When I tell you that I was more excited to compile and comment on the fantasy prospectus of the outfield than that of any other position thus far, I say that with no exaggeration what so ever. That being said, I’m sure that this will be subject to ridicule and criticism which, let’s be honest, is half the reason I decided to write these pieces to begin with. If I’m not including enough players, I’m grouping them like a buffoon, filling the gaps with unsubstantiated comments, and fostering the lazy, uneducated American culture in the process. Please know that, at the very least, in the process, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
After you’re done stopping by, please don’t forget to check out all of our previous Cafeholic Rankings (C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B). This time we dive a little bit deeper into the pool, necessarily, and see who is patrolling the green grass in the outfield. More players means more tiers, which means more commentary, essentially amounting to a victory for all. Sit back, relax, and enjoy. As always, comments are not only welcome, they’re encouraged.
Natural Tier 1
Well it took us six different positional breakdowns, but we finally got here: the one-man tier. I mentioned previously that I had considered doing it with Tulowitzki, ultimately deciding against it, but here I simply had no choice. I can’t fight math. Just look at the jump in mean score between Kemp and his nearest competition. So, what is the reason that Kemp sits firmly atop this heap of talent, head and shoulders above his peers? This was the question I was asking myself as Jose Bautista’s second-place ranking seemed so far off in the distance. The conclusion I came to was this: Matt Kemp is the only legitimate 40/40 threat in all of Major League Baseball (Earth-shattering analysis, I know).
People can rant and rave about Bautista’s immense power, or Tulowitzki’s production gap between he and the field at SS, or the elite skills of Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, but not a single name in that group has a prayer at sniffing the fantasy production that Matt Kemp is not only capable of, but has already produced. And while 2011 may have been a career year for Kemp, make no mistake, Kemp is the real deal. With a six-year upward trend in HRs, the .249 AVG he posted in 2010 doesn’t scare me. The guy is a career .294 hitter who hit 28 bombs in his worst statistical season and should steal 30 bases even if he’s hogtied to Sal Fasano every time he gets on base. You want to talk about production and comfort? In the entire time he’s been a Major League ballplayer, when has Matt Kemp ever disappointed? When you talk about Pujols and Cabrera, you’re not seeing the whole picture if you’re not talking about Kemp as well. Some even give him the edge due to his immense production on the base-paths, and the fact that he’s an outfielder and not a first baseman. I can’t say that I disagree. Wherever I’m able to acquire Kemp in 2012, I am, regardless of what pick I have. All Hail The Bison!
Natural Tier 2
Here are the rest of your outfielders who will be gone before the beginning of Round 3 in standard drafts. Excluding Jose Bautista, who finds himself here because of his 50-plus HR potential, and including the aforementioned Kemp, there’s a common thread here: deadly power/speed combinations. Looking at the 2010 and 2011 seasons, the other three have managed, in one of the two years, to post the following HR/SB totals: Ellsbury 32/39 (2011), Gonzalez 34/26 (2010), and Upton 31/21 (2011). Lower down this list you’ll see another player or two capable of gaudy combinations like this, but these guys are here cause they’ve done it. You’re not paying for potential, you’re paying for proven production. How proven is the question. Ellsbury showed a spike in power last season anticipated by nobody outside of his immediate family, more than tripling his previous career season high HR total (9, 2008). Is he a legitimate threat to repeat 30 HRs? Because unless he steals 70 bases like he did two seasons ago, he’ll need to at least approach that to justify his ranking. I tend to err on the side of caution, which means Jacoby probably won’t end up on any of my teams this season. I’m much more likely to own one of Car-Go or Upton, strictly because I’m much more confident in their ability to approach or surpass 30/30 (they both likely settle in around 20 SBs, but are much safer bets for 30 HRs than Ellsbury is). For my money, the guy to own here is Carlos Gonzalez, who had a monster 2010 season and was on great pace to do the same in 2011 until he was derailed by injuries. Legitimately, I expect the following out of Gonzalez: .310, 30 HRs, 100 RBIs, 100 runs, 20 SBs. Keep in mind he’s previously surpassed each and every one of these marks, and went 26/20 in just 127 games last season. Don’t be surprised when Gonzalez takes full advantage of the thin Denver air again in 2012.
Natural Tier 3
The previous tier looked at guys who have recently approached or surpassed 30/30 (more likely: 30/20). You’ve got a few guys capable in this group, but the expectation is lower. Granderson appropriately sits atop this list coming off a season where he made his presence known in the Big Apple. After a disappointing debut with the boys in pinstripes, Grandy followed up his lackluster 2010 with a 41-home run, 25-stolen base performance last season, silencing all critics. There’s debate over whether he can repeat those numbers, but anything’s possible in the Yankee lineup, in that Little League stadium. McCutchen has watched his power stroke increase in each of the last three consecutive seasons, finishing 23/23 last year after struggling mightily over the last several months of the season. Many expect him to surpass that 30/20 mark as early as this season, and boost his average back up into the .285 range. Hamilton and Pence are more 25/15 threats than anything else, while Stanton offers 40-plus homer potential at the cost of a .260 average. These players are less “complete” than those in Natural Tier 1 and 2, and reasonably so. Still, the production value here is high. There’s some potential for disappointment based on draft position, but if you end up with any of these guys in your Outfield come April, you won’t be mad.
