Fantasy Preview: Outfielders

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The talent in the outfield has dropped off from where it was a few years ago, when it seemed you couldn't swing a bat without conking it into an All-Star outfielder, particularly in the National League. In particular, speed is not as easy to come by as it used to be -- only two outfielders are projected for even 30 steals, whereas at shortstop alone there are three such players. Even elite home run hitters are hard to find; only two of the top 11 projected home run totals come in the outfield.

But if you can live with the fact that there are no true category-busters to be had, you'll live well picking from the wide variety of second-tier talent. There are more than 30 outfielders who project for double figures in both homers and steals, guaranteeing that you won't run out of desirable players even as your draft reaches the endgame.

PECOTA stubbornly refuses to believe that a player with Soriano's skill set will continue to lead off. The Cubs stubbornly cling to the idea that he's a leadoff hitter, which will eat into that RBI total but might help in the steals department. No matter where he bats, his freakish ability to make hard contact on bad pitches means he'll contribute across the board.

Young made big contributions as a rookie last seasonin homers and stolen bases, but was a disappointment in the other three categories. That changes this year -- young players with this kind of power and speed are not going to hit .237 every year, and Young's RBI total last year was the result of a flukishly-bad performance with runners in scoring position. He's a potential five-category monster, and he's only 24.

Holliday has increased his batting average, home runs, runs and RBIs every year he's been in the majors. Don't expect that to continue, but expect him to be an MVP candidate again this year. He's projected to have the highest average of any outfielder, and Coors Field assures him of more at-bats than your typical player, which means even more of a boost to your team's batting average.

In real life, Sizemore might be the best center fielder in the game, and he's still improving. Last year he drew 101 walks, and all those extra times on first base led to a career-high 33 steals. He's just 25 and might have one big jump left in his development curve -- don't be surprised if he's No. 1 on this list a year from now.

Make sure you move Dunn down a few slots if you believe that Dusty Baker's blatherings about how Dunn needs to be more aggressive are going to be an issue in Cincinnati. Dunn's walks might not help you, but it's his patient approach that leads to so many of the homers that do.

Crawford is a fantastic player, but he's reaching the age where his steals totals are likely to slowly erode, and time is running out for him to show the power spike he needs to become a full, five-category player. If the Rays' young offense is as good as a lot of people say it is, he'll crash the century mark in runs scored with ease.

Players this tall -- Hart's listed at 6-6 -- are not supposed to run this fast. But they are supposed to hit for prodigious power, so his home run potential should counteract any potential loss of speed. Don't fool yourself into thinking last year was a fluke -- PECOTA has been projecting a breakout for Hart for a few years now.

When he's on his game and completely healthy, Beltran might be the best fantasy outfielder in baseball. But he always seems to be battling minor injuries, and you can't be sure that he won't give you another clunker of a season like 2005 was.

As much as the Astros overpaid for Lee, he is the perfect fit for their park -- last season he hit .345-17-68 at home, just .262-15-51 on the road. The problem is, as his road numbers show, he's already starting to slip. And the Astros' offense won't be doing him any favors this year.

Lee's teammate, on the other hand, is on his way up, and Pence hit equally well on the road and at home. Some regression to the mean is inevitable this year, but even so PECOTA forecasts that Lee is worth only 25 cents more than Pence, and that's entirely due to Lee's impressive durability.

If your league uses triples as a category, Granderson's a first-rounder. Some of those triples might turn into homers this year, but Granderson's the rare player whose platoon splits might be an issue in fantasy. He's had so little success against left-handed pitching (.202 career average) that opposing managers are going to be sure to send out a steady diet of lefty relievers against him in the later innings. Caveat emptor.

PECOTA forecasts that the scourge of many a fantasy team last year will bounce back at least a little for the Dodgers -- Hall of Fame talents aren't supposed to be washed up at 30. But his days as one of the game's best center fielders may be over.

Raise your hand if you saw 50 stolen bases coming. Yeah, me neither. PECOTA isn't buying it, but projects him to maintain his performance in every other category. The Diamondbacks love him, and at $10 million a year you can rest easy that he won't go back to being a platoon player anytime soon.

Rios is a five-category player who's still improving. Only in his mid-20s, a breakout season might be coming ... unfortunately, that's what was said about his teammate Vernon Wells a year ago. Unless Fantasy Disappointment Syndrome is a contagious disease, Rios should continue to be a very solid player; consider his projection above to be more of a baseline.

No, we don't know what Omar Minaya was thinking either. Nationals GM Jim Bowden loves guys like Milledge who sweat tools out of their pores. PECOTA strongly feels that, playing everyday, he'll live up to the hype.

Frenchy was a mild disappointment last year as his homers dropped from 29 to 19 -- but his doubles jumped from 24 to 40, and at his age (just 24) that's a very strong indicator that more homers are on their way. His plate discipline also improved significantly last year, and he hasn't missed a game in two years.

Rowand is 30 years old, coming off a career year, and just left one of the best homer parks in baseball -- where he batted in the middle of one of the game's best offenses. Instead he'll play in San Francisco, where the homers are hard to come by and where he's likely to be sandwiched in the lineup between Randy Winn and Ray Durham -- and that's the heart of the Giants' lineup.