Every year, MLB Network previews the upcoming season with its “Top 10 Players Right Now” specials, which break down the best at each position. The latest installment, on the Top 10 right fielders, aired Wednesday night. Now, MLB.com is continuing the debate with a panel of experts -- Mark Feinsand, Sarah Langs and Mike Petriello -- who will explain their lists and share their thoughts on the state of the position.
Andrew Simon, moderator/editor: You all ranked Juan Soto No. 1. Did anyone struggle at all with that choice? Or was this a no-brainer across the board?
Mike Petriello, lead stats analyst: My only concern is that I worried ranking him No. 1 was too low.
Mark Feinsand, executive reporter: It was a no-brainer for me. Soto has a case as the best player in the game regardless of position, so putting him atop the right-field list was easy. Which is pretty impressive given that right field is STACKED.
Sarah Langs, reporter/producer: Absolute no-brainer. The best hitter in baseball is the best player at whichever position he plays.
Petriello: I have a list of notes I made up for each player for this process, and in his section, in bright red, it reads: "He is the perfect hitter." And I believe that.
Simon: OK, case closed. While we're on the subject, does anyone want to throw out a prediction about Soto's numbers in 2022?
Langs: Well, ZiPS gave him the Ted Williams comp … again.
Petriello: Steamer says .311/.455/.591, which is silly. Projections are notoriously conservative. Who projects a .455/.591 OBP/SLG? It might be too low.
Feinsand: Predicting numbers is typically an exercise in futility as far as I’m concerned. I will safely say that he should lead the Majors in OBP, hit above .300 and hit 30-40 homers as long as he stays healthy.
Langs: I expect him to lead the Majors in OBP again, which would be his third straight year, and I would anticipate that second batting title, too.
Feinsand: Sarah, is a Ted Williams comp good?
Langs: Research confirms.
Petriello: I vividly remember everyone getting angsty when we started dropping Ted references to Soto in 2018-19. How are we all feeling about that now?
Feinsand: I think the issue with the Williams comp back in 2018-19 was more about Soto’s age than ability. Putting that on a 19-20-year-old kid is tough. He’s living up to it, though.
Simon: Let's move on to an area of at least some disagreement then: Ronald Acuña Jr. Sarah, you have him second. Mike and Mark, you have him fifth. How much of that is due to him returning from a major knee injury?
Petriello: For me? All of it. This is not a list of, "Best RF for the next five years." It's 2022 only, and the top five is absolutely loaded with kings. When we made these lists in early January, I didn't know if Acuña would play Opening Day. I don't know if they'll back off on him and give him 1-2 days a week off. I'm not worried about his production, just his availability. If he were 100%, he'd be in my top three.
Langs: Perhaps I was over-optimistic here -- I will admit that my thought was first-half Ronald Acuña Jr., and just expecting him to continue to be that MVP candidate moving forward. In addition to power and speed, improving his eye at the plate and good defense, too.
I also learned that Mickey Mantle played almost his entire career with a torn ACL, and I see Acuña’s Instagram stories with his workout progress, so that all may have swayed me.
Petriello: Now I'm imagining what the Mick's Instagram feed would have looked like.
Feinsand: No offense to Mantle, but he played a different game than Acuña.
Langs: Of course -- speed not being a primary component.
Feinsand: I can see Acuña being a unanimous top-two a year from now. But for 2022, it’s tough not to incorporate the knee injury to some extent. And it’s not like he’s ranked behind a handful of nobodies.
Petriello: Right, the way I looked at this list was something like:
- 1-5: Absolute Dudes, 80% future HOF
- 6: Definitely Kyle Tucker
- 7-12: Somewhat interchangeable power bats
RAJ is definitely in that first group.
Langs: Exactly -- this position is beyond stacked.
Feinsand: Agreed. There’s no shame in being No. 5 on this list right now, especially coming off of a major injury.
Simon: Let's talk about that. Bryce Harper is as low as third on these lists. Mookie Betts is as low as fourth. Aaron Judge is as low as sixth. All three are superstars. Is this the best position in baseball right now? Or at least the best top five?
Feinsand: I think it’s a battle between right field and shortstop.
