The final position player preview before I hit the pitching staffs of each team. Right field is another corner outfield position where you prefer power, but in addition to the power bat you’d like a power arm to mow down guys trying to take an extra base because of the distance between right field and third base.
The top-3 right fielders in the NL Central could go any way you choose. Homer totals are close, batting averages are close, fielding numbers are close. It’s also another position that has some exciting young talent and at least one wiley veteran trying to prove himself once again.
6. Matt Diaz, Pittsburgh (.250, 7 HR, 31 RBI in 84 games for Atlanta)
Matt Diaz was signed by Pittsburgh to platoon in right field this season with Garrett Jones. Yes, the same Jones I had penciled in as Pittsburgh’s first baseman. However, Lyle Overbay is now the team’s starting first baseman. Jones’ lack luster 2010 would have only put him a position higher than Diaz and he got 2 points for Pittsburgh at first base, the same number as Overbay would have, so it’s a moot point. Still Diaz alone has the potential to be better than Berkman or Fukudome in right field, but I’m working off of established numbers for the most part.
5. Lance Berkman, St. Louis (.248, 14 HR, 58 RBI in 122 games for Houston and NY Yankees)
The veteran of the mix, but he’s still trying to prove himself just like these young guys. For one, Berkman is coming off a horrendous season that saw him traded from his longtime home in Houston to the Yankees for the playoff run. Berkman usually hits much closer to .300 and that’s what the Cardinals are banking on with his signing. Berkman has the potential to be the best right fielder in the division, but he also has the potential to be the worst, and hopefully we’ll get something right up the middle. Also, hopefully he remembers how to wield the glove as he will return to the outfield for the first time since 2007.
4. Kosuke Fukudome, Chicago (.263, 13 HR, 44 RBI in 130 games)
One of the best Japanese hitters to come to the major leagues, Fukudome has been a disappointment for the Cubs. He was the guy that stopped Hideki Matsui’s triple crown run in 2002 with his ability to hit for average and power, however he has really shown neither in the major leagues. Still, 2010 was his best season in the major leagues and he has proven himself as the best defensive right fielder in the NL Central with his .995 fielding percentage. It is a contract year for Fukudome who will have to prove whether he belongs in the MLB or will he return to Japan?
3. Hunter Pence, Houston (.282, 25 HR, 91 RBI in 156 games)
In his fourth season in the bigs, Hunter Pence has been consistent. He’s hit 25 home runs in each of the last three seasons. He’s hit .282 in the last two seasons. What are the odds he can do it again, right? For Houston, Pence might be their top offensive threat in 2011 unless Carlos Lee rebounds from a tough 2010. Still, it’s a sign of trouble for Houston that this is their biggest offensive threat. They have a long way to go in order to rebuild the team to the World Series contender it was in the mid-2000s.
2. Jay Bruce, Cincinnati (.281, 25 HR, 70 RBI in 148 games)
Jay Bruce’s claim to fame might be his six straight hits to start his major league career or the fact that he is one of five players to hit a home run to clinch a playoff spot. But 2010 was a coming out party for Bruce, who may have seen a drop in his power output with the additional games he played, but began to hit, improving his batting average almost 60 points over the 2009 season. The best part about Jay Bruce for Cincinnati, he’s still only 23 years old.
1. Corey Hart, Milwaukee (.283, 31 HR, 102 RBI in 145 games)
Corey Hart‘s claim to fame might be that he and the other Corey Hart both played for Nashville in 2005 in Milwaukee’s minor league system. Talk about confusing, eh? Anyway, another home grown success story for Milwaukee as Hart was drafted in the 11th round by Milwaukee in 2000. He may have taken six years of development before he stuck in the majors, but he has proven himself a quality player, especially after posting a career year in 2010. And Hart just got a three year extension too. He is the second oldest starting player for Milwaukee as he will turn 29 in March, just two months younger than new acquisition Yuniesky Betancourt.
At the end of the position player previews, here are your NL Central rankings:
Milwaukee — 36 pts
Cincinnati — 34 pts
St. Louis — 32 pts
Chicago — 26 pts
Pittsburgh — 24 pts
Houston — 16 pts
Now we’ll address the top-3 (or 4, depending on how much information I can find) starters for each team, their bullpen as a whole, and their closer situation.