When I started this series eight weeks ago, I didn’t immediately think that right field was obviously the deepest position in baseball, but after working to rank The Nine best players at each position it is extremely obvious. The top seven players on this list have MVP potential and I left guys off this list who are really good players.
I wasn’t picking between a bunch of question marks for #9, I was choosing among guys who I think are all very talented and who will have good seasons. Again, this list is of players projected to play right field for 2013, so position changes are taken into account. You’ll find Ben Zobrist and Josh Hamilton among this class of players settling into right this year.
My apologies to newly minted Indian Nick Swisher who was an outfielder when I wrote the first basemen list and a first basemen when I wrote the right field list. If Swisher has a big season, this is why he’s not on either list. If he has a bad season, I totally saw it coming.
9. Ichiro (Yankees)
Ichiro, despite his age, still plays great defense in right field, hits for high average, and runs the bases well. He should also see an uptick in power with a friendlier ballpark and should get a little help from a slightly better lineup around him. It would have been a lot better, but all of the Yankees are hurt. He’s not the MVP he once was, but I’m buying a very solid season from Ichiro in the Bronx.
8. Torii Hunter (Tigers)
Hunter had a huge season hitting between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in 2012, so in choosing his next destination, he searched for a similarly cushy gig. And found it. He’ll hit between Austin Jackson (STT #1 CF) and Miguel Cabrera (STT #1 3B) and will play next to slight Trout downgrade Jackson in the outfield. Hunter had a big season last year, and while he’s not likely to match it, modest regression still earns him a place on this list with his mix of moderate power, speed, and defense.
7. Josh Hamilton (Angels)
Hamilton is baseball’s fragile giant. He’s shown, at times, flashes of historic talent and, at other times, flashes of unparalleled failure. He has impressive power and great raw skills, but has some of the worst plate discipline in a sport that includes Delmon Young. He has health issues and a history of off the field issues (i.e. drugs, alcohol, vision issues, energy drink addition). For my money, he has the widest possible range of outcomes of any player in the league. Hamilton hitting 50 HR seems equally as likely to me as him hitting .210. The upside is there, but age and fragility work against him. Plus there is an effort issue, as showcased by his utter lack of interest in playing baseball last September. Man, I just don’t know.
6. Carlos Beltran (Cardinals)
Beltran is not the defensive and baserunning star he once was, but he is still an extremely talented player when healthy. In seasons in which he has player 100 or more games, he has always posted a 3 WAR or better and has at times, approached 8 WAR. He’s on the downswing of a great career (Tell that to Mets fans!) and should be good for another great year if he remains healthy.
5. Jay Bruce (Reds)
Bruce hits for power and he walks. Those are two valuable qualities in a player, even if he is closer to .250 than .300 most seasons. The defensive numbers are a little all over the place, but he has 134 HR before his 26th birthday. That’s a good recipe for success and he should have it hitting behind the great Joey Votto.
4. Jose Bautista (Blue Jays)
If Joey Bats hadn’t missed half of 2012 with a wrist injury, an injury that is somewhat correlated with a loss in power, he’d probably be at the top of this list. The fact that he is fourth tells you just how good right field is right now. A healthy Bautista is a 40-50 HR guy with the ability to walk at a Bondsian rate while avoiding gaudy Dunnian strikeout numbers. He’s nothing special on defense or on the bases, but he is versatile and an absolute monster at the plate.
3. Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins)
Stanton has as much raw power as anyone in the game and puts in on display regularly between the lines. He’s a very good defender and he takes his walks at the plate. He’s a great young player, with an emphasis on both great and young separately. That is to say, he’s still very young. But he strikes out a ton and doesn’t do much for me on the bases. That doesn’t make him a bad player, it just keeps him from the top of the list. I’m also a believer in lineup protection more than most saber-guys and think it is especially real at the extremes. There is nobody even closer to Stanton’s level on the Marlins and he will be pitched around a lot. That doesn’t exactly hurt his rate stats, but it will drop the raw production and the frustration with his situation might have a slightly negative effect on his overall performance in 2013 before he gets traded in November.
2. Ben Zobrist (Rays)
The only reason Zobrist is likely no longer baseball’s most underrated player (Alex Gordon?) is because people like me have been talking him up long enough that it has finally caught on. He’s a great defender, a good baserunner, and a very good hitter. The plate discipline is excellent and his versatility makes me blush. He is an above average player at six or seven positions and hasn’t player fewer than 151 games since becoming a regular four years ago. He’s durable, he’s versatile, and he knows the strike zone. If you know anything about the type of players I most like to cheer for, you would rightly suspect that I would lose my mind if the Tigers found a way to acquire him.
1. Jason Heyward (Braves)
I’ll confess that I wasn’t a Heyward believer after his breakout 2010 season and felt super proud of myself for calling his 2011 regression. Didn’t I look silly in 2012? Heyward has a few trouble spots in that his plate discipline is actually getting worse each season, but he hits for power, plays elite defense, and runs the bases extremely well. On offense alone, he’s in the middle of this list, but he’s so good in the field and on the bases that he vaults himself up to the top. He’s also only 23 and has three seasons under his belt. He’s poised to lead the Braves back to the fake playoffs or better in 2013 with the Upton brothers to his right, and looks to be baseball’s best right fielder in the process.
What do you think? How does your top four look? Sound off in the comments section.