There are two very distinct sides to the crop of outfielders out there today. The most obvious side that we see is the star side, which is as deep as ever – led by as strong of a top-10 at the position as we have seen this century. And not only are they a strong group, they’re a young group as well, including four players 23 years old or younger. And nearly all of these players are of the five-tool variety, except for potentially off-the-charts power guys like Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Hamilton.
The dark side of the outfield position these days is the underbelly, which really shows itself once make your way beyond the top-40 or so. Essentially, the middle class of outfielders has nearly eroded – dropping the position quickly from your solid #3 OFs to your seemingly never-ending string of fliers. And the results of this are twofold on how you have to evaluate the position. First of all, high floor players are of greater value than at many other positions, and Nick Markakis is a great example of this. We’re not exactly waiting with bated breath for him to be a star anymore, but at least we know we’ll get some level of production from him. Because of this, he makes the top-50. Second of all, while it doesn’t show up in a positional list, the bulk of fliers out there for your final OF spot or two causes the entire group of players to get devalued on an overall standpoint. So unless there’s a particular guy you really like, you can wait and wait and wait – there will be outfielders starting the 2013 on waivers that will outperform most of the 4/5 OF types being drafted. So be patient and be prepared to scour the waiver wire.
And now your top 50 dynasty league outfielders, with commentary:
#1 – Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Did you really think it would be anyone else? Trout is the most valuable player out there in fantasy leagues today, and because of the combination of his performance and age (he’s still closer to 21 than 22), it’s not all that close either. There may be some regression in store for 2013, but he could regress plenty and still be one of the top players for fantasy.
#2 – Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Let’s put Ryan Braun’s prime into historical context. For the past two seasons, Braun has cleared a .300 average, 30 HR, 30 SB, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored. And how many times had a player cleared all of those statistical hurdles in consecutive years before Braun? Exactly once – and that would be Vladimir Guerrero in 2001 and 2002. In fact, only Braun, Guerrero and Barry Bonds have ever accomplished this more than once in their entire career. Braun plays in a park that is great for home runs and for a manager who appreciates the stolen base – don’t anticipate this party ending soon for the 29 year old.
#3 – Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
#4 – Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
The men, the myths. These are the two best young sluggers in baseball, each equipped with legit 80 power. There may be some growing pains for Harper in 2013, but I wouldn’t count on much. So while a sophomore slump may be a relatively common thing for a top prospect to go through, the mistake is in assuming that Harper is just a top prospect. The term generational talent doesn’t get thrown around too often, but it’s warranted with Harper. And Stanton is just a guy who has 93 career HR before the age of 23. The only other players in major league history to do that are Mel Ott, Eddie Matthews, A-Rod, Tony Conigliaro and Frank Robinson. Harper gets the nod between the two of them because he should steal more bases and hit for a higher average, even though he’s less established.
#5 – Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
#6 – Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Just two five-category centerfielders in their prime trying to make their way in the world. What McCutchen did in 2012 by hitting 31 HR with one of the worst home park factors for RH power was nothing short of amazing. I just don’t think he’ll be a perennial 30 HR hitter the rest of the way like Kemp should be. And Matt Kemp is still Matt Kemp – not much more to really say about that.
#7 – Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks
#8 – Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves
#9 – Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
Clearly, I’m still on board the Justin Upton Express. I think he’s a superstar, will compete for HR titles and be a first/second round pick for the next 5-7 years. Unfortunately, he’s not without risk either – which leaves him below the second tier of Harper/Stanton/Kemp/Cutch. Heyward had a great season in 2012 and he’s still on the rise. His overall stat line will continue to be great, but may never be more than a .275 hitter – and despite the fact that he’s one of the best baserunners in baseball, he only stole 13 of his 21 bases after April ended. CarGo is still an elite fantasy player – he’s put up three straight 20-20 seasons and he’s heading into his age-27 season. However, he’s the kind of player who misses a lot of time without going on the DL, and that can be very frustrating for owners. Over the last three seasons, he’s averaged 136 games played, but only had one DL stint for the 15-day minimum. Yea, it’s nitpicky, but these guys are all studs.
#10 – Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles
Since he came into the league, Adam Jones has consistently been building towards the player he was in 2012. And when looking for reasons that his 32 HR total will regress going forward, you come up relatively empty. His FB% was in line with his career average, his HR/FB rate was the highest of his career, but barely above 2009 and 2011. Of his 32 HR, only 6 of them were “just enough” per the ESPN Home Run Tracker. There’s no reason to think .280-30-15 won’t be his new baseline.
