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Astros' Top 5 center fielders: McTaggart's take

@brianmctaggart
May 4, 2020

HOUSTON -- No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are

HOUSTON -- No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Brian McTaggart’s ranking of the top 5 center fielders in Astros history. Next week: Right fielders.

Astros' Top 5: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF

1) Cesar Cedeno (1970-81)
Key fact: 49.6 bWAR is highest of any Astros center fielder in history

Cedeño, signed by the Astros at 17 out of the Dominican Republic and making his Major League debut at 19, was compared to Willie Mays early in his career by manager Leo Durocher before injuries took their toll. Still, Cedeño was an electrifying and dynamic center fielder for the Astros for a decade, and is still considered perhaps one of the team’s top five offensive players in history.

With a rare combination of speed, power and defense, he was the second player in history (Lou Brock, 1967) to hit 20 homers and steal 50 bases in a season, and Cedeño did it three years in a row ('72-74). The only Astros player to hit for the cycle twice, Cedeño won five consecutive Gold Gloves ('72-76), appeared in four All-Star Games with Houston and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player in '72.

“He was absolutely outstanding,” said former Astros president and general manager Tal Smith. “He was the greatest talent I think the franchise has had. That doesn’t mean he made the greatest contribution, because obviously [Jeff] Bagwell and [Craig] Biggio and [Lance] Berkman and others have played longer and performed very well, but Cedeño -- from a talent standpoint -- I thought he was destined to be in the Hall of Fame.”

In 12 years in Houston, Cedeño slashed .289/.351/.454 with 343 doubles, 55 triples, 163 homers, 778 RBIs and 487 stolen bases, which remains a club record nearly 40 years after his final game with the Astros.

"I would say, yes, I'm pretty satisfied," Cedeño said. "People talk about, 'You didn't do this, and you didn't do that.' I tore my ACL in '77 and broke my ankle in 1980 [in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against the Phillies]. Those are serious injuries I had to go through and nobody talks about that. It's in the past, I guess. I'm not one of those guys that likes to talk about myself."

But ask any Astros player who was on the 1980 NL West championship team that lost to the Phillies in a terrific NLCS and they’re steadfast that a healthy Cedeño -- and pitcher J.R. Richard -- would have sent the Astros to their first World Series.

“Cedeño, at the time, was probably one of the best players in the Major Leagues,” former teammate Enos Cabell said.

2) Jimmy Wynn (1963-73)
Key fact: Held club record for homers (223) until Bagwell surpassed him in 1999

The franchise’s first great slugger, Wynn debuted with the Colt .45s in 1963 and played 11 years in Houston, earning the nickname “The Toy Cannon” for his prodigious home run power despite his small, 5-foot-9 stature. He blasted 37 homers in ’67 and hit at least 20 in six other seasons, all while playing the cavernous Astrodome. He socked 291 homers in his 15-year career.

“I’m a little bigger than him and I had some strength and I would have to stand on second base to hit a ball that far,” former teammate Norm Miller said. “Jimmy never hit a cheap home run.”

Born and raised in Cincinnati, just steps from Crosley Field, Wynn had several stunning single-game moments, but none more famous than the home run he hit on April 12, 1970, when he became the first player to hit a regular-season home run into the upper deck of the Astrodome. On June 10, 1967, he hit a mammoth homer at Crosley Field that cleared the 58-foot scoreboard in left-center field and landed on the I-75 freeway outside the ballpark.

“He was the greatest guy in the world and, pound for pound, hit the ball farther than anybody I’ve seen in my life,” Miller said.

Wynn, whose No. 24 was retired by the Astros in 2005, died on March 26, 2020, at 78 years old.

“The Astros have been my life,” he once said. “They gave me an opportunity to bring my skills out. It gave me a chance to realize my dream.”

3) Michael Bourn (2008-11)
Key fact: Joins Cedeño as the only Astros outfielders to win a Gold Glove

Traded to his hometown Astros from the Phillies following the 2007 season in the Brad Lidge deal, Bourn became entrenched as the club’s starting center fielder for four seasons and dazzled with his electrifying speed. He led the NL in stolen bases in 2009 (61), ’10 (52) and ’11 (61) and won two Gold Gloves with the Astros (’09-10). Bourn posted a .696 OPS with the Astros before being traded to the Braves midway through the 2011 season as part of the Astros' rebuilding process.

4) Steve Finley (1991-94)
Key fact: 41 triples rank ninth on club’s all-time list

Finley didn’t blossom into a star until he left Houston, but in his four seasons with the Astros, he slashed .281/.331/.406 with 32 homers and 186 RBIs in 557 games. Acquired from the Orioles after the 1991 season in the trade that sent slugger Glenn Davis to Baltimore, Finley was a solid offensive player and stellar defensive player, teaming with Bagwell, Biggio and Luis Gonzalez on a young club on the rise.

Alas, the Astros shipped Finley to the Padres in an 11-player deal after the 1994 season, a swap that saw Ken Caminiti also go to the Padres and Derek Bell and Doug Brocail, among others, come to Houston. The trade wasn’t a good one for the Astros. Caminiti won the NL MVP in '96 with San Diego and Finley went on to win five Gold Gloves and make three All-Star teams with the Padres and D-backs.

5) Jake Marisnick (2014-19)
Key fact: 7.8 defensive bWAR is third-highest of any Astros player in history at any position

Marisnick’s 5 1/2 seasons in Houston saw him make countless terrific catches in the outfield and earned him the reputation as one of the game’s best defensive outfielders. Marisnick was typically the Astros’ fourth outfielder and a speed weapon off the bench. Had he played more regularly, he likely would have won a Gold Glove or two.

Limitations on offense held Marisnick to largely part-time status in Houston. He played in 631 regular-season games while with the Astros and slashed .232/.285/.396 with 53 homers and 65 stolen bases. His best year came during the World Series championship season of 2017, when he hit 16 homers with an .815 OPS. Marisnick sat out for the playoff run, though, injuring his thumb late in the regular season and missing the entire postseason. He hit .333 with a .745 OPS in 23 career playoff games with Houston.

Honorable mentions
Willy Taveras (2004-06) was the starting outfielder on the Astros’ first World Series club in ’05, finishing second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. His 30-game hit streak in ’06 remains a club record.

Carl Everett (1998-99) slugged 40 homers and drove in 184 runs in two seasons in Houston.

Gerald Young (1987-92) owns the club single-season record with 65 stolen bases, set in 1988.

Note: George Springer, Terry Puhl and Richard Hidalgo are considered right fielders for this project because they started more games in right than center.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.