Continuing on with our top ten lists, let’s finish with our last list involving position players. Left field and center field had an enormous amount of talent, but neither compares to right field. The top four players on this list are all MVP candidates, while the next four to five could definitely make the All-Star team this season. It’s a list so talented that players such as Nicholas Castellanos, Nick Markakis, and Adam Eaton all failed to make it. I’m very excited to discuss and debate the ranking of the players on this list, especially at the top. Let’s look at the top ten right fielders!
#10 Stephen Piscotty, Oakland A’s
Projected Stats: .284/.338/.445 (.783 OPS) 22 HR 0 drs 2.1 WAR
Very few players went through the adversity that Stephen Piscotty had to go through. Traded to the A’s to be closer to his mother, who was suffering from ALS, he clearly struggled while dealing with so much hardship. Sadly, his mother passed away, and Piscotty definitely made her proud with the production he put up after that. After posting just a .618 OPS during the first two months of the season, Piscotty posted a .912 OPS throughout the rest of the season, helping lead the A’s to the postseason. Some of this progression was bound to come naturally with just a .185 BABIP in May, but Piscotty also cut down on his strikeout rate during this span and hit more line drives. He also made plenty of high-quality contact (42.6%), and certainly wasn’t the beneficiary of luck with a very sustainable .290 BABIP. Piscotty’s chase rate did spike to 36.2%, but his strikeout rate didn’t suffer, as he improved his zone contact rate to 88%. There is a concern with his defense after compiling -6 drs in right field, but he was terrific with 8 drs in 2017 with the Cardinals, so playing in a tougher ballpark with Oakland may be tampering his defensive metrics. For now, I’ll continue to view him as a solid offensive contributor with average defense. That’s not enough for him to compete with the other players on this list, but it is enough to sneak him into top ten, especially after finishing the season on a very strong note.
#9 Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins
Projected Stats: .246/.326/.430 (.756 OPS) 20 HR 8 drs 2.4 WAR
Who may be wondering: who is Max Kepler, and what is he doing on this top ten list? There’s good reason to be skeptical of this ranking; Kepler has a career weighted runs created plus (wrc+) of 94 and a career WAR of just 5.2 in three seasons. The Twins clearly see something in Kepler after giving him a five-year extension worth $35 million, an extension which I loved. Why? Well, because Kepler is about to break out in a huge way, that’s why. The 26-year-old posted career highs in walk rate (11.8%), strikeout rate (15.7%), and hard contact rate (37.1%), yet his OPS was just .727 due in large part to a .236 BABIP. That’s an incredible amount of bad luck considering his .82 GB/FB ration, respectable hard contact rate, and improved contact rate (83.3%), so progression offensively for Kepler is inevitable. Plus, if he continues to improve his underlying numbers, his development will skyrocket into a possible All-Star. Either way, Kepler can rely on his superb defense (10 drs, 10.8 BsR) and solid base running (8.1 career BsR) to provide value for the Twins for years to come. Kepler’s upside is tremendous as a powerful slugger with tremendous defense, and he seems to be on the cusp of realizing that potential. Don’t let 2018 fool you, with better luck from the baseball gods, Kepler’s stock will be sent flying, and this ranking may even turn out to be too low. The Twins are trying to make a run at the AL Central, and Kepler could very well be the player who puts them over the top.
#8 Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets
Projected Stats: .255/.380/.440 (.820 OPS) 16 HR -4 drs 3.6 WAR
In baseball, there are just players that are impossible to root against. That applies to Brandon Nimmo, easily one of the happiest and nicest players in the MLB. The 25-year-old’s ascension into the heart of the Mets’ lineup had been widely anticipated since he was the 13th overall selection in the 2011 MLB draft. Last year was a turning point; Nimmo posted a 149 weighted runs created plus (wrc+), compiling a 4.5 WAR according to Fangraphs. His best trait is his plate discipline, evidenced by his terrific 15% walk rate and 20.8% chase rate. That will allow him to be an elite on-base threat (.404 OBP last year), making him one of the league’s best options at the leadoff spot. Nimmo also possesses some upside in the power department after hitting 17 home runs and posting an isolated power (ISO) of .219 last year. Still, Nimmo has some room to grow before he can be considered a top-five player at the position. That starts with his strikeout issue; he struck out 26.2% of the time last year. As noted, Nimmo’s chase rate is outstanding, but a 58.4% zone swing rate signals that he’s being too passive at the plate. Swinging at pitches in the zone would not compromise Nimmo’s on-base ability. In fact, it would make it more likely for him to have an OPS north of .900 than one closer to .800. Nimmo’s defense is also a concern after he had -6 drs and a -3.6 UZR last year, which is strange considering he’s such an athlete. Now, even without the improvement, Nimmo is an All-Star caliber player and an outstanding asset for the Mets. However, with a more aggressive approach to go along with improved defense, he can be the five-tool superstar, he has the chance to become the five-tool superstar he has the potential to become. I definitely see Nimmo moving up this list in the future, but #8 is a terrific placeholder spot for him as he hopefully continues his development.