#11 – Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
Bautista may be 32 years old and coming off a fractured wrist, but he still nearly sneaks into the top-10 at the position. He was on pace for a 47 HR, 113 RBI, 111 R and 9 SB pace when he hurt his wrist – and all that was with a disgustingly low .215 BABIP. The wrist injury may sap some of his power in 2013, but I still like his chances to get to 30+ HR regardless, with plenty of counting stats to go around. He’ll never be a high BABIP guy with his batted ball profile, but a move back into the .260 range, should allow him to hit around .275.
#12 – Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics
The problem with Cespedes is that we don’t know where his baseline is. His 2012, while it was only 129 games, was awesome – we just don’t have enough information to know where the season lies in the context of his talent. Was it his career year? Was it an average year? I’m of the mind that he’ll probably regress in batting average to the .270 range, but his HR/SB are for real.
#13 – Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels
This ranking is not about the move from Texas to Anaheim, if anything, it’s about the way pitches continue to approach Hamilton, which came to a head in the second half of 2012. Ever since Hamilton came into the league, pitchers are throwing him fewer and fewer strikes. In fact here are the percentage of strikes he’s seen since 2007: 48.8%, 45.3%, 43.6%, 41.3%, 39.6% and 34.0%. With that said, this wouldn’t be such a problem if Hamilton wasn’t now chasing these pitches like never before – his swing percentage in 2012 was a career high at pitches out of the zone and his contact rate was a career low. That’s not a good combination. Of course, despite this, he hit .285 with 43 HR.
#14 – Allen Craig, St Louis Cardinals
#15 – Matt Holliday, St Louis Cardinals
Craig would be a few spots higher if he wasn’t likely to become 1B only for the 2014 season. The “wrench” can hit, he just needs to stay on the field more often. Expect Craig to hit .290 with 30 HR and 100 RBI in 2013 if he can avoid the DL. And Holliday is Allen Craig on the wrong side of 30, but with less injury risk and a little less power. Holliday has still never hit 30 HR in a season outside of Coors Field, but he’s still one of the most consistent performers out there.
#16 – Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
Turning 26 years old the week of Opening Day 2013, Bruce has been more or less the same player for the last three years now. At this point in his career, he’s nearly a lock to clear 30 HR per season, but unless his K-rate starts moving in the opposite direction, he’s likely to linger in that .250-.260 BA range.
#17 – Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees
The Granderson story isn’t that much different than the Josh Hamilton one, except that Granderson is still making his normal amount of contact on pitches out of the zone. However, like Hamilton, the power is legit. Granderson takes full advantage of that short porch at Yankee Stadium (26 HR at home), and even with that, only 9 of his 43 HR in 2012 were classified as “just enough”.
#18 – Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
#19 – B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves
#20 – Shin-Soo Choo, Cincinnati Reds
#21 – Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers
The next big tier includes four likely leadoff hitters that contribute everywhere. Gordon may have had a slightly down fantasy season in 2012, but his 51 doubles led all of baseball. With a likely improved offense in KC, if a few more of those 2B clear the fence, he can once again be a top-10 OF. Upton’s batting average should improve slightly from moving to the National League and away from Tropicana Field, but he’ll still carry risk in the category. I’m expecting big things from Choo in 2012 – Great American Ballpark will treat him well and he can score 110+ runs if he gets on base at his usual clip in front of Phillips/Votto/Ludwick/Bruce. Jackson made great strides in improving both his walk and strikeout rates in 2012 (both career bests). If he keeps up the walking, he’ll pile up the runs at the top of Detroit’s lineup, and could add a little more power as he enters his prime.
#22 – Oscar Taveras, St Louis Cardinals
#23 – Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
#24 – Carlos Beltran, St Louis Cardinals
For those of you counting at home, Beltran is the fourth Cardinal on this list so far. This is also the spot of one of the biggest drop-offs between major league players on this list. The gap between Jackson and Beltran is pretty wide, as Beltran continues to show his star-level skill set in 2012, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how long the party’s going to continue for.
#25 – Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox
#26 – Michael Bourn, Free Agent
This is your reminder that speedsters don’t age particularly well. It’s surprising to see that Ellsbury will turn 30 years old during the 2013 season, as it just feels like he hasn’t been around for that long. We knew the 30 HR power wasn’t going to last, but only 14 steals in 74 games is alarming for a player who derives much of his value from his legs. Maybe John Farrell will help this in 2013, but Ellsbury isn’t getting any younger. Bourn, on the other hand, is already 30. And after stealing at least 50 bases in three straight seasons, he only put up 42 in 2012 – which was accompanied by his career worst success rate (76%). It’s only natural that he’s losing a step, but if he’s only a 35-40 SB player going forward, he’s not all that special.
#27 – Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays
#28 – Alex Rios, Chicago White Sox
If you can correctly predict which Alex Rios shows up from year to year, you’re a smarter man than I. But his 2012 was so good that he deserves this spot even with the risk that he could just turn into a pumpkin again.
