Outside of Jacoby Ellsbury, there aren’t too many surprises in my top 10 outfielders. That said, I think Justin Upton deserves special recognition, particularly since he’s so young (he’ll turn 23 in August). In just 138 games last year, Upton hit 26 HRs, scored 84 runs, knocked in 86 and stole 20 bases. He also managed a .300 AVE and a .366 OBP. Really, the only downside to Upton at this point is his health. While his health should certainly be accounted for, his upside makes him a tempting draft pick. Typically, you don’t talk about upside with players ranked in the top 20 or so – given that most are at or near their peak performance. For this coming season, I think he could have a very similar year to a Miguel Cabrera – maybe a little worse average, but vastly more stolen bases. I ranked him below Holliday, Ichiro, and Crawford, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up being a more valuable fantasy player in 2010. He is just that good.
Speaking of players who are really good, say hello to Shin-Soo Choo. Choo has been “underrated” for so long that he might at some point enter the conversation as being overrated – of course that would necessitate him having a down year. In 2009, Choo hit .300, posted a .394 OBP (crazy!), hit 20 HRs and stole 21 bases. Sure, his counting stats (87 runs, 86 RBIs) could have been better. With a healthier surrounding lineup in 2010, however, Choo should push each of those numbers past the century mark easily. I have Choo ranked 34th among hitters. If you can get him in the third round, jump for joy. He is a borderline #1 outfielder and a top player in OBP leagues.
I already talked about Ellsbury, but what about Nyjer Morgan and Michael Bourn. I have Morgan at 47th overall and 20th among outfielders for one reason: his wheels. I strongly believe that Morgan’s 42 stolen bases last year represent the floor for him. After Morgan joined the Nationals last summer, he stole 24 bases in just 49 games. That is crazy. Of course, his numbers were helped from hitting .351 and posting a .396 OBP during those games – numbers that will not be matched this year. Still, he does have a career .362 OBP in the majors and .370 in the minors, so we know he can get on base. And when he does, the Nats are going to let him run. With a full season in Washington, he might be able to push Ellsbury for the MLB stolen base crown.
Michael Bourn stole 61 bases last year, second only to Ellsbury. I ranked him just behind Morgan because I am skeptical that he will replicate his .285 AVE and .354 OBP. Bourn’s speed has never been an issue; in 2008, for example, he stole 41 bases. His bat, however, has not always been as productive as his legs: that same year he hit for a .229 AVE and a .288 OBP. If Bourn duplicates his 2009 numbers, 60+ SBs are all but assured. However I’m not buying into this likelihood. Rather, I think his 2010 numbers will be along the lines of a .270 AVE and a .340 OBP. So, there is clearly some stolen base potential here, though not as great as what he produced last year. Still, if you can nab him around the 10th round, you will have a great chance to dominate SBs on a weekly basis.
There seem to be a lot of emerging outfielders this year. I just talked about Upton, and I have written previously about Carlos Gonzalez. Two guys I am higher on than Gonzalez are Adam Jones and Andrew McCutcheon.
I love Adam Jones. This love may be irrational (he does play for my Orioles), though I think it is based on fact. Last year, in only 119 games, Jones scored 83 runs, hit 19 HRs, knocked in 70, and stole 10 bases. All of those (aside from SBs) were noticeable increases over his production in the 132 games he played in 2008. Clearly, Jones is trending up. To where, you ask? Well in the minors, Jones hit 67 HRs and stole 47 bases in 489 games. If he stays healthy, Jones could hit 25+ HRs, steal 15+ bases and add 90 runs and 100 RBIs. Thank you, Erik Bedard.
Just a few slots behind Jones, I have the hope of the Pirates: Andrew McCutchen. After being called up, McCutchen played in 108 games. Over the course of his abbreviated season, he scored 74 runs, hit 12 HRs and stole 22 bases, all while batting .285 and posting a .365 OBP. If you extrapolate those numbers over a 162-game season, McCutchen would have scored 111 runs, hit 18 HRs, and stolen 33 bases. McCutchen is going to be a star – a 20-30 season is clearly not out of the realm of possibility. Draft him with confidence as high as the ninth round.