Natural Tier 4
It’s been the elephant in the room for months, and is also a dead giveaway that these rankings were compiled over the last few weeks and not the last few days. This is where Ryan Braun was being ranked with the expectation that he was only going to play 100 or so games, serving a 50-game suspension for violating the league’s illegal substance rules. Nobody’s ever been happier that somebody took their urine home than Braun, who looks to be a go for Opening Day, and is now being mentioned with not only the Tier 2 players like Gonzalez and Ellsbury, but for some, right alongside (and sometimes ahead of) The Bison. Coming off an MVP season where he posted a 5×5 line of .332, 33/33, 109 runs, and 111 RBIs, Braun offers that rare combination of speed and power I talked about earlier, and now the only discussions being had regarding him are how the loss of Fielder will affect his production, or if his numbers have been artificially inflated over the course of his career and suddenly won’t be. Me? I don’t speculate either way and can only operate under the assumption that the Hebrew Hammer will approach 30/15 on his worst year, even with the whirlwind of controversy that’s surrounding him. I wouldn’t go as far as to place him ahead of Matt Kemp, but he’d be sitting right atop the second tier, and I don’t think many will argue to the contrary. In other news, Nelson Cruz would justify his ranking if he could ever avoid the DL, with which he has had a serious bromance these past few seasons. Bruce I feel gets too big a bump for his power potential (he’s done nothing but watch his homers go up and up every season since entering the league), while his dreadful average simply get ignored (this happens with Mike Stanton, as well). When he’s locked in he’s one of the best hitters in the game (same can be said of Cruz), but he’s yet to show he can sustain that level of play over the long haul.
Natural Tier 5
Okay, it is at this point where our rankings start to get a little tighter, the tiers start getting a little bigger, and I start getting more and more flack. The bottom line here is this: there are players in this group who excite me (I’m looking at you, Mike Morse, Shin-Soo Choo and Desmond Jennings) and players who just don’t (that’d be you, Shane Victorino, Corey Hart and Adam Jones). Morse was previously discussed in the First Base rankings, and my opinion on him holds firm: last year was not a fluke. I think he stands a reasonable chance at not only matching, but topping his 2011 season. Desmond Jennings had a spectacular 63 games with the Rays last season, going 10/20, leaving some expecting a tremendous sophomore campaign, but he wouldn’t be the first player to disappoint, so I’m trying to not fall victim to the hype train and reach too far for him. Speaking of disappointment, look no further than Choo’s 2011 season. I expect, however, to see more of the 20/20 ball that he showed capable of in 2010 this season. If you’re looking for speed, Bourn is your man. He may be the player I have most confidence in to reach 50 stolen bases in all of Major League Baseball. The huge question mark here is whether Alex Gordon can build off of his breakout 2011 campaign that owners felt they had waited forever to happen, or if he’ll fall back to the stratosphere as quickly as he rose. As with most things, it will likely end up being somewhere in the middle.
Natural Tier 6
And we’ve reached the “I hope they produce” portion of our tour. Please watch your step. It’s about this point where the question marks start to catch up to the possible projections. Where a guy could have a make or break year based on where he ultimately bats in his lineup, or how he adjusts to his new team, park, or league even. Where for the first time in a long time, a player isn’t heading into the season with some nagging injury, or you’re hoping that last year was just a down year and that the player will bounce back. Enjoy it, because the road only gets bumpier from here. It’s interesting to see Berkman ranked this low following his first year in St. Louis, but given the exit of now former All-Universe teammate Albert Pujols and Berkman’s never-ending injury concerns (and that he sits a ton to prevent those aforementioned injuries), I feel he’s probably appropriately ranked. Otherwise we’re looking at a bunch of guys who will probably settle into the neighborhood of 15 HRs, and will all unfairly be lumped together, essentially due to that alone. Gardner could end up being tremendous value here if he can somehow settle into one of the top two spots in the Yankee lineup. More than likely, though, he’ll plug back into the 8 or 9 hole, limiting his run scoring potential, and making him nothing but empty stolen bases (though to his credit, a ton of them). Everything I said about Berkman? Replace “Berkman” with “Beltran” and re-read that part. The most interesting, and maybe polarizing player here, for me at least, is the man atop the heap, Jayson Werth. He followed up three excellent seasons in Philadelphia by laying an egg after signing a hefty contract in Washington. I’m not sure what portion of Werth’s previous production was a product of Citizens Bank Park, but the good news for Jayson is that his team is improving, and may continue to, offensively, when Bryce Harper arrives sometime this spring or summer. I see another 20/20 type of season for Jayson, who should see some rebound in average (.260 neighborhood?), but I don’t think he ever matches the RBI or run totals from his days as a Phillie.
