We’re carrying on our 2012 fantasy baseball sleeper pre-season series with a look out the outfield. As you can imagine, the outfield position produces the most breakout stars in most years, which tends to happen when one position has three times as many players as any other. We’ll look at a few guys drafted in the middle of most drafts and a few at the end of most drafts, as well as a couple undrafted players who could make a big impact.
Jason Heyward, Braves. If there’s a limit to Heyward’s talent, no one has found it yet. Unfortunately for the J-Hey Kid, he’s battled injuries in each of his first two major league seasons, and it’s been particularly reflected in his ugly 2011 line, where Heyward hit .227 with 14 HRs and nine SBs in 396 at-bats. Before you stick a fork in him, remember that he’s only 22 years old, he dominated the major leagues and, like I said above, he has nearly limitless talent. He packed on weight last offseason to help his power stroke, but his body did not respond well to it, and Heyward felt tired for much of the second half of last season. He’s dropped the extra poundage and has been working tirelessly at getting his swing right this offseason. A motivated Heyward is a guy that could take teams to the title. He could crack the top 10 at his position as soon as this year, making him a great value outside of the top 100 picks.
Peter Bourjos, Angels. The Halos added a Machine to play first base this off-season, which jams up the outfield and DH slot with several players at various parts of their careers. One guy that shouldn’t have to worry about the logjam is Bourjos, who easily outplayed the rest of the Angels in the outfield last season. He’s a good defensive centerfielder as well, something that Torii Hunter can boast no more. So assuming he’s in the lineup everyday, what should we expect from Bourjos? At 25 years old, Bourjos has the potential to build upon his 12-HR season of 2011 — in fact, he hit 19 bombs in 2010 between Triple-A and the majors. He has tons of speed, as is evidenced by his 50-steal season in 2008. If you merely double his 2011 second half, we’re looking at .280, 18 HRs and 28 SBs. If he runs a bit more, you’re looking at the next Carl Crawford.
John Mayberry, Phillies. Looking for a Mike Morse-type breakout this season? Look no further than Mayberry. The 28-year-old slugger will be replacing Raul Ibanez in the Phillies’ lineup this season, and after hitting .273 with with 15 HRs and eight SBs in just 267 at-bats, Mayberry offers upside across the fantasy board. He was fantastic in the second half last season, and if that carries into 2012, he should hit at least .275 while knocking 20 HRs and stealing double-digit bases. His upside puts him at Morse’s line from last year (.303, 31 HRs) with some steals thrown in for good measure. He could also see some time at first base while Ryan Howard rehabs, which would make him a valuable dual-eligibility player in fantasy.
Lorenzo Cain, Royals. While power seekers should cast their lots with Mayberry, those eyeballing guys with speed upside may want to check out Cain. The Royals shipped Melky Cabrera to the Giants for Jonathan Sanchez, leaving Cain the center field role in 2012. He was excellent in Triple-A last season, posting a .312/.380/.487 line in 487 at-bats with 16 HRs and 16 SBs to his credit. While he’s likely not going to hit .300 out of the gates this season, Cain does offer quality speed to go along with a decent chunk of power. If his HR total stays in single digits, he’ll provide enough runs and SBs to stay fantasy relevant. If he hits 15-plus HRs again, he could be just as valuable as Bourjos, Drew Stubbs or Brett Gardner, trading some of the speed for a better average. That’s something I’d be happy with at the end of my draft.
Mike Carp, Mariners. Carp followed up a Triple-A tear last season where he hit .347/.414/.653 in 66 games with a solid rookie season in Seattle, hitting .276 with 12 HRs in 290 at-bats. He’s not ever going to hit for average, but his power could easily develop over the next year or two as the 25-year-old matures. If that comes with a little plate discipline, he’s going to be very dangerous. If not, he should eventually be a 30-HR guy, which is usable in fantasy leagues regardless of average (ask Mark Reynolds). If he matches last year’s 33 HRs in the big leagues this year, he’ll have been one of the better FA pickups in fantasy leagues in 2012.
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe, writes for FanDuel and Razzball and has previously written for FanHouse. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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