2013 Position Preview: Outfield
Outfield is always a difficult position to assess in terms of whether it is deeper than the other positions or if it only seems that way because there are three times as many outfielders on each major league team and the individual infield spots aren't lumped together in the same way.
In terms of the average production from an outfielder, you're looking at a stat line of .263-20-76 with 88 runs scored and 17 stolen bases from each of the three outfielders on major league teams last season. That's skewed a bit because center fielders are going to steal a bit more than the guys patrolling the territory on either side of them while hitting fewer round trippers. However, the basic point remains: In order to win your league, you need to get production from the outfield.
Five of the top six hitters on last year's Player Rater came from the outfield, and in the top 50, we find ourselves one shy of having half of the names on that list coming with some outfield eligibility during the 2012 season. Maybe first basemen have a little more collective power and third basemen may, as a rule, get you a slightly higher batting average, but at the end of the day, for contributions across all five categories, you're going to look to the outfield. It's no coincidence that of the 10 players last season to join the 20-20 club, seven were outfielders.
The best way to judge the relative talent pool of the outfield versus the other lineup spots is to use players who qualify at more than one position as the bellwether. Allen Craig (No. 9 1B), Ben Zobrist (No. 9 2B) and Martin Prado (No. 8 3B) all ended up in the top 10 on the ESPN Player Rater at their infield positions last year. Yet you'll have to scroll down past two dozen outfielders before reaching any of those names on the outfielder list.
You need five outfielders in ESPN standard leagues, so it makes sense not to wait too long to start stocking your roster with them. But beyond that, if at the end of the year the list of top 10 overall hitters is nearly indistinguishable from the list of top 10 outfielders, then you really can't afford to leave the first two rounds of your draft without claiming at least one of the elite outfielders as your own.
Cream of the Crop
Only 21 players have ever had a season with a batting average of .300 or higher with at least 30 home runs, 30 steals and 100 runs scored. Ryan Braun has done it in back-to-back years, and there's no reason to doubt he will be able to accomplish that feat again. Even if he falls a bit short, we're still talking about a player who has received votes for MVP in each of his six major league seasons, so it's hard to imagine there being a "safer" No. 1 overall pick in any scoring format.
Mike Trout's first full big league season wasn't just insanely good for a rookie; it was nearly unprecedented in the annals of baseball history. Trout was one stolen base shy of becoming only the third player ever to join the 30-50 club (Eric Davis, Barry Bonds), and the youngster is one of only eight players to go 30-30 with a batting average over .325. He is only 21, so given the small sample size, we can't quite elevate him over Braun just yet. But even if he regresses in 2013, he could still end up with the best stats in baseball.
Some people are sure to write off Andrew McCutchen's 2012 season as "lucky" due to his .375 BABIP, but we're not so quick to dismiss the very real likelihood that the 26-year-old didn't just take the next step forward toward greatness. Take away 20 of his NL-leading 194 hits and he still comes in at .293. Factor in the fact that McCutchen actually hit eight more home runs in 2012 than in 2011 despite a 7.4 percent drop in fly balls and you're clearly witnessing a player discovering his full potential at the plate.
Matt Kemp exploded out of the gate in 2012, hitting .417 with 12 home runs and 25 RBIs in April. Injuries derailed what could have been a magical season for the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder, as hamstring and shoulder ailments limited him to a .278 batting average and 11 home runs in only 83 games the rest of the way. He was as durable as they come before last year, so if he can hit the ground running after offseason surgery, why can't he be a 30-100 player again?
It was a season of change for Carlos Gonzalez, as he was adjusting to playing exclusively in left field for the first time as well as seeing his teammates drop like flies around him, leaving him as the "only bat" in the Colorado Rockies lineup for much of the second half of the season. Yet even with an admittedly poor post-All-Star performance (.261, five homers), Gonzalez still finished as the No. 15 hitter on the ESPN Player Rater. Gonzalez says he lost focus last season, but we'll still take a "confused Cargo" if he once again hits .368 at home.
Just One Step Behind
Justin Upton's career has been a yo-yo of sorts, but if history holds, this season we're due for an upswing. The trade to the Atlanta Braves should alleviate the burden of having to live up to being the No. 1 overall pick in 2005. And for what it's worth, for his career, Upton has hit .293 at Turner Field. Considering he has been a career .250 hitter on the road, we'll take the optimistic view that the new scenery will be a good thing and that, at a minimum, a 20-20 season should be in the cards.
Play Fantasy Baseball
You lose 100 percent of the leagues you don't join.
