Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

Harper headlines Top 10 right fielders Right Now

MLB.com @mike_petriello

MLB Network's "Top 10 Right Now" series ranks Major League Baseball's top players at each position headed into 2018, with two episodes airing each Saturday night from Jan. 13 through Feb. 10. MLB.com's Mike Petriello participated in the show, and as each position is aired, we'll share his list along with the reasoning behind it. Rankings were compiled with a combination of subjective and analytical data, and no, batting average and RBIs never matter.

Position overview: Right field is an extremely top-heavy position, with five legitimate stars at the top, then a big gap, then about 10 strong starters who were all in the mix for the Nos. 6-10 spots.

MLB Network's "Top 10 Right Now" series ranks Major League Baseball's top players at each position headed into 2018, with two episodes airing each Saturday night from Jan. 13 through Feb. 10. MLB.com's Mike Petriello participated in the show, and as each position is aired, we'll share his list along with the reasoning behind it. Rankings were compiled with a combination of subjective and analytical data, and no, batting average and RBIs never matter.

Position overview: Right field is an extremely top-heavy position, with five legitimate stars at the top, then a big gap, then about 10 strong starters who were all in the mix for the Nos. 6-10 spots.

Eligibility notes: Players are eligible at only one position, and several players who saw time at right field in 2017 were considered in other spots for these rankings. They include Michael Conforto (CF), Nelson Cruz (DH) and Nomar Mazara (LF).

Before we get to my rankings, here is The Shredder's list -- the official ranking of Top 10 Right Now -- for comparison:

1. Aaron Judge, Yankees 
2. Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees
3. Mookie Betts, Red Sox
4. Bryce Harper, Nationals
5. J.D. Martinez, free agent
6. Josh Reddick, Astros
7. Avisail Garcia, White Sox
8. Domingo Santana, Brewers 
9. Mitch Haniger, Mariners 
10. Dexter Fowler, Cardinals

Petriello's list

1. Bryce Harper, Nationals

We're looking ahead to 2018, not back to '17, and that's why Harper is atop this list, because the three players behind him either had unexpectedly great or disappointing seasons, making it somewhat difficult to project them for the upcoming year. Harper, meanwhile, did what he usually does, which is mash. His line of .319/.413/.595 (156 wRC+) was on track to be his second-best behind his 2015 MVP season before injuring his knee hitting first base in August. Even with the missed time, he was still one of the 25 most valuable players in the game, and he didn't even turn 25 until October.

Despite more than 3,000 Major League plate appearances since 2012, Harper is still five months younger than our No. 2 right fielder.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm2: Harper rips game-tying homer HR 421 feet

2. Aaron Judge, Yankees

Judge had what was arguably the most impressive rookie hitting season in the history of modern baseball. (Yes, seriously.) You know all about the 52 home runs, the Home Run Derby magic and the endless exit-velocity heroics. But did you also know that he was a surprisingly strong defensive outfielder (+6 Outs Above Average) and that after his dreadful August (.185/.353/.326, 90 wRC+) slump, his September (.311/.463/.889, 233 wRC+) was one of the five best months any player had all year? He's second here only because we've only seen him do it once, but he could easily be No. 1 next year. Keep in mind, however, that he had some enormous home/road splits, with nearly 200 additional points of slugging in New York.

3. Mookie Betts, Red Sox

It's a little different for Betts, who had the weakest batting line (.264/.344/.459, 108 wRC+) of his career. But because Betts offers value in so many different ways, from his elite defense to his elite baserunning, he still had an incredibly valuable year, coming in 15th overall with 5.3 WAR, tied with Paul Goldschmidt and Carlos Correa. We know Betts played with an injured thumb for part of the year. Having seen what he did in 2016 (.318/.363/.534, 137 wRC+, 31 homers), we'll happily assume that at only 25, Betts has a lot more offense left in him.

Video: TOR@BOS: Statcast™ measures Betts' five-star catch

4. Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees

Yes, two Yankees in the top four. This is partially due to the fact that we don't know yet how it shakes out in the Bronx between left, right and DH, but for now, this is where Stanton and his 59 home runs reside. That he doesn't rank more highly says more about the three studs above him than anything, though you have to at least note that 2017 was just the second time Stanton played 150 games. Interestingly enough, despite the homers, this was a different version of Stanton than we'd seen before; he's dropped two miles per hour of exit velocity per year, while making up for it with a much-improved contact rate.

