Ranking MLB's 10 Best Right Fielders Ahead of 2021 Spring Training

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMarch 14, 2021

Ranking MLB's 10 Best Right Fielders Ahead of 2021 Spring Training

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    As spring training carries on, so do our rankings of the top players at every position in Major League Baseball.

    With left fielders and center fielders checked off the list, we're concluding our tour around the outfield with the league's top 10 right fielders.

    Save for maybe third base, there might not be a more star-studded position in MLB than right field. It includes baseball's best hitter and arguably its best overall player, plus a handful of All-Stars and major award winners.

    To narrow things down, we considered recent track records and upside and downside for the 2021 season.

    We'll begin with some honorable mentions and then proceed with the top 10.


    See also: The top 10 first basemen, second basemen, third basemen and shortstops.

5 to Watch

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    Dylan Carlson
    Dylan CarlsonJeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Jo Adell, Los Angeles Angels

    Dexter Fowler is blocking Adell for now, but he's bound to get his shot at improving on his dismal performance as a rookie in 2020. When it comes, maybe the tools that made him an elite prospect will finally be on display.


    Dylan Carlson, St. Louis Cardinals

    Speaking of elite prospects, Carlson checks in at No. 8 on our most recent list. He also finished last year strong by going 10-for-36 with seven extra-base hits over his last 12 games.


    Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners

    Injuries have kept Haniger out of action since June 2019, but he's healthy heading into 2021. He showed with a 6.2-rWAR season in 2018 just how high his ceiling goes.


    Manuel Margot, Tampa Bay Rays

    He typically hasn't had much to offer outside his speed and defense. But by posting an .895 OPS and five home runs in last year's playoffs, Margot teased a potential offensive breakthrough in 2021.


    Josh Naylor, Cleveland

    It'll take a village for Cleveland to replace what it lost when it traded Francisco Lindor. If Naylor lives up to the .936 OPS that he had at Triple-A in 2019, he could be a key resident of said village.

First 5 Out

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    Charlie Blackmon
    Charlie BlackmonAssociated Press

    Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies

    Since peaking as a top-five finisher in the National League MVP voting in 2018, Blackmon's put up a good-not-great 117 OPS+ while playing below-average defense


    Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto Blue Jays

    The catch is that Hernandez's power is his only standout tool, but there's plenty to like about both the results (i.e., a 146 OPS+ and 16 HR) and the peripherals (i.e., 98th percentile exit velocity) that he posted in 2020.


    Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs

    Even though Heyward is a platoon guy whose defense doesn't stand out anymore, the struggle that defined his early years with the Cubs has vanished as he's put up a 106 OPS+ over the last two seasons.


    Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins

    After busting out with 36 long balls in 2019, Kepler looked more like his usual self in 2020. As in, a merely serviceable hitter whose glove is his best attribute.


    Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals

    Merrifield was one of baseball's best-kept secrets from 2017 to 2019, posting a 113 OPS+ and 11.9 rWAR. Yet he was just OK last year, and he's probably miscast as an everyday outfielder.

10. Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Key 2020 Stats: 58 G, 228 PA, 9 HR, 8 SB, .268 AVG, .325 OBP, .512 SLG, 123 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 1.9

    After going to the Houston Astros with the No. 5 pick in the 2015 draft, Kyle Tucker quickly cemented himself as an elite prospect and finally got his chance to play every day in 2020.

    What he did with that chance is an intriguing proof of concept. Though he didn't excel at any one thing, he was notably above average with his strikeout rate, exit velocity, hard-hit rate, sprint speed and outs above average.

    Tucker will have to iron out some flaws if he wants to reach his ceiling as an All-Star-caliber regular. To wit, he'll need to improve on the .695 OPS he had against left-handers in 2020. He'll also be more shift-proof if he stops hitting so many ground balls to his pull side.

    But even as is, Tucker is going into 2021 as a 20-20 candidate on offense and a low-key Gold Glove contender on defense.

9. Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Key 2020 Stats: 57 G, 226 PA, 10 HR, 2 SB, .181 AVG, .301 OBP, .378 SLG, 84 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 1.4

    If nothing else, Joey Gallo got it done defensively, as he won his first Gold Glove in 2020.