Play For Free on ESPN.com »
After the Miami Marlins had their offseason fire sale, there's a good chance that Giancarlo Stanton might be the only player in the 2013 lineup to hit double-digit home runs. That's still no reason to be afraid to draft this slugger, who might well swing for the fences each and every at-bat. Sure, he'll probably lead the league in strikeouts with that free-swinging attitude, but if he matches last season's HR/AB rate for a full season, 40 home runs is a virtual certainty.
Josh Hamilton claims that his second-half slump -- a .259 batting average versus his .308 first half in 2012 -- was due to withdrawal symptoms from giving up chewing tobacco. And vision problems due to the corresponding increase in caffeine consumption. And losing weight due to the oppressive summer heat in Texas. Whatever excuses Hamilton has for the past, the slate is wiped clean as he starts fresh with the Los Angeles Angels in 2013. Besides, the truth is that, last season, Hamilton had more than 600 plate appearances for the first time since 2008 and easily led the majors with a .292 ISO (isolated power). If you pass him by, we wonder what your excuse will be.
Jose Bautista no longer has third-base eligibility in ESPN standard leagues, which lowers his allure a little bit, but the bigger concern is the wrist injury that cost him the second half of 2012 and a chance at his third consecutive 40-homer campaign. If the comeback from tendon surgery doesn't result in any loss of pop, then we're looking at a no-brainer top-10 outfielder. However, it may be some time before he returns to 100 percent, and it takes only one swing to bring Bautista's 2013 crashing down to earth.
Prospects: Oscar Taveras, Wil Myers
Long-term prospect: Bubba Starling
Top-10 player I wouldn't draft: Jose Bautista
Players to trade at All-Star break: Austin Jackson, Martin Prado
Players to trade for at ASB: Nick Markakis, Torii Hunter
Home heroes: Jon Jay, Carlos Gonzalez, David Murphy
Road warriors: Melky Cabrera, Michael Brantley
Better in points formats: Norichika Aoki, Shane Victorino
Player I inexplicably like: Andy Dirks
Player I inexplicably dislike: Yoenis Cespedes
Where's The Ceiling?
Last year, Jason Heyward became just the 19th player in major league history to join the 20-20 club before the age of 23 -- and two of the others who have achieved the feat will be joining him in the Braves outfield in 2013. There's still a ton of room for growth, especially in terms of Heyward's "wild swinging" that resulted in an 11.2 percent swinging strike rate that helped set him on the path to finishing 10th in the National League in strikeouts. Even a small improvement might lead to a .270 batting average to go along with what could be his first 30 home run season.
Adam Jones has managed to keep his batting average consistently above .280 over the past three seasons as his power numbers have steadily climbed from 19 homers in 2010 to 25 in 2011 and last season's 32 blasts. While the underlying stats seem to indicate that Jones may have reached his ceiling in terms of power production, there's no reason to think he can't live in this "power pocket" for the next few years, and if he gets a little help from the rest of the Orioles lineup, 100 RBIs might not be out of reach.
Bryce Harper was only 19 years old last year and, with the Washington Nationals in the middle of a pennant race, hit .330 with seven home runs in September. There's no telling how good he might be in 2013. After all, at his age, few players make it to a major league roster, let alone go 20-20, which Harper would have done easily had he started the season in the majors. As it was, he finished just two steals shy. Maybe it's crazy to start comparing the kid to the likes of Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott and Ken Griffey, but based on his rookie season, that's the neighborhood in which he's house hunting.
After hitting .292 with 23 home runs, Yoenis Cespedes finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting. However, he was plagued by injuries of all kinds throughout the season, going on the disabled list for a strained muscle in his left hand, tweaking his hamstring running the bases and spraining his right wrist on two occasions. All that said, as long as Cespedes can stay healthy, a repeat of last season's numbers should be reasonable to expect, with a decent chance that after having acclimated himself to playing in the United States, he may do even better the second time around.
With five big league seasons under his belt, Jay Bruce has settled into a nice predictable groove. On the positive side, you can all but guarantee 30-100 from him in 2013, but that's likely to come with a .250 batting average and a minimum of 150 strikeouts. While there is certainly a chance that his power growth, especially at the home run-friendly Great American Ball Park, gets him to 40, the chance that he may have to move to center field at some point might prove too much of a distraction for him to get there.
Has the Clock Struck Midnight?
