Tuesday March 3rd, 2015

By its very nature, outfield is always going to be the deepest offensive fantasy position. The logic here is simple—every major league team starts three outfielders, so there are more of them than any other position. And the outfield position offers everything to the fantasy community, as it should.

Quick links: Breakout | Sleeper | Deep sleeper | Bust | Prospect | Rankings

Fantasy Baseball Top 250 Rankings

Think about it this way: During your draft, it's unlikely that there will be a stretch of 10 consecutive picks without an outfielder’s name being called. In the current top 300 by average draft position, there are six gaps of at least 10 between adjacent outfielders, though all of those could be closed in any given draft. The consensus No. 1 overall player, Mike Trout, is an outfielder. The No. 2 ADP belongs to Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Checking in at No. 3 in Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton. The position contributes five of the top-10 players by ADP, 11 of the top 30, 19 of the top 50 and 30 of the top 100. Yes, 30% of the first 100 picks in a typical draft are outfielders.

Thanks to the position’s depth, there are values up and down the rankings. Here’s just a sampling of players not considered among the top 20 outfielders: Nelson Cruz (21), Charlie Blackmon (23), Jason Heyward (25), Jay Bruce (27), J.D. Martinez (32), Jorge Soler (35), Brett Gardner (39), Jayson Werth (41), Alex Rios (48), Joc Pederson (50). That depth also creates an opportunity for owners with a healthy risk appetite.

• Fantasy baseball 2015 draft kit: Everything you need to prep for your draft

One of the five pillars of draft success, covered in our draft strategies piece, was to avoid risk with hitters. The one great advantage hitters have over pitchers is that they’re predictable, whereas pitchers are volatile. By selecting high-priced hitters with a lot of risk, an owner is removing that advantage. While that is undoubtedly a precept of fantasy baseball, there is some wiggle room here with outfielders. The position is so deep, which means it will be easier to replace a risky pick who doesn't pan out in the outfield rather than at a middle infield spot.

Is this the year Bryce Harper stakes his claim as perennial superstar?

This thinking applies directly to four players in particular: Michael Brantley, Ryan Braun, Bryce Harper and Carlos Gonzalez. All of them are going to come at a premium and can be seen as riskier than average, at their expected price point, for a specific reason. For Brantley, who’s coming off the board late in the second round, the question is was last year for real? Anyone who rosters Braun will have to evaluate how much of his 2014 power outage was due to injury. Harper and CarGo, meanwhile, have injury questions hanging over their heads. Any prospective owner of these four players has to weigh the risk of the player answering that question in the negative, with the benefit of him answering in the positive.

There’s no doubt about what these four players can do when they’re at their best. We saw it with Brantley just last year and with Braun all the way through 2012. Harper was neck-and-neck with Trout for a time when both were rookies. Gonzalez has always been one of the most dangerous hitters in the game, when healthy. We know that if these four players answer the bell, they will turn a huge profit, even at their high draft-day prices. If they don’t, their owners will have lost a valuable pick.

The good news, however, and the reason that you can justify taking the risk, is because of the inherent insurance policy that is the outfield position. Scroll back up and look at those players selected outside the top 20. Jayson Werth is the 41st outfielder off the board in an average draft. All he did last year was hit .292/.394/.455 with 16 homers, 82 RBI and 85 runs. The year before, he had a .403 wOBA, hit .318, posted a .930 OPS, slugged 25 homers, and enjoyed an MVP boomlet. I’m not saying he should be drafted higher (well, maybe), but I am saying that his presence, and the presence of other similar players, makes risk early in the outfield position much more palatable.

• ​POSITION PRIMERS: SP | RP | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | C

Breakout: Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates

Let’s revisit the second half of last season when Marte was one of the best hitters in baseball. He slashed .348/.408/.567 with eight homers, and his .426 wOBA was tops in the league—one one-hundredth of a point better than Buster Posey. After posting a 27.7% strikeout rate in the first half, Marte cut that to 18% after the All-Star break.

Marte made two fundamental changes in the second half, trading a leg kick for a toe tap and quieting his head movement in the box, manager Clint Hurdle said to the Pittsburgh Post. At 26 years old, Marte is on the cusp of his theoretical prime. He could very well be the guy he was in the second half last year for all of 2015, making him an easy top-10 outfielder, and a potential first-round pick.

Sleeper: Denard Span, Washington Nationals

There’s no shortage of options here, from Kole Calhoun to Jason Heyward to Brandon Moss to Mookie Betts. We covered all those guys in other spots of our preview coverage, so let’s turn an eye to Span. We know who he is at this point of his career, and that is a valuable, underrated fantasy baseball asset. The 30-year-old hit .302/.355/.416 with 31 steals and 94 runs last year. Span has a career .286 batting average, .352 OBP and .320 BABIP, to go along with strong walk and strikeout rates. He’s going to be a plus in whichever rate category your league uses, and can be a significant contributor to both runs and steals, especially on top of a strong Washington lineup. He carries an ADP of 166.61, making him the 45th outfielder off the board in a typical draft. Span finished as the No. 18 outfielder last season, but he doesn’t have to match those numbers to turn a profit for his owners, based on his wildly affordable draft-day price.

