THE DYNASTY GURU’S 2021 TOP 125 DYNASTY LEAGUE OUTFIELDERS, #1-20
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Without further ado, it’s time to continue our 2021 consensus rankings by looking at the 1-20 outfielders in dynasty leagues.
1. Juan Soto, Washington Nationals (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 3)
It happened. It finally happened. Mike Trout is no longer our consensus top outfielder for dynasty leagues. Ever since bursting onto the scene in 2018, Soto has been nothing but amazing. He has never had a season below a .400 OBP and even when he missed time with COVID (even though it is a bit unclear if he actually had it), he had the best season of his career. In 47 games, Soto slashed .351/.490/.695 with 13 home runs, six stolen bases, and a mind-boggling 200 wRC+. He had a career-high 21 BB%, which I feel had more to do with the ho-hum Nationals roster than anything else. The Nationals have added some interesting hitters this offseason, which should give Soto more balls to hit. Soto is on a Hall of Fame track and I have little-to-no doubt that he will make it to Cooperstown. He should remain at the top of our ranks (or very near it) for years to come. (Shelly Verougstraete)
2. Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta Braves (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 2)
The world might be an absolute disaster but…at least we have talented, younger baseball players that make this game so much fun to watch. After nearly having a 40-40 season (he went 41-37) in 2019, Acuña Jr. did not slow down in the slightest. While his average was a bit lower than we all expected, he posted his first .400+ OBP of his young career. He hits the ball extremely hard and the only thing blue on his Baseball Savant page is his strikeout rate. He struggles with high heat which pitchers began to exploit as the season progressed. However, I believe in his talent that he can make the proper adjustments where they will be less of a problem. He should be hitting second, behind Albies and in front of NL MVP Freddie Freeman so runs and RBI will be aplenty for the next couple of seasons. (Shelly Verougstraete)
3. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 1)
Honestly, you can never go wrong with Mike Trout and I believe the reason he dropped to third is due to his age. He is almost 30 (gasp!) so most dynasty league managers might be wondering when he is going to be signing up for AARP. While the days of him stealing more than twenty bases is probably over, his power, AVG, and OBP skills are still top tier. He has a pretty good team around him, especially with the addition of Anthony Rendon prior to the 2020 season, and in theory, should improve when Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh are ready for the major leagues. (Shelly Verougstraete)
4. Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 6)
It is funny to look back at the 2020 preseason and thinking that Betts’ 2019 season was so bad that he needed to be ranked behind Yelich and Bellinger. Holy recency bias, Batman! In his first season on the west coast, he only had his second-best season (by wRC+ standards) and won another World Series ring. The Dodgers have an absolute stacked team and have the money and player development staff to continue to put a great team on the field so he should continue to produce in the runs and RBI categories. While we may never see his MVP 2018 season where he went 32/30 with a .346 AVG, he should continue to post a .290-.300 AVG with double-digit home runs and steals for the next few seasons. (Shelly Verougstraete)
5. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 5)
Cody Bellinger’s 2020 season started off rough but he was slowly getting back into the groove by season’s end. Looking back at his 2019 MVP season, Bellinger had a first half of the ages. He smashed 30 home runs with a .336 AVG in the first 88 games. He then came back down to earth and hit 17 bombs with a .261 AVG. The second half is where I see Bellinger going forward, so not early 2019 and not what we saw in 2020. What gives me a little bit of pause was that he had shoulder surgery to repair an injury he sustained while celebrating a home run in the playoffs. I fear that might limit his stolen bases as he might be afraid of his shoulder popping out of the socket while diving headfirst into the bag. He also was dropped in the order during the playoffs and with such a great team around him, that could be a more permanent move going forward. (Shelly Verougstraete)
6. Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 4)
After posting nearly identical MVP-like seasons in 2018 and 2019, Yelich took a step back to his Miami Marlins’ days with a 113 wRC+. His .205/.356/.430 was easily the worst season of his career and he honestly just looked lost at the plate. He was more passive at the plate and began to get into more bad counts which seemed to lead to him pressing at the plate. However, fantasy managers should not feel this is the end for Yelich. All of his batted ball data from Statcast look identical to his past couple of seasons and his .259 BABIP is nearly 100 points lower than his career level. I am a bit concerned with how many stolen bases he will have going forward, because of his knee surgery and his decreasing speed. That being said, fantasy managers should still be happy to have him on their roster as he should return to his prior levels, just minus a few steals. (Shelly Verougstraete)
7. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 9)
Bryce Harper had the season that many Phillies fans expected from him after he signed his big-time 13-year contract with the club prior to the 2019 season. He cut down on his strikeout rate and actually walked more than he struck out. He absolutely destroyed the baseball this season and his 17 Barrel% and 48 HardHit% were easily career-highs for him. However, his production really slowed down towards the second half of 2020. His average dropped from .320 all the way to .235 and that was mainly due to more infield fly balls and flyballs that just didn’t quite go over the fence. However, come to find out towards the end of the season, Harper was dealing with a sore back (probably from carrying the weight of the team) but it was not a major injury and shouldn’t be a problem going forward. As a fantasy manager, you will never be disappointed to have Harper on your squad. (Shelly Verougstraete)
8. Eloy Jiménez, Chicago White Sox (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 10)
Eloy Jiménez had that breakout season we were hoping for since the Chicago Cubs signed him in 2013. At the time he was considered one of the best international prospects and brought all five tools to the table. While his speed and glove have fallen a bit short his power surely has not. His barrel% and hardhit% were in the 96th and 98th percentile during the short season and we saw 14 batted balls leave the park. The White Sox have put together a really entertaining and young team and Jiménez should be hitting in the heart of it for the foreseeable future. He will have to move to DH at some point (probably this upcoming season) as his defense is easily some of the worst in the league. Even if fantasy managers have to place him in their utility spot, they will not be crying as Jiménez should rack up many RBI and home runs. (Shelly Verougstraete)
9. Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 17)
After signing a long-term deal with the team, Luis Robert made his major league debut once the 2020 season began. He started off hot and by August 15th he slashed a .282/.341/.474 stat line with 11 home runs and four stolen bases. After that day, he went .202/.279/.411 with eight homers and five stolen bases. He gives me Justin Upton vibes, not based on talent, but just the roller coaster of a season he will produce. There are no adjectives to describe just how aggressive he is at that plate and major league pitchers began to take advantage of that weakness in the second half. Due to that aggression (along with a stacked White Sox lineup), he will hit towards the bottom of the order, which will limit his ability to contribute in the runs category. That being said, Robert is a super fun player when he is going gangbusters and just set him in your lineup and forget it. (Shelly Verougstraete)
10. Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 24)
Kyle Tucker got full-time playing time and made the most of it during the 2020 season. Unlike Robert, Tucker improved as the season progressed. He dropped his strikeout rate by ten percentage points but kept the amount of power and speed that made him such an interesting prospect. He should continue to see full-time action after the Astros lost George Springer and JJ Reddick to free agency. The Astros had historically limited (outside of Altuve) their players running and with a stacked lineup I could see Tucker’s steals decrease to keep him healthy, as their minor league depth is pretty much nonexistent. (Shelly Verougstraete)
11. Julio Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners (Age:20, Previous Rank: 19)
It was a lost season for JRod who suffered a hairline fracture to his left wrist diving for a ball in a July intrasquad drill. Then, while trying to regain some reps in the Dominican Winter League, he felt some quad discomfort and was only able to get into 18 games. When he is able to suit up, Julio shows a plus hit tool and plus power. His 2019 stat line across full-season A-ball and high-A netted a .326/.390/.540 triple slash, 12 home runs, and a 76/25 strikeout to walk ratio in 328 at-bats, at only 18 years old (or about four years younger than the competition).
I think a prospect’s character can say a lot about him, and JRod has a true superstar character. Mariner’s GM Jerry Dipoto told Fangraphs’ David Laurila said that “[h]e’s one of the wisest and most inquisitive [teenagers] I’ve ever met in baseball. He’s got a great heart. He’s also as good of a teammate as anybody I’ve been around.” Tools are so important when looking at prospects, but a plus character is just another box JRod checks as he’s projected to be a perennial All-Star when called up, possibly sometime in 2021 but most likely early in 2022. (Ken Balderston)
12. Jarred Kelenic, Seattle Mariners (Age:21, Previous Rank: 29)
Let’s face it, we all have our favorite prospects and Kelenic makes me giggle like a school girl thinking of her first crush. Jarred has progressed at each challenge he’s faced since being drafted, rocketing up prospect rankings and currently viewed as one of the top two or three prospects in baseball. In 2019 he played in 3 minor league levels, finishing at Double-A with a .289 ISO, six home runs, and a 17:8 strikeout to walk ratio in 83 at-bats, and having only just turned 20 years old at the time.
