As my series of positional rankings continues, I take a look at the right fielders in the AL East. For the Baltimore Orioles, it has been a tough road trying to find a suitable replacement for Nick Markakis. Even with Mark Trumbo leading the league in home runs in 2016, his defense left much to be desired, leaving Buck Showalter–a defensive-minded manager–searching for another candidate to take the reins while moving Trumbo to the full-time DH role.
With ages ranging from 24 to 36 in right field this season, there are players just coming into their prime, and players trying to figure out just what they have left in the tank.
But who is the best? Let’s take a look.
1. Mookie Betts – Boston Red Sox
2016: .318/.363/.534, 31 HR, 113 RBI
The 2016 MVP runner-up, Betts took his game to another level last season, setting career highs in almost every major offensive category while leading the league in total bases. His 9.6 WAR was second only to Mike Trout, whom he also finished second to in MVP voting (unjustifiably so, in my opinion).
Since making his debut in 2014, Betts has never hit below .291. In fact, he has only ever hit below .291 at any professional level once, batting .267 in 71 games for the Lowell Spinners in 2012, the Red Sox Low-A affiliate in the New York-Penn League.
In 355 career games, Betts has struck out just 195 times. For comparison’s sake, Orioles slugger Chris Davis has struck out over 195 times in three of the last four seasons. The bottom line is, Betts is simply a pure hitter, and his ascension as one of the best players in the game has happened in a relatively short period of time. On a team loaded with All-Star talent at almost every position, Betts might just be the best player in the Red Sox organization.
2. Jose Bautista – Toronto Blue Jays
2016: .234/.366/.452, 22 HR, 69 RBI
Nicknamed “Joey Bats,” Bautista has earned the moniker over the course of his Blue Jays career, mashing at least 22 HR in each of the last seven seasons, despite missing significant time due to injuries in three of the last five years.
Bautista led the Majors in home runs in both 2010 and 2011, launching 97 between the two seasons. He has walked 100+ times in a season four times, twice leading the league in that category. His prolific power and remarkable eye at the plate earned him six-straight All-Star appearances from 2010-2015, three Silver Sluggers, and four top-10 finishes in MVP voting.
Defensively, Bautista has never set the world on fire with his glove, but his arm has been noteworthy, recording 11+ assists four times since 2010. All-in-all, Jose Bautista is the face of the Toronto Blue Jays, and while he may not be their best player anymore, he is still a force in a powerful lineup, and is well-deserving of his ranking on this list.
3. Seth Smith – Baltimore Orioles
2016-.249/.342/.415, 16 HR, 63 RBI
A newcomer in Baltimore, Smith gives the Orioles a boost in the on-base department, as his career OBP of .344 is higher than that of any regular in the lineup. Though he shows occasional pop–his career high is 17 HR–Smith could exceed that total in Baltimore given the hitter-friendly ballparks of the AL East (he has played his entire career in the cavernous ballparks of the AL/NL West).
Defensively, Smith will not be a flashy player, but he provides stability, as evidenced by just 15 errors in 10 MLB seasons. Given the Orioles’ defensive options in right field last season, Buck Showalter could be breathing a sigh of relief in 2017.
4. Steve Souza – Tampa Bay Rays
2016: .247/.303/.409, 17 HR, 49 RBI
Steven Souza is a late bloomer who the Rays are hoping is starting to come into his own. A third-round pick in the 2007 draft, Souza was rated the #37 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America prior to 2015. It only took eight professional seasons for him to get there.
So far, Souza has struggled in his young MLB career, averaging 152 K’s the last two seasons despite not playing in more than 120 games. His power is there as he has hit 16+ HR the past two seasons despite limited playing time, and the Rays are hoping he can continue that trend and turn the corner in his age-28 season.
Souza certainly showed flashes in 2016, but didn’t do enough to warrant a higher ranking in this list.
5. Aaron Judge – New York Yankees
2016-.179/.263/.345, 4 HR, 10 RBI in 27 games
One of the Yankees top prospects, Judge made his MLB debut on August 13, and promptly homered in each of his first two games. Judge would go on to record seven hits in his first five games, exciting wary Yankees fans about the impending youth movement after watching years of aging stars patrol the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium.
Unfortunately for Judge and the Yankees, that first week was the lone bright spot for the young slugger. Judge struck out two or more times in 15 of his 27 games, and would finish the year in an 8-66 slump, his season ending due to a right oblique injury on September 14.
Despite the poor showing, the potential is there for Judge, and the Yankees are going to give him every opportunity to realize it in 2017.
1. Chris Young – Boston Red Sox
2016: .276/.352/.498. 9 HR, 24 RBI
2016: Rickard: .268/.319/.377, 5 HR, 19 RBI; Gentry: Only 14 games due to injury
3. Nick Franklin – Tampa Bay Rays
2017: .270/.328/.443, 6 HR, 26 RBI
4. Ezequiel Carrera/Melvin Upton, Jr. – Toronto Blue Jays
2016: Carrera: .248/.323/.356, 6 HR, 23 RBI; Upton: .238/.291/.402, 20 HR, 61 RBI
5. Aaron Hicks– New York Yankees
2016: .217/.281/.336, 8 HR, 31 RBI
That does it for the right fielders in the AL East. As always, this list is up for debate, and is just one man’s opinion, nothing more. Now that we’re done with the position players, we’ll move to the designated hitters in the AL East next.