Curtis Granderson's strikeout rate has risen steadily each year since 2008, which is a big reason why his batting average dipped all the way to .232 last year. While the 84 home runs he has hit over the past two seasons has certainly helped make up for it, it's difficult to believe that he'll be able to maintain his 24.2 percent HR/FB rate, even given how friendly the Yankee Stadium fences have been to Granderson since his arrival in New York. Once his power output starts to decline, you'd be hard-pressed to remain excited about having him on your fantasy team.
It's easy to forget how good Jacoby Ellsbury is when he's able to play a full season. After all, he's a career .297 hitter who put together an incredible .321-32-105 season just two years ago. However, that sensational stat line was sandwiched by two injury-plagued campaigns, including last year, when he hit only four home runs in 68 starts upon returning from a shoulder injury that cost him several months. It seems Ellsbury, whose plane was struck by lightning on his way to spring training this year, always seems to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Entering his 10th season, Matt Holliday seems like a very old 33. He missed only five games last season, but reports of back tightness followed him for much of the year, and the St. Louis Cardinals will make a concerted effort to spell him a lot more in 2013. He is no longer a threat to steal bases and hasn't hit 30 home runs since leaving Colorado, so while a .300 season is not out of the question, all signs point to Holliday's best days being behind him.
B.J. Upton's 2012 season ended with the outfielder just two homers short of a 30-30 effort, but his 31 steals marked a five-year low. Presumably, it's because the focus on improving his power numbers led to a lower percentage of successful bunt hits and a career-low BB/K rate. The move to Atlanta, where he will join his brother in the Braves lineup, could result in a different approach at the plate, but we'd be shocked if his batting average ends up above .250 and even more gobsmacked if he strikes out fewer than 150 times.
On a Bus with Sandra Bullock
Michael Bourn moves to Cleveland, where he will hit leadoff and likely steal at least 40 bases for the sixth consecutive season. In past years, Bourn's value on the ESPN Player Rater had always been elevated due to the sheer number of steals he would get in relation to the rest of the league, but in 2012, the outfielder actually showed a little pop. By hitting a higher percentage of fly balls and seeing more of them sail over the wall, Bourn flirted with double-digit home runs. It may sound crazy, but a 10-50 season with a decent batting average might launch Bourn into the top 10 at this position.
That brings us to Desmond Jennings, who has an issue with chasing pitches outside of the strike zone. If he can manage to lower his 30.8 percent chase rate, then perhaps his strikeout total might dip below triple digits. Jennings should be far more valuable a player in fantasy than Bourn, but until his plate discipline takes that next step forward, it's hard to justify claiming him first if he's going to hit .246 again.
Brett Gardner had a lost season in 2012 as an early elbow injury limited him to only 31 at-bats for the year. Because he didn't play last year, many novice players are sure to overlook the New York Yankees speedster, leaving him out there until the 20th round or so. There's nothing wrong with his legs, so why shouldn't he get back to swiping 40 bases in 2013? Gardner will be a steal if you can grab him in the neighborhood of Round 15.
Angel Pagan is on the wrong side of 30, and although he still has very good speed, that's actually part of the problem. Pagan's value is hurt precisely because he continues to leg out extra-base hits, rather than remaining planted on first base. It may seem counterintuitive, but the fact that Pagan had more doubles and more triples than any other player with 25 or more steals is likely the reason he didn't end up with 30 steals on the season. You've heard of "too big to fail"? Pagan is "too fast to steal."
Ben Revere stole 40 bases in only 124 games last season, but that doesn't mean that if he plays a full 162-game schedule in 2013 his stolen base production will increase. Revere is moving to Philadelphia, where in all likelihood he'll bat second in the lineup instead of leadoff. If he keeps last year's rate of one steal every 14.3 plate appearances from the No. 2 hole intact, that translates to 42 steals over 600 plate appearances. We're not saying he can't do better, but don't just assume he'll lead the league either.
Other players you may want to keep on a short list of names you can add to your bench spots as they start to fill up should you find yourself with a bunch of slow-footed dinosaurs on your roster: Coco Crisp, Emilio Bonifacio, Drew Stubbs and Juan Pierre. Each of these guys has the potential to serve up 30 stolen bases in 2013.
Start 'Em Elsewhere
As discussed in the introduction, there are several players who qualify at more than one position that may show up in your outfield rankings. Given their lineup flexibility, you may want to consider drafting players like Ben Zobrist, Allen Craig, Martin Prado, Nick Swisher, Logan Morrison and Ryan Doumit ahead of players with similar stat projections who might have outfield eligibility only. However, in order to truly get an accurate snapshot of player value in these special cases, you'd be best served seeing how each one stacks up with the competition at those other positions and tiering them accordingly, rather than comparing them with their outfield brethren.
