MLB Network's "Top 10 Right Now" series, looking at the best players at each position headed into 2017, is airing two positions every Sunday night until Feb. 12. As each position is revealed, MLB.com's Mike Petriello, a participant in the show, will unveil his list along with the reasoning behind it. Rankings were compiled with a combination of subjective and analytical data, and no, batting average was not considered. We'll also include the rankings of "the Shredder," the MLB Network research department algorithm based on player performance that accounts for both offense and defense.
Position overview: Right field has two of baseball's brightest young superstars at the top, but up and down the list, there are questions about health, consistency and production. While it wasn't hard to find 10 good players, there wasn't a ton of competition to crack the list beyond the top 10.
Betts' 2016 wasn't his "breakout," because he was already a star, but he took his game to an entirely new level last season. By hitting .318/.363/.534 (135 wRC+) with 31 homers, he basically hit like Corey Seager and Paul Goldschmidt. He did it while putting up +32 Defensive Runs Saved, the best of any fielder in baseball, and he stole 26 bases for good measure. Betts, who turned 24 in October, is a star in every facet of the game. There are MVP Awards in his future.
As great as Betts' 2016 was, Harper's MVP 2015 was better, and if you were positive you'd get the 2015 version of Harper again, he'd easily be No. 1 on this list. But after a fantastic April, Harper was merely a league-average hitter (.235/.367/.392, 100 wRC+), amid increasing discussion (consistently denied by player and team) that his shoulder may not be healthy. We'll take Harper's ceiling over Betts', but he's No. 2 here because he's got a lot more to prove in 2017.
Speaking of sluggers with a lot to prove, Stanton's career-worst 2016 included a massive slump (.205/.298/.380, 81 wRC+ in May and June) and a brief summer resurgence that included a Home Run Derby show before yet another lower-body injury cost him most of the final two months. Through all that, he still managed an above-average season (.240/.326/.489, 114 wRC+), but he's reached 600 plate appearances just once in the last five seasons. He's No. 3 here because his raw power is unmatched and because he's only 27, but 2017 is a critical season for the Marlins slugger.
The underrated Calhoun has had three full seasons in the big leagues, and all three have been above-average on both sides of the ball. A good shorthand to use for Wins Above Replacement is that 2 WAR is an average player, 4 is borderline All-Star, and 6 and above is star. Calhoun has been a four-win player every year, putting up consistently above-average hitting (career .266/.328/.436, 115 wRC+) with average-to-above-average defense. There's not much more ceiling here, but the floor is pretty high. Consistency matters.
This list was created before it was announced that Andrew McCutchen would slide to right, pushing Starling Marte to center and Polanco to left, but he deserves recognition nonetheless. Polanco made changes to his game in 2016 and was better for them, adding 82 points of slugging and 13 homers. He did that by hitting fewer grounders (down from 45 percent in 2015 to 39 percent) and pulling more balls (up from 39 percent to 49 percent). He did that despite dealing with shoulder and knee soreness, and it's easy to see a 25-year-old with a strong arm and better power skills having a huge season.
Year in and year out, Pence is consistently above-average. Just look at his wRC+ scores from the last three years, which were 122 (2014), 125 ('15), and 121 ('16), and since 100 is "league-average," that means he's regularly about 20-25 points better than average. However, Pence is about to be 34, and he's managed only 665 plate appearances over the last two seasons due to injury. If he can stay on the field, he's one of baseball's better overall right fielders.
This list was created before the Mariners went out and acquired Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Haniger, so Cruz is more likely to be a DH than an outfielder in 2017. That's good news for both player and team, because Cruz turns 37 in July and hasn't ranked well defensively in years, but he remains one of baseball's elite sluggers. No one has hit more homers over the last three years than Cruz's 127, and he's been an above-average hitter each full season of his career. If the Mariners can get another .287/.360/.555 (147 wRC+) in 2017, they'll be thrilled.
Like Cruz, Martinez is a late-blooming slugger who fits better at DH than in the field. Perhaps due in part to a broken elbow, Martinez had the second-worst DRS score (-22) in baseball in 2016, though his hitting (.307/.373/.535, 142 wRC+) remained elite. We're now three full seasons into his slugging breakout, so he's more than answered any questions about how "real" the bat is. It's whether his glove can take a step forward that will define how valuable he is overall.
What to make of Gonzalez? Over the last three years, he's hit .276/.329/.505, which, when park-adjusted, is a slightly above-average 106 wRC+. Now, that includes his injury-plagued 2014, but even in 2016, his line was .298/.350/.505, which is a similar 108 wRC+. He's only 31, so there's time to get back to the superstar he was from 2010-13.
Piscotty's first full season was quietly a a success, as he contributed above-average hitting (.273/.343/.457, 115 wRC+, 22 homers) with solid defense that included working to improve the strength of his throwing arm. It's easy to see him putting up that same kind of solid line for the next five to seven years, isn't it?
Bautista's "down" year wasn't as bad as it seemed, but he's 36, coming off injuries and has significantly reduced defensive value, so he just misses here. It's the exact opposite for Heyward, who still contributed fantastic defense to the Cubs, yet completely forgot how to hit. Puig still showed flashes of his old self between injuries and demotions; he'll have to prove he can do that over a full season.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.