Blue Jays’ Top 5 center fielders: Matheson’s take

May 4th, 2020

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 favourite at this position.

Here is Keegan Matheson’s ranking of the top five center fielders in Blue Jays history. Next week: Right field.

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

1. Devon White, 1991-95
Key fact: Won a Gold Glove Award in all five of his seasons with the Blue Jays

Center field is the perfect position to put the Blue Jays’ history as a team within context. Lloyd Moseby handled the 1980s, Vernon Wells handled the 2000s and Kevin Pillar handled much of the 2010s, but the glory years belonged to White.

White manned center field for five seasons in Toronto, enough time to amass 20.9 fWAR, including three seasons north of 5.0 fWAR and a peak of 6.4 fWAR in 1991. His offensive numbers don’t jump off the page, but White did more than enough at the plate to let his true gift shine.

In the field, White was a master. Just as Pillar is known for his endless reel of diving catches, White is known for just the opposite -- his ability to make effortless plays in the gaps without ever leaving his feet. It’s a style and skill that so many former teammates and opponents say you needed to witness to truly understand, but the appreciation for White’s glove is alive and well today.

White was a member of both World Series teams in 1992 and '93. His postseason runs may be best known for his incredible running catch up against the wall on a David Justice fly ball in Game 3 of the '92 Fall Classic.

2. , 1980-89
Key fact: His 255 stolen bases are the most in Blue Jays history

Playing alongside Jesse Barfield in right field and George Bell in left, Moseby was part of the great Blue Jays outfields of the early and mid-1980s.

Moseby’s name is all over the Blue Jays' record books but, even with his accolades, his career in Toronto is still underrated by many, or perhaps overshadowed. “Shaker” still ranks fourth all time in games played (1,392), hits (1,319), doubles (242) and second in triples (60).

Known more for his speed, Moseby also launched 149 career home runs with the Blue Jays over 10 seasons. He eventually left for the Tigers in free agency, and when the Blue Jays were winning their titles in 1992 and '93, he was rounding out his pro career with two seasons in Japan playing for Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants.

3. , 1999-2010
Key fact: Trails only Carlos Delgado and Tony Fernandez in all-time games played with Toronto

Wells’ 12 years in Toronto occupied the majority of the gap between the club’s early-1990s success and its return to the postseason in 2015, and the scope of success surely impacts how Wells is viewed by Blue Jays fans.

While Wells experienced the expected ups and downs along the way, his numbers in Toronto were impressive at the time and still stand up. He established himself as the full-time starter in 2002 at the age of 23, and then topped 20 home runs seven times over his next nine full seasons. In three of those, Wells drove in over 100 runs.

As other stars and stopgaps came and went, Wells was a fixture in Toronto’s lineup for a decade, collecting three Gold Glove Awards and earning three trips to the All-Star Game.

4. , 2013-19
Key fact: A Top 1,000 Draft pick… barely. Toronto selected Pillar in the 32nd round (No. 979 overall) in 2011

Pillar was a fixture in Toronto for much of the past decade, tying together the Blue Jays’ failed run in 2013 with their subsequent postseason success and eventual rebuild. When Pillar was dealt to the Giants early in the '19 season, it signalled one of the final pages being turned to the future.

While Pillar posted a .692 OPS with a .297 on-base percentage over his seven seasons in Toronto, his defense was always his calling card. Whether he was running full speed into a diving catch or a wall, Pillar never hesitated to put his body on the line to make a play.

5. Jose Cruz, 1997-2002
Key fact: Acquired from the Mariners in a 1997 Trade Deadline deal for Paul Spoljaric and Mike Timlin

Cruz played parts of six seasons in Toronto, where he put up a respectable .793 OPS, with three seasons valued at over 2.0 fWAR. His best year came in 2001 at age 27, when Cruz hit .274 with an .857 OPS, including a career-high 34 home runs and 88 RBIs. That gave him back-to-back seasons of 30-plus homers. Expectations were sky high for Cruz, who was selected third overall in the 1995 MLB Draft, but he still managed some valuable years for the Blue Jays.

Honorable mentions
showed plenty of flashes in Toronto, posting an .840 OPS over 118 games in 2013, but he couldn’t keep that momentum going the next season. … Barry Bonnell played some center (along with left and right) over his four years in Toronto, earning a value of 4.3 fWAR. … helped fill the gap between Moseby and White between 1989-91. … was the veteran stopgap between White and Wells, spending his age-37 and 38 seasons in Toronto, where he posted a .362 on-base percentage over 228 games. ... Rick Bosetti manned center full time in 1978 and '79, making him the club’s first full-time center fielder, and he played all 162 games at the position in his second year with the Blue Jays. He had 18 outfield assists that season, more than any other center fielder in baseball.