For the second straight year, two outfielders stand above the rest in Fantasy Baseball. Not just above the other outfielders, but above all other players. Of course the discussion last year was who to take between Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. In hindsight, we know the right decision. This year, though, replacing Harper in the Trout discussion is do-it-all superstar outfielder, Mookie Betts. Is Trout still the No. 1 overall pick? Or should we believe that Betts has more room to grow?
Let’s take an early look at the outfield tiers for the 2017 season.
*This is Part One of a two-part series. We are going with 5×5 category rankings.
Yes, Trout is still the consensus No. 1 overall player. The man does it all. He’s the safest player in the first round, with the highest floor and almost the highest ceiling in the game. Don’t get cute, people … Not to say Betts doesn’t deserve serious consideration. The people who took a chance on Betts in the second round last year were handsomely rewarded with 31 home runs, 122 runs, 113 RBIs, 26 steals and a .379 wOBA. I expect the entire Red Sox offense to experience some regression, but even with Steamer’s projections of 25 homers, 23 steals and a .375 wOBA, you’ll happily take that.
I wrote about Kris Bryant in my third base preview… And here we are with Mr. Harper. Remember above, where I was talking about Trout having almost the highest ceiling? Well, it’s Harper that’s standing in his way. We saw what Harper’s ceiling was in his historic 2015 season. Will those numbers be repeated? Probably not. Was he a disappointment last year? Well, yeah, but shoulder injuries are a big, big obstacle to overcome for any player, and I don’t think the Fantasy community is talking about that enough. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if he finishes as the top overall player in Fantasy … When Charlie Blackmon hit 19 home runs and stole 28 bases in 2014, it was nice, but we needed to see more. In 2015, we saw it, as Blackmon stole 43 bases to go along with 17 homers. Last year, some people were actually disappointed with Blackmon because the steals dropped to 17. The power, however, went up to 29. In Bud Black’s last full season managing in 2014, the Padres stole 91 bases, which was 17th in baseball, in 125 attempts. Last year, Colorado stole just 66 bases in 105 attempts. I expect Blackmon to hit the 30-steal plateau this year … I wrote about Trea Turner in my second base preview.
I’m approaching Ryan Braun this year like I have Troy Tulowitzki in the past. He’s going to produce when he’s healthy, but you have to expect him to miss between 20 and 30 games. With outfield, though, the replacement-level player that you can get to cover the games he misses makes him worth the gamble with between 20 to 30 homers and double-digits steals … Out of everyone in this tier, I trust J.D. Martinez’ power the most. Without playing a full season last year, it feels like there would be a Martinez discount come draft season … A.J. Pollock is a risk, obviously. I’m fading him, but he belongs in this tier. I’m worried about his elbow and how easily he hurt it last year.
This is where things get interesting. I’m still seeing Giancarlo Stanton go in the early second round of drafts. Stop doing it, people. Late third or early fourth at the earliest. He has the most power in baseball, obviously, but his games played in his career are 100, 150, 123, 116, 145, 74 and 119. Fluke injuries or not, I won’t take him until this tier, which means I’m likely not owning Stanton in 2017. You know what? I’m OK with that … Starling Marte is what he is, and that’s not a bad thing. He showed that his 18.6 home run rate with a 29.1 percent hard hit rate from 2015 was just unsustainable, as he dropped down to an 8.4 ratio and 34.7 hard hit rate in 2016. His lack of walks hurt him in OBP leagues, but he’s an elite steals option who will provide some pop … Is it just me, or has George Springer been mostly a disappointment in his big league career? Still, in that lineup and ballpark, he isl a guy who could break out anytime now … I was chatting with RotoExpert’s Frank Stampfl on Twitter earlier this week. He asked when we can actually just count on Nelson Cruz hitting 40 home runs instead of expecting him to drop off. I’m at that point now. He was one of my biggest bust candidates last year due to his home run to fly ball ratio and his hard hit rate in 2015. He proved me wrong. Mark him down for 40 home runs … I’m the high guy on Khris Davis, but if you read my Barrels article, you’d see why. I trust his breakout from last year, and I expect another 35 home runs or so this year, too. He’s a Top 15 outfielder that you can get around 25 or so … The Pirates are actively trying to trade Andrew McCutchen, so a lot of his value will depend on where he’s going to land. Right now, though, his ceiling is Top 15 since he doesn’t steal bases. To reach that, though, the average needs to come back up. I want to see him without the nagging injuries that he had last year … I want Coors Field shares. I want David Dahl. It’s as simple as that. Expect him, like Blackmon, to run more in 2017 than he did last year. The Rockies’ outfield is filled up with lefties, though, so it will be interesting to see how Bud Black handles that this year … I still don’t get how Yoenis Cespedes went from being known for hitting home runs in the derby, which misled Fantasy owners about his value, to becoming an actual superstar with the Mets. He’s back in New York, which is a good and bad thing. The success has been there, but is he going to take it easy now that he got his money? You’re buying Cespedes off his peak years, and injuries are always a concern. We focus on the positive from Cespedes and the excitement he brings, but we don’t look at the risks that come with owning him … There are two risks with Carlos Gonzalez every single year: 1. He might get hurt. 2. He might get traded. Both of those are still in play this year … Gregory Polanco had an interesting 2016. He started off red hot, showing the signs of a breakout before cooling down toward the middle of the season. There’s still time for the actual breakout, but you’d like to see him run more nonetheless.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
This is my they-are-just-kind-of-here tier. I also want to see where Jose Bautista ends up, but last season was frustrating as a Bautista owner. He sustained his walk rate, which is nice, but Bautista has the makings of being a guy that doesn’t have a gradual decline, but instead just falls off a cliff … For the second straight year, Kyle Schwarber is going to be drastically over drafted. Remember, he only has outfield eligibility this year … Adam Jones also had a yo-yo season last year. When we wrote him off, he bounced back. When we were back on him, he let us down. I miss the days of him being the safe choice it the first round of drafts … Can Jackie Bradley Jr. sustain what he’s doing? It’s what we all thought and wrote last year. He showed that yes, he can. I’m expecting him to continue it this year, too … Stephen Piscotty doesn’t do anything great, but he does a lot of things good. You need those players on your Fantasy team … I’m the low guy on Christian Yelich this year. I’m OK with that. I buy him as a good player, but I don’t buy his 23.6 percent home run to fly ball rate with a 20 percent fly ball rate and a 56.5 percent groundball rate … The only question with Michael Brantley is his health. Remember how we spoke about those shoulder injuries are tricky? … Mark Trumbo is going to get a fat check from someone this offseason after his 47-homer season. His power plays anywhere, as he’s showed us before, but with a record-setting home run season last year in the league, does he offer a whole lot of value to your Fantasy team? … Ian Desmond bet on himself last year and won, and if you bet on him, you won, too. The problem now is that he A. Doesn’t have a home yet. B. Won’t be shortstop eligible. He’s fine, but his second-half numbers dipped quite a bit from his big first half … Justin Upton is going to be inconsistent. We see it every year. When he’s in a groove, not many players are more dangerous at the plate. The only problem is that we saw cold Justin Upton more last year than we saw locked-in Justin Upton.