Don't I Know You?
If you look up the word "inconsistent" in a thesaurus, you're sure to see "Alex Rios" listed as a synonym. There's really no rhyme or reason as to why his batting average has been all over the map in recent years -- .291, .247, .284, .227, .304 -- especially when you take into account the fact he is putting more balls into play and swinging at more bad pitches. That's not supposed to result in a 77-point increase in batting average, so we're going to consider Rios a slave to the luck of BABIP.
Shin-Soo Choo is one of only six active players age 30 or under with at least 2,500 at-bats and an OBP of .380 or higher. His career batting average as a leadoff hitter, which is the likely landing spot for Choo with his new team, the Cincinnati Reds, is .307. He's also being asked to move to center field, so getting used to a new position may take its toll on Choo's numbers at the plate.
When Hunter Pence was traded to Philadelphia in 2011, he was hailed as a hero, hitting .324 with 11 home runs in 54 games. When Pence was traded to San Francisco in 2012, he could have been seen as a bust, hitting just .219 over 59 games, but he somehow managed to drive in 45 runs over that stretch. The truth is that Pence has bursts of power but generally hits the ball on the ground far too often to think that 25 home runs isn't a hard ceiling.
Another old face in a new place, Carl Crawford will attempt to resurrect his career in Los Angeles after his Boston Red Sox career came to an end as the team shipped off its "damaged goods" via trade. Crawford's surgically repaired elbow is a big question mark, making the outfielder a huge risk if taken too early. It's probably unreasonable to expect a return to the 15-40 seasons he used to put up regularly in Tampa Bay, but if you go in hoping for 10-30 and a .280 batting average, you may get what you wish for.
Carlos Beltran enters a contract year having just completed his first season of 600-plus plate appearances since 2008. Playing in St. Louis certainly suits Beltran, as he hit .286 with 20 home runs at home last season, compared to .252 with just 12 homers on the road. However, Beltran is not a spring chicken by any means, and his second-half slump that saw his batting average drop by 60 points may make him a player to draft and deal at the first sign of trouble.
Speaking of trouble with Beltran: Should the veteran struggle or get hurt in 2013, the rumblings to promote Oscar Taveras won't take long to build momentum. Taveras has power. He has speed. He doesn't strike out too often. He had a .953 OPS in Double-A Springfield last season. But the Cardinals are likely to be patient and certainly won't want to "start his clock" unless they absolutely have to.
Wil Myers came to the Tampa Bay Rays as part of the deal that sent James Shields to the Kansas City Royals, and he brought a big bat with him. Last season, Myers hit 37 home runs over two levels of the minors, and it's safe to say that as soon as the Rays feel confident that the service time won't cost them an extra year of getting Meyers' production on the cheap, they'll bring him in to supplant Matt Joyce in the lineup.
A 2010 first-round draft pick, Christian Yelich is probably a year away from joining the Marlins, but if the team decides to trade away Giancarlo Stanton at some point during the year, who knows what might happen? Yelich is still developing as a power hitter but could easily become a 20-20 player for the Marlins -- or whatever team they decide to trade him to when the time comes for his first big contract.
When the season starts, the Cincinnati Reds' Billy Hamilton will be almost certainly be headed to Triple-A so he can hone his defensive skills as a center fielder. Eventually, the plan is for him to come in and take over for Shin-Soo Choo, and when he does, watch out! With 155 stolen bases in the minors last year -- that's not a typo -- Hamilton might come up in June and still become the first player to steal 80 since before 1990.
Points Versus Roto
Not only was his 2012 BB/K rate an impressive 0.78, but Norichika Aoki's speed helped turn more ground balls into hits (34) than any other player in the National League. That stat seems to legitimize the 30 stolen bases even more than the steals themselves. Plus, Aoki isn't just a singles guy. He ranked 24th among all players with 20 or more steals with 225 total bases.
Apart from Jose Bautista, of all the players likely to hit 30 home runs, Josh Willingham is the best bet to have a BB/K rate of over 0.50, which means he's not going to hurt your points total nearly as much as other sluggers might. Combine that with a probably 100-point gap between his OBP and BA, and you have a player who points league owners really need to elevate on those ranking lists.
Shane Victorino moving to Fenway Park is sure to revitalize his flagging extra-base hit totals from 2012, as he failed to reach double digits in triples for the first time since 2008 due primarily to his trade to Los Angeles and Dodger Stadium, where doubles and triples go to die. Just moving to Boston alone should boost Victorino's value by at least one point per week.
