Outfield is it – the elite of the elite. In my top 20 overall, I have 7 outfielders, 4 3B, 1 2B, 1 SS, 3 SP, and 4 1B. Outfielders are deep in the game right now, and looking at the ESPN player rater (which weighs position) from 2013, 4 of the top 10 and 7 of the top 15 in all of baseball in fantasy production last season played outfield.
1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels – Trout’s the #1 guy in the game, a legit threat each year to go 30/30 (or better) with 200 R/RBI and a high average. The scary part is that many scouts believe that Trout has lots of room to grow! He’s the #1 fantasy option, and if Pujols and Hamilton are back to productive hitters behind him, Trout could put up simply scary Runs numbers.
2. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates – McCutchen the person is quickly becoming one of my favorite people in baseball on top of being one of the most talented players on one of the up-and-coming young teams in baseball. McCutchen may not have a major number, like 30+ HR or 30+ steals or .330 BA, but he could pretty easily go 20/20 with 180-200 R/RBI and a .300+ average, which is a pretty nice tick below.
3. Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles – Jones took the next step forward last season, hitting for a solid average with 30+ HR power and some solid steal numbers. Jones is young and still has room to grow, but he may have had one of the more under-the-radar elite seasons in fantasy baseball last year.
4. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers – I could go so many directions with Braun. I feel his actions surrounding his initial PED suspension and subsequent suspension last season show a man who is simply not a good human being, willing to crush anyone he needs to get his money/fame/whatever. Then you have the question of whether having a suspension will cause him to get off of whatever he was taking and suddenly his numbers change. He could be #2 or not even worthy of top 30 this year, so there’s a lot of risk in this pick. If he’s back to a high average, solid power, good steals, good run production sort of guy, he belongs in this spot, but don’t expect 2011.
5. Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies – CarGo is consistently underrated by me, though I also think he’s overrated by many places. He’s going to give you good 5-category production when healthy, and he’s not going to hurt you in any category. He could be an elite fantasy player, and has been in the past, but his nicks and dings will eventually catch up with him.
6. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals – Harper has one MAJOR tool that could shoot him up right behind Trout if he could stay healthy. His big issue is that, while it’s highly regarded in “real” baseball, his overzealous hustle has led to numerous injuries major and minor. Without those injuries, perhaps that huge power that will always be a threat to put up a 40+ home run season could be unleashed or that speed that defies ideas of athleticism of a man that strong could bring about a 30/30 season. Until he can calm himself down to play hard AND safe, he’ll not be able to crack the top 5.
7. Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers – GoGo was a fan favorite in Minnesota for his flamboyant postgame interviews, but Braves fans may have soured on him after an incident last season that led to a bench-clearing “discussion”. Gomez has quietly ascended the ranks from an erratic hitter to a guy whose average isn’t great (but won’t hurt you either) and produces major speed and very good power numbers. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if he went for 20 HR/40 SB this season, and that’s elite production.
8. Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers – Puig is being ranked much higher than this, and while his skills would say deservedly so, look at his season and the season of the guy ranked #18 on this list and tell me what of Puig’s 2013 was THAT much better than Rios?! Puig has power, speed, and a solid contact rate, so I’m not one who will predict a huge downfall (barring him getting behind the wheel and crashing), but I just think the hype will be bigger than the production here.
9. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays – On the opposite end of Puig is Bautista, who was an elite fantasy player for many years before a couple of injury-riddled seasons have seemingly put him out of the thoughts of many fantasy owners. Bautista is reportedly 100% now, and the last time he was this healthy, he was launching ball after ball out of his cozy Toronto surroundings. The difference is that he now has a lineup around him that should lead to guys on base when he slugs his big drives.
10. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins – Stanton could lead all of baseball in home runs in 2014 and still not top 100 RBI. The interesting thing about his 2013 was that the pitching around him never really materialized, mainly because he didn’t do a lot with what was offered to him. Stanton has the bat control to be a solid average hitter, but he tends to get pull-happy, especially when he’s frustrated, and being a one-trick pony in the lineup was frustrating for much of 2013. Christian Yelich and other young players on the way should help the lineup around him in 2014.
11. Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds – Bruce has been very steady the last few years. He’s a .260-.280 hitter with 30+ HR, and 195ish R/RBI. He doesn’t run much, but that’s like faulting a duck for not having a pretty song like other birds. He’s going to be at the center of a solid lineup in Cincinnati, so expect continued power and run production.
12. Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves – Upton’s April was historic. His May-September was simply okay. Like his running mate Heyward, moving up in the lineup seemed to spark better hitting in the second half of the season, and he could put up more runs than RBI, but should be a threat for very good power and even some steals as well.
13. Jacoby Ellsbury, New York Yankees – Ellsbury’s arrival in the Bronx has led to many projecting a return to monster power numbers for him due to the short porch in left field. I would be very surprised to see that, and I certainly won’t be one to expect it. The Yankee lineup has a lot of questions, and for a leadoff guy who relies on value in his steals and runs, he may lose one whole category of high-end production due to the team around him.
14. Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates – Marte’s first season in the bigs had a lot of people reminiscing about a young Andrew McCutchen. He has all the same skills in power and contact, but he may even have more speed. I’d not be surprised to see 15-20 home runs and 30+ steals from Marte in 2014, but with his youth, he has a wide variety of outcomes that could be feasible in 2014.
15. Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals – Gordon doesn’t flash at anyone with his production, but he racks up runs at the top of the Royals lineup, and he also has done well in producing double-digit home runs and steals with solid other numbers the last few years. He won’t likely be a 20+ home run guy or 20+ steal guy, but runs and average should be a carrying tool for him.
16. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers – Kemp could easily be a top 5 outfielder if he was healthy. He’s got a world of talent still, and he could be a 20/20 or even 30/30 guy if he’s fully healthy. Keep an eye on his spring and if he’s looking good and healthy, grab him while he’s still lowly rated before hype build by the end of the spring.
17. Shin-Soo Choo, Texas Rangers – Choo racked up a ton of runs with the Reds lineup last season and has a similarly solid lineup behind him in Texas in 2014. He gives owners solid average, good power, good speed, and elite runs, so his game is not hard to predict for owners.
18. Alex Rios, Texas Rangers – Rios seems to be completely under the radar of fantasy. I was able to get him during one of his better seasons in 2013 in a straight up trade for Nate McLouth in July. Rios gives you a solid average, good run production, and 20/20, which are a set of skills that are similar to Yasiel Puig, who everyone is falling over each other to draft in 2014. Wait and get Rios and enjoy the stud you could get at the same time as Puig along with Rios.
19. Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals – Holliday has certainly been a worthy free agent signing for a team that rarely dives into the free agent market. He’s not a 35 homer guy anymore or a .330 guy, but he’s going to give you a high average and 25ish home runs, which is certainly a solid producer.
20. Hunter Pence, San Francisco Giants – Pence blew people away in 2013 by being a top 10 outfielder in all of baseball in fantasy production. The number unlikely to repeat in 2014 is the steals. That said, a decent average, solid power, and solid run production should be repeatable, even in a park not known for being easy on right-handed hitters.
21. Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels – Hamilton’s 2013 was a lost season. He felt the pressure to support his team’s decision to give him a mammoth contract, and he pressed to the point where he was striking out at a ridiculous rate. Hamilton, if he is patient in his approach as he has been in the past, could be a good bounceback candidate to the point of elite power production and good run production with the lineup around him.
22. Carlos Beltran, New York Yankees – Beltran has been a top 15 guy the last two seasons, and while he may not be a spring chicken or a 30/30 guy anymore, Beltran is a consistent producer that will give owners good power, a few steals, and won’t hurt in runs or batting average either.
23. Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves – Heyward took to the leadoff position once he was moved there, and fantasy owners may want to make the gamble that he will return there with a vengeance in 2014. Heyward’s overall skills are worth a much higher ranking, but the uncertainty of his health and whether he’ll continue to respond well to hitting leadoff have him here as a possible value pick.
24. Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies – Cuddyer exploded with a huge batting average season last year, but he’s a solid producer across the board with more steals than you’d think, 20-30 homers and a solid average. Being in Colorado could lead to sustained high-end production, and having one of his better friends from his Twins days in Justin Morneau on the team could allow him to play loose and give fantasy owners even better numbers.
25. Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics – Cespedes won’t win a batting title, and he has some issues with injury bugs, but you cannot deny the raw athleticism when he’s on the field. Cespedes may possess one of the top 3-5 power bats in all of the major leagues, but he’ll sit in the 25-30 home run range until he can stay healthy enough to push beyond that.
26. Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays – Myers exploded onto the scene when he was called up midseason by the Rays. Owners expecting an extrapolated 2013 will have Myers much higher, but perhaps I’m pessimistic in my views of Myers as a 25ish home run, double-digit steals guy who could give you a solid average as well.
27. Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers – Jackson is an underrated asset in fantasy baseball. He’s not going to wow anyone with his home runs, steals, or batting average, though none of them will hurt you. The carrying thing for Jackson is that he is elite at scoring runs atop the Tigers lineup. He is behind only teammates Miguel Cabrera and Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton in runs scored since 2011. In fantasy, every stat category counts, and an elite runs guy like Jackson is as valuable to a team as a guy who hits 30 homers without much else.
28. Curtis Granderson, New York Mets – Granderson has been injured for much of the last two seasons, but he is in very good health currently. Granderson won’t be hitting 40 home runs without the short porch in Yankee Stadium, but he’s still a solid hitter who could put up 25-30 home runs with double-digit steals if he can stay healthy.
29. Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds – Hamilton is the fastest man in all of baseball. He could legitimately steal 100 bases if he was given 700 plate appearances. The worry I have is that he won’t hit enough to get those kind of at-bats, or else I’d have him ranked higher. He can absolutely be a category changer, though, so don’t sleep on him if you can get him in the middle of your draft.
30. Leonys Martin, Texas Rangers – Martin is a Cuban import that hasn’t gotten the publicity of Cespedes or Puig, but he put up a very good 2013 and he could be a great hitter going forward. Martin provides the Rangers with solid defense, so he should be in the lineup every day, and in fact, his competition for playing time in 2013, David Murphy and Craig Gentry, are both gone coming into 2014, so he should see a full array of plate appearances. He could put up numbers very near Ellsbury with a better lineup around him to boost his R/RBI totals.
Braves not ranked: B.J. Upton at #52. Upton blew up in 2013, and there’s a lot of reason to worry that he won’t ever be back to the top-25 fantasy outfielder he was coming into 2013. He’s got very solid speed and power, and if he can even find his way to a .230 batting average, he could be a solid value at the back-end of a fantasy lineup.
Position strategy: Go outfield early and go outfield often. It’s a position to find plenty of value both early and late. I participated in a mock draft where I picked last in the first round. I chose to pick one outfielder or starting pitcher in every turnaround I had, and I loved the outfield I was able to get, even with such a late draft position. Be careful not to rely too much on injury-prone guys like Bautista or Harper or young guys like Marte or Wil Myers, but there are plenty of strategies in the outfield that could make putting together the rest of your team much easier.