With a plethora of MVP candidates, five-category producers and young players on the rise, outfield is both the deepest and most important fantasy baseball position. With over 50 outfielders owned in most standard leagues, fantasy owners need to know all of the risers, fallers and sleepers in an extraordinarily deep group of potential fantasy stalwarts. The following 25 players represent the first tier of fantasy outfielders -– players who should start in nearly any league and who can make huge contributions to your fantasy squad.
All rankings are based on a standard 5×5 category, 10-team rotisserie league scoring system.
1. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
One of the most consistent players in baseball, Braun was stellar once again in 2010 despite hitting the fewest home runs of his short career. Braun’s increasing patience at the plate appears to be impacting his power, but look for him to put it all together in 2011 at age 27, and expect a .300-30-100 line with 15 stolen bases. Braun is a very safe player and should be off the board by the tenth pick.
2. Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox
Another incredibly steady player, Crawford set career highs in homers, RBI and runs in 2010, and now moves to a better hitter’s ballpark and a better lineup in Boston. He may run a little less batting ahead of players like Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis, but bank on a .300-15-80 line with 40 stolen bases and 120 runs from Crawford in 2011 and know that his power numbers could be a little higher, too.
3. Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
Gonzalez was the best player in fantasy baseball in most leagues last season, exploding on to the fantasy scene by hitting .336-34-117 with 26 stolen bases. Gonzalez’ batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and strikeout rate mean he’s likely to see his average fall closer to .290 in 2011, but another 30-homer, 100-RBI, 20-steal campaign is within his reach, making him a top 15 fantasy player.
4. Matt Holliday, St Louis Cardinals
Avoiding risks in the first five or so rounds of fantasy drafts is often a sound strategy, and Holliday is the definition of a safe, predictable player. Count on Holliday to hit .310-25-100 with 10 stolen bases and 95 runs while providing Albert Pujols with protection, and be comfortable taking him in the second round.
5. Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
If Hamilton were guaranteed to stay healthy, he’d top these rankings, but he’s played in over 150 games just once in his career and in over 130 games just twice. Hamilton won’t hit close to .360 again, but a .300-30-100 line with 10 steals is realistic for him if he reaches 500 at-bats. Unfortunately for Hamilton, the notion that he’ll see that much playing time is far from a guarantee.
6. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kemp is the definition of a high-risk high-reward player, but while he’s difficult to predict and sometimes frustrating to own, he’s also fully capable of being the best player in fantasy baseball. Kemp was victimized by a low BABIP last season, and while his lack of patience will always be a problem, the potential for a .300-30-100 campaign with 30 stolen bases is too much to ignore.
7. Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers
Cruz has been on the verge of stardom for several years now, but has never received more than 515 plate appearances in any season, preventing him from putting up the type of eye-popping numbers he’s capable of producing. Cruz is as good a player as any to gamble on in 2011, and if he can finally reach 600 at-bats, a .280-30-100 line with 20 stolen bases is well within his reach.
8. Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks
Fantasy owners may be a little tired of hearing about Upton’s upside without seeing terrific results, but Upton will be just 23 when the 2011 season begins, and his 2010 numbers were deflated by several nagging injuries. Upton has the ability to hit .300-30-90 with 20 stolen bases, and that type of upside means he shouldn’t make it past the fourth round.
9. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
McCutchen doesn’t get the attention he deserves playing in Pittsburgh, but he’s quietly turned into a five-category fantasy stud. McCutchen is fully capable of repeating his 2010 line of .286-16-56 with 33 steals and 94 runs, but there’s also serious potential for growth, and 20 homers and 40 swipes are not unrealistic goals. Treat McCutchen as a top 50 player and reap the rewards.
10. Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians
Choo has become so renowned for being underrated that he’s in danger of becoming overrated. His five-category production and reliability are major strengths, but his .300-22-90 line and 22 steals from 2010 likely represent his ceiling, and he shouldn’t be drafted before the fourth round. Choo also has little in the way of protection in a poor Indians offense.
11. Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals
Werth’s move to Washington has caused him to fall a little too far in the eyes of many fantasy players, and while leaving Philadelphia may have a slightly negative impact on his power numbers, the rest of Werth’s game is here to stay. Expect a .280-25-90 line with 20 steals, and don’t be afraid to make Werth your No. 1 outfielder in 2011.
12. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
One of the most polarizing figures in fantasy baseball, many will believe Bautista should rank much lower or much higher than this after his explosive 2010 season in which he drove in 124 runs and led the majors with 54 homers. I don’t expect him to repeat those numbers, but believe a .265-35-90 line is within his reach, and would take a gamble on Bautista from the fifth round on. Bautista’s third base eligibility adds to his value, as well.
13. Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves
The fact that Heyward hit .277-18-72 in 2010, finished second in NL ROY voting and was still considered to have somewhat of a disappointing season should tell you all you need to know about his upside. Heyward should see solid improvement across the board in 2011, and a .285-25-85 line with 15 swipes could send him to his second All-Star game in as many seasons.
