The right field position traditionally has one job, and one job amongst all others: to rake. Some of the most potent power threats in the history of the game have called the right corner of the outfield home, including Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Mel Ott and none other than Babe Ruth himself.
In today’s game, the tradition of the spot being home to some of the most prodigious hitters of the day has stayed true. Today, it is home to a trio of bats that have made 40 homers look like child’s play over the past few years, as well as another group behind them that ceaselessly chases 30 long balls with minimal effort. It is a competitive position that has seen a different player be ranked as the top gun at the spot in each of year that this list has been compiled as well. And if all things remain constant, it should continue to be a difficult one to keep a hold on at the top.
This is due to the fact that beyond just the pure power of the spot, it is also rapidly becoming a position that is home to players that would more traditionally make left or center field their home, due to their mixture of speed, on-base talents and glove work. Remember, right field was also where Tony Gwynn and Ichiro made their names as well, so this is nothing new.
So how does this all shake out headed into 2016? And can the new #1 hold his spot for another year? Let’s see who he is, as well as what the competition looks like along the way.
To review last year’s list, click here.
10. Carlos Beltran, Yankees (Not ranked in 2015)
2015: .276/.337/.471, 19 HR, 67 RBI, 57 runs scored, 34 doubles, 0 Stolen Bases, .808 OPS
Last 3 Years: .272/.327/.459 19 HR, 67 RBI, 61 runs scored, 29 doubles, 2 stolen bases, .787 OPS
The ageless Beltran put to bed any notions that he was over the hill at age 38 last year. After a 2014 debut in pinstripes that saw him be both ineffective at the plate and oft-injured, Beltran picked his numbers back up across the board last season and remained the club’s everyday right fielder. His average improved by over 40 points, and his contact rate improved significantly as well.
While he would be better suited for a DH role at this point in his career and could see more platoon work this year (his dWAR came in a full -2 games impact), Beltran’s offensive offering allows him to remain an asset for the Yanks. He is on pace to surpass 400 career home runs and 2,500 career hits this season, and has indicated that it will not be his last one, despite it being the final year of his Yankee deal.
9. Kole Calhoun, Angels (NR in ’15)
2015: .256/.308/.422 26 HR, 83 RBI, 78 runs scored, 23 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .731 OPS
Last 3 Years: .266/.321/.439 17 HR, 58 RBI, 66 runs scored, 20 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .759 OPS
Calhoun followed up his breakout 2014 with another strong campaign last season, firmly settling himself in as one of the more underrated overall corner outfielders in the American League. The 28-year-old has hit 43 home runs over the past two years since getting an opportunity at regular playing time, and has done so while only playing over 150 games once.
What rounds him off most however is his defensive capabilities, which earned him the nod for the AL Gold Glove. Calhoun was good for six defensive runs saved, 11 outfield assists and a 2.30 range factor defending the area, which qualified for the best mark in the league.
8. Matt Kemp, Padres (#6 in ’15)
2015: .265/.312/.443 23 HR, 100 RBI, 80 runs scored, 31 doubles, 12 stolen bases, .755 OPS
Last 3 Years: .274/.328/.459 18 HR, 74 RBI, 64 runs scored, 28 doubles, 10 stolen bases, .786 OPS
Kemp found his stride in the bat-only, corner outfielder portion of his career in his first season as a Padre. He put to bed the concerns about his durability that had plagued him a few years ago, playing in 150 games for the second time in as many years. And one thing that is indisputable about Kemp: when he is healthy, he hits.
Kemp met the 100 RBI mark for the first time since 2011, while topping 20 home runs, 30 doubles and 150 hits for the second consecutive year. He even had a slight re-emergence of speed on the base paths as well, reaching double digits steals for the first time in 5 years as well. Entering only his age-31 season, Kemp stands to continue on the path of being a steady middle of the order bat that is short of being the superstar he once was, but being more than just a role player as well.
7. Mookie Betts, Red Sox (NR in ’15)
2015: .291/.341/.479 18 HR, 77 RBI, 92 runs scored, 42 doubles, 21 stolen bases, .820 OPS
Last 2 Years: .291/.348/.471 12 HR, 48 RBI, 63 runs scored, 27 doubles, 14 stolen bases, .818 OPS
Betts has been a man on the move in regards to where his every day position will be. He rose through the system as a second baseman, but also displayed a clear athleticism that related well to centerfield duties as well. And now a year after proving himself in the heart of the outfield, he will move over to the right corner –for now at least.
But regardless of where he take he takes his glove, Betts proved himself to be one of the most exciting young players in the game. In his first full season, he made an impact everywhere possible, saving nine defensive runs in the field (often of the highlight variety), while also living up to the sizeable hype at the plate. In his first full season, he finished with 68 extra base hits, by way of 42 doubles, 8 triples and 18 home runs—good for a .820 OPS. He is on a crash course with being a perennial 20/20 threat.
6. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (#9 in ’15)
2015: .271/.325/.540, 40 HR, 97 RBI, 87 runs scored, 25 doubles, 2 stolen bases, .864 OPS
Last 3 Years: .274/.332/.540 26 HR, 68 RBI, 65 runs scored, 21 doubles, 9 stolen bases, .864 OPS
As is always the case, when CarGo is healthy, CarGo is among the most impactful players in the game. Gonzalez finished a season for the first time since 2010, playing a career-best 153 contests and as a result, he finished second in the NL in home runs.
He got off to the worst start of his career throughout April and May, before strapping a rocket to his back mid-summer. He hit 36 home runs from June-September, while topping 20 RBI per month after the All-Star Break. While no longer the speed threat or high average producer he formerly was, Gonzalez settled in nicely as the second hammer to join Nolan Arenado at the heart of the Rockies lineup, although he is likely to be heavily shopped this summer as they continue to retool.
