As the baseball season is upon us, with Spring Training under way, the superstars of MLB are returning and preparing for a full campaign after the 2020 abbreviated season. As everybody gets back into the baseball mood, let’s take a look at the 10 best center fielders in MLB as 2021’s regular season approaches and consider who has a shot at being the best CF in 2021.
Just a note, as with all three outfielder positions you can argue who plays where. I am going to operate based on what I think their primary position will be in 2021 and I will not duplicate any players between the three outfield positions. Let’s get into the list.
10. Ian Happ, Cubs
If this list was just based on hitting alone, Ian Happ would be even higher up after the 2020 he had.
While earning himself the role of the Chicago Cubs go-to CF, Happ had a great season. He finished third in slugging percentage among those who I consider center fielders entering 2021 and fourth in OPS.
He hit 12 home runs and drove in 28 RBI’s, making him a legitimate power bat and one of the main producers on the Cubs. His fielding isn’t bad, either. However, the hitting was what really took a step up in the abbreviated 2020 campaign and I think that he has now earned himself the everyday role in center.
The Cubs seem to be starting a rebuild, after they traded Yu Darvish, but they still have one of the most underrated outfielders in the league in Ian Happ.
9. Starling Marte, Marlins
One of the most athletic of a list with plenty of athletic guys on it, Starling Marte is another center fielder who had a good year in 2020 and will be raring to go when we get back to a full-length season.
After starting the year with Arizona, Marte finished his age-31 season in Miami.
He had a hot start to the year with the D’backs, with a very impressive slash line of .311 / .384 / .443. While he started playing a bit more human when he became a Marlin, he still finished the season with a batting average of .281 and his OPS of .770 was very good, especially for someone who is above average in the field and the bases.
He hit 6 homers and was one of just two people on our list to reach double-digit steals in the 60-game season.
Fun fact – he played 61 games, due to getting traded mid-season. Marte is getting older, but he still has multiple more years of solid production and I expect him to be one of the best center fielders in 2021, a contract year.
8. Byron Buxton, Twins
We spoke about the athleticism of Marte, but now we’re looking at a center fielder who has as much range as anyone in the league.
Byron Buxton is a great athlete and a fantastic defensive asset, but he also has some pop on his bat.
Byron Buxton, 2020 listing:
6-foot-2, 190 lbs
Byron Buxton, 2021 listing:
6-foot-2, 212 lbs
— Do-Hyoung Park (@dohyoungpark) February 27, 2021
In 2020 he really found some power in his swing, hitting 13 homers despite only playing 39 games. His career best is 16 and that came in 140.
If Byron Buxton can have access to that type of power in an extended season and can get back to his base-stealing ways of old, he will be a legit top-five player at the position. Hopefully, we get to see that, because Buxton is one of the most exciting players to watch on this list.
He definitely deserves to be recognised as one of the best center fielders in MLB going into 2021.
7. Kyle Lewis, Mariners
It may be surprising to some that it took so long for me to feature a rookie on this list, but the one rookie I did want to mention is Kyle Lewis, who had a great breakout year in 2020.
The Mariners center fielder won the rookie of the year off the back of a fantastic all-round year, with 11 homers (6th among CF) and 6 stolen bases to pair with his slash line of .262/.364/.437. Lewis drove in 28 runs and while most of the hype before the season was directed towards Luis Robert over in Chicago as the rookie CF to watch, Lewis had a better year and will be looking to build on that in 2021.
6. Brandon Nimmo, Mets
One of the best bats in our list, Brandon Nimmo took a big step up in 2020, turning his slash line of .221/.375/.407 into an impressive .280/.404/.484.
With hitting like that – especially once you add in the 8 homers, Nimmo is set to be a key contributor for the New York Mets in 2021.
They were in discussions with a free agent who we will talk about later, but I’m honestly glad that fell apart because I think Nimmo deserves his starting spot out in center. He isn’t the best defender on our list, but he’s solid enough out there and his hitting does the talking. His OPS of .888 is third among center fielders and with his rounded mixture of contact and power, that is no surprise.
5. Alex Verdugo, Red Sox
One of a few very young players on our list, Alex Verdugo is one of the most fascinating entries. Despite being just 24 years old, Verdugo has been around for a while.
