After several weeks on comparing starters on each American League East team, the series comes to a close with this post focusing on the right fielders. One man stands far above the rest and there are unfortunately a few starters who are probably lingering past their expiration dates. Hopefully, a new crop of talent will emerge soon, but for now, these five players are the ones likely to see the most time in right field for the AL East in 2015.
Likely starting right fielder: Jose Bautista
2014: 155 G, .286/.403/.524, 27 2B, 35 HR, 159 wRC+, 4.2 WAR
Quickly getting the top talent out of the way, the man they call "Joey Bats" has done a more than commendable job demonstrating that his breakout 2010 campaign was no fluke despite his utilityman past. Some critics thought that he might be a Brady Anderson or Davey Johnson type one-trick pony with his Toronto record of 54 bombs that year, but he immediately followed it up with an AL-best 43 dingers in 2011. Even while battling Mark Teixeira-like wrist problems during the last few years, Bautista still averaged 30 homers a year since 2012, and he's been named an All-Star in each of his past five seasons.
The only thing we can wonder now is how long his prime will last since he turns 35 in October. He's shown no signs of slowing down in the early goings, with four homers in 14 games and as fiery an attitude as ever. Why linger on the gloom though? Bautista is a damn fun player to watch, not just for the homers. He whines about the strike zone a lot because he has perhaps the best plate discipline in the league, maintaining a .392 OBP and 15.8% walk rate since the beginning of the 2010 season. As the Blue Jays' most popular player since at least Carlos Delgado, a generation of Toronto fans deprived from playoff baseball for 22 years are also really pulling for Bautista to finally to make his first career playoff appearance after 1,264 games, the second-longest drought among all active players. If they do, it's almost certain that he'd be a leading MVP candidate.
Likely starting right fielder: Travis Snider
2014: 140 G, .264/.338/.438, 15 2B, 13 HR, 121 wRC+, 2.1 WAR
At one time, there was some hope that Snider would become the kind of player Bautista became for the Blue Jays, particularly in 2009, when he was ranked among the top six prospects in baseball by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. The Washington native had boatload of natural talent, but he could just never shake the injury bug. His injury history carries a number of ailments, from multiple wrist sprains to hamstring problems, toe surgery, and even a laceration form cutting sweet potatoes. Sheesh.
Snider was dealt to the Pirates in the middle of the 2012 season, and in his six-year career prior to last season, his overall production was meager: a .241/.303/.398 triple slash with an 89 OPS+ and 1.7 WAR in 403 games. Used in more of a platoon role in Pittsburgh in 2014, the lefty hitter found much more success with a solid two-win campaign over 359 plate appearances, particularly in the second half, when he batted .288/.356/.524. Needing a new man in right with the departure of longtime Oriole Nick Markakis, GM Dan Duquette made a late January trade to bring Snider aboard in 2015, and he's been productive in regular playing time through the season's first couple weeks. Whether the move will pay off obviously remains to be seen, but there's hope yet for the former top prospect yet.
Likely starting right fielder: Steven Souza Jr.
2014 (MLB): 21 G, .130/.231/.391, 0 2B, 2 HR, 74 wRC+, -0.1 WAR
2014 (AAA): 96 G, .350/.432/.590, 25 2B, 18 HR, 180 wRC+
From a former top prospect to a current one, Souza made headlines last year with what turned out to be his final play in a Washington Nationals uniform, an unbelievable diving catch to clinch Jordan Zimmermann's no-hitter on the last day of the season. A ton of fans were wondering who this guy was, and if they researched, they would have found a very intriguing story, as noted by DRays Bay in January. Originally a third round pick by the then-moribund Nats out of high school in 2007, Souza spent a few years disappointing in the minors, culminating in a 50-game PED suspension and a benching for his team's playoffs after violating rules. Souza was furious, telling Tampa's farm director that he was going to quit baseball.
