NL East position rankings: right field
Right field in the National League East is full of familiar names. With three future stars and two established superstars there’s undisputed talent in the right corner. The only question is who will be the best of the big names?
1. Jayson Werth, Nationals - Arguably the splashiest free agent signing in the major leagues this winter, all eyes will be on whether Werth is capable of playing up to his $126 million contract. If his career trajectory continues for a few more years the way it’s been going, then he’ll earn every penny. Last season was Werth’s best season at the plate. He put up the fifth best OPS in the majors for an outfielder at .921. It was his fourth straight season with an OPS higher than .860 and his slugging percentage has climbed steadily each season since 2005. He has turned into a complete hitter. The percentage of plate appearances that end in a strikeout for Werth has also gone down each season since 2005. There doesn’t seem to be a good way to pitch to him. He kills fastballs, and since pitchers know that (except for that now well-documented encounter with Drew Storen last season), he saw the fewest percentage of fastballs in his career last season.
2. Jason Heyward, Braves - No disrespect to Werth’s game, but Heyward should soon surpass him as the best right fielder in the NL East. We may soon be talking about Heyward as the best player in the game. He’s so polished as a hitter. He’s was a little more patient than Werth at the plate, sporting better walk and strikeout percentages than the veteran as a rookie. If you’re to believe UZR, he’s also a better fielder than Werth. The one thing I find strange about Heyward is that his batted ball profile doesn’t match that of the power hitter he is projected to become. Fifty-five percent of the balls he put in play were grounders. Only six players had a higher percentage and as a group they only hit six more home runs than Heyward did by himself. I’ll admit, I’m not quite sure what that means at this point, we’ll have to see what happens this year.
3. Mike Stanton, Marlins - He’s another highly touted prospect, but less polished than Heyward. The number that jumps out from last season was the rookie’s 22 home runs in only 396 plate appearances. Only one other player needed less than 400 plate appearances to hit as many home runs and that was one of the greatest power hitters of the last two decades, Jim Thome. Stanton will need to work on hitting major league breaking balls to continue his ascent to premiere power hitter. He struck out 34 percent of the time even though he didn’t chase outside of the zone very much. The difference was that pitchers fed him a steady diet of breaking balls. A third of the pitches he saw were curves or sliders and he was far below league average in making contact.
4. Carlos Beltran, Mets - Once a top five outfielder, Beltran has been hit especially hard by the injury bug. If I was projecting him to bounce back, you wouldn’t even find him in the right field rankings, he’d be among the centerfielders. I have a feeling though he’s still not feeling confident enough about his past injuries to play there. He’s already said this spring training that he’d play where Mets manager Terry Collins wanted him to play and that he didn’t want to embarrass himself. That doesn’t sound like a guy ready to be the focal point of the outfield defense. He’ll be 34 in April and has only played 145 games the past two seasons combined.
5. Domonic Brown, Phillies - He’ll lead the league in name misspellings, that’s for sure. Impress your friends, it’s spelled with two O’s. He struggled in limited action during his first taste of The Show last season, but he did put up outstanding power numbers and hit for average during the parts of 2010 that he spent in double- and triple-A. The word is that he’ll split time with Ben Francisco and may start the season only playing against righty pitchers. He’s a terrific talent, but somebody had to finish last in the star-studded NL East right field.
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