Later this month, my colleague Brandon Funston and I will be in Las Vegas soaking up the bright lights, March Madness and boat-sized buffets.
As many of you know, the endless variety of food found on a Vegas smorgasbord is enough to make Bob Wickman's head explode.
From sugary apple crisp delights to baked ziti dishes covered in tomato sauce, the abundance of gluttonies nearly triggers cardiac arrest every March. And I love every heaping plate-full.
Much like the prime rib buffet at the MGM Grand, outfielders in fantasy are all about one thing: choices. Whether you're looking for the raw power of an Adam Dunn, the speed of a Juan Pierre or the all-around abilities of a Grady Sizemore, the nearly 85 outfielders selected in a normal 12-team mixed draft labels the position a one-stop shop of statistical variation.
Traditionally known for having an overwhelming amount of depth, this year the outfield pool should have a sign that reads "no diving allowed." Even in a year when stat giant Alfonso Soriano gained outfield eligibility, compared to 2005, 2006 saw an eight percent decline in top-150 outfield performers based on Yahoo! rankings.
The downturn was largely due to a resurgence in productive shortstops and the plentiful power output at first base – recall from the first base primer that outfielders had only one more 30-homer player (16 total) than one-baggers.
So, before you decide between Jason Bay or Hanley Ramirez this draft season, ask yourself: Is it worth passing on a top-tiered outfielder knowing you have to field a minimum of five for a deeper-than-normal roster spot that requires one?
You might be shocked at your answer.
Here are the flames, lames and unknown names roaming the outfield this season:
|2007 Outfielders: On the Rise|
|Outlook: In his third full season in the bigs in '06, Rios was destined for a banner year until a bizarre infection in his leg cost him a large chunk of July. Although limited somewhat by a stiff shoulder this spring, he's slated to pick up where he left off and have the breakout campaign we were banking on. Call me an optimist – Rios goes for .300-20-100-90-20 with ease.|
|Outlook: Because of a nagging hip injury, the highly touted Hermida was turned into fish chum for much of 2006. Shrugged off by many obtuse owners, he may just be the ultimate post-hype buy. A patient hitter who drew an astounding 111 walks in 386 at-bats at Double-A Carolina in 2004, Hermida has a .300 BA, 20-20 skills set. The 44th outfielder selected in early drafts, he very easily could finish as a tier-five, top-25 producer. If the injury imp doesn't bite: .290 BA, 17 HR, 70 RBI, 75 R, 16 SB.|
|Outlook: Before you know it, cheesy 80s classic "Sunglasses at Night" will be a Miller Park anthem. In most fantasy circles, little has been made about Ned Yost's recent announcement that "Cory is our starting right fielder." A lethal combination of power and speed, Hart's 298 career at-bats should help him adjust well to everyday play. Hart has averaged 18 homers and 28 steals per year in four minor league seasons. If he can entrench himself early: .275 BA, 17 HR, 75 RBI, 75 R, 19 SB.|
|Outlook: Base coach extraordinaire Davey Lopes hopes to put the flyin' back into this Hawaiian. Likely sandwiched between Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley in the two spot, Victorino will be a quality source of batting average, runs and, hopefully, steals. One of the better homegrown base burglars in the Philly organization, Victorino swiped a mere four bags in 153 games last season, but Lopes' presence could vault him well over 25 swipes this year. Take the late-round bargain and run: .300 BA, 8 HR, 62 RBI, 85 R, 27 SB.|
|Outlook: Subterranean for much of 2006, the garden Gomes is healthy, launching 400-plus foot monster shots in BP and poised to turn a massive profit. Limited tremendously by an ailing shoulder last year, interestingly, the injury may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. With his ability to drive the ball sapped, Gomes had to concentrate more on plate discipline to get on base, increasing his BB% by three percentage points over '05. Already with two homers in his first six spring games, his improved eye and lack of inhibitions should push him over 30 homers and a .270 average this year.|
|2007 Outfielders: On the Decline|
|Outlook: Now convinced he "deserves" Hank Aaron's home run record, Bonds, who must have hired the Junk Yard Dog's stylist this offseason, might be the most overrated player in fantasy baseball. No longer the dominant .362 BA, 45 home run, 101 RBI bruiser he was in '04, despite appearing healthy and fit this spring, he'll be a very risky semi-regular player. Since 2005, Bonds has had four surgeries (three knee and one elbow) and will be lucky to suit up in Giant whites 110 times. Sure, he'll hit 20-25 homers and be a media obsession, but why would you pass on a Jeff Francouer (136.0 ADP) or a Nick Markakis (139.1) for a washed up power hitter that might play 70 percent of the year?|
|Outlook: After a banner .315 BA, 44 HR, 120 RBI, 103 R year, conversations about Dye at the Weiner Circle had everyone talking MVP. Yes, his walk totals spiked last year. Yes, he plays in the best hitter's park in the AL. And yes, he's well protected in a loaded Sox lineup. But for all the positives, the most glaring negative for Dye is his age. At 33, he's reached the power crest. He'll still be a reputable 30-homer, 100-RBI source, but so will Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield some 20-25 picks later.|
