The best baseball player in the world, Mike Trout, is an outfielder. The top-two players by ADP, Trout and Mookie Betts, are outfielders. Last year’s MVPs, Betts and Christian Yelich, are outfielders. Five of the top nine picks in a typical fantasy draft, Trout, Betts, Yelich, J.D. Martinez (in fantasy terms) and Ronald Acuña, are outfielders. More than one-third of the top-30 players by average draft position—the five already listed plus Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Charlie Blackmon, Andrew Benintendi and Juan Soto—are outfielders. I could go on, but you should already get the point by now. This is a loaded position.
The outfield's relative strength in fantasy leagues, however, isn’t artificially inflated by volume. When five of the top-10 and 11 of the top-30 picks are coming from one position, you know that it’s got more than its fair share of star power.
All that depth, however, makes outfield a unique position to attack in fantasy baseball leagues. No one would blame you for grabbing, say, Acuña, Judge and Rhys Hoskins as your first three picks in a draft. At the same time, you could wait on the position and build a group headlined by a trio of David Dahl, A.J. Pollock and Michael Brantley. Or you could end up with some mix of the two, with one superstar anchoring a strong overall group. What’s more, you wouldn’t need to be too deliberate in your approach. There are so many outfielders, most of whom are fairly priced, that you could go into a draft or auction not knowing exactly what you’re going to do at the position, and come out with one of the best sets of outfielders in your league. Star power, depth and a diversity of winning approaches makes building an outfield one of the true joys of draft day.
Three Burning Questions
1. Just how down was Bryce Harper’s down year?
Down enough for him to be a free agent at the start of spring training, right? In all seriousness, you’ll likely find a take or two saying that Harper isn’t worth his draft-day price, which places him early in the second round of a typical draft. Much of that case will rest on his numbers from last year, perceived by many to be a down season. Sure, Harper didn’t come close to matching his 2017 numbers, and his strikeout rate shot up to 24.3%, the second-highest single-season K-rate of his career. Still, to call Harper’s 2018 a down season is to admit that he remains a singular force with one of the highest ceilings in the league. Otherwise, you’d look at a campaign like his from last season and call it a career year.
Here are the grisly details of Harper’s down year. He hit .249/.393/.496 with 34 homers, 34 doubles, 100 RBI, 103 runs and 13 steals. He had a 133 OPS+, which tied him with Nolan Arenado for 21st in the league. Some players who fell short of a 133 OPS+ included Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, Javier Baez, Giancarlo Stanton and Rhys Hoskins. Prefer wOBA as your catch-all statistic for measuring offensive value? That’s cool, Harper was pretty great there, too. His .376 wOBA tied for 14th with Eugenio Suarez, ahead of the likes of Matt Carpenter, Jesus Aguilar, Xander Bogearts, Jose Altuve and Matt Chapman, as well as Lindor, Baez, Hoskins and plenty of others. That is hardly a down year.
Let’s consider this from a purely fantasy perspective where the standard offensive categories are homers, RBI, runs, steals and OBP (don’t tell me you’re still playing with batting average). We’ll round down to the nearest 10 to make things a bit cleaner, and also to cast our net a bit wider. Guess how many players hit thresholds of 30 homers, 100 RBI, 100 runs, 10 steals and a .390 OBP? That would be three: Harper, Christian Yelich and Alex Bregman.
Few players can come close to matching Harper’s across the board production, and fewer still have his overall ceiling. Oh, right, this seems a good time to mention that this is still just his age-26 season. A non-comprehensive list of players older than Harper includes Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez, Kris Bryant and Yelich. Forget about Harper being overvalued on draft day. The truth is he’s undervalued. He’s a first-round pick at a second-round price.
2. Based on ADP, who is your must-have outfielder this season?
There’s an outfielder coming off a season in which he hit .293/.352/.516 with 30 homers and 87 RBI in 614 plate appearances. His OPS+ was better than that of Andrew Benintendi, Justin Upton, Anthony Rizzo, Charlie Blackmon and Cody Bellinger. He had a higher wOBA than Giancarlo Stanton, Javier Baez, Jose Altuve, Rhys Hoskins and Scooter Gennett. Those 10 players all have ADPs in the top 100, with Upton ranking last at 95.23. Their average ADP is 41.93. So, where do you suppose this player rankings? Maybe somewhere in the top 70, and definitely inside the top 100, right? Moreover, who do you think he is.
This player—with the .293/.352/.516 slash and the 30 homers and the OPS+ better than Benintendi and Bellinger, and the wOBA better than Baez and Hoskins—is David Peralta. His ADP is 129.44. If I have my way, he will be on 100% of my teams this season.
Consider the players with whom Peralta is rubbing elbows in his ADP neighborhood: Catchers like Salvador Perez and Willson Contreras; hitters with obvious red flags like Tim Anderson and Rougned Odor; closers like Wade Davis and Kirby Yates; starting pitchers with glaring flaws like Chris Archer and Masahiro Tanaka. And then there’s Peralta, who ranked 28th among outfielders and 76th among all players in standard 5x5 leagues last year. This is a guy who should have the same draft-day cost as Perez and Odor and Yates? Absolutely not. Make Peralta one of your prime targets this season.
3. Who’s a deep sleeper at fantasy baseball’s deepest position?
The Padres’ signing of Manny Machado further squeezed what was already a crowded outfield. With Machado on board, Wil Myers moves from third base to the outfield. He’ll likely get some time at third with Mahcado at short and Luis Urias or Ian Kinsler on the bench, but how long before Fernando Tatis Jr. is a fixture in San Diego? The Padres are going to have to be creative in deploying their outfielders, and will likely look to trade one or two for pitching depth.
If I were running the Padres, getting Franmil Reyes playing time would be one of my outfield priorities. The 23-year-old spent about half the season with the big league club last year, hitting .280/.340/.498 with 16 homers and 31 RBI. He didn’t long enough time to qualify for the batting title, but if he had his 130 OPS+ would’ve tied him for 25th with Nicholas Castellanos, ahead of players like Trevor Story and Giancarlo Stanton. Before getting the call to the majors, Reyes slashed .324/.428/.614 with 16 homers in 250 plate appearances at Triple-A El Paso. He spent all of the previous season, when he was 21 years old, at Double-A San Antonio, slugging .464 and belting 25 homers in 566 plate appearances. The power is for real, something for which he find supporting evidence in Reyes’ batted-ball data.
Gabriel Baumgaertner uncovered a few great nuggets on Reyes’ pop and included them in the addendum to our MLB Top 100. Reyes’ hard-hit rate of 47.5% was higher than that of Mike Trout, Ronald Acuña and Khris Davis. He had a higher average exit velocity, 92.3 mph, than Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich and new teammate Machado. With that sort of raw and in-game power and an ADP outside the top 200, Reyes should be starred on your cheat sheets.