Natural Tier 7
I’ve got to admit, this is pretty low to rank three players who had, by most measures, really good seasons in 2011. Former teammates Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur surged together, while Maybin quietly stole 40 bases in San Diego while everybody was busy surfing. With Cabrera’s move to the Bay area, and Francoeur having already fooled fantasy owners more than once previously in his career, I understand the hesitance. Maybin, however, seems to be more of a case of a legitimate post-hype sleeper. For years in Florida he was hailed as “the next big thing,” but never really got a handle of things. Last year, though, he finally put things together, so to speak, batting .264 with nine HRs and 40 RBIs, with the real production being his 85 runs and 40 swiped bags. I see no reason he shouldn’t be able to approach those numbers again if he’s batting lead-off for any team, even the Padres. It’s tough to find 40 steals in general after this in the outfield, never mind 40 steals that aren’t completely and totally empty. Give him a full season batting lead-off (I have no idea what San Diego’s plan is for him; they bat him everywhere last year) and he could easily surpass the 100-run mark, which makes him a great value in drafts.
Natural Tier 8
It’s starting to get ugly. Not as ugly as the girl you won’t tell your friends you hooked up with because they’ll never let you hear the end of it ugly, but ugly nonetheless. There’s few guys here I want any part of on my team. If I end up with any of Torii Hunter, Carlos Lee or Angel Pagan on my team this year, I’ll drown my sorrows in a gallon of Breyer’s. That’s not to say they’re incapable of having solid seasons in 2012; I just don’t want them on my team. The possible highlights here with the most upside include Peter Bourjos, who may struggle to find everyday at bats in a crowded Angel outfield. (Even with Bobby Abreu being designated for pinch hit duty, Mike Trout is still staring them all in the face, waiting to pounce, and don’t forget Vernon Wells is still there too.) Joyce seems to be a popular sleeper-type pick, with 20/10 potential, and is a nice option if he can repeat his 2011 average (.277) and not his 2010 one (.241). But me? I’m rolling the dice on a total boom or bust player: Colby “I Do What My Daddy Says” Rasmus. His talent is undeniable, and he’s shown flashes of brilliance in each of his three Major League seasons, but not only has he never been able to pull it together for a real long stretch, he allegedly listens to what his father says over that of the coaches and other staff of his teams. Still, maybe he finds his groove in 2012 and becomes the player Cardinals fans waited two and a half seasons for and never got. Delmon Young is the other guy I wouldn’t mind hitching my trailer to. In the 40 games following his trade to Detroit last season, he bat .274 with eight HRs, 32 RBis, and 28 runs. Add Prince Fielder to the mix in Detroit in place of Victor Martinez, and maybe Delmon is able to repeat his 2010 breakout season in Minnesota. Don’t bank on it, but again, at this stage in the game, don’t bank on anything.
Natural Tier 9
For those of you who have been following us through this journey, we’ve reached our final destination, a place we like to refer to as “blind hope, stupid faith, and sad desperation.” It’s like a married man’s Saturday night! Alright, it’s not that bad, but it’s not terribly far off either. There’s some things to like here. Coco Crisp has stolen 81 bases in two seasons as an Oakland Athletic. Dexter Fowler had a tremendous fall (.288, five HRs, 27 RBIs, 51 runs and 10 SBs over the final 68 games of 2011). The fences are being moved in and shortened at Citi Field, which Jason Bay thinks is a good thing (for both the Mets offense and pitchers; he’s Canadian, let him be). It’s tough to think Seth Smith will be more productive in Oakland than he was in Colorado, but Jason Kubel may have upgraded his fantasy stock with the move from Minnesota to the desert. Okay, it’s getting too hard to pretend I like these guys, when the reality is that outside of Crisp and Fowler, I don’t know if there’s a single one I’d happily draft in a 12-team league. The good thing is though, that we’re 60 deep, which means you’re looking at your 5th OF in a standard 12-team league, which I can live with (as long as it’s Crisp or Fowler). Jason Bay? Really?
Thank you to all those who contributed their personal rankings for this compilation (credit to come at the end of this series)! I wasn’t sure we would make it, but we’ve successfully completed the offensive portion of the rankings! Next time we take a nose dive into the lunacy that is the world of starting pitching, and I continue to make veiled references that maybe a half-dozen people pick up on, while remaining your loyal and joyful punching bag. Until then…
Brendan Horton is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Brendan in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of bigh0rt.
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