The alignment of the Yankees outfield remains undecided. For the sake of this series, we’ll call Curtis Granderson the center fielder and leave Brett Gardner as the front-runner in left, but those roles could switch. Whatever the alignment, the Yankees have a young center fielder with either. A: Terrific power for the position, or B: Terrific speed for any position. And that center fielder is locked up for at least the next four years.
Starter: Curtis Granderson
Backup: Brett Gardner
Veteran insurance: Randy Winn
Almost ready: Colin Curtis, Greg Golson
Low rising: Abraham Almonte, Slade Heathcott
The center field depth chart is more of a flow chart than a 1-2-3 ranking of options. Even if Gardner is the starter in left field, he’ll likely be the No. 2 man in center for days Granderson takes a game off. Randy Winn is the veteran of the group, Jamie Hoffmann might fit into the mix from time to time and both Curtis and Golson — plus minor league free agent Reid Gorecki — are likely be toolsy options waiting in Triple-A. Ultimately, the Yankees have some options for mixing and matching depending on different scenarios, but Granderson and Gardner seem pretty well established at the top. The minor league system’s top center fielders are in the lower levels, headlined by Heathcott, with Eduardo Sosa and Melky Mesa possibly fitting into the conversation somewhere.
Worst-case scenario: Granderson strikes out too much to take advantage of his power. Gardner strikes out too much to take advantage of his speed. Winn has aged far too much to be a reasonable center field option. Hoffmann is an obvious roster cut in spring training. Golson’s potential continues to go untapped. Curtis can’t come close to his Arizona Fall League numbers. Heathcott stumbles out of the gate, gets hurt and looks like an obvious over-draft as a first-round pick. Does that pretty much cover it?
Best-case scenario: Left field or center field, it really doesn’t matter. Gardner continues his trend of improving year-by-year. He falls behind in the count much less, gets on base much more and proves the bunt can be a legitimate weapon. Granderson takes advantage of Yankee Stadium to repeat last year’s home run total, but it comes with a batting average that bounces back close to .300 like it was in 2007 and 2008. Kevin Long fixes a glitch in his swing that help’s Granderson improve against left-handed pitchers. Winn proves 2009 was a fluke, Golson and Curtis finally live up to their tools in Triple-A and Heathcott stays healthy to be the top center fielder in the South-Atlantic League.
The future: Granderson is signed through 2013 — though the Yankees can buyout his last year — and Gardner still has two years before he’s eligible for arbitration. The future in center field can belong to either of them, assuming they produce. If not, Heathcott could be the center fielder of the future now that Austin Jackson is gone. If Heathcott moves one level at a time, he’ll be ready for the big leagues on opening day 2014, exactly the year Granderson’s contract runs out.
An attempt at the complete depth chart
An educated guess, but just a guess
Scranton: Greg Golson
Trenton: Austin Krum
Tampa: Abraham Almonte
Charleston: Slade Heathcott
Extended: Eduardo Sosa