Thankfully, Souza reconsidered, and over the next few years built his prospect status higher than it had ever even sniffed before. After crushing Double-A in 2013 with the Harrisburg Senators, Souza was named the International League MVP in 2014 thanks to a gaudy 96-game campaign with Triple-A Syracuse. It earned him the aforementioned call-up to the pros which led to that iconic catch, never to be forgotten by the Washington faithful. Ranked by Baseball America as the 37th best prospect in the game prior to 2015, Souza was dealt to the Rays as part of the big Wil Myers deal. People already know about his defense, and he impressive power, as evidenced by the monster 463 foot shot he hit to dead-center in Toronto last week, his first in a Rays uniform. If Souza pays off, then boy, new GM Matt Silverman will definitely have a feather to put in his cap.
Actually, Silverman should just walk around with a feather in his cap anyway because that'd be a hoot and a half.
Likely starting right fielder: Shane Victorino
2014: 30 G, .268/.303/.382, 6 2B, 2 HR, 88 wRC+, 0.5 WAR
Weren't those previous three right fielders kind of fun? Well, prepare to be saddened by the state of Red Sox and Yankees right fielders, a double feature of declining stars from the previous decade. Ben Cherington made a bold move before the start of the 2013 campaign when he signed the apparently-declining Shane Victorino to a three-year, $39 million contract. The former Phillies All-Star was coming off a disappointing 2012 split with Philly and the Dodgers, and it was far from clear whether or not the "Flyin' Hawaiian" had anything left in the tank.
Then, 2013 happened, and Cherington was immediately hailed as a genius. Victorino was sensational, batting .294/.351/.451 with 43 extra-base hits, 21 steals, and a remarkable career-high 5.8 WAR season in 122 games. Boston won the World Series, Victorino became a cult hero in yet another city, and all was seemingly well in Beantown. However, Victorino's body did not reward him for his 2013 well at all. Right from the start, his 2014 was a nightmare, with a hamstring strain keeping him out of action until late April. Knee soreness and yet another hamstring strain were quick to follow, putting him back on the shelf after just 21 games. A mid-July comeback was halted by excruciating back pain, which eventually required season-ending surgery to address a bulging disc. Yikes.
Now, the 34-year-old Victorino is right back where he started in 2013, needing to prove that he can still be a big league regular. At two years older with an even longer injury history though, it will be a tougher task than ever. He's not off to a good start, as he battled "general soreness" in spring training and recently hurt his ribs trying to rob a homer down around the Pesky Pole. I wouldn't write Victorino's career obituary quite yet, but I really don't know if he has another comeback in him.
Likely starting right fielder: Carlos Beltran
2014: 109 G, .233/.301/.402, 23 2B, 15 HR, 95 wRC+, -0.2 WAR
In a perfect world, the three-year, $45 million contract Beltran signed before last season would have produced at least somewhat similar results to the one the Red Sox inked with Victorino. Sure, he's a huge question mark now, but at least in the first year of his deal, Victorino rewarded Boston with a terrific season that led to a playoff berth and a championship. Meanwhile, Beltran's long-awaited first year in pinstripes was a nightmare. The Puerto Rican native had wanted to be a Yankee for quite some time, but the 37-year-old version was not even close to the form he displayed as recently as 2013 with the Cardinals. Forget the borderline Hall of Famer who starred with the Royals, Astros, and Mets--if he could have produced close to the .282/.343/.493 slugger who mashed 56 homers over two years in St. Louis, the Yankees would have been ecstatic.
It just wasn't meant to be. After a decent start, Beltran got banged up going over the fence in foul territory trying to catch a ball at Tropicana Field. Although he insisted he was fine, his performance did not reflect it from that point onward. Of course, the main problem for him in 2014 was nagging elbow pain from bone spurs that eventually required off-season surgery. In the end, the 95 wRC+ bat was just not what the Yankees signed up for, and he has yet to get it going in 2015. Maybe he would be a little bit better if he was in more of a DH-centric role, but that position is taken up at the moment by a mashing centaur.
So the Yankees are in a very tough situation. Do they give up on Beltran not even halfway through his pricey deal and maybe try him in a platoon role with Chris Young (see Jason's post later today for more on that), or do they attempt to justify the cost by keeping him an everyday player while hoping he gets better? Either way, it's not ideal, and it sucks that we have to watch a guy who used to be so awesome struggle like this. Never get old, kids. Find the Mariano Rivera secret to eternal youth.