Rangers' Top 5 right fielders: Sullivan's take

May 11th, 2020

ARLINGTON -- 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 T.R. Sullivan’s ranking of the top 5 right fielders in Rangers history. Next week: designated hitter.

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

1. , 1989-99, 2002-03
Key fact: American League MVP in 1996 and '98, and Rangers' all-time leader with 372 home runs and 1,180 RBIs

The Rangers were in a pennant race, it was September and Gonzalez was dealing with a sore hamstring muscle. He went out early in the afternoon to test it by doing some sprints in the outfield.

Trainer Ray Ramirez went with him and manager Johnny Oates watched from the top step of the dugout.

After a few sprints, Ramirez walked over to Oates and said, “Juan said the muscle is still tender. He could use a few more days.”

Oates didn’t hesitate.

“You tell Juan he is playing right field tonight and batting fourth,” Oates said.

Gonzalez went out and played.

Gonzalez and Josh Hamilton were two of the most talented yet enigmatic players in Rangers history. They could wow fans, teammates and media with their athletic exploits, yet also frustrate with -- let’s put it diplomatically -- their individual quirks.

They had one other thing in common. Gonzalez had Oates just like Hamilton had Ron Washington. The two mercurial superstars both had a manager who did a superb job coaxing the most out of their player.

“Johnny really knew how to handle Juan,” outfielder Rusty Greer said. “I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Juan won his two MVP Awards under Johnny. He always knew the right thing to say to Juan.”

2. , 1986-92, 2000-01, 2003
Key fact: Three-time All-Star with Texas and four-time Rangers Player of the Year

Sierra’s best year with the Rangers came in 1989, when he hit .306/.347/.543 with 101 runs scored, 29 home runs and a league-leading 119 RBIs. His slugging percentage was the best in the league and so were his 14 triples and 344 total bases.

Sierra badly wanted to be the American League Most Valuable Player. Every player wants to win that award, but it seems especially important to those from Latin America. Sierra didn’t win. He finished second to Robin Yount and just ahead of Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr.

Yount hit .318/.384/.511 with 101 runs scored, 21 home runs and 103 RBIs. He also played center field, although he wasn’t a defensive wizard out there.

If you start crunching advanced metrics, there wasn’t much separating the two, and Fred McGriff, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson and Alvin Davis all scored well, too. Ripken had nowhere near the offensive numbers that the others had, but he was a premium defensive player at short.

Yount won and Sierra wasn’t happy about it. In fact, he was crushed. The theory is he tried to bulk up after that season to hit more home runs and lost the true offensive combination -- both speed and power -- that made him great to begin with and prompted his decline as a player.

3. , 2006-13
Key fact: Two-time All-Star with the Rangers and ranks seventh in club history with 157 home runs

Rangers fans will never forget Cruz not being able to catch David Freese’s two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth inning that tied the score in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.

Just to be clear what happened with two on, two outs and reliever Neftali Feliz holding a 1-2 count on Freese ...

The Rangers were in a “no-doubles defense.” That means the outfielders were supposed to be playing far enough back so the ball wouldn’t be hit over their head.

Cruz is the one who moved himself close to the plate. Just look at the replay. When the ball is hit, it’s easy to see Cruz is too far in and why the ball soared over his head.

Cruz said he moved in because Freese had two strikes. Cruz said he anticipated Freese shortening his swing and just trying to put the ball in play. Ironically, that’s what Lance Berkman did when he hit his game-tying single in the 10th off Scott Feldman.

4. , 1972-76
Key fact: First Rangers player to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1974, and the first Rangers Player of the Year in 1973-74

Burroughs led the American League with 118 RBIs in 1974. He also belted 25 home runs and hit .301. Over the past 50 years, there have been 279 instances of a player driving in at least 118 runs in a season. Burroughs is one of 13 who did it while hitting 25 or fewer home runs.

Burroughs hit 29 home runs in 1975 while driving in 94 runs. His batting average dropped to .226 and his slugging percentage fell to .409. Burroughs got into a bad habit of trying to pull the ball too much so he could hit more home runs. Apparently 25 wasn’t enough despite all the RBIs.

Clearly, by all accounts, he grew frustrated trying to hit into the south prairie winds that blew in from center field at Arlington Stadium. His 1976 season wasn’t much better, and the Rangers traded him to the Braves.

5. , 2014-present
Key fact: Rangers Player of the Year in 2018 and an American League All-Star that year

Choo, 37, will be a free agent at the end of the year. His seven-year deal was the third longest given to a free agent in club history. Alex Rodriguez had a 10-year deal in 2001 and Richie Zisk was given eight years back in 1977. Both lasted just three years before being traded.

Of the five players listed here, Choo has the fourth-highest OPS (.794) but the highest (.365) on-base percentage. That’s what attracted the Rangers in the first place.

Also receiving consideration:

Larry Parrish -- He had just about as many at-bats at designated hitter as right field, so he will be rated at the DH position.

Kevin Mench -- A good-looking young hitter when he was called up, Mench had a couple of strong seasons for the Rangers in 2004-05 before being traded to the Brewers in the Carlos Lee deal that also brought back Cruz.

Nomar Mazara -- Like Mench, he seemed to be a big part of the Rangers' future until unexpectedly being traded.