Spring Training Teasers: Couch Side’s top five right fielders for 2012

BY WADE MCMILLIN, Couchsideshow.com editor

In part nine of Couch Side’s series of the best players in the MLB by position, I’ll take a look at the top five right fielders for 2012.

I grew up playing the undesirable position in legion baseball, but I never let position No. 9 ever bother me. It’s one of the most valuable spots on the diamond, which is why managers choose to place their strongest throwing outfielders in the right corner. Despite Ichiro’s raw fielding ability, the Seattle Mariners never really thought bout placing him in center to chase down balls. His cannon was to valuable. It’s a position that may not get a lot of hype, yet we can never question it’s importance.

Here’s five right fielders in Major League Baseball who show us just how vital right field can be to a big-league club.

1. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista has hit at least 40 home runs during the past two seasons. Photo by: Josh McConnell / Flickr

When will teams start pitching around this guy? It had better be this year or MVP voters may want to give Jo Baut a little more love. Last season, the 31-year-old set a career high in batting average (.301) while smacking 43 home runs and 103 RBI. In 2010, he easily led the league with 54 homers and 124 RBI. To say the least, this guy is now just entering his prime and he’s doing it loudly. Bautista’s power numbers are somewhat unmatched. Not a single player has belted at least 50 home runs during the past two seasons and maybe only a couple have reached the 40-home run plateau last season. I expect nothing but great things in the future from Bautista. And if he ever gets on an actual contender, his numbers should only improve with more protection in the lineup. 

2. Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks

The sexy pick here would probably be Miami’s Mike Stanton, but I’m going with proven experience before I jump on the Stanton bandwagon too soon because we all saw what happened to Atlanta’s Jason Heyward last season. So the pride of the desert, Justin Upton, earns the No. 2 spot because this kid can flat out hit. The 24-yer-old set career highs in home runs and RBIs last season, proving that he is coming into his own. And fans have to believe Upton can undoubtedly outdo his numbers of 31 home runs, 88 RBIs and .289 batting average this season. He can obviously hit for power, but that’s just one facet of his game. Upton is also catching some speed, setting a career high with 21 swipes last season. You also can’t forget his glove. Upton could easily play center field for the D-Backs or any other major league club who would want him in the middle of their outfield. Instead, he shows off his glove and gun in right and it just may earn him a gold glove from the corner some day.

3. Mike Stanton, Miami Marlins

Is his name Mike? Or is it Giancarlo? Either way, Miami’s 22-year old phenom may be destined for greatness this summer. Stanton has only been in the league for two years, but he’s playing like a 10-year veteran. During his sophomore season last year, Stanton improved in every offensive category. The California native did have more plate appearances, but he still managed to reach new career highs in batting average and OBP, which shows he still has a lot of room to grow. If Stanton can figure out how to tune up his contact swing even better, who know what this kid will be capable of. He still stands as Miami’s best player even after an offseason in which the club added some big names for big dollars. Stanton is truly the man of the future for the Marlins and right now, one could make a solid argument that he is the best right fielder in the game. He might now be at this second, but he could earn that title by the All-Star break.

Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Hunter Pence has done nothing but perform since being traded away from the Houston Astros. Photo by: Michelle Rivera / Flickr

4. Hunter Pence, Philadelphia Phillies

All it took for Pence to each his potential was a new uniform and a little protection in the lineup. Last season, the 28-year-old split time between the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies. Once the Astros traded him, Pence turned it on. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of or seen a player actually improve their stats after a trade when they play less games for that new team than their former one. But Pence did. In his 100 games with Houston, Pence hit .308. After the trade, he hit .324. He also hit 11 home runs for both teams to give him 22 on the year. If Pence can find even more power to put behind his swing, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come. He hasn’t hit less than 17 home runs in a single year and had the gusto to smack 30. Pence hasn’t hit that mark yet, but something tells me that his first full year as a Philly will make that all change.

5. Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds

If Joey Votto insn’t wearing a Cincinnati Reds uniform next year, then consider Jay Bruce the new king in town. He might not have the MVP-caliber stuff Votto has, but Bruce is truly one of the best youngsters in the game and day could posses that talent. He definitely showed signs of getting there some day in 2011, reaching career highs in home runs and RBIs by a respectable amount. Bruce had a respectable 25 homers with 70 RBI in 2010 and followed that season up with 32 round trippers and 97 RBIs in 2011. If he can get a hold of just a few more, Bruce could be a 40-plus home run, 115-plus RBI hitter by the tender age of 25.

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