He’s known as a very hard worker, both on the field and in the weight room (and there are plenty of youtube videos to prove it) he’s very strong, very athletic, and also very determined and dedicated to becoming the very best player he can be. There’s little to nitpick in Kelenic’s profile, and once promoted to the major leagues (hopefully in 2021) he should be a true five-category producer right away.
13. Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros (Age:23, Previous Rank: 7)
In his rookie season, Yordan proved he’s all bat, to the delight of fantasy owners. In only 379 plate appearances he hit .313 with 27 home runs and 78 RBI while finishing in the 94th Percentile or higher in Hard hit%, exit velocity, xwOBA, xSLG, Barrell%, and walk%, all in his age-22 AL Rookie of the Year-winning season. This is to say, at a very young age, Alvarez is an absolute masher, and can put up the first-round value at any time. Below is Yordan’s spray charts from 2019, a thing of beauty, spraying the ball all over the field.
Maybe the only thing holding Alvarez back on this list is the knee injuries that cost him almost all of 2020. After returning from the Covid list in August, a knee injury dating back to 2019 flared up, and Yordan ended up having surgery on both knees, repairing a torn patella tendon in the right, and ‘routine’ cleanup to the left. There’s a video of him running on Twitter, and he’s expected to be back for spring training, but how will the recovery affect Alvarez’s game? If fully healthy and the knee issues are not recurring, Yordan’s bat can absolutely lead a fantasy squad. (Ken Balderston)
14. Marcell Ozuna, Free Agent (Age:30, Previous Rank: 35)
One of the three legendary Marlins Outfielders traded after the sale of the team (Yelich & Stanton the other two), Ozuna put up a monster season last year, maybe his best since 2017, including an NL-leading 18 home runs and 56 RBI, and the senior circuit’s third-best batting average (.338) and slugging percentage (.636). He finished 6th in the NL MVP voting and won a silver slugger to boot. Sandwiched between a very productive 2017 season, and a monstrous, albeit shortened, 2020, were two fairly pedestrian seasons in St Louis. While not necessarily known as a pitcher’s park, ESPN’s “Park Factors” ranks Busch Stadium the 5th worst stadium for home runs in that time, and a negative draw on offense in general. In Ozuna’s two seasons in St Louis he played 140 home games, or 577 plate appearances, hit .269 with 26 home runs, 100 RBI, but only 72 runs scored. Hitters are supposed to see at least a modest bump to their numbers at home, but Busch stadium clearly didn’t gel with Ozuna’s offensive profile, a lending reason to the two ‘down’ seasons. A free agent as of this writing, Ozuna has the power and offensive profile to play anywhere, but fantasy owners are hoping it won’t be St Louis. (Ken Balderston)
15. Michael Conforto, New York Mets (Age:28, Previous Rank: 23)
Amid a group of outfielders with gaudy home run totals and power/speed profiles is the established and reliable Michael Conforto. He’s only once topped 30 home runs in a season (’19 with 33), never hit 100 RBI, and only last year hit above .280 for the first time in the shortened season that was 2020. But what Conforto does have is consistency: his 162 game average over the last four seasons would be a .265 average, 98 runs scored, 34 home runs, 95 RBI, and toss in 6 stolen bases as well. He’s also right in the middle of his prime at 28 years old and will bat in the middle of one of the National League’s best lineups. One word of caution: while Conforto’s batting averaged spiked up to .322 last year, his expected average was .286, and much closer to his career .259 average. If projecting for 2021, play it safe and plan for a number closer to his career norm, than last season’s spike. (Ken Balderston)
16. Trent Grisham, San Diego Padres (Age:24, Previous Rank: 70)
A bit of a sleeper entering last season, Grisham broke out in a big way, putting up double-digit homers and steals, and 42 runs in only 252 plate appearances. I have to admit when we began ranking, I anticipated the numbers to suggest some regression in 2021, but the expected Statcast data is generally better than the actuals.
