After a period of relative madness, Cameron Maybin has started three consecutive games in center field for the Atlanta Braves. In a vacuum, that would be noteworthy, considering that incumbent starter Eric Young Jr. leads the team in playing time at the position, but given that the Braves faced three right-handed starting pitchers over that time period, there could be an overarching takeaway.
Cameron Maybin might be the everyday center fielder.
Dating back to late March (as it became apparent that Young would make the club as a potential starter), there were real questions about whether the 29-year-old was fit for regular duty. Coming into the season, Young had a career .332 slugging percentage in nearly 1,600 MLB plate appearances, and given that he isn't an excellent defender in the outfield (though he isn't a negative, either), that is tough to swallow.
Still, Fredi Gonzalez elected to deploy Young as a virtual regular to begin the season, and the results have been predictably woeful. In 73 plate appearances, Young has produced a slash line of .167/.236/.288 and for good measure, the early indications about his defense have been mixed. This is, of course, a very small sample size in the grand scheme, but given his previous output (or lack thereof), it isn't exactly encouraging toward an uptick as he nears the age of 30.
Enter Cameron Maybin, who came to Atlanta via the Craig Kimbrel trade, and suddenly, Gonzalez was blessed with a legitimate alternative. One of the arguments in favor of deploying Young in center field during the Spring was the lack of available options, but Maybin represents a younger, more talented player than Young, even with a spotty track record.
In a small sample size, Maybin has been mildly effective in Atlanta. His batting average sits at only .208 in 58 plate appearances, but a 15.5% walk rate lifts his on-base percentage to a respectable .333 in that time, and more importantly, Maybin has blasted four home runs to generate a .458 slugging percentage.
Despite a big-time pedigree, Maybin has largely been a disappointment in the majors. He did produce a 4-win season in 2011, stealing 40 bases with good defensive metrics, but that appears to be the outlier in an otherwise checkered career. At the same time, however, Maybin's tools are infinitely more impressive than Young's in a vacuum, and given the difference in investment level, it makes sense for Gonzalez to simply roll with Maybin on a daily basis until he proves unworthy of the nod.