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Mets' Top 5 right fielders: DiComo's take

@AnthonyDiComo
May 12, 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 Anthony DiComo’s ranking of the top 5 right fielders in Mets history.

• Mets All-Time Around the Horn Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF

1. Darryl Strawberry, 1983-90
Key fact: The Mets’ all-time home run king with 252

It is not hyperbole to say that when the Mets selected Strawberry first overall in the 1980 Draft, they gained the most gifted athlete in franchise history.

“I hadn’t seen a player like him,” former Mets outfielder George Foster recently told the New York Post. “I saw guys with parts of [such talent]. But all the skills he had, I hadn’t seen anyone like that.”

For eight seasons in New York, Strawberry mostly made good on that promise, using his looping uppercut swing to win National League Rookie of the Year honors in 1983, make seven consecutive All-Star teams and average 32 homers and 92 RBIs per year. He was a key part of the Mets’ 1986 World Series championship team.

But Strawberry was a typical Mets star in that he did not stick around long enough to compile gaudy career numbers in New York. By the time Strawberry was 28, he had moved to Los Angeles, where he played the final full big league season of his career in 1991. Although Strawberry remained a big leaguer for eight seasons after that, injuries, medical issues and personal problems -- including legal troubles and substance abuse -- played a significant role in his career. Strawberry’s prime was nonetheless one of the most spectacular in Mets history. He finished with 252 homers, 733 RBIs and an .878 OPS.

2. Michael Conforto, 2015-present
Key fact: His 109 home runs are third most all time by a Met in his first five seasons

Those who consider this ranking premature should take a closer look at the franchise leaderboards. Already, Conforto ranks 12th in Mets history at any position in homers, ninth in slugging and ninth in OPS, despite losing half a season (and playing at less than 100 percent for far longer than that) due to left shoulder surgery in 2017. Conforto’s postseason performance in '15 included three key home runs. Fans tend to malign him for his relatively low batting averages, which have prevented him from blossoming into a bona fide superstar. In reality, Conforto is the rare Mets first-round Draft pick who succeeded.

“He’s always talking about getting better in all areas,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said this spring, calling Conforto’s swing “something you fall in love with from the first time you see it.”

It is possible that Conforto could one day pass Strawberry as the Mets’ home run king (at least temporarily, until Pete Alonso catches up to him). But it will depend upon the business of baseball. Under team control for just one more season after this one, Conforto is no guarantee to stay a Met long term.

3. Rusty Staub, 1972-75, 1981-85
Key fact: Ranks 19th in Major League history with 99 career pinch-hits

Known largely for his acumen off the bench, Staub was a valuable everyday right fielder for the Mets from 1972-75, batting .276 with 62 home runs and 297 RBIs over those four seasons. In addition to those numbers, Staub went 14-for-41 (.341) with four home runs and a 1.096 OPS during the 1973 postseason.

Still, “Le Grand Orange” might have been at least as well known as an Astro or an Expo had he not returned to Flushing in his late 30s for a second tour of duty, which lasted until his retirement at age 41. Seventy-four of his 99 career pinch-hits came during that era, and he used his platform in New York to become a renowned philanthropist later in life.

4. Ron Swoboda, 1965-70
Key fact: His 69 home runs and 304 RBIs from 1965-70 led the Mets during those years

Think of Swoboda, and images of the 1969 World Series generally spring to mind. Swoboda’s diving catch in the ninth inning of Game 4 turned a potential two-run double into a game-tying sacrifice fly, allowing the Mets to walk off on the Orioles an inning later. Swoboda also hit .400 that Series, platooning with Art Shamsky in right. Adept at hitting left-handed pitching, Swoboda hit 35 of his 73 career home runs against southpaws. His 15 home runs before the All-Star break in 1965 stood as the Mets’ rookie record for 54 years, until Alonso broke it last season.

5. Curtis Granderson, 2014-17
Key fact: Hit three home runs in 25 plate appearances during the 2015 World Series

When the Mets signed Granderson to a four-year, $60 million deal prior to the 2014 season, it marked a relative return to financial freedom following years of austerity. Granderson didn’t make an immediate impact, struggling early in his first year in Flushing. But he rebounded to hit at least 26 home runs in each of the next three seasons, serving as the Mets’ leadoff hitter during the 2015 World Series. Granderson also won Major League Baseball’s most prestigious off-field honor, the Roberto Clemente Award, while with the Mets in '16.

Honorable mentions
Swoboda’s platoon partner in the late 1960s was Art Shamsky, who hit .292 against right-handed pitching in '69. … Each year, Mets fans celebrate July 1 as Bobby Bonilla Day, recognizing the fact that the team pays -- and will continue to pay for another 15 years -- Bonilla $1.9 million in annual deferred compensation. That, in addition to Bonilla’s reputation as a malcontent, often overshadows the fact that he was easily a top 10 right fielder in Mets history. … During the forgotten era of the late '70s to early '80s, few Mets were as productive as Joel Youngblood, who hit .350 during the strike-shortened 1981 season.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.