for Hardy swap. And who knows, maybe Gomez will have a breakout year. That would be great.

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