Houston Astros: Will George Springer Succeed as Center Fielder?

The 2017 MLB season will be the year George Springer moves from right field to center field. Can the Houston Astros young star learn the new position?

Moving from one outfield position to another is not as easy as it may seem. For newly crowned Houston Astros center fielder George Springer, the position switch may have disastrous results. His three MLB seasons have been almost exclusively spent as the team’s starting right fielder. In 2017, the plan is to use him in center.

Rather than lock up an experienced center fielder to a contract and do things the easy way, the Astros will take a risk on Springer. They chose to sign right fielder Josh Reddick this offseason thus creating a surplus of talent at one position. Going from center field to a corner outfield position is one thing. Swapping from the corners into center is a whole different one as Springer gets a completely different view from the field. He also has a lot more ground to cover. The responsibilities have enormously increased.

Throughout his MLB career, Springer has not been a particularly good fielder. He has gotten much better as a right fielder since his really bad rookie season where he finished the year with a .954 fielding percentage. Anytime a right fielder has more errors than assists, there’s clearly something to work on. That season, he made 7 errors compared to the 6 assists in the abbreviated season.

Last year, Springer had his first really good defensive season. He made only 2 errors all year long. He even finished with an above average fielding percentage among all right fielders. Springer also added 12 assists to aid the Astros. Apparently, opposing players and coaches didn’t notice his fielding abilities had stabilized.

It’s rather unfortunate timing for this move. Just as Springer was figuring things out in right field, he has to do so in center field, Thankfully he is not completely absent of center field experience. In total, he has logged 142.2 innings of work at the position. Last year though, Springer only had 1 game total in center field.

Yet to make an actual error in center field, Springer’s sample size is far too small to really have an idea of what he can do at the position each day. He has positive statistics there which unfortunately do not account for a full season. Since he has struggled in right field, it’s fair to assume center field might have its hiccups.

One problem for the Astros is they don’t have too many other ways to get Springer and Reddick into the lineup without shifting one to center field. Already, the team employs Carlos Beltran and Evan Gattis who will fight for at-bats as the DH. Beltran may see some time in the corner outfield spots, too. This does nothing to solve their lack of a true center fielder.

Worth noting, the last time Reddick played center field for more than a game during a single season was back in 2012 when he was 25-years-old. The drought from playing left field is even longer as he last saw action there while with the Boston Red Sox in 2011. A one-time Gold Glove winner, Reddick hasn’t been anything all that special defensively. Between he and Springer, the Astros probably are making the right decision to go with the latter as the center fielder. This still doesn’t make it right.

At the moment, Nori Aoki is the man the Astros will employ regularly in left field. His notably weaker bat could quickly lead to other changes. Springer might move to left field if the Astros are able to find a solution in center field should he fail. Players remain available on the trade market, but many are quite costly. This is something we’re probably more likely to see the Astros address at the trade deadline rather than in the offseason as they have already been more aggressive than most.

The Astros have made the decision to sacrifice some defense in favor of offense. Will it work?

If Springer can find a way to develop into a halfway decent fielder in center field, then it can. If not, the Houston Astros may have to shuffle the roster up a little more.