MLB Players Of The Decade: The Line Forms Behind Jason Heyward In Right Field

ATLANTA - JULY 15: Jason Heyward #22 of the Atlanta Braves acknowledges the crowd after catching a deep fly ball and running into the wall in the fourth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Turner Field on July 15 2010 in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Rob Neyer continues his look at the best players of this decade, this time trying to figure out if there are any right fielders worth considering beside Atlanta's Jason Heyward.

Rob Neyer is predicting who will be the best players of this decade at each position. You can view all his previous selections here as he makes them.

Look, I know what you're thinking.

You're thinking, "When's lunch?"

Forget about lunch for a minute. Lunch is going to be there when it's there. It always is, right? Have you ever just forgotten about lunch?

I didn't think so.

What? That's not what you were thinking? You were actually thinking, "Why is Rob bothering with the Right Fielders of the Future when Jason Heyward is the only possible choice?"

Heyward's definitely the leader at the first turn. If you strip out last June, when he wasn't healthy, here is Heyward's rookie line: .298/.416/.502.

Yeah. A .416 on-base percentage for a huge 20-year-old power-hitting rookie.

Even including that anomalous June, Heyward's season is a contender for the second-best performance by a 20-year old player in the last 40 years, right up there with Claudell Washington in 1975 and Junior Griffey in 1990 (Alex Rodriguez's 1996 has the title locked up, at least until Bryce Harper begins his run).

Is there anything to not like about Jason Heyward. Well,

http://twitter.com/JasonHeyward

his tweets aren't particularly clever or insightful (though he does get serious bonus points for his Twitter background). And he's had some problems making it through a whole professional season without getting hurt. He does strike out some, and really struggled against the Giants last October.

Trifles, all? Yeah, but if you add them all together you have ... Well, yes: a trifle. The point is that Jason Heyward's not perfect, not yet anyway, and that opens the door for at least some discussion of baseball's other top young right fielders.

I know what you're thinking: "There are other top young right fielders?"

Actually, yeah.

Actually, there's another top young right fielder who's actually younger than Jason Heyward - Florida's Mike Stanton was born almost exactly three months after Heyward. As a rookie last season, all Stanton did was hit 22 home runs in 100 games. Granted, he also struck out 123 times - while drawing only 34 walks - in those 100 games. Still, Stanton's talents demand attention.

There are at least two other guys we gotta talk about. No, they're not as young as ridiculously young as Stanton and Heyward. But maybe that's a good thing. Stanton and Heyward will actually spend most of this decade before they reach their (theoretically) peak seasons. And neither of them have demonstrated an ability to stay off the Disabled List for more than a few months at a time.

Meanwhile, Arizona's Justin Upton is still only 23, but has three seasons under his belt; Cincinnati's Jay Bruce is 24, and also has played in the majors for three seasons.

One problem, though ... Bruce has been excellent in just one of those three seasons, and Upton in just one of his.  Another problem: Heyward was just as excellent in his one season as Bruce and Upton in their best seasons.

It's actually something of a paradox. Do we give extra credit to Heyward for being excellent in his only shot at excellence? Or do we give Upton and Bruce extra credit for avoiding serious injuries and establishing themselves as (probably) long-term right fielders?

In the end, I think it comes down to the fact that in the most recent season (2010), the youngest (Heyward) of the three young players in question was also the best of them.  Even if he'd been just third best, he would have merited serious consideration because of his youth.

He wasn't third best, though. He was first best. And he might be the Ken Griffey, Jr. of right fielders.

Of course, he might also be Claudell Washington. You pays your money and you takes your chances.

***********

Oh, I did want to mention something else ... Shin-Soo Choo is really an outstanding player, perhaps the most underrated player in the majors today. I didn't list him as a real candidate above, partly because he's 28 and partly because I didn't want you to snort milk all over your keyboard.

But over the last three seasons, Choo's essentially got a .300/.400/.500 line and by most accounts he's an outstanding defensive outfielder. And it really shouldn't be all that shocking if he spends the rest of this decade as one of the game's best players.

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