Someday the top tier at this position will be reserved exclusively for Uptons, but that day hasn't arrived just yet. For now, there are six outfielders in the first tier, and all of them are taken within the first two rounds of an average draft. Another 11 outfielders are off the board by the end of Round 4. This is clearly a talent-rich position.
It's so deep, in fact, that many of you will avoid outfielders in the early rounds altogether, and you'll deride the owners who draft them. There's not really a severe drop-off in the talent pool at any point – it's a gradual descent from tier to tier – and there are always useful, undrafted players who emerge during the season. If you wait for the third tier outfielders, that decision probably won't cost you a title. You'll also find that the middle tiers are loaded with power/speed threats. Nine Major League players delivered 20/20 seasons in 2008, and seven were outfielders. Matt Kemp (18/35), Johnny Damon (17/29) and Torii Hunter (21/19) were awfully close, too.
Still, the outfielders who are typically selected in the opening rounds of a draft are exceptional fantasy assets – think 30/30 or 40/20 or 20/40 – and they'll earn their ADPs. We're playing a game in which you're ultimately trying to assemble the best collections of stats; you can win the position matchups and still lose the war. (Craig Falzone has convincingly demonstrated this fact in prior years, while trying to prove other things). If you're drafting at the back half of the first round – where you've got no shot at the elite shortstops and third basemen anyway – then you can't afford to be a positional elitist with every pick. Don't dismiss the top tier outfielders, leaving them for the owners who've already taken Hanley Ramirez and David Wright.
In later rounds, you'll find that this position caters to basically any draft preference. If you're interested in category specialists, try Adam Dunn (Yahoo! ADP 73.2) or Willy Taveras (182.3). If you're comforted by the presence of reliable veterans, target Raul Ibanez (125.0) or Pat Burrell (168.5). If you tend to draft only high-upside young players – and there's almost no penalty for that approach in a 12-team public league – then get Jay Bruce (97.7) or Justin Upton (173.0).
Justin deserves some attention here, because he won't fit neatly into any of the categories below – his position rank and ADP are reasonable, and he no longer qualifies as a prospect. He's also off to a terrific start for Arizona this spring (6-for-15, one steal), and he held his own in 417 plate appearances last season at age 20 (15 HR, .250/.353/.463). If he would have spent last year as a member of the Tucson Sidewinders, he would have been the youngest player at Triple-A. That's no small detail. Upton is actually younger than every prospect we'll be hyping in the outfield primer, except for Travis Snider. Don't overlook him simply because the name seems old. The Upton brand is strong, and there's plenty of growth potential.
|Top 5 Outfielder – Overall|
|1. Grady Sizemore – Only needs to rediscover his .290 stroke to become a full-meal roto deal||1. Ryan Braun – At age 25, Braun already has a pair of 30-homer seasons to his credit, and the career average is .301||1. Grady Sizemore – Statistical marvel was the only outfielder to compile 100-plus runs, 30 homers and 30 steals last year||1. Grady Sizemore – Four-category overlord, deeper stat profile suggests an average rebound|
|2. Ryan Braun – His power binges are already tales of lore in fantasy circles||2. Grady Sizemore – He's delivered four straight 20/20 seasons, and always reaches triple-digits in runs scored||2. Ryan Braun – Hebrew Hammer still hasn't peaked – 45 homers, 120 RBI not out of the question||2. Ryan Braun – Late rib injury cost him monster numbers in 2008; an MVP waiting to happen|
|3. Josh Hamilton – The Natural One||3. Josh Hamilton – An elite power hitter in an outstanding lineup, batting behind Kinsler and Young. He'll contend for HR and RBI crowns||3. Josh Hamilton – Staves off injury imp and another significant power growth should be expected – 40-plus HR reachable||3. Josh Hamilton – Needs to step it up on the road (.263 average, .448 slugging), but the Arlington numbers are insane|