5. J.D. Martinez, free agent

There's a myth that Martinez suddenly turned it on after he was traded to Arizona last summer, and while it's true that he mashed with the D-backs (.302/.366/.741, 172 wRC+, 29 homers in 62 games), that looks past how good he'd been with the Tigers for years. From 2014-16, his .299/.357/.540 (142+ wRC+) line was 13th-best in baseball, between Stanton and Freddie Freeman, and his 2017 Detroit-only line of .305/.388/.630 (160 wRC+) was even better than that. No, he's not a strong defender, but a bat like that makes him a star.

Video: SF@ARI: Martinez slams 45th homer in 9th off Dyson

6. Steven Souza Jr., Rays

Souza, perhaps quietly, took a big step forward in his age-28 season in 2017, in part because it was the first time he stayed healthy enough to reach 500 plate appearances. He doubled his walk rate (from six percent to 14), while cutting his strikeout rate, and ended up adding 48 points of OBP and 50 points of slugging. The resulting 120 wRC+ and positive defensive value (+7 Outs Above Average) gave him a 4-WAR season. Sure, he hit only .239, but batting average doesn't really matter, does it?

7. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers

A year after being demoted to the Minors, Puig rebounded with a strong 2017, hitting a career-high 28 homers with a strong .263/.346/.487 (117 wRC+) line and good defense. Not only that, he had a very good second half (.278/.374/.533, 136 wRC+) and a monster postseason (.365 OBP, .518 SLG.) The question is, can he do it again? For all of the obvious talent, consistency has never been Puig's strong suit.

Video: LAD@SF: Puig shows off arm to keep Hundley at second

8. Avisail Garcia, White Sox

Speaking of "talented, but inconsistent," Garcia's third full season (and sixth partial) finally provided the breakout the Tigers and White Sox had long been waiting for, with a stellar .330/.380/.506 (137 wRC+) line. The question is how much of it is "real," because Garcia's .392 BABIP was the highest in all of baseball, and it came without a noticeable improvement in hard-hit rate. That said, he did mildly increase his launch angle, and there were real changes in contact rate, as his strikeout percentage dropped from 25 percent to just under 20.

9. Domingo Santana, Brewers

Santana offered hints in partial seasons in 2015 and '16, putting up a 112 wRC+ in 187 plate appearances the first year and 111 wRC+ the second. In 2017, Santana broke out, crushing 30 homers with a fantastic .278/.371/.505 (126 wRC+) line -- better than Andrew McCutchen or Francisco Lindor. Santana strikes out too much, and his defense isn't considered strong, but he's still only 25, and the power in his bat is very much for real. (He even stole 15 bases, too.)

Video: LAD@MIL: Santana hits hardest, longest HR off Kershaw

10. Mitch Haniger, Mariners

Why Haniger and not, say, McCutchen? It's a risky choice, to be sure. It could go either way, but we're betting on youth and talent in putting Haniger here.

When Arizona and Seattle made a deal following the 2016 season, the biggest names were probably Taijuan Walker, Jean Segura and Ketel Marte. But very quietly, Haniger put up an extremely impressive .282/.352/.491 (129 wRC+) rookie season, which is less of a breakout than it may seem. He had, after all, put up an .883 OPS in the Minors in 2015, then a .999 mark across two levels in '16. In 2017, his average exit velocity of 93.2 mph on flies and liners was better than Nolan Arenado and Joey Votto. While he did miss time with an oblique injury, there's obvious talent here.

Just missed (in no order): McCutchen, Giants; Nicholas Castellanos, Tigers; Jay Bruce, Mets; Reddick, Astros; Max Kepler, Twins; Fowler, Cardinals.

McCutchen could easily be in our Top 10, but so could veterans Bruce and Reddick, depending on what you value. Castellanos is new to right field, but he showed signs of the breakout many expected in the second half of 2017, putting up a fantastic .299/.329/.553 line.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.

Mookie Betts, Avisail Garcia, Mitch Haniger, Bryce Harper, Steven Souza Jr., Aaron Judge, J.D. Martinez, Yasiel Puig, Domingo Santana, Giancarlo Stanton