Right field is full of talent. Not that left field or center field are necessarily weak, but by the time you get to #5 or #6 at those positions, you’re mostly talking about guys that have noticeable holes in their game; guys that are only a little above average players. Not so in right field. I think you could do a top 15 in right field, and have nothing but very good players on your list. And this after Choo has been moved to center field in Cincy. This also means that it could be a very interesting debate. Let’s start with MLBN’s top 10:
- Giancarlo Stanton (MIA)
- Jose Bautista (TOR)
- Jason Heyward (ATL)
- Carlos Beltran (STL)
- Justin Upton (ATL)
- Ben Zobrist (TB)
- Torii Hunter (DET)
- Nick Swisher (CLE)
- Andre Ethier (LAD)
- Jay Bruce (CIN)
The fact that Jay Bruce is #10 says a lot about how deep the talent is in RF. Obviously, MLBN put their list together before Justin Upton had been traded to Atlanta, or he might have been on the left field list instead. But, for the sake of argument, we’ll keep him under consideration in right. Honorable mention for my list goes first to Torii Hunter. Even though he’s 37, he has performed well the last few years – 123 wRC+, .799 OPS, and he’s still a very good fielder. But, he isn’t blazing the basepaths anymore, and while he’s still good in the field, it’s not to the level he once was. Nelson Cruz also deserves mention – .840 OPS, 25 home runs, 11 stolen bases, 120 wRC+ average the last 3 seasons. But, as the whole world got to see in the 2011 World Series, he isn’t great in the field, and at 32, he just finished the first season of his entire career in which he played more than 130 games. So, let’s look at the 10 best right fielders, right now, in my opinion.
#10 – Ben Zobrist. Did you know he’ll be 32 in May? I thought I hadn’t heard about this guy until the last 2-3 years because he was young. But, his breakout season in ’09 was when he was already 29 years old. His run production the last three years has been very good (122 wRC+), he steals a lot of bases (averaging 19 the last 3 seasons), and is one of the top 3 or 4 fielders in RF. But, a .792 OPS isn’t exactly inspiring (.359 OBP, .433 SLG), and he isn’t exactly launching them out of the park on a regular basis (17 home runs per year – lowest average on this list). There are a lot of reasons to include him on this list, but there are also several reasons he shouldn’t be as high as MLBN had him.
#9 – Andre Ethier. He’ll be 31 in April. And, if he hadn’t had such a strangely bad season in 2011, I’d put him higher on this list. The three years leading up to 2011 saw him average 25 home runs and an .870 OPS. But, things really fell apart for him in 2011, for whatever reason. He definitely made a comeback in 2012 (20 HR, .814 OPS), but he wasn’t quite where he used to be. That being said, he still has had excellent run production the last three years (126 wRC+), and he gets on base at a very high rate (.361 OBP). He’s not stealing very many bases, and he’s below average in the field (in spite of winning a Gold Glove in 2011). He should still have some gas left in the tank at his age, and in a lineup with Kemp & Adrian Gonzalez, he’s likely to have one of his best seasons.
#8 – Carlos Beltran. 36. Not 26. Not even 32. 36 – that’s how old Beltran will be in April. And, his stats are an enigma. He had one of the lowest SLG% of his career last season (.495), and the lowest OPS (.842) he’s ever had in a full season since his rookie year, and yet he somehow had the 4th highest home run total of his career (32). Is it really that much easier to hit home runs in St. Louis? But, other than his home run total, everything else is on a downward trend – batting average, SLG, OBP, XBH, etc. He’s also a slightly below-average fielder (-5.0 UZR the last three years), which makes sense as he gets closer to the end of his career. What I don’t see is a guy that deserves to be near the top of this list, as MLBN had him. He still belongs on the list (133 wRC+ the last three years), but not near the top.
#7 – Jason Heyward. Here’s a guy that’s so young and talented that it’s hard to see where he could end up. He really broke out the power last year, with 27 home runs and a .479 SLG. But, he also struck out a lot (152 K’s), leading to an abysmal .335 OBP. He’s a .260-.270 batter, and has just a 118 wRC+ the last three years (the worst out of anyone I even considered for this list; though, compared to the other outfield positions, it sounds silly that I’m saying it’s “just” a 118 wRC+ – more evidence that RF is loaded with talent) – which is why I don’t understand MLBN ranking him as high as they did. But, in addition to the power, he will also steal several bases (21 last year). So, if he continues to develop, he has a shot at 30/30. But, the primary reason everyone likes this kid – he’s easily the best fielder in RF in the game, and he’s just 23 years old!