#7 Andrew McCutchen, Philadelphia Phillies
Projected Stats: .266/.365/.466 (.831 OPS) 25 HR 2 drs 3.1 WAR
Speaking of likable players, Andrew McCutchen may no longer be the star he once was, but he’s certainly one of the funniest players in baseball and a terrific teammate. The 32-year-old’s value obviously stems from more than his character, however; he’s still an extremely productive player. With the Giants and Yankees last season, McCutchen posted a 120 wrc+ and a .792 OPS. Those are solid numbers on the surface, but there are a variety of factors that would suggest McCutchen should improve this season after signing a three-year deal with the Phillies. It was clear that just like a lot of hitters, McCutchen struggled to hit in San Francisco and their massive ballpark (now Oracle Park). After posting just a .772 OPS with the Giants, he posted a .892 OPS with the Yankees. Citizens Bank Park is a very hitter’s friendly park, and McCutchen’s numbers should benefit automatically playing 81 games there. There’s also a matter of the increase in McCutchen’s hard contact, which he raised to 43.4% this season with just a 13.5% soft contact rate. Both of those are career bests, as was his 17.8% chase rate. Therefore, despite his age, there should be no worry about a possible regression offensively. McCutchen’s defense was fine last season (2 drs), but that should also improve automatically playing in a smaller ballpark. There’s nothing McCutchen can’t do well, though his baserunning didn’t grade out well last year (-5 BsR), and he remains an extremely impactful contributor. Though he wasn’t the biggest addition the Phillies made (more on that soon), signing him was a tremendous move for them. Although he’s the oldest player on this list, McCutchen should prove to still have more than enough left in the tank, and should remain on this list at least for the length of his new contract.
#6 Yasiel Puig, Cincinnati Reds
Projected Stats: .269/.342/.495 (.837 OPS) 27 HR 11 drs 3 WAR
Will the real Yasiel Puig please stand up? The 28-year-old had a 9.5 WAR during his first two seasons, but posted just a 7.2 WAR in the following four seasons. This inconsistency prompted the Dodgers to move on from Puig, trading him to the Reds along with Matt Kemp and Alex Wood in what was mostly a salary dump. While this was likely an attempt from the Dodgers to rid themselves of Puig and his loud personality, this trade is exactly what Puig needed. With Los Angeles, he was used as more of a platoon player than an everyday player, which would explain some of the inconsistencies. It’s tough for a player to get into the proper groove without everyday at-bats, and Puig is more than capable of being an everyday right fielder. Plus, he struggled mightily hitting in Dodger Stadium with just a .686 home OPS last year. Meanwhile, his road OPS jumped to .965, and one can only imagine the damage he can do at Great American Ballpark, arguably the most hitter’s friendly ballpark. Getting everyday at-bats and playing 81 games in Cincinnati, it’s very easy to see Puig hitting over 30 home runs and setting career highs in nearly every offensive statistic. Even then, that may not even be his best skill. Puig is an exceptional defender, with 24 drs the past two seasons to go along with probably the strongest arm in baseball. There’s a lot of value in the power-defense combo that Puig brings to the table, and in a change of scenery with the Reds, it’s extremely possible that he returns to his form from his first two seasons in a contract season. One thing’s for certain: Puig will be extremely fun to watch this season as he takes advantage of his new opportunity.
#5 Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners
Projected Stats: .277/.354/.479 (.833 OPS) 23 HR 6 drs 3.5 WAR
There are plenty of instances where a team trades a prospect as a minor piece of a trade, only to watch that player blossom into a star. That’s exactly what happened to both the Brewers and Diamondbacks; both traded Haniger while he was still a minor-leaguer. The second and most notable trade from Arizona was centered around sending Jean Segura to Seattle for Taijuan Walker, yet it was a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who became the centerpiece of this transaction. Haniger, now age 28, has posted back to back seasons with an OPS over .840, with a 7.1 WAR in that span. He also improved his walk rate last season (10.2%), and there’s nothing to suggest that his unexpected success has been a fluke. Not only is Haniger an outstanding hitter, but he also has 12 drs, and doesn’t have a weakness. He’s the definition of a solid, all-around player, and although he’s not flashy, he should not be overlooked. Though his age may prevent him from being apart of the Mariners team that ends the club’s playoff drought, he could easily become the hottest commodity on the trade market, netting Seattle a massive package to speed up their rebuilding process. Still, he’s the type of player that any contending team should aggressively pursue; he’s a game changer that brings everything to the table.
