Astros' Top 5 right fielders: McTaggart's take

May 11th, 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 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 Brian McTaggart’s ranking of the top 5 right fielders in Astros history. Next week: designated hitter

Astros' All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF

1. George Springer (2014-present)
Key fact: 160 homers and .849 OPS are highest of any Astros player who played majority of career in RF

Considering Springer, who moved from right field to center field early in the 2017 season, has still played twice as many games in right than center in his career, his presence on the Astros’ list of all-time great right fielders makes this one of the deepest positions in terms of talent the franchise has had during its existence.

Many of Springer’s greatest accomplishments came as a center fielder, though he played mostly right field early in his career. That includes the final four innings of the Astros' win in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series. Springer was named MVP of the World Series after he shook off on 0-for-4, four-strikeout performance in Game 1 by socking five homers and driving in seven runs in the final six games.

Springer is a three-time All-Star (2017-19), two-time American League Silver Slugger Award winner (2017 and ‘19) and has hit .270 with 131 doubles, 11 triples, 160 homers, 426 RBIs and 47 stolen bases in 744 career games with the Astros. His 36 career leadoff homers are second to Craig Biggio (53) in club history.

In 50 career postseason games, Springer is hitting .271 with 15 home runs and 28 RBIs, and he is the club’s all-time leader in postseason homers, doubles (14) and extra-base hits (29).

2. Terry Puhl (1977-90)
Key fact: Played more games (791) and had more hits (756) than any RF in Astros history

When Puhl broke into the big leagues with the Astros on his 21st birthday in 1977, he was one of few Canadian-born players in MLB. That meant an entire country was fully vested in his career, something the Canadian press reminded him about every time the Astros played in Montreal.

“They would come and say, ‘You’re carrying the flag,’” Puhl said.

No pressure, right? Puhl ended up making Melville, Saskatchewan, and Houston, proud by playing 14 years in the Majors. He played all but 15 of his 1,531 career games with the Astros during a career that spanned several Astros eras. A steady player and talented hitter, Puhl slashed .281/.349/.389 with 62 homers, 432 RBIs and 217 stolen bases for Houston, and he still ranks high on the club’s all-time list of games played (fifth) and triples (fourth).

“A true professional who hardly ever made mistakes,” former Astros general manager Tal Smith said. “He was an excellent right fielder and became an excellent center fielder. … Just a true professional who conducted himself in every respect in a first-class way.”

In the memorable 1980 National League Championship Series against the Phillies, who won the best-of-five series in five thrilling games (four of which went extra innings), Puhl went 10-for-19 to break Pete Rose’s record for most hits in the NLCS. When Puhl got his 10th hit of the series with a single in the eighth inning of Game 5, a message was posted on the Astrodome scoreboard informing fans that Puhl had broken Rose’s record. And Rose was playing first base for the Phillies.

“Pete winked at me and said, ‘Records are made to be broken,’” Puhl said.

3. Richard Hidalgo (1997-2004)
Key fact: The 44 homers he hit in 2000 are the third most in a single season in Astros history

The Astros chose to keep Hidalgo over fellow Venezuelan prospect Bobby Abreu in the 1997 MLB Expansion Draft. Abreu ended up having a better career, but Hidalgo’s peak years in Houston were big ones. He hit 44 homers and drove in 122 runs while posting a 1.028 OPS in 2000, and he subsequently signed a four-year, $32 million contract. He was named the Astros’ MVP in ’03 after slashing .309/.385/.572 with 28 homers and 88 RBIs in 141 games.

Hidalgo, who was shot in the arm during an apparent carjacking in Venezuela following the 2002 season, lost his starting job to Jason Lane in ’04, and then asked to be traded. The Astros obliged, sending Hidalgo to the Mets in June 2004 in exchange for pitchers David Weathers and Jeremy Griffiths. In 813 games with the Astros, Hidalgo hit .278 with 134 homers and 465 RBIs.

4. Hunter Pence (2007-11)
Key fact: 88 homers as a right fielder are second most at the position in Astros history

With an unconventional swing and awkward throwing motion, Pence blossomed into one of the Astros’ most anticipated prospects, and he made his debut in 2007. A fan favorite during his time in Houston, Pence was a two-time team MVP and two-time All-Star (2009 and ’11) for the Astros.

Pence led the NL in batting average at the All-Star break in his 2007 rookie season and ended up finishing third in NL Rookie of the Year Award voting after hitting .322 with 17 homers and 69 RBIs. He showed remarkable consistency the next three seasons, hitting .278 while averaging 25 homers and 82 RBIs.

With the Astros beginning to rebuild as owner Drayton McLane prepared to sell the team, Pence was traded to the Phillies on July 29, 2011, in exchange for four prospects. He was standing in right field during a game in Milwaukee when he was told to come to the dugout, where he was informed he was traded. The Phillies traded him a year later to the Giants, where he helped anchor World Series-winning clubs in 2012 and ’14.

“I have extremely fond memories,” Pence said of his time in Houston. “I played with a lot of incredible players and played for a lot of really great minds. Drayton McLane was wonderful to play for and playing in my home state and for Astros fans, it was a lot of fun.”

5. Kevin Bass (1982-89, 1993-94)
Key fact: His 696 hits as a right fielder are second most in club history behind Puhl’s 756

Acquired in the 1982 trade that sent Don Sutton to the Brewers, Bass developed into a key player for the Astros in the 1980s, highlighted by an All-Star selection in ’86. That season, Bass hit .311 with 20 homers and 22 stolen bases to help Houston win 96 games and capture the NL West title.

Bass, a switch-hitter, started at least 150 games in four consecutive seasons (1985-88) before signing with the Giants as a free agent prior to the 1990 season. He returned to Houston later in his career, hitting .284 in 111 games in ’93 and .310 in 82 games in ’94.

Honorable mentions

Derek Bell (1995-99) spent five years with the Astros, hitting .334 with 86 RBIs in ’95 and driving in 100 runs in two other seasons (1996 and ’98).

Greg Gross (1973-76, ’89) batted .314 as a rookie for the Astros in 1974 and was traded two years later. During his two stints with Houston, he totaled a .293 average with no homers in 490 games.

Jason Lane (2002-07) hit .267 with 26 homers and 78 RBIs on the Astros’ NL championship club in 2005, catching the final out to clinch the pennant. He hit 61 homers in six years in Houston.

Norm Miller (1965-73) played nine seasons with Houston, mostly as a backup, and most notably scored the only run in a 1-0, 24-inning win over the Mets in 1968.

Josh Reddick (2017-present) has averaged 15 homers and 62 RBIs while hitting .279 in three seasons in Houston.

Rusty Staub (1963-68) played the first six seasons of his 23-year career in Houston, where he was a two-time team MVP (1966 and '67) and All-Star (1967 and '68). He led the NL with 44 doubles in ’67.