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Giants: Can Mike Yastrzemski handle everyday center field duties?

Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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With the offseason winding down and spring training fast approaching, the San Francisco Giants have still not found a replacement for Kevin Pillar in center field.

The San Francisco Giants have had a tough time effectively filling the center field position over the years.

Veteran Kevin Pillar proved to be a useful stop-gap option in 2019 after he was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in an April trade, but an ugly .287 on-base percentage and an arbitration projection approaching $10 million convinced the front office to non-tender him.

So where does that leave the Giants outfield?

In a recent mailbag article, Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area indicated that he expects 2019 rookie standout Mike Yastrzemski to man center field for the upcoming season.

The 29-year-old spent the bulk of his time at the corner spots last year, but the center field position is not completely foreign to him.

He saw 30 innings worth of action up the middle last year, posting a 1 DRS and a -0.9 UZR/150. Those metrics paint him as a roughly average defensive center fielder, albeit over an extremely small sample size.

He also saw 1,996 innings in center field during his time in the minor leagues, and while he does not have elite speed, that can be made up for with instincts and positioning.

Relative to the defensive production the team has received form its center fielders in recent years, even average glove work at the position would be a welcome change.

Here are the team metrics from the five seasons prior to 2019, via FanGraphs:

  • 2014: -12 DRS, 0.2 DEF (17th in MLB)
  • 2015: -23 DRS, -8.2 DEF (29th in MLB)
  • 2016: -7 DRS, -5.8 DEF (27th in MLB)
  • 2017: -32 DRS, -3.9 DEF (28th in MLB)
  • 2018: -7 DRS, -10.9 DEF (28th in MLB)

The Giants do still have the defensive-minded Steven Duggar on the roster as an option in center field as well, but his .234/.278/.341 line and 65 OPS+ in 281 plate appearances last year make it tough to pencil him into the everyday lineup.

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Barring a reunion with the still unsigned Pillar, the addition of one of the other remaining free agents like Cameron Maybin or Jarrod Dyson, or a trade of some sort, it looks like Yastrzemski will be the guy to start the year. Time will tell if he is up to the challenge.

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