    The Texas Rangers star's defense rated well with outs above average, ultimate zone rating and especially defensive runs saved, which placed him as the second-best defender of 2020 after Nolan Arenado. Such things speak to how well he moves for a guy who is 6'5", 250 pounds. He also has a laser-blasting arm.

    Tons of strikeouts typically define Gallo's offensive production, as do plentiful walks and batted balls that are A) off the ground and B) hit very hard. But his power wasn't as mighty in 2020, and the increased rate of pitches he saw in the strike zone suggests pitchers noticed.

    However, Gallo is too young for worries that his slugging prowess is doomed to keep declining. Health permitting, he's a candidate for 40 home runs and another Gold Glove in 2021.

8. Wil Myers, San Diego Padres

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    Key 2020 Stats: 55 G, 218 PA, 15 HR, 2 SB, .288 AVG, .353 OBP, .606 SLG, 159 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 1.8

    Wil Myers played like an All-Star for the San Diego Padres in 2016 and 2017, but then he battled injuries in 2018 and was maybe the worst everyday player in the majors in 2019.

    Suffice it to say that he had a better year in 2020, in which only he and nine others topped a 150 OPS+ and 15 home runs.

    It sure helped that he cut his strikeout rate from 34.3 percent to 25.7 percent, mainly by reducing his out-of-zone swings and more aggressively attacking pitches in the heart of the zone. And especially as evidenced by his 93rd-percentile barrel rate, the contact he made was quite good.

    Myers will once again be one of baseball's best hitters if he carries all that over to 2021. And while his jumps and routes need work, he at least has the athleticism to cut it as a quality defender in right.

7. Mike Yastrzemski, San Francisco Giants

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    Key 2020 Stats: 54 G, 225 PA, 10 HR, 2 SB, .297 AVG, .400 OBP, .568 SLG, 165 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 2.7

    Mike Yastrzemski—whose grandfather, Carl, had a decent major league career—has played in 161 games for the San Francisco Giants. Or, basically a full season's worth.

    All he's done in these games is rack up a 137 OPS+ with 31 home runs and 5.5 rWAR. That's star-caliber stuff, and Yaz the Younger's trend line is going up.

    In 2020, he cut down on his out-of-zone swings and was rewarded with a well-above-average walk rate. He was also a veritable picture of hitting efficiency, generating power through pulled fly balls and dodging shifts by not hitting too many line drives and ground balls to his pull side.

    If one factors in how he also doesn't have a platoon split, it becomes clear all the pieces are there for Yastrzemski to carry on as an outstanding hitter in 2021. And after moving all over the outfield in 2019 and 2020, he has a chance to get comfortable in right field.

6. Michael Conforto, New York Mets

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Key 2020 Stats: 54 G, 233 PA, 9 HR, 3 SB, .322 AVG, .412 OBP, .515 SLG, 156 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 2.3

    Only six hitters have topped a 120 OPS+ in each of the last four seasons. Perhaps unexpectedly, Michael Conforto is one of them.

    But if there's a concern here, it relates to how Conforto hasn't cracked even 90 mph with his average exit velocity since 2017. Indeed, he's even coming off a career-low hard-hit rate in 2020.

    And yet Conforto is evolving as a hitter. By cutting down on his pulled ground balls, he insulated himself against shifts with an MLB-best .414 average against them in 2020. And what exit velocity he did generate mainly went into his fly balls and line drives, which he hit at a ho-hum average of 94.6 mph.

    In short, the guy can and should continue to hit for the New York Mets in 2021. He might even make his second All-Star appearance, just in time for his first foray into free agency after the season ends.

5. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Key 2020 Stats: 28 G, 114 PA, 9 HR, 0 SB, .257 AVG, .336 OBP, .554 SLG, 142 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 1.1

    On talent alone, Aaron Judge is one of the best players in Major League Baseball.

    This is most apparent in what he did for the New York Yankees from 2017 to 2019. He hit the ball harder than anyone else as he racked up a 156 OPS+ and 106 home runs. He also played an excellent right field in '18 and '19, tallying 37 defensive runs saved.