|4. Alfonso Soriano – He's not a 40/40 man anymore, but there's at least another 30/20 campaign left in him||4. B.J. Upton – Postseason power/speed display was plenty impressive (7 HR, 6 SB); recovery from shoulder surgery is key spring story||4. B.J. Upton – Bum wing squelched power under double-digits last year, but 20-50 potential mouth-watering||4. B.J. Upton – Power returned in the playoffs (seven homers), and now the shoulder is fixed|
|5. B.J. Upton – The speed never left, and the power returned in '08 postseason (7 HR in 16 games)||5. Carlos Beltran – Nothing wrong with a line like this: 116 R, 27 HR, 112 RBI, 25 SB, .284 AVG||5. Alfonso Soriano – Injury concern labels him a minor risk but across-the-board reward should be mammoth||5. Carlos Beltran – Most underappreciated five-category guy in the majors|
|Top 5 Outfielder – Undervalued|
|Brandon Funston||Andy Behrens||Brad Evans||Scott Pianowski|
|1. Andre Ethier – Likely to hit No. 3 in front of Manny – OPS was 1.100 after Manny came on board||1. Torii Hunter – He'll go 50 picks after Corey Hart, but the projections are similar||1. Magglio Ordonez – Steady thoroughbred's pop is slowly subsiding, but .300-100-90 return deserves to be lauded||1. Carl Crawford – Blame last year on the hamstring and finger; your one chance to get him on the cheap|
|2. Lastings Milledge – No. 146 ADP for freshly-seasoned top prospect who hit .318 with 7 HR and 11 SB in final 52 games of '08 seems like quite a bargain||2. Curtis Granderson – Tigers leadoff hitter goes outside the top 50 overall, but another 20-homer, 120-run season wouldn't surprise||2. Nelson Cruz – Will prove Quad-A label is undeserved – sick .347 BA, 37 HR, 24 SB in 383 Triple-A at-bats last year||2. Andre Ethier – Went bonkers when Manny hit town last year (.368/.448/.649); there's a batting title in Ethier's future|
|3. CoCo Crisp – Still only 29, could push .290, 100 R and 25 SB leading off every day in KC||3. Johnny Damon – Another strong candidate for 100 runs and 20-plus steals, yet he falls to Round 12||3. Raul Ibanez – The Magglio of the East should yield terrific results in new digs – .290-25-100-85 upside discount at pick 115||3. Mike Cameron – You'll take an average hit but he fills the other four categories at a bargain-basement price (ADP: 318)|
|4. Justin Upton – Former No. 1 overall draft pick closed '08 with .919 OPS in September – he already has as many SB (1) this spring as he had last year||4. Nelson Cruz – Check his projected spot in the batting order, then look at the names above him. The setup is ideal||4. Andre Ethier – Growing power and batting third in front of Manny in robust Dodgers lineup means he will build on breakout '08||4. CoCo Crisp – Breakfast cereal never really fit in The Hub; he can anonymously regain 2004-05 form in KC|
|5. Jermaine Dye – Has gone on a prolonged tear in each of the past two seasons where he'll carry a fantasy squad – 50 HR in past 221 games||5. CoCo Crisp – Leading off for KC, he'll be useful in at least two categories. Crisp has stolen 20 bases four times||5. Elijah Dukes – Should be viable in runs, homers, steals and arrests – 20/20 candidate going after pick 260||5. Randy Winn – Let others chase the buzz players; you beat them with the boring veterans (The Ibanez All-Stars) that constantly return a profit|
|Top 5 Outfielder – Overvalued|
|Brandon Funston||Andy Behrens||Brad Evans||Scott Pianowski|
|1. Matt Holliday – Y! ADP in the mid-30s is about right, but I still see many taking him inside the top 20 picks||1. Matt Holliday – An excellent hitter in any park, but he was Ruthian in Colorado – check the splits||1. Carl Crawford – Swipe potential once again driving up perceived value into top 30 – he's a pricier Jacoby Ellsbury||1. Alfonso Soriano – Age, health concerns, declining bags, I won't consider him in Round 2|
