With Spring Training on the horizon, MLB.com is taking an in-depth look at the 2017 Padres, breaking the team down position-by-position. Today, we preview San Diego's center fielders.
Some teams spend years searching for a young outfielder with the speed and range necessary to anchor center field. The Padres, as it would happen, have two of them.
Travis Jankowski and Manuel Margot enter camp fighting for the starting center-field job in 2017 -- though it's not exactly an all-or-nothing bout. The duo will most likely split time there during the season. They'll also share the outfield at different positions sometimes.
"It's hard to say who's going to start where," Padres manager Andy Green said of his outfield. "But I think you look up, and Alex Dickerson, Manny Margot, Travis Jankowski and Hunter Renfroe are four guys that have kind of separated themselves from the rest of the pack. ... You look at our outfield corps, we should defend the field as well as anybody in baseball. Jankowski and Margot, they're going to cover a ton of ground."
Jankowski has earned the first crack at the center-field job, coming off a season in which he reached base at a solid .332 clip, while swiping 30 bags.
Defensively, Jankowski's ulitmate zone rating of 11 was fifth in baseball among center fielders -- and he was the only player to reach double figures in fewer than 700 innings. According to Fangraphs, his 11.9 range rating was tops in the National League.
"He can steal a base for you, make a game-saving catch or game-winning catch, and he can just wreak havoc on the basepaths," Green said.
Then there's Margot, San Diego's No. 2 prospect, who is equally capable of doing those things. He batted .304/.351/.426 for Triple-A El Paso last season, homering six times and matching Jankowski with 30 steals.
"You might just go left-center and right-center and five infielders," Green quipped at December's Winter Meetings. "You could cover the whole outfield that way."
Unless Green really wants to get crazy, he'll need to decide who's up the middle when Margot and Jankowski are in the lineup together. Really, there's no wrong answer.
Jankowski is a lefty hitter, whose splits suggest he won't play against left-handed pitching. (Versus righties, on the other hand, he batted .275/.368/.359 last season, making him a viable candidate to lead off.)
Margot, meanwhile, crushed left-handed pitching in the Minor Leagues. But he's proven he can hit against both sides, meaning he and Jankowski could end up sharing the outfield against certain righty starters.
"He's going to fight for a job," Green said. "Manny Margot is about as exciting as any prospect arriving in the Major Leagues. The ability to defend the field, get on base, steal bases -- he fits into the mold of guys you want in the middle of the baseball field. He does a little bit of everything."
Of course, there's another factor worth watching when it comes to Margot. He's only 22, and he's inarguably a pivotal part of San Diego's future. If the Padres opt to keep Margot in the Minors for about a month, they'd earn an extra year of team control in 2023, when he's in his prime.
Whether he cracks the Opening Day roster or gets a mid-May callup, Margot's time is fast approaching. With the 25-year-old Jankowski on board as well, the Padres could be set in center field for years to come.