NL East Division position comparison: right field

The National League East Division position-by-position evaluation and ranking of the starting eight position players comes to an end today with a look at right field.

The Philadephia Phillies had the top catcher in my rankings. The club’s projected starter ranked second in center field, and third in the division at each of first basesecond baseshortstopthird base, and in left field.

The defending World Series champion Washington Nationals had the top-ranked player at shortstop as well as in left field and center field. The two-time defending NL East champion Atlanta Braves came out on top at first base, second base, and now again in right field.

On Thursday, I’ll take a look at the backups and pinch-hitters for each team and rank each of those projected bench groups. Over the weekend the projected starting pitching rotations, bullpens, and finally the managers will be covered.

Once this evaluation process is complete, Phillies fans should have a better idea as February arrives of where the team stands as spring training opens. Pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater on February 11, less than two weeks from now.

NL EAST – 2020 RIGHT FIELD RANKINGS

1) Ronald Acuna Jr. Atlanta Braves: There are two particularly frightening things to consider regarding Acuna for the rest of the National League East. First, he turned just 22 years of age this past December. Second, the Braves got him to a sign a contract paying him $17 million through 2026 with team options at the same salary for two more years beyond that. Acuna is likely to be terrorizing opponents for many years. He won the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year Award after slashing .293/.366/.552 with 26 home runs, 56 extra-base hits, 64 RBIs, 78 runs scored, and 16 steals in just 111 games that year. In his first full season a year ago, Acuna made his first NL All-Star team and won a Silver Slugger Award. He slashed .280/.365/.518 with 41 homers, 65 extra-base hits, 101 RBIs, 127 runs scored, and 37 stolen bases. For that performance, Acuna finished fifth in 2019 NL Most Valuable Player voting. On top of all that offensive production, Acuna is an outstanding defender in right with the ability to handle center field as well. He has the talent to win multiple MVP’s going forward.

2) Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies: After starring with the Nationals for seven seasons during which he was an NL All-Star six times and the 2015 NL MVP, Harper signed with the Phillies as a free agent prior to last season. He did not disappoint, producing a season in which he slashed .260/.372/.510 with 35 homers, 114 RBIs, 72 extra-base hits, 98 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases. Harper also elevated his defensive game enough that he was a Gold Glove Award finalist. He improved as the season wore on, slashing .290/.374/.621 starting August 5, also cutting down his strikeout rate from that point. With an improved Phillies lineup around him, a year of comfort in the environment, and that strong finish, Harper could be poised for another All-Star campaign in which he is a leading NL MVP contender in 2020. He plays at still just age 27 for the entire season.

3) Michael Conforto, New York Mets: Turning 27-years-old on March 1, Conforto is under control with the Mets for just two more seasons. He can become a free agent after 2021, and the Mets are going to have to try to get him signed long-term before that point, because this is a player they cannot afford to lose. Conforto has a .253/.353/.481 career slash line over his first five seasons, and that is about the level at which he performed last year. If the 33 homers, 63 extra-base hits, 92 RBIs, and 90 runs scored is his peak production during his prime, that’s pretty good in these non-PED years. While Conforto will never win a Gold Glove Award, neither is he a poor defender. He ranked seventh in 2019 Fangraphs UZR among all big-league right fielders.

4) Brian Anderson, Miami Marlins: Anderson, who ranked second on my third base list, is the only player who I ranked at two different positions. In 2018, Anderson played 91 games in right and 71 at third. Last season he appeared in 67 games at third base and in 55 games in right field. While he is a better defender in right field than at the hot corner, the fact is that the Fish have a group of strong prospects coming in the outfield and no better options coming at third base. In 2020 when Anderson is in right field, newcomer Jonathan Villar could see action at third with young Isan Diaz playing second. It is not likely that manager Don Mattingly is going to really commit to a regular position for Anderson until he sees how his players look in spring training.

5) Adam Eaton, Washington Nationals: Having turned 31 years of age back in December, Eaton is the oldest starting right fielder in the division. He is also the weakest overall defender, though he does possess a solid arm. In his return from two injury-marred seasons a year ago, Eaton slashed .279/.365/.428 with 15 homers, 47 extra-base hits, 49 RBIs, 103 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases. That is about his offensive upside at this stage of his career. The Nationals have the top left and center fielders in the division. But while both are talented, they are also young. Washington is happy to live with Eaton’s modest production and defense at this point in exchange for a veteran presence that he brings to the group. But don’t be surprised to see them bring in a more dynamic option via an in-season trade during the coming summer if they are contending again in 2020 as expected.

 

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