He got his first taste of the majors in 2017 and then the year after that he was set to have a prominent role in the outfield, but he got injured. Verdugo’s injury caused for the Dodgers to shuffle things around and they found that they had some other options who could step in and do the job – we will talk more about that later. In 2019, Verdugo was healthy enough to see 343 at-bats and he showed himself to have some great tools, hitting 12 home runs driving in 44 RBI’s and having a very solid .817 OPS.
In 2020, now on the Boston Red Sox, he asserted himself as one of the best young outfielders in the league. He improved and had his best year yet, finishing the abbreviated 2020 campaign with a slash line of .308/.367/.478. Verdugo is one of the key contributors for Boston and as we had into the 2021 season, he will look to keep building on his stellar contact and solid power to assert himself as one of the best center fielders in MLB in 2021.
The young Red Sox outfielder can play anywhere in the OF but with the current roster, he should be an everyday lock at center in my opinion with Jackie Bradley Jr. leaving as a free agent.
4. Trent Grisham, Padres
After the pretty standard consensus top three best center fielders, you can definitely debate the order, and people do.
For my money, though, Trent Grisham is the best of the rest heading into 2021. He is an all-round talent, hitting for power, getting on base, and putting in work both in the field and on the bases.
In 2020’s abbreviated season, he was one of just six players to hit double digits in both home runs and stolen bases. He had a good year in the field, too. Grisham led all outfielders with 134 putouts, and at the plate he delivered with 26 RBI’s and an OPS of .808.
The Padres are one of the teams who are making it increasingly obvious that they want to win it all – and soon. Their offseason moves show that the team is in win-now mode and Trent Grisham is one of the key position players that will need to perform to get them there.
He isn’t a household name, but he should be soon enough, and in my opinion, he is the fourth best CF going into 2021. And by the way, he’s only 24 years old and this 2020 season I’ve been praising was just his second in the majors (and he only had 183 plate appearances in 2019).
Remember the name because he is going to be good for a while.
3. George Springer, Blue Jays
George Springer and Marcus Semien are Toronto Blue Jays 😃 pic.twitter.com/7Lp904sqRl
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) February 23, 2021
They signed him to a six-year $150 million contract and he will be at the heart of their lineup as they assert themselves as contenders.
The ex-Astro absolutely dominated throughout Houston’s reign of terror and, controversy aside, he is one of the best center fielders in the MLB as we head into 2021.
Springer had a career-year in 2019, hitting a huge 39 home runs and driving in 96 RBI’s, with a line of .292 / .383 / .591. Springer may have changed jersey, but I can guarantee he will still be one of the best hitters in baseball when he starts his Blue Jays career later this month.
2. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
A really interesting case here, the second-best center fielder on the planet right now has only been one for two years.
I am of course referring to Cody Bellinger of the LA Dodgers. Early in his career. He was a first-baseman, but over the last couple of seasons, he has transitioned into being one of the best outfielders in the game and has made a name for himself playing in center.
What started as his versatility helping to deal with injuries – as we mentioned earlier – became his new permanent position. He has the athleticism and vision to play out deep and has already made countless highlight-reel plays in the field, particularly when he gets out to the center-field wall. Some of his best work has come in the postseason, including the 2020 World Series-winning run, which helped cement Bellinger on top of the game.
At just 25 years old, Bellinger is still on the rise and he’s only getting better. He is one of the best power hitters in baseball – through four seasons (including an abbreviated one), he has hit 123 home runs, which is very impressive. His batting average took a dip in 2020 but his swing is one of the most dangerous in the big leagues and there is no doubt he will be one of the best center fielders in 2021 and far beyond.
1. Mike Trout, Angels
There should be absolutely nobody reading this who is surprised. Mike Trout is the best CF in 2021.
He is also the best outfielder in 2021. He’s just straight up the best player in baseball.
One of the greatest sportsmen of all time, Trout has absolutely dominated baseball since he made his debut for the LA Angels in July 2011 at age 19. Within just one year, he was already on top of the game, coming second in MVP voting in his first full season in the majors. Since that 2012 season – when he also won rookie of the year – he has not come lower than fifth in MVP voting a single time.
Mike Trout is the gold-standard. His career stat line through a decade is unbelievable, he has hit .304 on his career with an OBP of .418 and OPS of 1.000. He has hit 302 home runs and driven in 798 runs in 1252 games – oh, and a simply unfair 201 stolen bases too. He also has a career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of 74.6 after just 10 years, which is absolutely incredible.
Mike Trout is one of the greatest to ever do it, and he is not just the best CF in 2021, he has been at the top of the pile of the best center fielders every year since he became a starter.