In 2019, 24 players hit 30 home runs or more who qualified at outfield. The best player at the position was Ronald Acuna (.280 with 127 runs, 41 home runs, 101 RBI, and 37 steals over 626 at-bats), leading to a SIscore of 12.36. Jorge Soler finished with the most home runs (48) and RBI (117).
Twelve players scored over 100 runs, and eight players delivered over 100 RBI.
In 2018, nine outfielders scored 100 runs or more, and four players drove in over 100 runs. Nine batters had over 30 home runs.
Here’s a grid showing the final stats for 2019 for the top 12 players at each position and their value ranked by SIscore (I didn’t use 2020 data due to a small sample size):
In 2019, the average of the top 12 outfielders hit .291 with 105 runs, 37 home runs, 98 RBI, and 14 stolen bases over 549 at-bats. The outfield position ranked first in overall hitter value.
For comparison, here are the projections (3/15) for the top 12 outfielders at Sports Illustrated ranked by SIscore:
The stats highlighted by the yellow line show the average projections (.293 with 106 runs, 33 home runs, 96 RBI, and 19 steals over 559 at-bats) for the top 12 outfielders in 2021.
Outfielders Nos. 1 to 12
Here’s a look at the top 12 outfielders by 2021 NFBC ADP (from March 8th through March 15th):
The front of the outfield player pool could be the best since I’ve been playing high-stakes baseball. Each player has their plusses, which comes down to team structure and your draft plan.
Ronald Acuna is next and followed by Fernando Tatis Jr. in skill set and expected output. The winner will be the player that does the better job cutting down their strikeouts. Acuna has the better supporting cast. While fantasy owners chase the dual ace theory, a Royal Flush beats all if a hitter produces a significant edge in all five categories.
The Nationals’ fans are in for a treat, hopefully for the next decade with Juan Soto's bat. At age 22, he already has an elite approach, setting the stage for an electric batting average. His swing path should be his next growth area, and Soto already stated he wants to run more. I want to own him as much as I can this year, but I can’t pass on Fernando Tatis if he’s available. A fantasy owner should think of him as Albert Pujols in his price with much more speed.
Mookie Betts plays for one of the top-scoring teams in baseball that has a ton of power. He has an afterthought feel compared to Acuna and Soto, but Betts could very well produce a 30/30 season with a difference-maker batting average.
The great Mike Trout lost some of his projected feel in stolen bases, pushing him to fourth in the outfield rankings. He talks plenty of walks with a swing that has league-high upside in home runs. The Angels lineup continues to improve. Trout hasn’t had over 475 at-bats since 2016, which is another reason why his draft value is behind the other developing hitters.
For a fantasy owner drafting later in the first round, Yelich almost has a gift feel. He lost his strike zone control last year, which led to a massive spike in his strikeout rate. I expect him to regain his growth in 2021, leading to another five-tool season. If Yelich lowers his ground ball rate, his power would have more upside.
Outfielders Nos. 13 to 24
Bryce Harper has become the forgotten stud at outfield. He has all the tools to produce an elite season. The key to his success will be a much higher batting average when putting the ball in play, something he has done well in the past. Harper has a great approach with light-tower power if all the pieces come together. He projects as the top target for a fantasy team targeting an ace in the first round.
The coin flip decision for many fantasy owners will be the winner in overall value between Kyle Tucker and Luis Robert. Both players have 30+ stolen base upside with a high floor in power. I sense that Tucker is a half-year ahead of Robert in his development, but Robert has the higher ceiling once he controls the strike zone better.
Eloy Jimenez is on the verge of greatness if he can stay healthy al;l year. His approach trails the top power hitters in the game, but he hits the ball hard and far when it is in play. The White Sox have a developing lineup, pointing a fun ride as a second piece to an offensive puzzle.
For a fantasy owner looking for a player with a 20/20 skill set in the fourth round of drafts, Starling Marte has the most attractive and proven profile at the backend of the top 12 outfield pool.
In the early draft season, Randy Arozarena rode his postseason success to a third-round ADP. As the calendar flipped to March and his production slowed in spring training, he drifted slightly backward in his value. I’m torn between an overachiever or a possible difference-maker.
