Coghlan, Bonifacio lead jumble in center field

One major consequence of the recent trade of center fielder Cameron Maybin is that the Marlins are now left to scramble for pieces to replace him in center field. This scramble may end up causing a huge jumble defensively not only out near the Bermuda Triangle in Sun Life Stadium but also within the infield as well. The impending trade of Dan Uggla further complicates those issues, leaving the Marlins to handle a pretty hefty mess defensively.

Let’s start out with center field. MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro had this to say about the Marlins’ center field options:

With Maybin now headed to San Diego, the Marlins center-field options are Chris Coghlan, Scott Cousins, Emilo Bonifacio and Bryan Petersen.

Beinfest said on Saturday night that the team has already asked Coghlan to be ready to take fly balls in center field when Spring Training gets under way.

Coghlan is recovering from surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee. The team initially had been planning on switching him to third base. Now, the Marlins appear willing to give prospect Matt Dominguez a serious look at third.

“We talked to Chris Coghlan, and we’ve asked him, when the knee is ready, to start taking fly balls in center field,” Beinfest said.

We’ll get to the implication of sending prospect Matt Dominguez from Double-A to the majors without one impressive offensive showing in the minors later, but right now let’s focus on the replacements in center field. Among the list of players are Chris Coghlan, Emilio Bonifacio, and two prospects in Scott Cousins and Bryan Petersen. Let’s examine how each of these guys fit into the team in 2011.

The prospects

Both Cousins and Petersen have had their opportunities in limited time in the majors. Cousins in particular impressed in his 38 PA in the bigs, batting .297/.316/.459 (.334 wOBA). Of course, in 38 PA a lot of players, even those on the fringes of the majors, can play that well, and Cousins’ .458 BABIP and 34.2% K% show that he was probably a bit overmatched despite the fancy numbers. The good news for him is that he has at least established a decent track record for offense in the minors. Cousins has posted an above average wRC+ (a stat like OPS+, but using wOBA inputs rather than OPS) in each of his seasons in the minors except for his 2010 Triple-A year, which was still around the league average (99 wRC+, average is always set to 100). How strong is an average season at Triple-A compared to the majors, however? With Cousins’ average to below average walk rates and acceptable power, his somewhat high strikeout rates may end up being a problem. Sean Smith (otherwise known as Rally) of BaseballProjection, the creator of the CHONE projections system, has Cousins projected as a true-talent -15 run hitter. Cousins’ defense may be good enough to play center at an average level, but he’s been classically defined as a ‘tweener (too light-hitting to play the corner OF, not good enough defensively to play center field) by most scouts.

Petersen is essentially of the same mold as Cousins, with a more polished game at the plate making up for a lack of power. Petersen is considered the worst of the two defensively however and may be relegated to a corner outfield role because of it. Both players project similarly offensively (Petersen sits at -18 runs according to CHONE), so expect Cousins to get the nod if the Marlins choose to go this route. If that’s the case, however, don’t expect more than a 1-WAR performance from him, as that is the level he has shown at the moment.

The wandering soul

The initial plan this season was to transition Coghlan to third base, a position which he last played consistently in college. I mentioned that Coghlan, based on the scouting information provided by the Fans, would be around an average third baseman, projecting at about -1.5 runs. Moving Coghlan to center field may cause more problems in the eyes of the casual fan, but running those same scouting numbers for center field yields a projection of -2.5 runs / 150 games. In essence, fans think Coghlan is about an average defender, and moving him from a mostly neutral position like third base to another mostly neutral position like center field isn’t going to change a whole lot.

The problem is that this ignores some of the information we received from his time playing left field. You cannot deny that playing left is significantly easier than playing center field, and Coghlan was not impressive playing left field either. For his carer, UZR has him rated at -8 runs, or -6 runs / 150 games. Using my method of combining scouting data with UZR, I have Coghlan projected at -3.5 runs /150 games in left field. Transitioning a player of that caliber defensively to center field could cause serious problems. If the fans of the Fans Scouting Report are correct, we’re looking at a guy with average defensive skills who will probably take a few hits early on while developing in center field but should eventually be just fine. If the UZR returns for Coghlan in left field are any indication, however, then we’d be looking at a pretty bad center fielder paired up next to a guy we know is bad in left field. The outfield defense on left field side may be a horrid sight to behold.

The worst case scenario

All of this movement is almost certainly going to result in the Marlins having to end up playing Bonifacio somewhere, a move which immediately strikes fear in the heart of every Marlins fan. If we look at it as a necessity, where would Bonifacio best be placed? Bonifacio has some pretty impressive UZR run totals, but that is in an absolutely minute sample of games (my estimation based on simple innings played has it at about 21 games total in center). Combining that with his scouting projection (approximately +1 runs / 150 games) and we get a player projected as a true-talent +4 runs / 150 games. Combined with his terrible offense and you don’t have much, but if the Marlins had to play him somewhere, I suspect this would be a good choice. Compare to his -4 runs / 150 games projection at third base and that seems appropriate. Of course, the most ideal situation involves us not playing him at all.

Sketchy situation

The Marlins’ recent moves may have bolstered the pen, and we’ve yet to see what kind of return we will ultimately get from Dan Uggla, but these moves may put us in a defensive corner. The Marlins would make some of that up by playing an elite defender like Dominguez at third, but how much will the offense suffer as a result of these moves and how much will the potential inexperience of at least one of these options end up hurting the team? This is a situation that warrants continued watching.

Tags: Bryan Petersen Chris Coghlan Emilio Bonifacio Miami Marlins Scott Cousins

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