|Outlook: Claimed to be "pain-free" after hernia surgery in mid-January, Podsednik is not the dependable high-steals threat he once was. Motor-mouth Ozzie Guillen was discouraged by Pods' efforts against lefties last year (.216 BA), which, without improvement, could force a platoon in left with scrappy veteran Darin Erstad and/or utility man Rob Mackowiak. His dwindling OBP and possible injury setback conjures a pessimistic feeling. Look for his totals to again spiral downward: .262 BA, 4 HR, 42 RBI, 74 R, 29 SB.|
|Outlook: In three short years, Edmonds has gone from prized 42-homer hound to Old Yeller. Years of unnecessary Shamu dives and wall collisions in center have finally taken their toll on the 36-year-old veteran. Limited significantly by a bum right shoulder and left foot ailment, although his shoulder has improved, team doctors continue to stress they don't want him to "get up on his toe and run yet." Because Edmonds has failed to reach 500 at-bats in five consecutive seasons and given his current rotten state, he's completely avoidable. If he can keep one foot out of the infirmary: 425 at-bats, .260 BA, 22 HR, 78 RBI, 75 R.|
|5||Gary Matthews Jr.||LAA||OF||161.5||$12|
|Outlook: Implicated in the online performance enhancing drugs scandal, the son of the Sarge may force fantasy owners to drop and give 'em 50. Arguably the best defensive center fielder in the game, Matthews broke out of his "only" worth and had serviceable value in mixed leagues last year notching a career best .313 BA, 19 HR, 79 RBI, 102 R and 10 SB. Signing a very lucrative five-year, $50 million deal with the Angels this winter, despite improved walk rates, Matthews is destined for a downfall. With the investigation expected to linger it could create a mental strain. Couple that with his average production historically and a letdown seems imminent. Pass him up and chase a Josh Willingham or Hermida later on.|
|2007 Outfielders: Top Prospects|
|Outlook: American League umpires went through extensive bat dodging training this offseason to prepare for Young's permanent arrival. A polished multi-faceted hitter, Young shined at times in 126 at-bats last season, finishing with a .317 average, three homers and 10 RBIs. Once he learns to work deeper into counts he should be a perennial .320, 30 HR, 100 RBI player. Until then, the 20-year-old pup will be the lead attraction in right for a ridiculously talented D-Ray club. Bank on .315 BA, 18 HR, 80 RBI, 85 R, 20 SB.|
|2||Chris B. Young||Ari||OF||230.9||$4|
|Outlook: Meet Mike Cameron Jr.. One of the four venomous baby snakes (Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin the others), Young easily is the most desirable fantasy reptile of the bunch. Coming to the desert in the Javier Vazquez deal prior to the '06 season, the athletic, nimble Young tallied a sensational .276 BA, 21 HR, 77 RBI, 17 SB campaign at Triple-A Tucson. Scheduled to roam center out-of-the-gate, if Young can carry over his minor league patience (71:52 K:BB in '06) he will undoubtedly join the 20-20 club. Absolutely the best midnight hour bargain, he's my choice for NL fantasy R.O.Y – .275 BA, 23 HR, 78 RBI, 91 R, 22 SB.|
|Outlook: Acquired from Milwaukee in the Carlos Lee deal a year ago, Cruz is a well-rounded producer who could surprise with 20-15 numbers. Although he disappointed somewhat on a trial basis in '06 (130 at-bats, .230 BA, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 1 SB, 32:7 K:BB), unless he has a horrific spring, Ron Washington expects him to break camp as the Rangers right fielder. An aggressive hitter who generates blazing bat speed, Cruz has 25-30 yearly homer totals in his near future once he learns to work counts. He'll likely endure a few prolonged slumps this year, but his raw power makes him a nice late-round bench flier.|
|Outlook: Incessantly clamored for by Cubs fans a year ago, the relatively unrefined Pie deservedly stayed at Triple-A for much of 2006. A five-tooled athletic marvel, Pie could get a mid-season call-up if Alfonso Soriano struggles to adjust defensively in center. Rough around the edges at the plate, the 21-year-old Dominican import needs to curtail his overt aggressiveness at the dish (126:46 K:BB in 559 '06 at-bats) before the Cubs count on him as an everyday player. Only 22, when he does reach the Majors, it will likely take a couple of years, a la Alex Rios, to reach his peak offensive potential. For now, limit him to a low-dollar buy in NL-only leagues until his bat-work is smoothed out.|
|Outlook: Considering how pauper-like the Royals were last season, many were shocked Butler and dynamite prospect teammate Alex Gordon didn't receive a September promotion. Unlike in years past, new GM Dayton Moore has a warehouse full of kid gloves. Invited to spring training after a stellar .331 BA, 15 HR and 92 RBI season at Double-A Wichita last year, even with a monstrous spring, Butler is destined to begin '07 at Triple-A Omaha. A fervent hitter who has the best raw power in a loaded Royals farm system, if he can continue his torrid ways at Omaha and improve his defense, a mid-season call-up is in store.|
- Alfonso Soriano