14. Alex Rios, Chicago White Sox
Rios is a stronger player in rotisserie than head-to-head leagues, thanks to his streakiness, but the five-tool outfielder has largely revived his career in Chicago and is a fantasy force once again. Rios flies somewhat under the radar, but another .280-20-85 line with 30 steals would cement him as one of fantasy’s elite outfielders, and he could score 100 runs in an improved White Sox offense.
15. Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners
Suzuki had somewhat of a bounce back season in 2010, but while he’s been largely able to defy age to this point in his career, he won’t be able to maintain his quickness forever. He’s still a safe bet for a .300-plus average and 30 steals, but the lack of RBI and run opportunities he should see, coupled with his age, make him a riskier pick in 2011 than he has been in years past.
16. Hunter Pence, Houston Astros
Another outfielder who doesn’t receive quite as much attention as he should, thanks to the market he plays in, Pence has been as consistent as they come over the past three seasons. Still in his prime and improving his base running savvy as he ages, expect another .280-25-85 line from Pence in 2011, and count on him to nab 15-20 bases as well.
17. Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers
Ethier doesn’t hit lefties well enough to rank in the upper-echelon of fantasy outfielders, but mashes against right-handers so well that he’s still a solid four-category producer. Ethier’s power numbers fell a little in 2010 as he battled injuries, but he should return to hit around .290-25-90 in 2011. He’s a solid No. 2 outfielder, just be sure to sit him against tough southpaws in daily leagues.
18. Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
2011 looks to be the season Bruce finally breaks out as a big time star, as he was one of the best players in the majors after the All-Star break last season and improved his walk rate to a career-high 10.1%. Bruce is never going to be a major threat on the bases or win batting titles, but if he hits .280-30-100, his owners won’t mind.
19. Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox
Ellsbury played in just 18 games last season after breaking his ribs in a collision with Adrian Beltre in early April and was thus unable to follow up on his breakout 2010 season in which he stole 70 bases. Ellsbury should retain his spot atop Boston’s potent offense in 2011, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him hit .300-7-60 with 50-plus steals and 100 runs scored if he can stay on the field.
20. Shane Victorino, Philadelphia Phillies
Victorino hit below .280 for the first time in his career as a starter in 2011, but was hurt by a career-low BABIP and still managed to provide four-category fantasy production. Expect Victorino’s average to bounce back in 2011, and his .290-15-65 line with 30 steals and 100 runs will make him a solid No. 2 fantasy outfielder.
21. B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay Rays
Fantasy owners tend to undervalue Upton because he’s yet to become the big star many projected he would a few seasons ago, but he still has all the tools needed to be a four-category fantasy stud. Upton hit for more power in 2010 than he has in any season since 2007, and if you can stomach his low average, a 20-homer, 40-steal 2011 season will be your reward.
22. Chris Young, Arizona Diamondbacks
Young is a fairly similar player to Upton, only with more power and less speed than the Rays’ center fielder. Young’s high strikeout rate and lack of patience at the plate will likely preclude him from ever hitting much above .270, but another .260-25-90 line with 25 steals would cement him as a top 25 fantasy outfielder both now and in the future.
23. Delmon Young, Minnesota Twins
Drafted first overall in the 2003 draft, Young disappointed his first few seasons in the majors, but has really improved since the second half of the 2009 season and is now worth owning in all leagues. Young should continue to add power as he gets older and enters his prime, and a .290-25-90 line in 2011 would be a step in the right direction. He has less value in OBP leagues, though.
24. Mike Stanton, Florida Marlins
Stanton’s raw power is already the stuff of legends, and the 21-year-old outfielder didn’t disappoint in his rookie season, smashing 22 bombs in just 100 games. Stanton is another high-strikeout player who will have trouble breaking the .260 threshold, but he should hit 30-plus homers in 2011 while driving in 90 runs and swiping 5-10 bases.
25. Colby Rasmus, St. Louis Cardinals
Rasmus would rank higher on this list if he was guaranteed to receive 600 at-bats in 2011, but for some reason, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa insists on allowing lesser players to block Rasmus’ development. He has the ability to hit .275-25-80 with double-digit steals, but fantasy owners should draft him with caution until La Russa’s plans are more clear.
Three Prospects To Watch For 2011
1. Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays
Jennings may not break camp with the Rays, but he should be up and starting with the club by July at the latest. Jennings is one of the fastest players in the minors, and, while there are concerns about his durability and lack of power, he’ll only need 400 at-bats to swipe 20-30 bases and should hit for a solid average, as well.
2. Dominic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies
Brown likely would have been the Phillies’ opening day starter in right field if not for a broken hand that looks to keep him out until May. Brown’s struggles against left-handers means that Ben Francisco will steal some at-bats from him, but the potential five-category contributor will monitor a pick-up in all leagues once active.
3. Ben Revere, Minnesota Twins
Revere is the second coming of Juan Pierre. He’s unlikely to ever hit more than three homeruns in a season and will be nearly useless for RBI, as well, but he’ll be a lock to hit around .300 and has 40 stolen base potential, as well. The Twins’ outfield is crowded right now, but Revere figures to see major league time at some point this season and will be a cheap source of steals.