Within the fantasy community, there exists a significant faction of owners who are militantly anti-outfielder.
It's not that these managers refuse to draft the position, obviously. But they'll never select an outfielder with an early pick and they'll viciously deride any owner who does. These managers are, for the most part, position scarcity enthusiasts. They also tend to view all decisions with the sort of perfect clarity that's normally reserved for blog commenters and Sith Lords.
It's the numbers that matter, not where they come from.
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These owners will not draft Ryan Braun at his current ADP (5.0), they won't draft Matt Kemp(notes) at his (7.9), they won't go near the Uptons (25.4, 58.0), and they would sooner extract their own teeth than draft Jacoby Ellsbury(notes) in the second round (20.5).
In short, these owners present the rest of us with solid buying opportunities. Whatever else you think about the relative value of outfielders – or your own ability to find outfield gems in the late rounds – understand that the upper-tier players at this position excel in all five standard categories. Last year, as you'll note in the table below, the average top- 20 fantasy outfielder delivered 95 runs, 23 homers, 89 RBIs, 23 steals and a .296 batting average. Eleven outfielders finished among the top-40 overall players in the year-end Yahoo! ranks. The few elite outfielders who aren't five-stat assets – like Ellsbury, Ichiro(notes) and Carl Crawford(notes) – are instead absolutely dominant in specific categories.
Ignore this position at your own peril. This is where the numbers are. It's fine to consider yourself a principled position scarcity drafter, but understand that you can win the positional matchups against an opponent, yet lose the much more important statistical matchups. There's a great advantage to owning elite players at talent-scarce positions, of course. But if you're targeting less-than-elite players in the early rounds – and that's a common mistake made by scarcity zealots – then you'll need to eventually get lucky on the river. That is to say, your end-game needs to be awfully good.
We should note, however, that if there's any non-pitching roster spot where ownable talent will enter the league mid-season, it's this one. During the year, you'll be able to find a few useful outfielders in the free agent pool. Attentive blog readers will recall that last season's Wiggys were dominated by outfield-eligible players, including Ben Zobrist(notes) (No. 39 in Yahoo! rank), Rajai Davis(notes) (126), Chris Coghlan(notes) (137) and the irrepressible Garrett Jones(notes) (268). You can't necessarily build a winning fantasy outfield from free agent scraps, but you can definitely enhance and repair.
In the tiers below, you'll find seven players who went 20/20 in 2009, including four who delivered 30/20 seasons (Braun, Nelson Cruz(notes), Curtis Granderson(notes), Jayson Werth(notes)). Another eight outfielders went 15/15. And of the seven major leaguer players who stole at least 40 bases last year, six were outfielders (Ellsbury, Crawford, Davis, Michael Bourn(notes), Nyjer Morgan(notes), B.J. Upton(notes)).
So we'll say it again, just to be clear: this is where the stats are. (OK, so the home runs are at first base. But everything else is here.) Take an outfielder or two early, if that's what the draft gives you.
Position averages, top 60 outfielders in year-end Yahoo! rank
2009, OF1 – 95.4 R, 23.1 HR, 88.8 RBI, 23.2 SB, .296 AVG
2009, OF2 – 78.3 R, 20.4 HR, 74.7 RBI, 14.3 SB, .285 AVG
2009, OF3 – 70.7 R, 18.5 HR, 68.3 RBI, 9.4 SB, .265 AVG
2008, OF1 – 99.8 R, 25.8 HR, 93.3 RBI, 18.9 SB, .296 AVG
2008, OF2 – 80.9 R, 20.8 HR, 79.5 RBI, 14.3 SB, .289 AVG
2008, OF3 – 72.8 R, 16.5 HR, 67.6 RBI, 12.8 SB, .273 AVG
|Five Outfielders I Love|
|1. Drew Stubbs – Legit 15-40 power/speed threat atop potent Reds lineup who can be had after pick 300 … mmm, mmm, good!||1. Curtis Granderson – He hit just 10 of his 30 HR at home in '09. This year, he moves to MLB's most power-friendly park.||1. Jayson Werth – Power and patience, what a modern offensive ballplayer looks like. Add some bags and a super lineup and this is a very safe four-category stud.|
|2. Nelson Cruz – Object of desire for the better part of two years; if he logs 550 at-bats, he's a near lock for .265-35-85-90-20.||2. Carlos Quentin – He's 27 and only one year removed from a 36-homer season, yet his ADP is outside the top 100.||2. Andre Ethier – The walk-off king of Chavez Ravine; he's pushed the start button on "I Love LA" more often than Randy Newman.|
|3. Julio Borbon – Stupid good value considering projected leadoff role with one of MLB's more potent clubs; noteworthy '09 audition just the beginning.||3. B.J. Upton – We know there's power here (24 HR in '07) and he's a lock for 40 steals. Last year's average won't repeat.||3. Torii Hunter – Not as durable as he used to be, but when's the last time anyone lost money on him? Unsexy veterans (the Ibanez All-Stars) often the way to go.|
