In fantasy baseball, the outfield position differs from the other positions in several ways. First, owners have to draft five outfielders, which is the most of any single position (yes, owners have to draft nine pitchers, but you can draft any combination of starters and relievers). Also, owners don't have to draft based on specific outfield positions. The outfield positions are usually a bit different from each other, like how center fielders are also usually fast guys with good instincts on base abilities, or how right fielders better bring some power. Can you imagine if fantasy owners drafted an infield based on those same rules?
Fantasy owners usually find outfielders to be invaluable to their fantasy lineup. It's the only position that has a great mix of all five hitting categories. As a matter of fact, three of the four players in MLB history to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a single season were outfielders. And of the seven players that were part of the 30-30 club over the past five seasons, five were outfielders (2B Ian Kinsler also did it twice).
Owners can snag five-category studs and one-category mercenaries from the outfield position, and keep in mind that there are plenty of players with potential available late in drafts, allowing owners to fill other positions sooner.
Is there a debate at No. 1?
Mike Trout is not your average player. In 2013, I actually warned people against taking Trout first or second overall. My reasoning was sound, in that a player coming off of such an insanely good rookie season was due to come back to earth the following season. Add in all of the outside attention, and there were plenty of reasons to think he'd regress a bit in 2013.
I was wrong. Trout is the best fantasy player in the game right now, and he has a chance to stay there for the next five seasons. Trout's only 22 years old (turning 23 in August), which means he's nowhere near his prime power years (usually age 26-28), and he's just shy of a decade away from the dropoff age (around age 30).
If he's left on the board after the first two picks of a draft, you lose.
Comeback player: Ryan Braun
Sure, Ryan Braun missed the final 65 games of the 2013 season due to a Biogenesis-related suspension, but fantasy owners should feel good about drafting Braun in round 2. Why?
Well, in a vacuum, he would regularly post 100 runs scored, .300 batting average, 35 homers, 110 RBI and 25 steals. We know PEDs help talented hitters be amazing, but we don't know by how much to dial Braun's numbers back -- it could be a small amount. Also, fantasy owners drafting Braun last year added him to a team knowing that he might be suspended. That worry is no longer present.
The 30-year-old is still in his prime power and speed range. It might be too much of a risk to draft him in the first round, but he's a solid grab in the second round.
Breakout: Ben Revere
Last season, Revere was a favorite to explode as the Phillies' leadoff man. Not only did he not explode, but he was moved out of the top spot in the lineup, and then broke his foot, ending his season early. His owners undoubtedly remember his .200 batting average and five steals in the month of April. He likely got cut in many formats before he turned it up in his final 39 games of the season, when he hit .365 (with a .389 OBP) with 12 steals.
While Revere's not going to get you much at all in the power categories, he more than makes up for it with 50-stolen base potential. At just 25 years old, he has plenty of mileage left on those wheels.
Potential bust: Adam Jones
Jones has improved a little bit each season to the point where he finds himself among the top 10 picks in many fantasy drafts. He's a free swinger, drawing the seventh-fewest walks in baseball among qualified hitters, and he's riding a razor's edge between ultra-productive and just pretty good. However, his consistency will come back to haunt him, which is why we think he'll drop back a bit this year, averaging 82 runs, .284 batting, 25 home runs, 78 RBI and 11 stolen bases.
Very good -- not great.
Sleeper: Adam Eaton
Eaton was a popular sleeper pick last spring training until a freak injury cost him most of his rookie season. In the offseason, he was traded to the White Sox, who are looking to boost their offense after finishing 29th in runs scored last season. Along with bringing in Eaton, the South Siders signed slugger Jose Abreu.
While others are looking for a promising rookie, you can wait a couple more rounds to snatch up Eaton. The less-touted sophomore brings as much promise as any untested rookie, and shouldn't be drafted until rounds 19 and 20.
Top prospect: George Springer, Oscar Taveras
If the Astros stand firm and send Springer back to the minors, he'll come much cheaper in drafts. Springer pounded 37 homers and stole 45 bases last season, but the Astros will likely keep him in the minors until May, to keep his service time down. If you have any bench spots, he makes for an excellent late pick.
In the NL, Taveras has been touted as a future Rookie of the Year and perennial All-Star for the Cardinals -- but he needs a place to play in the Cardinals' outfield. He can hit for power and average, and should become a fixture for years once he arrives. An ankle injury cost him some time in 2013, but offseason surgery should fix any qualms about that. An injury in the Cardinals outfield could be all Taveras needs to become a fantasy mainstay for the next decade.
Our rankings only look at players who play the outfield as their primary position, or played at least 20 games there in their more recent season in the major leagues. Some other players of note with different eligibility requirements are below:
• 10 games: Logan Forsythe (14 games last season)
• Five games: Brandon Inge (6), Luke Scott (6)
• One game: Yonder Alonso (1), Yuniesky Betancourt (2), Matt Carpenter (2), Adam Dunn (3), Todd Frazier (2), Eric Hosmer (1), Howie Kendrick (1), Russell Martin (1), Mitch Moreland (1), Jhonny Peralta (3), Jurickson Profar (4), Jemile Weeks (2)
David Gonos is a fantasy sports veteran of over 20 years and over 100 fantasy leagues. You can also follow/mock him @davidgonos on Twitter.