Up the Middle: the Atlanta Braves history and future of Centerfield

Could Cedric Mullins be the next great CF for the Atlanta Braves? Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Could Cedric Mullins be the next great CF for the Atlanta Braves? Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports /

Fans of the Atlanta Braves have been spoiled a lot over the past few decades about the center field position.  The current Front Office wants to reconstitute those feelings.

Since Hank Aaron was sent to Milwaukee to finish out his illustrious career, the Atlanta Braves have employed quite a number of centerfielders… some better than others; at least one was Hall of Fame worthy.

There is a long-running baseball axiom that teams should be “strong up the middle” of the field, starting with catching, then both middle infielders, and then finally in the center outfield position.

It’s often hard to accomplish all at once, but there’s one thing for sure:  if you can find a great center fielder… keep him.

36 players have accumulated at least 100 PA for the Atlanta Braves while playing CF since 1975.  In order of cumulative bWAR by position leader each year, here are the best we’ve seen:

  • Andruw Jones
  • Dale Murphy
  • (insert large gap here)
  • Ender Inciarte
  • Ron Gant
  • Otis Nixon
  • Michael Bourn
  • Marquis Grissom
  • Kenny Lofton
  • Ronald Acuna Jr.

(Note: it’s an imperfect chart:  it is difficult to assess WAR values for position-exclusive playing time)

In the meantime, there have been many other names… most that will make you appreciate the list above even more:  Nate McLouth, BJ Upton, and Rowland Office among them.

Still, in 46 seasons, there are a lot more positive names — and years — to recall than otherwise.

At this point, the Braves are at a crossroads with the position.  Ender Inciarte’s time has passed; others are filling the spot more out of necessity than adeptness (witness Guillermo Heredia’s bWAR this season:  0.0).

Cristian Pache was hoped to be the Next Big Thing for center field this year — though there were doubts:  the Braves were said to be after Toronto star George Springer this past Winter:

"According to David O’Brien of The Athletic, the Braves were in on Springer “until the end,” although it is unclear how serious they were about signing him."

In more recent days, interviews with Alex Anthopoulos have revealed that he pursued a “pure center fielder” at the trade deadline… and named Starling Marte as one example.

While the Marlins were highly reluctant to deal with the Braves (even Adam Duvall represented a difficult ‘get’), Anthopoulos suggested that there were others on his list.

The obvious names on that list would have been Baltimore’s Cedric Mullins and Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds.  Both have bWAR figures of 4.5 so far this season.

In the end, Anthopoulos may have cornered the market for corner outfielders — a move that may pay dividends this Winter as others seek something Atlanta may already have — but it seems clear that he’s not yet intending to drop that desire to fill that position with a player worthy of joining that first list above.

We’ll have to wait for that.  The 2021 trading season is done.  But just keep this topic in mind when we come to the December Winter Meetings, for there’s a real chance that Alex opens the prospects vault to go in “big” for something special.

Next. Speaking of "up the middle".... dark

After all, we’ve got a history to uphold.