#29 – Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays
Jennings would be much higher on this list if I thought he could hit .280 or higher – but doing that will take a new approach at the plate. He should develop more power as he gets older, but it will likely come at the expense of his speed, and could settle in as a 20-20 guy in his prime.
#30 – Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates
Marte is not very good at getting on base, but fortunately for fantasy owners, that only indirectly impacts his runs scored and stolen base totals. Marte has the skills to lower than strikeout rate and hit for a helpful average in time (he should settle around .280), but whether that happens in 2013 is yet to be seen.
#31 – Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals
Werth should be fully recovered from his wrist injury this year, which sapped his power when he returned from the DL in August. If he can combine revived power with his greatly improved strikeout rate from 2012 (16.6% vs career 24.0%), he could be a huge sleeper and great trade target. And don’t think I’d let the opportunity to link to the greatest Tumblr site ever created slip through my fingers. It’s amazing.
#32 – Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
#33 – Melky Cabrera, Toronto Blue Jays
#34 – Hunter Pence, San Francisco Giants
It’s more or less a tossup between the Giants RF who got busted for steroids or the man they traded to replace him. Melky will have the luxury of the better ballpark to hit in and the better lineup around him, so he gets the edge. Rogers Centre should especially help in the power department, so don’t be surprised to see Melky hit 20 HR there (which he’s never done before). Pence should bounce back from the miserable second half he had (.213/.278/.354 with 8 HR), but his numbers won’t look as great given a full season in San Francisco.
#35 – Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins
#36 – Carl Crawford, Los Angeles Dodgers
Crawford is looking to get back to the player he was when Desmond Jennings was unfairly compared to him because they were on the same team. If there was ever a player who needed a change of scenery, it was Crawford in Boston. Being a supporting player on a star-studded Dodger team should help him revitalize his career.
#37 – Josh Reddick, Oakland Athletics
All of the knocks on Reddick as a prospect with the Red Sox system are still the same ones that can be said about him today – he doesn’t hit for much average and he doesn’t get on base a ton. But Reddick can hit dingers, and I expect him to keep hitting them. His 2012 season is eminently repeatable for Reddick if he maintains his 50% fly ball rate.
#38 – Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers
In 2012, the unthinkable happened. Nelson Cruz played in 159 games (128 was his previous career high). Unfortunately, the .260 average and 24 HR were much less than expected given the playing time. His fly ball rate is on a four year decline from his 33 HR season in 2009, which is not what you want to see happen with a slugger. Well, that and a potential PED suspension.
#39 – Jorge Soler, Chicago Cubs
#40 – Rymer Liriano, San Diego Padres
#41 – Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals
I’m still a big believer in Cain, who will turn 27 less than two weeks into the 2013 season. In 61 games last year, Cain hit 7 HR and stole 10 bases — which, prorated over a full season, is awesome. One of my favorite Lorenzo Cain stats is that in those 61 games, he had at least 6 plate appearances in every lineup position, one through nine. And the spot he got the most work in? Leadoff. If the Royals decide to hit Alex Gordon third this season, Cain is the most likely option for the leadoff spot, which would lead to more fantasy goodness.
#42 – Brian Goodwin, Washington Nationals
#43 – George Springer, Houston Astros
#44 – Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles
#45 – Nick Swisher, Cleveland Indians
The great thing about these two Nicks is that you know what you’re going to get, which is a huge selling point once you get to this point of the list. Markakis will give you a good average, some power and a few steals. Swisher will give you solid power with an average that won’t kill you. The other things that both Swisher and Markakis will give you? Good all around counting stats — as they’ll both hit in prominent spots in their respective lineups (even though the lineups may not exactly be elite).
#46 – Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels
#47 – Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins
#48 – Corey Hart, Milwaukee Brewers
#49 – Michael Morse, Seattle Mariners
This is where the sluggers reside. Trumbo ranks first here because he’s heading into his prime, but he’s no sure bet to maintain his production. After a scalding first two and a half months to the season, Trumbo hit only .229/.274/.389 the rest of the way with 15 HR and 47 RBI in 83 games. The power is legit, but so are his batting average issues. Willingham is coming off his age-33 season, which was the best of his career in HR, RBI, isolated power, slugging and total bases. But the most important career high for J-Will in 2012 was games played, with 145. Hart is coming off knee surgery, and will miss the first month or two of the 2013 season, but I was not high on him even before this. Things don’t get easier for tall hitters as they leave their prime. Morse is actually two days older than Hart, and moves to a terrible ballpark for right-handed power. He’s got enough juice to make it work, but it won’t be easy.
#50 – Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies
Cuddyer has become a bit of a forgotten man heading into the 2013 season, but that’ll happen when you only play in 101 games to little fanfare. He got way too much hype last pre-season when he signed in Colorado, but he may be a little undervalued now.
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