A key takeaway from this chart is that despite a low exit velocity, he was able to barrel a large % of balls (74th %tile), and a quick look at his zone chart, tells you that he loves the ball middle away, and especially up. Many of the balls in and off the plate, are being tapped or flared, being easy outs. The balls he’s getting middle away, are being driven and account for almost all of his barrelled balls. While possible he starts seeing more pitches inside, it complements his profile of a player with average hit tool, but above-average to plus in-game power, and explains the high expected power numbers, despite a relatively low ‘average’ exit velocity. Grisham is also mostly shift-proof, having been shifted on 71.4% of the time, but his wOBA in the shift (.353) was significantly better than non-shift situations (.321). This is great to see in a player with an average hit tool, as a limited batting average ceiling can be lowered if defenses just have to stack one side of the field. (Ken Balderston)
17. Austin Meadows, Tampa Bay Rays (Age:25, Previous Rank: 11)
Coming off a big season in 2019, Meadows never really got things going last year but his hard-hit rate went up to 44%, his walk rate up to 11.2%, and his exit velocity remained steady at 90.3 so there’s a reason not to panic. A couple of things that did change- his strikeout rate went way up to 32.9%, far higher than it had ever been in the bigs (or the minors) and his BABIP fell .043 points from the previous season. It’s true that there is an average BABIP that is normal, around .310, but Meadows is one of those players whose BABIP is always a bit higher than that, frequently between .310 and .350 in the minors. Meadows’ barrel% fell to 7.1% and his sprint speed went down significantly, another indicator he probably was not fully healthy; in fact, he might have been dealing with the side effects of his positive Covid test. If that’s the case he’s primed for a rebound and our ranking reflects that. It’s being suggested Meadows could fall victim to a platoon in Tampa, but there’s far more data from 2019 that says he hits lefties just fine than there was questionable data of him struggling in 2020. If anyone in your league is worried about Meadows going forward, make sure you at least send a trade offer. (Ken Balderston)
18. Dylan Carlson, St. Louis Cardinals (Age:22, Previous Rank: 27)
Carlson had a breakout in 2019, hitting .292 with 26 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and a 116:58 strikeout-to-walk rate across 489 Double-A and Triple-A at-bats. A switch hitter, he showed the ability to hit with power from both sides of the plate and found his way up to 27th on our outfield list. Since then Carlson has moved up our list, sitting here at #17, despite a rocky debut to his major league career (a triple slash of .200/.252/.364). Even in a small sample, the numbers don’t tell the entire story, as Carlson struggled far greater before being optioned to the alternate site in early September when his triple slash was .162/.215/.243. In those ten days, Carlson regrouped, and no doubt reflected on where he was failing. Once recalled he hit .278/.325/.611 (.333 ISO!) the rest of the way.
The success extended into the playoffs, where he was the Cardinals’ best hitter. In three games, and hitting cleanup against the Padres no less, Carlson hit .333/.571/.444 with four walks and only 3 strikeouts in 14 plate appearances. I feel this is notable because the 40 PA sample at the end of the year could have been against bad teams, and facing pitchers who were just getting reps. The playoff performance is clearly against top competition, and where everything is on the line. Carlson is a player who offers both power and speed, which is in high demand in dynasty leagues. His success at the end of last year gives confidence he can become a key contributor to your team at the ripe old age of 22 years old. (Ken Balderston)
19. George Springer, Blue Jays (Age:31, Previous Rank: 16)
Maybe quietly, Springer has become one of the most dangerous power hitters in all of baseball. After a 39-homerun breakout in an injury-shortened 2019, he followed up with 14 more in ’20. Now with a new team, Springer should love hitting in Rogers Center, as Statcast ‘expected’ him to hit 17 had he played home games there last season. In fact, many of Springer’s key power expected stats are in the 90th percentile or higher and several have been in that range for some time.
Of course, dynasty owners always have one eye on a player’s age, but it’s encouraging to see many of these power estimators going up, even after Houston’s trash can scandal. Far too often we have an eye on the future and overlook the regular production right in front of us, fearful his play will taper off despite few-to-to indicators of that happening. Case in point: seven of the eighteen outfielders ranked ahead of Springer have fewer than 400 career major league at-bats. (Ken Balderston)
20. Jo Adell, Los Angeles Angeles (Age:21, Previous Rank: 12)
It was a rough first taste of the majors for Adell, who manager Joe Maddon suggested would start the 2021 season in the minors. While he struck out over 40% of the time in his ‘cup of coffee’, and he only barrelled 3 balls in 69 batted ball events, there were also some special skills on display. His max exit velocity was 115.5 mph, and his average exit velocity was over 90 mph, on balls in the air and on the ground. So, there is power in the bat, and he has a plus hit tool to maximize it. Also on display was Adell’s speed, which ranked in the 97th percentile in the league at 29.3 feet per second, and 4.40 seconds from home to first. Yes, Adell is plenty fast, and combining that skill with the power potential and plus hit tool, hints at a special player. Adell showed his potential at the major league level, despite not getting the results owners were looking for. At only 21 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to regroup and refine his skills in the minors, and reach his full potential when he’s called up again, hopefully, sometime in the 2021 season. (Ken Balderston)