|4. Andrew McCutchen – AAAARRRGGHHHH!!! Captain Cutch could be Buccos finest fantasy player since Barry Bonds(notes); .290-15-65-90-35 upside.||4. Carlos Gonzalez – Tough not to like the immediate upside (25/25), the age (24), the home park (Coors), and the ADP (123.2).||4. Nyjer Morgan – He's basically Michael Bourn East, but the price is three rounds cheaper.|
|5. Juan Rivera – Hidden gem underappreciated after breakout .287-25-88-72 season; quality OF4 in deeper mixed leagues.||5. Julio Borbon – He has elite speed, he's been a .300 hitter at every level, and he'll hit leadoff for a loaded lineup.||5. Franklin Gutierrez – The most underrated player in the AL. If only we got something for his sparkling defense.|
|Five Outfielders I Hate|
|1. Jacoby Ellsbury – Beaneaters will crucify the Noise for including a local hero on this list, but he's insanely overpriced compared to players of similar ilk (i.e. Bourn, Borbon).||1. Josh Hamilton – An almost impossible player to project or trust, yet he's going in Round 5.||1. J.D. Drew – His signature play is "strike three, looking." Marcellus Wallace stole his soul and stashed it in a briefcase.|
|2. Jason Bay – Transition from friendly Fenway to cavernous Citi Field makes him overvalued; solid, but not a top 10 OF.||2. Nick Markakis – This is a case of disliking the ADP, not the player. The past two years have been good, not great.||2. Jay Bruce – Page me when he starts hitting lefties (.198) or on the road (.203). Stealing bases a problem, too (7-for-16). Don't pay for skills he hasn't demonstrated yet.|
|3. Alfonso Soriano – Evaporating skills apparent; shift to sixth spot will boost RBI production but at R/SB cost.||3. Manny Ramirez – Manny's second-half OPS was 164 points off his career mark in '09. But I rarely play these post-PED situations correctly.||3. Adam Dunn – He provides great power, is neutral for runs, won't steal bases and will hurt your average. Enjoy your 2.5-category player.|
|4. Johnny Damon – No longer in pinstripes greatly diminishes overall worth; at 36, last year was his last hurrah.||4. Johnny Damon – Draft him hoping for 15/15. Last year's power was a Yankee Stadium mirage.||4. Jason Heyward – He's going to be great, eventually. But if you pay an expectant price now, you're didn't learn a thing from Wieters 101.|
|5. Manny Ramirez – Unpredictable and unhappy, a half- assed effort, a la 2008, is likely on the horizon.||5. Michael Bourn – Nothing against Bourn specifically, but Rajai Davis and Julio Borbon are going 80 picks later.||5. Nolan Reimold – Who am I to judge Reimold? I liked his rookie year and he's another long-term stud, but expectations seem a little crazy for Season 2.|
|Top 5 Outfielder Prospects|
|1. Jason Heyward – Not even the Batmobile is safe when he steps in the box; not winning NL ROY hardware would be a shocker.||1. Jason Heyward – Even though Y! Fantasy Baseball is now free, we're thinking about charging a small Heyward fee. You'll pay. He's that good.||1. Jason Heyward – Just because I don't want to reach for him doesn't mean I don't see the reality: He's clearly the best offensive prospect in baseball.|
|2. Desmond Jennings – Younger version of Carl Crawford will make a significant impact no later than midseason; '09 (AA/AAA): .318-11-62-92-52.||2. Desmond Jennings – He's like Carl Crawford with an OBP. Jennings stole 52 bases across two levels in '09, batting .318/.401/.487.||2. Desmond Jennings – Five-tool talent might be ready now, but Rays haven't cleared the runway yet.|
|3. Austin Jackson – Leyland's commitment to rookie's catbird seat position could lead to useful SB/R returns.||3. Michael Taylor – With Oakland, Taylor's route to the majors is uncluttered. He went 20/20 with a .320 AVG last year. And he's giant (6-6, 250).||3. Michael Taylor – Power-speed mix gets our attention right away. It won't take him long to become Oakland's best outfielder.|
|4. Mike Stanton(notes) – Scouts claim he's the next Dave Winfield, cracking 67 homers since '08 says he could be on his way.||4. Dustin Ackley(notes) – Our colleagues at Rivals called him the best college hitter of the decade. He'll arrive soon, possibly in the infield.||4. Mike Stanton – Awesome power, but his strike-zone judgment has a long way to go.|
|5. Michael Brantley – Lefty-swinger a Michael Bourn-type who could pay instant dividends with starting gig; .267-6-37-80-46 in Triple-A last year.||5. Mike Stanton – No, not this guy. The 20-year-old Marlins prospect has hit 67 homers over his past two minor league seasons.||5. Domonic Brown – Slumped during Arizona Fall League, but five-tool kid still has a bright future. Might be a regular by 2011.|