5. J.D. Martinez, Tigers (#8 in ’15)
2015: .282/.344/.535 38 HR, 102 RBI, 93 runs scored, 33 doubles, 3 stolen bases, .879 OPS
Last 3 Years: .286/.333/.506 23 HR, 71 RBI, 58 runs scored, 27 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .840 OPS
If anyone had doubts about if the breakout player of the year from 2014 keeping up his out of the blue pace he found once he relocated from Houston, it is safe to say they have been put to bed now permanently. Martinez entrenched himself among the elite power hitters in all of the game last season, running his two-year total for long balls up to 61, the 11th best combined total in baseball over that time.
Since coming to Detroit, Martinez has carried at .296/.350/.543 split line, and drove in a career-best 102 runs ago as well. And despite what he has already established, it stands to reason that Martinez is line to put up even more potent numbers than he did in his Silver Slugger/All-Star 2015, with Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton and Miguel Cabrera hitting in front of him, along with Victor Martinez watching his back. Martinez could be on a collision course with another 20+ RBI total increase this year.
4. Jason Heyward, Cubs (#5 in ’15)
2015: .293/.359/.797 13 HR, 60 RBI, 79 runs scored, 33 doubles, 23 stolen bases, .797 OPS
Last 3 Years: .274/.353/.415 13 HR, 52 RBI, 73 runs scored, 27 doubles, 15 stolen bases, .768 OPS
Perhaps the game’s premier outfield defender, Heyward alters the game from right field in a way that few players can from a corner defensive position. He took home his third Gold Glove in his only season in St. Louis, contributing a second consecutive year of a posting at least two Wins Above Replacement defensively. He posted a fielding percentage of .990+ for the third straight year as well, while still leading the game in right fielder range factor. Toss in his 10 outfield assists –which brought his two year total to 19— and Jey Hey is one of the most dangerous defenders in the game.
This norm continued while he stayed the course of rounding himself into a much more complete player at the plate as well. He achieved new career-highs in batting average, doubles, on-base percentage and stolen bases, all which contributed to a new personal high WAR of 6.5. And by relocating to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, his long-awaited power surge could finally be sparked as well.
3. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (#2 in ’15)
2015: .250/.377/.536 40 HR, 114 RBI, 108 runs scored, 29 doubles, 8 stolen bases, .913 OPS
Last 3 Years: .266/.381/.521 34 HR, 97 RBI, 97 runs scored, 27 doubles, 7 stolen bases, .902 OPS
The most epic bat flip of the decade provided a fantastic cap to a year that deserved it from Joey Bats. It came on the heels of yet another season of being the preeminent power hitter in the American League, as Bautista topped 40 home runs for the third time in his career. In route to making his sixth consecutive All-Star appearance, Bautista also topped the AL in walks and finished in the AL top 10 in home runs, RBI, runs scored, slugging % and on-base + slugging % as well.
Yet while he has remained a superior power threat, he has also rounded into one of the most balanced hitters in the game as well. 2015 marked the second straight year where he hit at least 35 home runs and drove in 100 runs, while still working more than 100 walks, and still getting more free passes than he strike outs (214 walks compared to 202 K’s).
2. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins (#1 in ’15)
2015: .265/.346/.606 27 HR, 67 RBI, 47 runs scored, 12 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .952 OPS
Last 3 Years: .270/.374/.541 29 HR, 78 RBI, 66 runs scored, 23 doubles, 6 stolen bases, .915 OPS
If only he could have avoided yet another freakish injury last season, Stanton could have put on one of the best power displays seen in many years. In only 76 games, he hit 27 home runs, which worked out to a homer every 10 at-bats. If he had stayed at that clip and played a full second half, he would have reached 50 easily with some time to go still in September.
From a pure ability standpoint, there is no one at his level in regards to hitting the long ball today. Stanton is 26 years old and in line to top 200 career homers already this season, all while only playing 150 games in a season once. As his 2014 season showed, he is capable of doing prodigious numbers, even if surrounded by less talent than many other superstars are afforded. The only trick is to keep him on the field, because if he does, there will not be an MVP race in which his name is not mentioned.
1. Bryce Harper, Nationals (#3 in ’15)
2015: .330/.460/.649, 42 HR, 99 RBI, 118 runs scored, 38 doubles, 6 stolen bases, 1.109 OPS
Last 3 Years: .296/.401/.534, 25 HR, 63 RBI, 77 runs scored, 24 doubles, 6 stolen bases, .936 OPS
It is asinine to think that it was just last season that Harper was named “Most Overrated Player” in the game in a vote of his peers conducted by ESPN. Because apparently Harper’s ears were wide open for that and he put all of his considerable talents towards creating a coming of age that had to be seen to be believed. With his propensity for running into walls behind him, he launched an all-out assault on everything thrown his way that saw him become the third youngest MVP winner of all-time, behind such substantial company as Johnny Bench and Stan Musial.
At age 22, Harper led the National League in home runs and runs scored, as well as on-base, slugging and on-base + slugging percentages, while finishing second in batting average. His MLB-leading ballpark adjusted OPS+ of 195 showed that he dominated at every park with the same ferocious nature across the board. So complete was Harper’s effort that he hit .335 with 35 homers against righties and .318 against lefties, with only two more strikeouts than walks. Yet, the greatest testament to Harper’s year is that while it was a huge leap from where he was before, at only 23 he has proven that he is the best hitter in the National League already and he is only getting started—he won’t even turn 30 until 2023.
Just A Bit Outside: Yasiel Puig, Dodgers; Shin-Soo Choo, Indians; Hunter Pence, Giants; George Springer, Astros.