MLB.com Columnist

Mike Petriello

2017's Top 10 right now: Center fielders

2017's Top 10 right now: Center fielders

MLB Network's "Top 10 Right Now" series, looking at the best players at each position headed into 2017, will air two positions each Sunday night between Jan. 15 and Feb. 12. As each position is revealed, MLB.com's Mike Petriello, a participant in the show, will unveil his list along with the reasoning behind it. Rankings were compiled with a combination of subjective and analytical data, and no, batting average was not considered. We'll also include the rankings of "the Shredder," the MLB Network research department algorithm based on player performance that accounts for both offense and defense.

Position overview: Center field isn't just topped by the game's best player, it's by far the deepest position in baseball, as there were about 18 names considered for the Top 10 here. There might not be the sheer star power that the top half of third base has, but the combination of elite defense, speed and plus power up and down this list makes center field baseball's most talented spot. If you prefer one of the names who didn't make it on, we couldn't argue.

Previous lists: First base | Second base | Shortstop | Third base | Left field | Right field | Starting pitcher | Relief pitcher

Eligibility notes: Players are eligible only at one position, and several players who saw time in center field in 2016 were considered in other spots for these rankings. They include: Ian Desmond (1B), Trea Turner (SS), Marcell Ozuna (LF), Yoenis Cespedes (LF) and Randal Grichuk (LF). (Note: Starling Marte previously appeared on our left field rankings before it was announced he'd move to center field, and he was not eligible to appear again. Andrew McCutchen was removed from this list.)

The list...

1. Mike Trout, Angels (Shredder rank: 1)
Forget "best center fielder," because he's the best player in baseball right now, and he might end up being the best player in baseball, well, ever. He has two American League Most Valuable Player Awards, and it should be five. He won't even be 26 until August, and he's already got a very legitimate case for the Hall of Fame. This was the easiest selection of any player on any list.

Mike Trout catch

2. Christian Yelich, Marlins (Shredder rank: 2)
Yelich spent the final month of 2016 in center field, and he is expected to be there full-time in 2017, so while we'll have to see how his very good left field defense (career +32 Defensive Runs Saved) translates, what we already know is that he took a huge step forward on offense last year. Remember, he was already very good, putting up identical 118 wRC+ marks in each of his three years, but in 2016, he upped his launch angle, cut his ground-ball rate from 63 percent to 56 percent, and became a 21-homer hitter with a line of .298/.376/.483 (130 wRC+). He's still just 25, and he's the best player you never think about.

3. Kevin Kiermaier, Rays (Shredder rank: 9)
Over the past three years, five center fielders -- good ones, like Lorenzo Cain and Ender Inciarte -- managed to get between 30 and 40 Defensive Runs Saved. Kiermaier has 68, and that's despite the fact that he missed nearly two months last year with a broken hand. His absence was a killer to a flyball pitching staff, as a Rays team that was .500 when he got hurt went 14-35 without him. It's not just about defense, though. Despite facing arguably the toughest slate of pitchers around, he was a slightly above-average hitter (.258/.313/.425, 104 wRC+), with double-digits in homers and steals. The total package is a star.

4. Joc Pederson, Dodgers
Perhaps one of 2016's most overlooked stories was how Pederson, who struggled so badly late in 2015 that he was benched for most of the final month, managed to rework his swing to not only increase his contact (contact rate up from 66 percent to 75), but also add power as well (slugging percentage up from .417 to .495). He'll still be only 24 on Opening Day, and a slugger who gets on base and can play capable center field defense is an extremely valuable player, with the potential for more.

5. Dexter Fowler, Cardinals (Shredder rank: 10)
Fowler has been an above-average hitter for six consecutive years, and his 2016 line of .276/.393/.447 was his best -- dig those on-base skills. And, of course, we talked a lot about how his regularly-poor defensive ratings may have been related to how shallow he played, because after playing more deeply in 2016, he looked like an average defensive center fielder. The profile is that of an above-average player, and while there's not really room for improvement, the Cardinals will be happy with what they've paid for.

Fowler puts on jersey

6. A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks (Shredder rank: 5)
Pollock missed most of the season due to a fractured elbow, and it's the second serious injury he's sustained in three years, making health a serious concern. That said, he was quietly a star before that, hitting .308/.361/.493 (130 wRC+) with outstanding defense, as anyone who watched Arizona's outfield gloves struggle without him can attest to. If he can't stay healthy, it won't matter, so he's high-risk. The talent, however, isn't in question.

7. Adam Eaton, Nationals (Shredder rank: 6)
If Eaton was still a right fielder, we'd be looking at him near the top of the list. It's a little tougher in center, which is much deeper, and where his defense might not stand out quite as much. His last three seasons at the plate have been extremely similar (averaging .290/.362/.422, 117 wRC+), and an above-average hitter with average-ish center-field defense is still a quite useful player.

8. Charlie Blackmon, Rockies (Shredder rank: 8)
Rockies fans are instantly arguing that Blackmon deserves better because we treat those who call Coors Field home too harshly, but this isn't even about altitude -- Blackmon, for what it's worth, hit for more power on the road (.313/.363/.563, 17 HR) than he did at home (.335/.399/.540, 12 HR) in 2016. It's because his age-30 breakout season looked very little like any of his previous seasons, and because he's a decent-but-not-stellar defender who probably profiles better in a corner. But as we said, this position is so deep that being ranked eighth isn't a slight, it's a compliment. 

Charlie Blackmon Home Run

9. George Springer, Astros (Shredder rank: 3)
Like Eaton and Yelich, Springer is a good corner outfielder likely to spend most of his time in center field, so defense will be something to watch for in 2017. On offense, he's been a star, hitting a combined .258/.356/.460 (128 wRC+), averaging 26 homers a year and cutting down his strikeouts. It says a lot about how deep this position is that he barely cracks our top 10.

10. Billy Hamilton, Reds
Let's be honest: Jackie Bradley Jr. deserves this spot, because he hit well (.267/.349/.486, 118 wRC+), and did so with a rocket arm and good defense. It's true that he hit only .237/.321/.432 (97 wRC+) over the final four months, but mostly, it's because the last-second McCutchen shift threw our lists for a loop in complicated ways. So let's credit Bradley, while still recognizing Hamilton, baseball's indisputable speed king, who is better in other ways than you might think. While he'll never be a plus hitter, he did hit .293/.369/.333 in the second half, and as we continue to refine our Statcast™ defensive metrics, he continues to show he's elite among the elite. He's so good in other ways that he doesn't have to be a great hitter, just a competent one.

Billy Hamilton robs Carlos Beltran

Just missed (in no order): Bradley, Red Sox (Shredder rank: 4); Adam Jones, Orioles; Kevin Pillar, Blue Jays; Lorenzo Cain, Royals (Shredder rank: 7); Odubel Herrera, Phillies; Inciarte, Braves; Byron Buxton, Twins.

Look at these names. Just look at them. We already talked about Bradley, but Cain, Inciarte and Pillar are also defensive superstars who all deserved consideration. Jones has been a steady presence for the Orioles for years, and while Buxton's debut was mostly unsuccessful, he showed so much power at the end of the year, to go with elite speed and outstanding defense, that we could easily see him jump onto this list next year. Not having to include Turner helped, but we didn't even mention Denard Span or Tyler Naquin -- and Milwaukee's Keon Broxton has breakout potential written all over him.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.