|2. Alex Rios – Oft-top 50 pick is already 28, but has yet to put it all together – has topped thresholds of 20 HR, 100 R or 20 SB only once||2. Manny Ramirez – At his current ADP (27.0), we're assuming commitment and contentedness||2. Vladimir Guerrero – The now 34-year-old Vlad an enhanced injury risk with every passing year; skills showing signs of erosion||2. Jay Bruce – Just .190 against lefties, just 4-for-10 on the bases? He's not a superstar yet|
|3. Chris Young – Seriously, you won't lose much by taking Mike Cameron more than 100 picks later||3. Vernon Wells – Hamstring issues have resurfaced, yet he's going a few rounds ahead of safer, similar alternatives||3. Matt Holliday – Change of scenery and managers should drive numbers downward – a fourth-round player at a second-round price||3. Ryan Ludwick – Heckuva story but it has outlier written all over it; HR/FB rate likely to drop and he doesn't have the profile of a .299 hitter|
|4. Vernon Wells – Be it a slump, injury or both, I no longer trust him to hold it together for 150+ games||4. Michael Bourn – If the player hits .237, then the steals aren't cheap||4. Hunter Pence – Borderline top-25 outfielder based on ADP; needs to trim 51.7 GB% to live up to hype||4. Hideki Matsui – Wheels are shot and force him to DH; unlikely to last a full season, be it for health or production reasons|
|5. Vladimir Guerrero – The same as Wells (above), but to a lesser extent||5. Vladimir Guerrero – Not dramatically overvalued (ADP 37.6), but the knee remains a worry and he's going well ahead of Markakis, Kemp, Rios and Granderson||5. Nate McLouth – Sketchy minor league track record and peripherals suggest homer ceiling was reached last year||5. Delmon Young – Ten homers, .405 slugging? That's not the way to beat through the outfield gridlock|
|Top 5 Outfielder – Prospects|
|Brandon Funston||Andy Behrens||Brad Evans||Scott Pianowski|
|1. Cameron Maybin – Has 20/40 future upside and an immediate spot in Marlins outfield||1. Cameron Maybin – Classic five-tool talent, Maybin definitely impressed in September (16-for-32, 4 SB). Expect decent power, plenty of steals||1. Colby Rasmus – Skip Schumaker's shift to second paves way for balanced commodity to play everyday – 20-20 seasons on the horizon||1. Cameron Maybin – Slow spring might bring price down; still, 15 homers and 30 steals likely out of the box|
|2. Travis Snider – Big power prospect hit .301 in 24 games for Jays in '08 at age 20 (youngest in AL)||2. Travis Snider – The 21-year-old is having a strong spring, and could reach his age in homers this year. May not have mastered LHPs just yet||2. Matt LaPorta – Outside shot to break with senior club, but another few months of seasoning anticipated after cool Dominican Winter League performance||2. Travis Snider – Wasn't overmatched in late-season trial (.301/.338/.466) but needs to trim strikeouts|
|3. Jason Heyward –Not yet 20, he's drawing comparisons to Dave Winfield and may be only a year away from Atlanta||3. Colby Rasmus – It's his second straight year in the prospects section of the OF Primer. We've never had a three-peat. Someday he'll go 20/20, we swear||3. Dexter Fowler – Toolsy centerfielder already has big league leather but needs to refine swing/discover power at Triple-A||3. Colby Rasmus – Injuries held him back in 2008 but lofty ceiling remains; getting shot to win left-field job|
|4. Colby Rasmus – Physically, he's a complete package. Mentally, not so much||4. Andrew McCutchen – Still just 22, McCutchen is ready defensively and should debut in '09. Stole 34 bases at Triple-A in '08||4. Andrew McCutchen – Similar to Rasmus/Fowler long-term statistical contributions, he could push McLouth to left by midseason||4. Dexter Fowler – Dynamic speed, keen eye, thin air, how can this go wrong?|
|5. Matt LaPorta – Once he figures out how to better handle the off-speed junk, he'll hit 30 HR annually||5. Dexter Fowler – Hit .335/.431/.515 at Double-A last season with nine homers and 20 steals. Clearly the Rockies' CF of the future, if not the present||5. Austin Jackson – Uninspiring Melky/Gardner combo in center suggests uber-athletic youngster might puncture lineup with strong first-half at Triple-A||5. Andrew McCutchen – Output hasn't caught up to raw skills yet; needs another summer of seasoning|