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Deep sleeper: Avisail Garcia, Chicago White Sox

Again, there are plenty of candidates for this spot. I could have gone with Oswaldo Arcia, Wil Myers, Steven Souza, Dexter Fowler, among others. Garcia, the centerpiece of the Jake Peavy/Jose Iglesias trade, at least from the White Sox’ perspective, got his first significant taste of the majors last year, hitting .244/.305/.413 with seven homers and four steals in 190 plate appearances. Garcia enters the year as the White Sox’ starting right fielder, which should net him somewhere in the neighborhood of 550 plate appearances. Garcia is just 23 years old (his birthday is in June) and brings a potentially dangerous power/speed combo to the table. Steamer projects him for 18 homers and nine steals, with a .264 batting average that any owner could swallow. If he hits those projections, he’ll seriously outperform his 183.43 ADP.

Bust: Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals

I’ve already written about value busts Billy Hamilton and Ryan Braun, so let’s move on to Gordon. The following exercise worked well in our shortstop primer, so let’s recreate it here. Based on Steamer projections, which player would you rather have?

Player A: .270/.344/.431, 18 homers, 72 RBI, 77 runs, nine steals
Player B: .264/.307/.419, 18 homers, 67 RBI, 60 runs, nine steals

Will former MVP front-runners Kemp, Braun turn a profit for owners?

Steamer believes these two players will be remarkably similar this year, with Player A producing slightly more in fantasy leagues, thanks to an edge in runs, batting average and OBP. However, the difference between the two is borderline negligible. Player A, however, is coming off the board a full five rounds before Player B in a typical 12-team draft, and that is not at all negligible.

The identities of these two players, you ask? Player A, not surprisingly, is Alex Gordon. Player B is Avisail Garcia. Gordon gave away more line drives for the second straight season in 2014, this time hitting more fly balls. He did experience a slight uptick in power, but he’s not going to turn into a 25-homer guy in his age-31 season. Gordon is a fine fantasy player, and an even better real-life player, but his production does not come close to matching his ADP. If you’re thinking about drafting Gordon, wait five rounds and draft a player who will likely match, if not exceed, his numbers.

Prospect: Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers

Joger Soler is a little too well known for this slot, and Byron Buxton, the top prospect in all of baseball according to MLB.com, is likely still a year away from the majors. Pederson should have an everyday, or near-everyday, spot in the Dodgers' lineup after being shut out by the logjam last season. He absolutely dominated at Triple-A Albuquerque last year, hitting .303/.435/.582 with 33 homers and 30 steals. He has legitimate power to all fields, and could hit 20 homers in his rookie season. There will almost certainly be some growing pains for the soon-to-be 23-year-old, but the ceiling on his career is likely higher than that of Yasiel Puig. If he's available in your league, he's well worth a roll of the dice.

Early outfielder rankings

Tier one

1. Mike Trout

Tier two

2. Andrew McCutchen
3. Giancarlo Stanton
4. Carlos Gomez
5. Adam Jones
6. Jose Bautista

Tier three

7. Yasiel Puig
8. Michael Brantley
9. Justin Upton
10. Hanley Ramirez
11. Bryce Harper
12. Corey Dickerson
13. Starling Marte

Tier four

14. Jacoby Ellsbury
15. Carlos Gonzalez
16. Ryan Braun
17. Hunter Pence
18. George Springer
19. Matt Kemp
20. Billy Hamilton

Tier five

21. Yoenis Cespedes
22. Matt Holliday
23. Jorge Soler
24. Kole Calhoun
25. Charlie Blackmon
26. Nelson Cruz
27. Mookie Betts
28. Jay Bruce
29. Jason Heyward
30. Christian Yelich
31. Chris Carter
32. Jayson Werth

Tier six

33. Brett Gardner
34. Brandon Moss
35. Ryan Zimmerman
36. J.D. Martinez
37. Marcell Ozuna
38. Shin-Soo Choo
39. Alex Gordon
40. Mark Trumbo
41. Denard Span
42. Alex Rios
43. Leonys Martin
44. Ben Revere

Tier seven

45. Josh Harrison
46. Gregory Polanco
47. Wil Myers
48. A.J. Pollock
49. Lorenzo Cain
50. Rajai Davis
51. Adam Eaton
52. Austin Jackson
53. Torii Hunter
54. Avisail Garcia
55. Ben Zobrist
56. Khris Davis
57. Oswaldo Arcia
58. Danny Santana
59. Michael Cuddyer
60. Marlon Bryd
61. Melky Cabrera

Tier eight

62. Coco Crisp
63. Rusney Castillo
64. Yasmany Tomas
65. Steve Pearce
66. Carlos Beltran
67. Joc Pederson
68. Steven Souza
69. Nick Markakis
70. Desmond Jennings
71. Carl Crawford
72. Curtis Granderson
73. Dexter Fowler
74. Arismendy Alcantara
75. Angel Pagan

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