Langs: Agree! That’s how I felt filling these out.
Petriello: Setting aside pitching, yes, I agree with Mark.
Feinsand: Well, pitching is a different animal altogether. You just like disagreeing with me.
Petriello: I don’t agree with that.
I was struck, a little, by where to place Betts though. Like, he just had a season with a 128 OPS+ and 23 HR, and we know he did it with a bad hip, and it just feels like a massive disappointment. Which is no disrespect to him so much as evidence of how high expectations are.
Simon: It did feel like he never got it going last year, and he still had a season most guys would kill for. Does anyone think he can reach something close to his 2018 peak again?
Petriello: He'll turn 30 this calendar year (in October), and it does feel like the days of 20-plus stolen bases might be behind us.
Langs: I was worried I had too much recency bias with him -- practically single-handedly winning NLDS Game 5 for the Dodgers is peak Mookie. And as Mike notes, he just had a very respectable season with an injury, and somehow we’re still disappointed. So I tried to look to that Game 5 as evidence he can still be the Mookie we expect him to be. Even if he is never quite the 2018 version again.
Petriello: I mean I'm out here pointing out his flaws and I still have him as No. 3 on a great list, so.
Feinsand: Like I said with Acuña, if you’re ranked in the top five on this list, you’re doing something right. Betts is ranked behind Soto (best player in baseball) and Harper (reigning NL MVP). Not too shabby.
Simon: I don't want to let him get lost in the shuffle, so let's give Kyle Tucker his due. He doesn't have the profile of the guys ahead of him on this list but broke out in a big way last year. Any chance he's even higher on these lists next year?
Petriello: Anything's possible, because he's only 25, and he was the best hitter on a very good Houston team in 2021, and nothing about what he did seemed like a fluke at all. But to get into the top 5 seems like it's almost out of his hands, like one of the Big 5 will have to have some meaningful reason to drop them out, given their track records.
Feinsand: It’s very possible. Judge hasn’t always had the ability to stay healthy, and quite frankly, we don’t know if he will still be with the Yankees a year from now. If he’s in a less-friendly hitters’ park, does that change anything?
I would say Judge is the most likely candidate to drop out for those reasons. Or he could hit 50 homers, sign a mega deal with the Yankees and move up a spot or two.
Langs: I think he very well could be -- though of course it depends on everyone else even more so than on him. But nothing he did was fluky, all backed by quality of contact, expected stats and good defense, too. Part of this outstanding depth and talent here.
Petriello: We all had the same top six in some order, right? It seems clear there's a big gap between Tucker and the rest, at least for me.
Feinsand: I’m with you, Mike. The tiers were 1-5, then Tucker, then the others. My 10th spot went to Hunter Renfroe, but it could have easily been 3-4 other guys.
Simon: Who was the player each of you had the toughest time leaving off the list entirely?
Feinsand: I was debating Renfroe and Mitch Haniger for my last spot. Haniger had a fantastic 2021 season, but his injury history was the difference-maker.
Langs: I considered Renfroe, whom Mark just mentioned, but ultimately had Avi García 10th. Also strongly considered Haniger.
Petriello: I had 3-4 "just missed" names and the top one for me was Dylan Carlson, because he's so young (just 23) and coming off a solid enough 2021, it's not hard at all to see him breaking out in 2022. Ultimately I went with a little more certainty in Randy Arozarena, but I really could have gone any order with Haniger, Randy, Carlson in that 9-10-11 range.
Feinsand: I also love Randy Arozarena, but I couldn’t justify him any higher than seventh. Like we said, this position is loaded.
Simon: Let’s have a little fun to finish off this conversation. Who’s somebody that nobody included on their list that could make everyone look silly by November? Mike, it seems like Carlson is your answer.
Petriello: Carlson, but also I could easily see Michael Conforto coming back with a big season.
Langs: I think Carlson -- I wrote his name down first with an initial brainstorm, but ultimately he hadn’t done quite enough to justify top-10 for me. But the ceiling there seems high.
Feinsand: Carlson is a solid pick. I’ll say Jorge Soler. I have a feeling he’s going to have a big year in 2022.