Michael Conforto, Nick Castellanos, and Eddie Rosario offer power while each player continues to improve. They will all hit in a favorable part of the batting order. If given a choice, I would target Nick Castellanos as I don’t believe we’ve seen his ceiling.
Trent Grisham picked up a hamstring issue in March, but he should be ready for opening day. His walk rate is top-shelf, with the ability to hit for power and steal bases. Grisham needs to prove he can handle left-handed pitching while doing a better job getting on base when he puts the ball in play.
The value/upside player in the second outfield grouping looks to be Austin Meadows. He appeared to be the real deal in 2019 while also owning more underlying speed. Tampa will hit him in the top third of their batting order. Meadows has the feel of a 30/15 player without adding in the 2021 ball change.
The player with a chance to push much higher in power is Lourdes Gurriel. His swing looks poised to deliver a 30/100 season, and the Blue Jay will give him chances to bat cleanup.
Colorado lost their top power bat in the offseason, which puts pressure on Charlie Blackmon to be a big part of their offense. His power and average projects well while losing his value in steals.
This season J.D. Martinez doesn’t have an outfield qualification in many leagues, which is part of his depressed draft value. He struggled last year, but his previous four years paint an impactful picture. Martinez will see time in the Red Sox outfield, and I view him as a winning pick in this area of the draft.
Outfielders No. 25 to 36
Early in his career, I bet on Byron Buxton many times. Injuries and struggles to make contact led to missed games and underachieving stats. His power flashed last year while still owning the wheels to offer plus speed if he wants to run. His ADP (110) still has a reach feel due to only 154 games played over the previous three seasons.
There is no doubt Giancarlo Stanton has 40+ home run upside, and he looks misplaced based on his ADP. His injury-prone tag weighs heavy on his expected value, and many fantasy owners don’t want to lock up their DH early in drafts.
The moveable piece for speed in drafts in 2021 will be Victor Robles. He has a unique combination of power and speed despite having a relatively weak hard-hit rate. Multiple fantasy owners will target him in drafts, but only one will time him right. Don’t be fooled by his price point, and pay a premium for his potential upside.
Last year Wil Myers played well, but he lost his expected value in steals. He projects to have batting average risk while hitting a talented Padres’ lineup.
Ramon Laureano gave fantasy owners a scare in mid-March when he suffered what looked like an oblique issue. The injury appears to be minor, giving him a chance to be ready for opening day. Laureano hits for a high-average when he puts the ball in play with the talent to be a 20/20 player.
I’m not in the Dylan Carlson breakout camp, but he should do enough to help fantasy teams. The Cardinals will hit him lower in the batting order, and Carlson needs to prove he can hit for average before reaching an impactful status.
Outfielders Nos. 37 to 48
The fourth group of outfielders looks messy, with multiple players having a chance to bust. Often, team development sets the path for the shopping aisle for fantasy owners in this area of the draft.
Shohei Ohtani may very well earn the MVP honors in 2021 if he pitches up to his abilities and regains his power. The trick is having the foresight to manage his playing time between pitching and hitting. Last year I pushed on him as a potential arm, with his batting only being a bonus. Ohtani is tempting if he falls far enough in drafts.
The chase for speed will lead some fantasy owners to Leody Taveras. I don’t believe he is major league ready, which means a trip to AAA even if he makes the major league roster out of spring training. His glove grades well, but Texas won’t let him flounder too long with his bat before sending down for seasoning.
Max Kepler has yet to find his batting average stroke in the majors. He delivered a breakthrough in power in 2019, creating some trust in his fantasy value and floor. There’s more here than meets the eye if/when Kepler puts all the offensive pieces together.
Andrew McCutchen has the fading veteran feel, but he does have a leadoff opportunity. His best value should come in runs while chipping in power and steals. The days of him helping in batting average look to be over. Despite his expected shortfalls, McCutchen does make sense for some teams in this area of the draft.
The misplaced outfielder in the fourth tier/grouping looks to be Andrew Benintendi. At age 26, he already has two productive years (.271/84/20/90/20 and .290/103/16/87/21) while losing momentum in 2019 and 2020. The Royals want to run, and Benintendi will bat in the top third of the batting order. Realistically, he should have a top-30 outfield ADP.