Phillies Grades: Center Field

What grades do the Flyin' Hawaiian and company get?

Shane Victorino High 5s
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With pitchers and catchers set to report Saturday, we here are Philthy Stuff are grading the Phillies by position as they prepare to work towards a sixth-straight National League East title and try to return to the World Series in 2012.

The Phillies have injury concerns all over the diamond with aging players expected to play a key role for the 2012 Phillies despite injury concerns -- heck, every member of the Phillies starting infield is over 30 and missed at least 10 games last season.

But being over 30 and, dare I say, injury-prone isn’t exclusive to the Phillies infield. Center fielder Shane Victorino is the wrong side of 30 and has missed significant time the last couple seasons with injuries.

So, when it comes to grading center, injuries need to be part of the equation, because even if the free-agent-to-be Victorino is setting out to light up the baseball world before hitting the open market, history says that he won’t be playing every game along the way.

Starter Grade: B

I know fans love Suga Shane and that the Flyin’ Hawaiian is a two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner, but he comes with his flaws.

The top flaw is a lack of plate discipline. Shane batted in the Top 2 spots in the order 78 percent of his starts last season, yet he walked only 55 times in 586 plate appearances en route to a .355 on-base percentage just above his career .344 OBP. He needs to keep on the .350 side of things again this season if the Phillies hope to score runs.

His secondary flaw is that as he has become more of a power hitter in recent seasons (career-high 18 homers in 2010 and 17 homers in 2011) he has seen his batting average go down from a career-high .293 in 2008 and .292 in 2009 to .259 in 2010 and .279 in 2011. Like I said with flaw No. 1, Shane’s top concern needs to be getting on base and even though chicks dig the long ball, fans shouldn’t if hitting homers comes at the cost of fewer times on base.

And, another flaw needing mention is that Shane has had three stints on the disabled list since July 2010. He needs to stay healthy this season especially with the Phillies previously mentioned injury -- and age -- concerns at other positions.

Despite my concerns that Shane gets a bit power happy at times, his 9.6 WAR over the past two seasons is good for fourth overall among qualified center fielders. In large part his ability to hit extra base hits plays a role in this. His slugging hit a career-high at .491 last season thanks to those homers but also a league-leading 16 triples and a respectable 27 doubles.

Shane also brings an impressive base-stealing pedigree to the table. He averages about 28 steals a season and has a career success rate of more than 81 percent. He will need to use his wheels a bit more this season with the Phillies likely playing more small-ball especially with top slugger Ryan Howard on the mend to start the season.

With three Gold Gloves on the mantel, fans probably think the Flyin’ Hawaiian flies around the outfield like no other, but that’s not entirely true. His 6.3 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) since taking over as the Phightins’ full-time center fielder in 2008, is good but not great, placing behind guys like Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton and Chris Young.

If Victorino, looking towards a possible free-agency pay day, can stay healthy then his grade would go up but instead I think it’s fair to give him a solid “B.”

Reserves Grade: B

The Phillies have two guys on the roster that could step in, and did last season, if Shane needs a breather.

John Mayberry, Jr. played 32 games (26 starts) and Michael Martinez played 12 games (eight starts) in center last season.

On Mayberry I’ll defer to Dash Treyhorn’s post about the reserves in left field:

The big right-handed hitter enjoyed some success last season -- he hit 15 homers and racked up an .854 OPS in 104 games. Although it remains to be seen if he can produce at that level in the future, there is no down side to having an athletic outfielder (who can play all three outfield spots) who can hit for power.

On Martinez, I’ll defer to my own post about the reserves at second base:

Martinez struggled at the plate last season (.196/.258/.282) but was a successful defensive player in the outfield, third base, shortstop and second.

In center, he made just one error in 22 chances, so he could fill in there if needed.

Another guy who could possibly fill in for the Phils in a pinch is newcomer Laynce Nix. The 31-year-old is expected, like Mayberry, to see time at first base but also has experience in the outfield. Nix has started 199 games in center (more than any other position) but hasn’t really played full time at the position since 2005 and has only appeared in center 14 times (four starts) in the past three seasons. So, he could fill in if needed but let’s hope the Phillies don’t depend on him to do so.

Minors Grade: B

Center is a rare minor-league position where the Phillies have depth. Tyson Gillies, who is coming back from back-to-back lost seasons thanks to injuries, might be the only minor leaguer on the 40-man roster but with other young guns like Derrick Mitchell (career .265/.326/.443), Jiwan James (career .268/.325/.365) and Aaron Altherr (career .255/.304/.354) in the system, the Phillies have some pieces for the future.

Plus, if Shane gets hurt, the Phillies could finally give IronPigs stalwart, and Reading, Pa. native, Rich Thompson (.275/.347/.382 Triple-A career) another shot at the majors (he played six games with the Royals in 2004). Thompson doesn’t hit for power (only 35 homers in 12 minor league seasons) but he can fly having stolen 435 bases in the minors and 48 bases last season while being caught just four times.

Overall Grade: B

The Phillies are solid in center with an All-Star caliber starter, capable backups and some intriguing players in the pipeline but without an MVP-caliber player in the group, this position gets no better than the “B” grade I gave to each level. And that's not too bad.

Other Grades:

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