The season is upon us, let alone the fantasy draft season. Outfielders are — or should be — an important part of draft plans. A few years ago in one of my leagues, OFs were my first three picks. I’m OK with that, especially this year.
Most leagues start at least three outfielders. Some start five and allow players to start a sixth in a utility spot. In 10-team leagues, that means 30-60 outfielders are going to start and even more are going to be drafted for bench slots.
There are enough good outfielders to fill those slots, however the position feels shallower than I can remember. I feel confident drafting 15 or 16 of the outfielders, but the questions start before most teams will have half of their starting outfielders selected.
2012 Mixed League 5×5 ADP Top 40 outfielders
ADP from Mock Draft Central (March 25, 2012)
1. Ryan Braun, OF, MIL: Could approach 30-30 season again. Braun’s batting average lifts him above Kemp.
2. Matt Kemp, OF, LAD: Kemp almost went 40-40 as a 26-year-old last year. Could he be better in 2012?
3. Jose Bautista, OF/3B, TOR: I don’t think he’s going to hit .300 again, but I have a feeling he’s closer to a .300 hitter than the .230s hitter he was in 2008 and 2009.
4. Justin Upton, OF, ARI: Remember what I said about Kemp? Upton is three years younger and had 31 homers and 21 steals last year.
5. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, BOS: Apparently a lot of people think he’s going to slug 35 homers again. When a batter goes from 70-steals to 35-homers overnight paint an exclamation mark on him. He could be great for the rest of his career, but 2012 drafters are paying career-year prices.
6. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, COL: Terrific season but was destined to not live up to the expectations created by CarGo 2010. Expect a performance somewhere between 2011 and 2010. That makes him my No. 4 outfielder, and one of my favorite second-round picks in 2012.
7. Curtis Granderson, OF, NYY: I’m a Yankees fan, so I want Granderson to slug it. However, it’s 2012 not 2011. The don’t-pay-for-a-career-year rule applies. Draft accordingly.
8. Andrew McCutchen, OF, PIT: Hit 23 homers and stole 23 bases last season. We can’t use last season as an exact predictor of success, but at age 25 on opening day he has time to cultivate and improve on that power-speed combo and his batting average (.259 last year).
9. Mike Stanton, OF, MIA: See sites projecting HUGE numbers for Stanton. Can’t say I disagree, especially with Reyes and HanRam in the lineup.
10. Josh Hamilton, OF, TEX: If history holds true expect 518+ at-bats, 30+ homers 100 runs and RBI. We could see him add 10 SBs to go with a .300+ batting average. I can’t explain the every other year phenomenon, but we should all recognize it.
11. Matt Holliday, OF, STL: My biggest concern for all Cardinals players is the effect of Albert Pujols’ departure. Holliday will hit third or fourth, so he’s still going to have a lot of value. I just wonder if he’ll have this much value.
12. Jay Bruce, OF, CIN: One of the things I’ve done recently is gone back and looked at some top prospects lists from years past. Bruce is one of those players near the top of the list for a couple years. He’s also been in the league for five years already. However, he’s only 24 — he’ll be 25 on opening day — and has hit at least 21 homers in all four seasons. Last year he hit 32, the eighth-most in the NL.
13. Carl Crawford, OF, BOS: Crawford is not expected to break camp with the club. He’ll be rehabbing his wrist (offseason surgery) in the offseason. The 31-year-old seemed to decline a bit last year and this wrist injury raises other questions. This price — around 42nd overall — reflects all of Crawford’s successes. Probably better to draft an undervalued Crawford in 2013.
14. Hunter Pence, OF, PHI: Read some massive hate for Pence in a comment on a fantasy post. (Go figure. Hate on the Internet.) But Pence, who turns 29 April 13, is entering his most reliable seasons, according to Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster. That means the skills we’ve seen are pretty close to what we’re going to get. He might not be a .300 hitter, but he’s going to hit mid-20s homers and, if the Phillies let him run, could get back into the 18-20 steals range.
15. Nelson Cruz, OF, TEX: Cruz lost about 12 pounds and strengthened his legs in the offseason, according to a report at Fangraphs. He also turns 32 in July and has never played in more than 128 games in any season. That 128-game season, however, saw him get to more than 500 at bats, hit 30 homers and steal 20 bags. He’s a risk-reward pick who will pay dividends for your team if you don’t deal him away when he goes on the shelf.
16. Michael Bourn, OF, ATL: I doubt he’ll hit in the .290s again this year, but Bourn is an interesting pick. He will give you elite steals — he’s a virtual lock for 60 — and give you 100 runs in that blossoming Braves lineup.
17. Desmond Jennings, OF, TB: I could see Jennings getting 15 homers, 100 runs and 40 steals. That’s a better investment than Bourn.
