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Padres' Top 5 center fielders: Cassavell's take

@AJCassavell
May 5, 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

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 AJ Cassavell’s ranking of the top five center fielders in Padres history. Next week: right field.

• Padres All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF

1. Steve Finley, 1995-98
Key fact: Finley's 82 homers are tops among primary center fielders in franchise history, and his 5.8-WAR 1996 campaign is widely regarded as the all-time best season for a Padres center fielder.

Steve Finley checks all the boxes as the Padres' top center fielder. His peak was higher than any other center fielder in franchise history. He made an impact on two of San Diego's all-time best teams -- the 1996 and '98 National League West winners. And he stuck around just long enough to have the edge in a few counting stats, as well.

Finley posted a .276/.334/.458 slash line across four seasons in San Diego, taking home two NL Gold Glove Awards at a premium defensive position. He departed following the 1998 season as a free agent, then made an impact against the Padres after signing with the D-backs. But Finley's legacy on the mid-1990s Padres is an important one, and he's the obvious choice atop this list.

2. Kevin McReynolds, 1983-86
Key fact: McReynolds' 12.4 bWAR is the best mark for any primary Padres center fielder in franchise history.

After Finley is the other center fielder on a Padres pennant winner. Kevin McReynolds was a hugely impactful presence on the 1984 NL champions, batting .278/.317/.465 with 20 homers. His career in San Diego fluctuated a bit, however.

McReynolds was excellent in 1984, then struggled in '85 before posting arguably his best season as a professional in '86. Following that season, he was dealt to the Mets. Like Finley, McReynolds' Padres tenure was limited to four seasons, but he remained productive after his departure.

3. Mike Cameron, 2006-07
Key fact: Cameron and Finley are the only center fielders in Padres history to author consecutive 20-homer seasons.

Had his tenure in San Diego lasted a bit longer, Mike Cameron could've easily crept into the discussion for a place among the franchise's top two center fielders. He was a Gold Glover on the 2006 NL West champs and posted an .837 OPS.

Although his performance dipped a bit in 2007, Cameron was still an immensely valuable player on a team that won 89 games. Cameron's two-season stint in San Diego ranks favorably with just about any two-year run for a center fielder in Padres history. And his contributions came everywhere -- at the plate, on the bases and in the field.

4. Johnny Grubb, 1972-76
Key fact: Grubb's .286 batting average and his .363 on-base percentage rank first among the franchise's primary center fielders (minimum 1,000 plate appearances).

"Sweet-swingin' Johnny Grubb" is known more for his smooth left-handed stroke than his production. But over five seasons in San Diego, he certainly was productive. Grubb burst onto the scene with a .311 batting average in 1973, finishing sixth in NL Rookie of the Year Award voting. A season later, Grubb was named to his only All-Star team, hitting .286 with a .758 OPS.

Few players in franchise history have been as steady an on-base threat as Grubb, who never recorded an OBP below .342 over five seasons in San Diego. Grubb's case is somewhat hindered, however, because he never played on a Padres team that won more than 73 games. He was dealt to Cleveland following the 1976 season (for another very productive center fielder, George Hendrick).

5. Darrin Jackson, 1989-92
Key fact: Jackson is the only player in franchise history to post consecutive 4-WAR seasons in center field.

Like Cameron, Darrin Jackson's tenure in San Diego was a short one, punctuated by a strong peak. Not much of an on-base threat, Jackson used his power and his defense to accumulate consecutive 4.4-WAR seasons in 1991 and '92.

Across that stretch, Jackson batted .254/.295/.424 with 38 home runs, and he led the Majors with 18 assists from center field in 1992. Jackson wouldn't get the chance to climb higher on this list, however. After winning his salary arbitration hearing prior to the '93 season, he was dealt to Toronto for Derek Bell.

Honorable mentions

Mark Kotsay has a strong case to be as high as No. 4 on this list, based solely on his three-season stint from 2001-03. During that span, he batted 283/.355/.426. Kotsay, however, returned to San Diego a decade later and posted a pair of sub-replacement-level seasons. Still, he ranks fifth among center fielders with a 7.2 WAR, just above Grubb's 7.1 mark.

Cito Gaston manned center for the first three years of the Padres' existence, including an All-Star year in 1970.

Dave Roberts racked up 5.1 WAR from 2005-06.

George Hendrick's two-year peak rivals Cameron's, as he batted .299/.370/.469 over 188 games in the late 1970s.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.