#6 – Nick Swisher. I think this was a brilliant sign by the Indians. Yes, Swisher has had his struggles in the postseason as a Yankee. But, perhaps a move away from the bright lights of New York is exactly what he needed. In spite of his postseason shortcomings, you can’t ignore the fact that he does almost everything well in right field. An .844 OPS the last three years, averaging 25 home runs, an impressive 129 wRC+, and he’s above average in the field (11.5 UZR – 10th best). Speed, however, is not his game (just 5 total stolen bases the last three seasons). And, his strikeout numbers are a little high (reaching 141 last year), though he still manages a .366 OBP. He’s entering his age 32 season, and I think he has another really good year or two left in him.
#5 – Jay Bruce. He turns just 26 in April and has already proven himself to be a top-tier right fielder. Only Bautista & Stanton have hit more home runs the last 3 years (91 – increasing every year, up to 34 last season). His stolen base numbers also continue to increase – not spectacular at 22 in three years, but had 9 last season. He struggles a little with strikeouts, leading to a sub-par .340 OBP. But, again, he’s so young, and is still figuring out his game. And, in spite of the poor OBP, he still manages an .833 OPS, because of his stellar SLG. Add to all this the fact that he’s an above average fielder, and you have a guy that could reach the top of this list in the coming years, as he just keeps getting better.
#4 – Justin Upton. It may seem like he’s been around for quite a while, but he doesn’t turn 26 until August. In other words, we’ve not even seen his full potential yet. And, in 2011, he had an .898 OPS with 31 home runs, and 21 stolen bases. He had some setbacks in 2012, but I believe the move to Atlanta, where he’s not the primary focus of the offense will be perfect for him. There are almost no holes in his game. He’ll bat .280-.290, hit 25+ home runs, steal 20+ bases, and play excellent in the field. He strikes out maybe a little more than you would like (123 average the last 2 years), but it doesn’t seem to effect his ability to get on base (.361 OBP the last 3 years – only Bautista, Berkman & Swisher are better).
#3 – Corey Hart (MIL). I don’t get it. Only Bautista & Stanton have a better OPS the last three seasons (.857). Only those two and Beltran have better run production in the same time (131 wRC+). Only those two and Bruce have more home runs (29 per season). He’s not a bad fielder (3 DRS in three seasons isn’t spectacular, but it’s not sub-par). He’s not the worst base-stealer (19 in three years). I think the only knock against him might be his health? He has had some minor injuries, and has thus averaged just 141 games the last three years. He’s also going to miss the first few weeks of this season after having knee surgery last month. But, he turns just 31 in March, and is one of the most consistent right fielders across the board statistically. For the life of me, I can’t figure how he doesn’t even crack MLBN’s top 10.
#2 – Giancarlo Stanton. I get why MLBN is high on this guy. At just 23 years old, it’s hard to imagine how good he eventually could be. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He has averaged just 124 games the last three seasons, thanks to some nagging injuries. He’s second only to Bautista in most categories, but he doesn’t steal hardly any bases, and he strikes out quite a bit more (leading to a lackluster .350 OBP). However, he is an elite fielder – easily top 5 in right field. Another year of developing, and he might be at the top of this list for years to come.
#1 – Jose Bautista. He’s 32 years old, but he’s a bit of a late bloomer. He really turned it on at age 29, instead of a couple years prior to that. So, I expect him to have another peak year or two left in him. He’s everything you could ask for at the plate. A .993 OPS the last three years (including an injury-battled season last year), averaging 41 home runs, a 166 wRC+, he doesn’t strike out a lot (.400 OBP), and he can even get close to stealing double-digit bases. The only thing he isn’t going to give ya’ is great fielding. He’s not terrible, but I’d rate him just below average. But, his bat is so far ahead of everyone else that I don’t really see why MLBN would rate Stanton higher.