#4 Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
Projected Stats: .278/.402/.540 (.942 OPS) 29 HR -6 drs 4.4 WAR
After a long free agency process, the largest contract in MLB history now belongs to Bryce Harper after he signed a 13-year contract worth $330 million to join the Philadelphia Phillies. Though no one can predict how the back-end of the contract will turn out, one thing’s for certain: Harper will certainly be worth it in the front half of his deal. For some reason, there’s a narrative amongst baseball fans that Harper is overrated. They point to outdated stats such as his .249 batting average to prove their point, yet that argument made no sense. Harper’s .393 on-base percentage last season proves that although he may not always reach via a hit, he still gets on base as well as any other player. That’s thanks in large part to a walk rate of 18.7%; Harper decreased his chase rate to 27.3% and is often pitched around due to his reputation as one of the game’s elite sluggers. He also increased his hard contact rate to 42.3%, and after a .226 BABIP suppressed his first half stats, he rebounded with a .972 second-half OPS with better luck. With Citizens Bank Park, where he has a .930 career OPS, as his home ballpark, his staggering offensive numbers should only get better. Harper’s defense in right field (-16 drs) is a concern, though a variety of factors, such as trying to stay healthy before his new contract, may have hurt those numbers. Considering Harper had 4 drs and a 2.9 UZR in 2017, and remains a world-class athlete, it’s hard to take those defensive numbers 100% seriously. Though there are three superstars that are slightly ahead of Harper’s level, this spot will likely ultimately prove to be too low. Once Harper shines in the city of Brotherly Love with hopefully improved defense, he could jump up all the way to the #1 spot. The next three players may have something to say about that statement, however.
#3 Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
Projected Stats: .301/.385/.523 (.908 OPS) 28 HR 0 drs 5.8 WAR
The impact that the Phillies are hoping to get from Bryce Harper is exactly what the Brewers got from Christian Yelich last season. In a highly criticized trade at the time, Milwaukee acquired Yelich from the Marlins in exchange for a package centered around top prospect Lewis Brinson. At the time, many claimed the Brewers gave up too much for a player with no season with an OPS over .860. However, Yelich quickly made those critics look foolish. The 27-year-old posted an OPS of 1.000, a 166 wrc+, and a 7.6 WAR en route to winning NL MVP. Notably, he increased his hard contact rate dramatically to 47.6%, increased his ISO to .272, and hit a career-high 36 home runs. That hard contact rate suggests this production was legitimate, though it would still be encouraging if he could improve upon his 2.2 GB/FB ratio. With 4 drs and a 0.6 UZR last season, Yelich is also a solid defender and remains capable of playing all three outfield spots. He also is a tremendous baserunner; he stole 22 bases and had a 5.8 BsR last season. Therefore, not only does Yelich not have a weakness, he’s elite in every facet of the game. He’s a slightly more well-rounded player than Harper, prompting him ahead at #3. Will he be able to duplicate his MVP numbers in 2019? That is certainly one of the best storylines of 2019, and my money is on him delivering in a big way for the Brewers once again.
#2 Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
Projected Stats: .271/.392/.544 (.936 OPS) 43 HR 11 drs 6.5 WAR
In his rookie season in 2017, Aaron Judge put on a show, posting a 1.049 OPS and an 8.2 WAR on his way to finishing second in the AL MVP voting. It was certain that Judge would regress slightly from those absurd numbers, which he did with a .919 OPS and a 5 WAR in 2018. However, make no mistake, those are elite numbers, and the best still may be ahead for Judge. He actually managed to increase his hard contact rate (48.1%) from that rookie season, and once again posted an elite walk rate (15.3%) and wrc+ (149). Though Judge still strikes out way too much (30.5%), his immense power combined with an impressive batted ball profile and plate discipline makes up for it. He’s one of the game’s top sluggers, but Judge’s contributions don’t stop there. With 25 drs and a 14.5 UZR the past two seasons, he is quietly one of the best defenders in baseball, also possessing a very strong arm. The 26-year-old is already on a Hall of Fame path, and the crazy part is, he still should improve as he continues to establish himself as a major league veteran. With another strong season in 2019, Judge could end up #1 on this list, though for now, he remains the second best right fielder in his division.
#1 Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
Projected Stats: .308/.395/.551 (.946 OPS) 28 HR 26 drs 7.7 WAR
With all due respect to every player on this list, none quite compare to the 2018 AL MVP, Mookie Betts. The 26-year-old had an unworldly 1.079 OPS last year, a 185 wrc+, and a 10.4 WAR. Those are incredible numbers, yet there’s nothing to suggest that Betts did not deserve them. He increased his hard contact rate to 44.5%, increased his walk rate to 13.2%, increased his ISO to .294, and lowered his chase rate to 18.5%. Betts is arguably the league’s best hitter outside of Mike Trout with his ability to get on base (.438 OBP), combined with his elite slugging ability (.640 SLG, best in MLB). Still, that’s far from Betts’ only elite trait. Betts has 83 drs and a 59.4 UZR over the past three seasons, winning the Gold Glove award in each of those seasons as well. He also uses his athleticism to use on the bases, stealing 30 bases and posting a 6.9 BsR last season. It’s hard to process how outstanding Betts is in all areas of the games; he’s amongst the league’s best in hitting, fielding, and base running. He’s a once-in-a-generation type player, and if anyone can challenge Trout for the standing as the best player in baseball, it’s Betts. This may be a stacked list, but Betts was the easy choice for the top spot, and will likely own this spot once again next year.