The 2020 Major League Baseball season is right around the corner. The league has its opening day scheduled for July 23rd, Thursday, and will be the first of the four major US leagues to return since the month of March. Despite some well-known names opting out of the campaign, baseball’s stars will be on display almost as much as during any other season. At least for the time being.
The countdown to one of the most unique MLB seasons in recent memory continues with the top five rankings of the league’s best right fielder. It’s not a secret that the position is perhaps the most stacked out of the three outfield groups. As opposed to our previous CF rankings, it’s a good takeaway that rightfield is both more competitive and more talented.
It may not feature an all-time great name like centerfield with Mike Trout. However, it has a plethora of ultimate game-changing players at the plate, and this list of three former MVPs and one ex-Rookie of the Year just serves as further evidence.
Here are the five best right fielders in Major League Baseball heading into 2020:
Yelich was merely a solid young player during his five seasons with the Miami Marlins. After the 2017 season, he was traded to the Brewers in what turned out to be a very fruitful deal for both clubs. However, little did either side know that once he stepped foot on the diamond in a Milwaukee jersey, he would break the league.
In the last two seasons, Yelich has been without any doubt a top-three player in MLB, confidently chasing the accomplishments of guys like Trout and Bellinger every year. The last two NL MVP award winners have engaged in a rivalry that saw them face off in the NLCS in 2018 and the race for the homerun crown last year, among other high-profile achievements.
In fact, Yelich was the lights-out favourite to win another MVP award until he went down with an injury and missed the month of September. The California native ended up leading the majors in slugging percentage (.671) and OPS (1.100) and hit 44 homers, just nine off the leader Pete Alonso. In addition, he also posted the highest batting average and on-base percentage in the National League.
Milwaukee is by no means the deepest or the most solid team. The emergence of Keston Hiura as an important bat could bring consistency but the Brewers are once again extremely dependent on Yelich to have another MVP season in order to go on a postseason run.
To say that the 2019 season was a breakout campaign for the reigning NL Most Valuable Player would be an understatement. After 39 homers and the NL Rookie of the Year in 2017, Bellinger experienced from the typical “sophomore slump”. However, he didn’t miss a beat in 2019, driving in 115 runs, fourth-best in NL, and hitting 47 homers. Other elite figures included .408 OBP, 1.035 OPS, and league-leading 351 total bases.
Heading into his age-24 season, the upside for Bellinger and the Dodgers looks more positive than ever. If he stays healthy, he’ll give Christian Yelich a tough run for his money, or even be able to retain his award if he has the year of his life.
After his MVP campaign in 2018, Betts suffered a downfall last year. However, he was still very good, batting .295 with an OBP of .391 and .524, all above the league average. His OPS of .915 was still the second-highest of his career. All in all, Betts’s 17.0 WAR since the start of the 2018 season is the most out of any player within MLB during that span not named Mike Trout.
Also, adding into account his eighth-place finish in the 2019 AL MVP voting, he now has four straight top-ten MVP finishes and a total of five seasons in a row with MVP votes.
Mookie Betts was traded from the Red Sox to the Dodgers during this offseason. He could be looking to increase the value of his potential future contract with a return to his best form in the shortened 2020 campaign. For one of the best players in baseball, that would mean a recording another season of 10.0-plus WAR and an MVP award.
Many would argue that Bryce Harper’s form has fallen off since his MVP season back in 2015. That might have some leverage, like the lack of top-ten MVP finishes in the last five years, but the numbers show that he’s still a top-five right fielder.
Even at his worst, he doesn’t fail to do the work most valued by modern-day MLB front offices – power-hitting. Harper hit 35 big flies in 2019, the second-best in his career after 42 in 2015. Furthermore, he’s now hit 24 or more in five straight seasons. These 35 homers made for a 4.2 WAR, the fourth-best in his nine-year MLB career, and a significant increase from 1.5 in 2018. Even when he fails to reach base at his usual rate, his power-hitting abilities amount to a huge contribution.
In each of his last five seasons, Harper has posted an on-base percentage of .370 or higher (compared to the league average of .323). Last year, he managed to add a little consistency at the plate, batting .260, an increase from .249 in 2018. After a fairly bad last season in Washington, Harper was able to bounce back last year and is quietly on his way back to stardom. The figures do point out that more work needs to be done (career-high 178 strikeouts, for example) but Harper is still a very prolific player who will an enormous part of Phillies’ potential success.
Judge did see some competition for the spot from Colorado slugger Charlie Blackmon and Twins sensation Max Kepler. Nevertheless, although Judge’s rookie year in 2017 is still what defines his youthful career, he still has the fourth-best WAR (9.7) since 2018 from a right fielder.
After having one the best rookie campaigns in AL history, Judge was gradually brought back down to Earth. He has hit 54 homeruns combined during the last two seasons, nearly the same amount as the 52 in 2017, and has recorded a slip in his batting average even compared to the strikeout-ridden rookie year.
The thing that could redefine his career is his outlook over a full season. The 2020 campaign is barely one but it will provide some clarity over whether Judge has fallen from the top-five place he held just two years ago. Blackmon and Kepler are stiff competition for sure but Judge’s ceiling might be even higher.