Other players who could give you a boost in points leagues, despite batting averages that might scare you off in a rotisserie format, include Jayson Werth, Gregor Blanco, Chris Young and Justin Maxwell. On the flip side, the very realistic chance that his strikeout total quadruples his walks for 2013 is just one more reason to steer clear of Delmon Young, as if most fantasy players needed the extra bit of warning.
The No. 50 outfielder on the ESPN Player Rater last season was Desmond Jennings. Had he qualified at third base, he would have finished No. 10 at that position. In that sense, outfield is far deeper than other positions. But if you look at it another way, in a 10-team ESPN standard league, the No. 50 outfielder and the No. 10 third baseman are both "the final starting spot" at their respective position. Given that, you should probably take position out of the equation during your draft and simply draft the best player on the board when your turn to pick comes around. In the first few rounds, that's more than likely going to result in you selecting an outfielder.
FANTASY TOP HEADLINES
- Fantasy Football Week 14 QB rankings
- Cockcroft: Fantasy impact of Ellsbury deal
- Week 14 ranks reaction: Trust Alex Smith?
- Cregan: Hidden gems via usage rate, PER, minutes
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
2013 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit
2013 Projections and Profiles
• Top 300 | AL-only | NL-only
• Points Leagues | Cheat sheets
• Catcher: Rankings | Preview | Video
• First Base: Rankings | Preview | Video
• Second Base: Rankings | Preview | Video
• Third Base: Rankings | Preview | Video
• Shortstop: Rankings | Preview | Video
• Outfield: Rankings | Preview | Video
• Designated Hitter: Rankings
• Start. Pitcher: Ranks | Preview | Video
• Relief Pitcher: Ranks | Preview | Video
• Updated closer chart
• Matthew Berry's Top 200
• Top 50 prospects for 2013
• Tristan H. Cockcroft's Top 250 keepers
• Custom roto dollar value generator
Talented Mr. Roto
• Cockcroft: Impact of lineup positions
• Gramling: Most fantasy-noteworthy stat splits
• Sheets: Bullpen breakdown, all 30 teams
• Cockcroft: 2012 Consistency Ratings
• Cockcroft: Position battle updates
• Mass: ADP risers, fallers
• Staff: 2013 Sleepers and Busts
• Cockcroft: Deep sleepers for 2013
• Cockcroft: My annual "Bleagh!" guys
• Cockcroft: Tristan's Twenty
• Cockcroft: Effects of Petco, Safeco changes
• Cockcroft: Kings of Command
• Cockcroft: Components of ERA
• Mass: Value of negative batting average
• Mass: Mulligan ERAs: Impact of awful starts
• Mass: Dissecting pitcher wins
• Cockcroft: BABIP primer
• Cockcroft: Spring watch list
• Sheets: 2013 free agents to be
• Gramling: Value of multi-position eligibility
• Cockcroft: Impact of Astros' move to AL
• Cockcroft: Players with surprising eligibility
• Notable offseason moves | Signings roundup
• Complete list of free-agent signings
• Law: Divisive players: Yea or Nay?
• Zola: Guys I Like/Guys I Don't Like
• Karabell: Sleeper Tour -- Mike Morse
• Law: Breakout picks for 2013
• Karabell: My 2013 'Do Not Draft' list
• Karabell: Players I like more
• Zola: How to approach steals category
• Zola: Mathematical method to drafting SPs
• Sleeper stolen base options: AL | NL
• Szymborski: Truth about pitching depth • Szymborski: The Top 30 players in 2018 • Karabell: Risky early-round picks
• Karabell: When to draft starting pitchers
• Zola: Finding hidden value in player pool
• Law: Top 100 prospects
• Lindbergh: Ten players who will regress
• Zola: Is position scarcity a myth?
• Karabell: Top bounce-back candidates
• Karabell: Undervalued veterans to watch
• Szymborski: WAR's most divisive players • Karabell: My Top 100 rankings
• Karabell: Top 10 prospects for 2013
• Karabell/Cockcroft: Underowned pitchers
• Bell: March 26 Injury Report
• Berry's Love/Hate for 2013
• Diamond Debate: Beltre vs. Evan Longoria
• Diamond Debate: Prince vs. Pujols
• Diamond Debate: Tulo vs. Josh Hamilton
• Diamond Debate: King Felix vs. Yu Darvish
• Diamond Debate: Who's No. 1?
• Roundtable video archive
• Bell: Victor Martinez injury update
• Bell: Yankees injury updates