    And yet Judge's career has likewise been marked by injuries, as he struggled with a bad shoulder in 2017 and has missed nearly 40 percent of the Yankees' games with various ailments since 2018. He wasn't quite himself when he was healthy in 2020, notably in the hard contact department.

    Despite these question marks, the sheer upside of a healthy Judge for the 2021 season can't be ignored. Perhaps his newfound enthusiasm for yoga is the key he needs to unlock it.

4. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Key 2020 Stats: 58 G, 244 PA, 13 HR, 8 SB, .268 AVG, .420 OBP, .542 SLG, 157 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 1.9

    Though he tends to get picked on as the most overrated player in MLB, dare we say that Bryce Harper has become underrated?

    Even if his MVP-winning year for the Washington Nationals in 2015 remains a clear outlier relative to his other eight seasons, he's been mostly healthy and productive of late. To wit, only he and 10 others have posted at least a 135 OPS+ and 100 home runs since 2017.

    Harper is also coming off a low-key superb year for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2020. And he actually underachieved with a .400 wOBA. He had more walks (49) than strikeouts (43) while also posting personal highs for his hard-hit (50.7) and barrel (17.3) percentages.

    By xwOBA, Harper's 2020 season (.453) was even more dominant than his 2015 season (.417). So if he can pick up where he left off, he may add a second MVP award in 2021.

3. Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Key 2020 Stats: 46 G, 202 PA, 14 HR, 8 SB, .250 AVG, .406 OBP, .581 SLG, 155 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 2.3

    After winning the National League Rookie of the Year in 2018 and making a run at the MVP in 2019, Ronald Acuna Jr. didn't exactly have it easy in 2020.

    He was banged up for a good chunk of the season, including with a left wrist injury that dogged him into the playoffs. It thus would have been understandable if his numbers weren't up to par.

    But they were, and then some. Largely through his ongoing improvement at laying off high fastballs, he helped himself to the league's fourth-highest walk rate. His power and speed also continued to stand out by way of his 99th percentile hard-hit rate and 96th percentile sprint speed, respectively.

    Since Acuna is still only 23, there's little reason to think he can't keep all this up while also continuing to get better defensively. If so, Atlanta might just have the guy to beat for the NL MVP award in 2021.

2. Juan Soto, Washington Nationals

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    Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    Key 2020 Stats: 47 G, 196 PA, 13 HR, 6 SB, .351 AVG, .490 OBP, .695 SLG, 212 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 2.3

    With respect to Acuna and his stupendous all-around skill set, there's another right fielder in the NL East whose bat gives him the edge. And his name is Juan Soto.

    The Washington Nationals star is the only hitter in MLB history to do better than a 140 OPS+ in his age-19, -20 and -21 seasons. Last year was his best effort, as he led the majors in on-base and slugging percentage and OPS+.

    As seen in his lopsided ratio of 41 walks to 28 strikeouts, Soto has a place among the league's toughest outs. And while he had power to begin with, it's evolving as his exit velocity, hard-hit rate and barrel rate get better by the year.

    Ultimately, Soto is the best hitter in the sport. And given his age, a scary thought for every team other than the Nationals is that he likely hasn't peaked.

1. Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Key 2020 Stats: 55 G, 246 PA, 16 HR, 10 SB, .292 AVG, .366 OBP, .562 SLG, 149 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 3.6

    Of the hundreds of players in MLB at any given moment, no one can do it all quite like Markus Lynn Betts. Or "Mookie," as his friends, family, Los Angeles Dodgers teammates and, well, everyone else calls him.

    After beginning his career as a merely good hitter, Betts has evolved into a great hitter since 2018, to the tune of a .314/.405/.576 line and a 157 OPS+. He's struck out only 28 more times than he's walked in this span, and he's turned swings into hard contact at a better rate than anyone.

    Going back to 2016, Betts has been by far the league's most productive baserunner over the last five seasons. He also leads in defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating, which helped him earn our vote as the game's best defender.

    Because he's a better hitter, and he plays a more important defensive position, Mike Trout indeed has a strong claim to the throne of baseball's best player. But if not for those reasons, the honor would belong to Betts.


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.