- Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
- Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox
- Adam Jones, Orioles
- Kevin Pillar, Blue Jays
- Aaron Hicks, Yankees
For the first and only time in these rankings, the Rays find themselves on top. Kiermaier is the unquestioned star of their lineup, a two-time Gold Glover who can seemingly run down every fly ball in the state of Florida. And he can hit, too; his 15 homers and .788 OPS in 2017 were both career highs, despite the fact he was limited to 98 games by a hip fracture. The key for Kiermaier is staying healthy. He hasn’t played more than 105 games in a season since 2015.
Bradley is sort of a Kiermaier Lite, a quality player who’s a notch below the Rays’ star. He’s been a consistently excellent fielder in his career, though his hitting skills are a bit more scattershot. Bradley posted back-to-back seasons of an .832 OPS or better in 2015 and 2016 before backsliding to a .726 mark last year.
The Orioles’ Jones is the elder statesmen of AL East center fielders as the only one of the group in his 30s. (Side note: I feel weird calling someone younger than me an “elder statesman.”) Defensively, he doesn’t have the range of the other four, and his Gold Glove days are probably behind him. But his offensive production has remained strong throughout his Orioles’ career. You can pretty much lock in Jones for 25 or more home runs — which he’s had every year since 2011 — and an OPS of .780 or better, which he’s done all but one season in that stretch.
Toronto’s Pillar has been an elite defender for most of his career but provides little at the plate. He’s in the lineup for his glove, period, and if he loses a step defensively, he’s in trouble. Bringing up the rear is Hicks, whose breakout year in 2017 — 15 homers, 52 RBIs and an .847 OPS in 88 games — allowed him to usurp the center field job from the aging, expensive Jacoby Ellsbury. With such stiff competition among AL East center fielders, Hicks will need to prove 2017 wasn’t a fluke in order to rise in the rankings.