March 14, 2017

Despite the outfield laying claim to not just the consensus number one selection in fantasy baseball drafts this coming season (Mike Trout), but generally the second player off the board (Mookie Betts) as well, the position is not quite as strong as one would usually assume.

Marred by injury and some less than stellar 2016 campaigns from former stalwarts, outfield quickly becomes a study in debating the merit of small sample sizes, incremental growth in prior seasons, and mining for bounce-back years from notable names.

As always, it's a position where speed can be found late. An important factor when you consider we're coming off a season that saw 38 players hit 30-plus home runs but only 14 steal 30-plus bases.

SLEEPER

Jose Bautista, Blue Jays. It's odd to consider Jose Bautista a sleeper, yet people are overreacting to a down 2016. Yes, the injuries continue to pile up for the now 36 year-old Bautista, a problem that Toronto brass might not have helped by all but eliminating DH opportunities with the signing of the stone-footed Kendrys Morales. But there's reason for optimism. Bautista was one of just five players last season with more than 500 plate appearances to post a hard contact rate above 40 percent with a swinging strike rate in the single-digits. The others: Mike Trout, David Ortiz, Josh Donaldson, and Matt Carpenter. Plus, even with the loss of longtime running mate Edwin Encarnacion, PECOTA still likes the Jays to finish with a top 5 offense. With Bautista's ability to consistently maintain a well above average on-base percentage, there will be counting stats aplenty to be had by owning a player now going outside the top 100 in most standard formats.

DEEP SLEEPER

David Peralta, Diamondbacks. His 2016 season was cut to just 48 games by a wrist injury, but before that forgettable stretch of time, Peralta was a name to be feared by all right-handed pitchers. Peralta hit .325 with a .936 OPS against righties in 2015, good for the 10th highest figure of the 156 qualified players. Now, that average will be affected if manager Torey Lovullo is truly unwilling to platoon Peralta with someone more adept at hitting southpaws, yet the counting stats added with everyday at bats should be enough to dispel any concerns. Really, Peralta's just a guy set to get middle of the order at-bats daily, playing half his games at a field that's been runner-up to Coors as the best run scoring park two of the last three years according to ESPN Park Factors. Sounds like a buying window.

BUST

Ryan Braun, Brewers. Sometimes a renaissance isn't quite as it appears. For his 2016 owners, Ryan Braun's return to the 30 home run club must have been pretty incredible. The issue here is, the numbers just don't back up a repeat performance. Among the 38 players to club 30 home runs in 2016, 37, predictably, hit a lot of fly balls, registering fly ball rates above 30 percent. Braun not only was the sole player not to crest that 30 percent plateau, he didn't even come close, putting up a very modest 25.1 percent figure and the league's sixth highest ground ball rate. It wouldn't be outside of the realm of possibility for Braun's fly ball total to rise again in 2017, however his batted ball profile had been trending this direction for some time since his MVP days nearly a half decade ago. It's also understandably unwise to rely upon a player who hasn't recorded 600-plus plate appearances since 2012 for counting stats. The 33 year-old should still hit .290 and steal 10-12 bases.

GARION'S TOP 36 OF

1. Mike Trout - Angels

2. Mookie Betts - Red Sox

3. Bryce Harper - Nationals

4. Charlie Blackmon - Rockies

5. Trea Turner - Nationals

6. Starling Marte - Pirates

7. A.J. Pollock - Diamondbacks

8. George Springer - Astros

9. Giancarlo Stanton - Marlins

10. Nelson Cruz - Mariners

11. J.D. Martinez - Tigers

12. Gregory Polanco - Pirates

13. Yoenis Cespedes - Mets

14. Billy Hamilton - Reds

15. Ian Desmond - Rockies

16. Carlos Gonzalez - Rockies

17. Ryan Braun - Brewers

18. Andrew McCutchen - Pirates

19. Christian Yelich - Marlins

20. Mark Trumbo - Orioles

21. Jose Bautista - Blue Jays

22. Justin Upton - Tigers

23. Kyle Schwarber - Cubs

24. Matt Kemp - Braves

25. Khris Davis - Athletics

26. Adam Eaton - Nationals

27. Adam Jones - Orioles

28. Odubel Herrera - Phillies

29. David Dahl - Rockies

30. Miguel Sano - Twins

31. Lorenzo Cain - Royals

32. Jackie Bradley Jr. - Red Sox

33. Yasmany Tomas - Diamondbacks

34. Byron Buxton - Twins

35. Kevin Kiermaier - Rays

36. Joc Pederson - Dodgers

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This column was provided to The Associated Press by the Fantasy Sports Network, http://FNTSY.com .

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