18. Alex Gordon, OF, KC: Last year, Gordon hit 23 homers, scored 101 runs, drove in 87 and stole 17 bags. While I don’t think he’ll repeat his .303 average — his batting average on balls in play was .358, well above what he’s done against major league pitching so far — he could match those counting stats, making him a solid pick here, in the seventh round. He’s fallen as far as to 212th in recent drafts. Do not let that happen in your league.
19. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, CLE: I was the conductor on the Choo bandwagon last year because he was a lock for 20 homers and steals, 100 runs and RBI and a .300 batting average. Then he got hurt and played in only 85 games. Once a player shows a skill they own it, so he could return to form. But it’s going to take more than a could to get me to draft him this year.
20. B.J. Upton, OF, TB: I’m not one to worry about drafting a player that can kill your batting average if they produce in a bunch of other categories. Upton fits the bill. Last year, Upton went 82-23-81-36 last year, making his .243 average irrelevant. One concern right now (March 25) is that Upton is sitting out of games with an undefined injury.
21. Shane Victorino, OF, PHI: Three-year averages are good enough to predict 70% of all baseball outcomes, however I think Victorino’s are a little low. I’d say the 31-year-old will perform between last year and 2010. A solid pick, specially at 72nd overall or later.
22. Adam Jones, OF, BAL: Jones will turn 27 in August and flashed his potential last year. You want Adam Jones on your roster whether you play in a redraft or keeper league. He hit 25 homers and stole 12 bags last season. Expect a repeat and be happy if he increases those numbers.
23. Drew Stubbs, OF, CIN: Stubbs was very B.J. Upton-esque in 2010. He lost some RBIs in 2011, but 15 homers, 90 runs ad 40 stolen bases provide a pretty good profile for a 27-year-old.
24. Brett Gardner, OF, NYY: The Yankees version of Michael Bourn, Gardner could score 100 runs and steal 50 bags.
25. Corey Hart, OF, MIL: Could miss opening day and his knee will prevent him from getting to 20 steals. But if his knee is good enough for him to hit at a high level, he could go80-25-80-.275. Like I said in the intro, there are a lot of questions on this list, and Hart is among the highest when it comes to risk-reward.
26. Michael Cuddyer, OF/1B, COL: The 33-year-old is a potential gold mine at around 92nd overall. His three year averages, with annual high: 22 (32) homers, 85 (93) runs, 81 (94) RBI and 8 (11) stolen bases. Those are some serious numbers to go with a .275 average.
27. Lance Berkman, OF/1B, STL: Again, Pujols departure changes that lineups makeup, but the 36-year-old showed he still has that 25-homer power last year. However, I’m not sure he can get back into that 95 runs-95 RBI range without Pujols in the lineup.
28. Jayson Werth, OF, WAS: Werth may never live up to his contract, but he’s better than he was last year and a good candidate to bounce back and be a value pick in 2012.
29. Ichiro Suzuki, OF, SEA: Ichiro hasn’t scored 100 runs in three years, hasn’t driven in 60 in four years. His .272 average last year also showed that part of his game wasn’t bulletproof. He turns 39 in October, however a repeat — especially in the batting average — is not out of the question. He’s a much better value here than he has been in previous drafts.
30. Cameron Maybin, OF, SD: Last year, Maybin hit 9 homers, scored 82 runs and stole 40 bases. Yes, 40. That’s very Desmond Jennings-esque at a serious discount.
31. Jason Heyward, OF, ATL: The next Griffey?
32. Nick Swisher, OF, NYY: A good pick in almost any format.
33. Nick Markakis, OF, BAL: A bit underrated because he never met power potential.
34. Chris Young, OF, ARI: Put your thumb over his batting average and soak up those counting stats.
35. Peter Bourjos, OF, ANA: Fifteen homers, 80 runs and 30 steals are not out of the question. That lineup is crowded. He has to play to hold down uber-prospect Mike Trout.
36. Andre Ethier, OF, LAD: 2009 seems so long ago, but he’s worth a risk here, especially with the way he’s been hitting this spring.
37. Carlos Beltran, OF, STL: Imagine this Cardinals lineup with Pujols.
38. Coco Crisp, OF, OAK: Stole 49 bases last year. Uh, that’s a lot of steals. He’s not being drafted in some leagues.
39. Matt Joyce, OF, TB: Joyce is projected to be the starting right fielder in Tampa. If that happens, don’t be surprised if he repeats last year’s surprising season.
40. Logan Morrison, OF, MIA: Hit 23 homers last year and drove in 72 runs. Those are pick-up-off-the-waiver-wire numbers, but Morrison is only 24. He has a wonky knee, which is a little troublesome, but there is potential here for more.
Five more: Angel Pagan, OF, SF; Austin JAckson, OF, DET; Melky Cabrera, OF, SF; Torii Hunter, OF, ANA; Yoenis Cespedes, OF, OAK.