As the draft progresses, keep your eye out for Drew Stubbs. Stubbs, who is my 62nd best outfielder and 124th best hitter, will be 25 this season – so he is a bit older than some of the other “prospects.” Still, in his first major league season (constituting 42 games), Stubbs scored 27 runs, hit eight HRs and stole 10 bases. That’s great production in a short amount of time (if you average those stats over 162 games, he scores 104 runs, hits 31 HRs and steals 39 bases). Stubbs will not keep up that power pace, but he shouldn’t have a problem replicated the speed. Over 126 AAA games, Stubbs stole 49 bases. Clearly there is stolen base upside here. However, he doesn’t have the power potential that Jones or McCutchen have. If he hits 15, you should be happy. Don’t whiff on him late in drafts though, he could prove to be just as valuable as a Michael Bourn.
Just say no to Alfonso Soriano. I’ve never been a big Soriano fan and I’ve never owned him, so I don’t have great first-hand knowledge. What I do know is that he has played in an averaged of only 120 games over the past three seasons. Over this time, he has also only averaged 16 SBs, 79 runs, and 67 RBIs. While he has also averaged 27 HRs over these seasons, this number has steadily declined: he hit 33 in 2007, 29 in 2008 and 20 in 2009. Soriano just turned 34 and, I believe, is in the twilight of his career. I ranked him as the 30th outfielder and 65th overall hitter. There is the potential for upside here, and a return to 30-20 is not inconceivable. Still, I wouldn’t trust him as anything other than a #3/#4 outfielder.
People love sleepers; they love grabbing the guy late who outperforms everyone. To help you look smart to all your friends, I’m highlighting at least on sleeper candidate per position.
You start more outfielders than any other position, right? So, I give you more sleepers here than at any other position. It just seems fair.
Kyle Blanks has a cool haircut. He also has a cool swing. Though Blanks is only 22, he hit 10 HRs in 54 games last year. Sure he is a defensive liability in left and blocked by Adrian Gonzalez at first – not to mention he plays in a crappy hitters park – but that won’t stop him from mashing. If he can find consistent playing time, he will hit 30 HRs. Don’t believe me? Look to the 73 homers he hit in 451 minor league games. If you need power late in drafts, you best be tapping the next best afro man.
Travis Snider was a trendy sleeper pick going into 2009. Unfortunately, he was sent down in the middle of the year and only played in 77 major league games. Still, he hit six HRs after August and seemed to be getting his stroke back. If he can keep his average respectable (around .260), he should be a cheap source of 20 or so HRs. As his .304 average over four minor league seasons indicates, this is possible. He also posted a .382 OBP and hit 64 HRs in 353 games. There is a history to suggest he’ll be good.
Cameron Maybin fizzled at the beginning of last year, though he sizzled down the stretch. In between, he hit .319 and posted a .399 OBP in 82 minor league games. After his recall, Maybin played in 28 games in August and September, hitting .293 and posting a .353 OBP. Over his minor league career (spanning 382 games), Maybin has hit 39 HRs and stolen 81 bases. If he can get on base for the Marlins, the SBs will be there. Last year, Maybin was a deep sleeper. More often than not, however, sleepers take some time to mature. I think Maybin could be very useful in 2010.
You’ve probably heard about the guys mentioned above. Now, lets talk about some players you might not be as familiar with. First up, Michael Saunders. How would you like this line: 13 HRs, a .310 AVE and .382 OBP over 64 games? That is what Saunders did in the minors last year before getting promoted. Sure he didn’t perform well at the major league level (.221 AVE, .258 OBP), but he was only given 129 plate appearances. At just 23 years old, it is a certainty that Saunders will have more chances to prove himself. And, with increased opportunity will likely come increased ratios, which will bring runs, HRs, RBIs and SBs (he stole 71 bags in 438 minor league games).
Second up, we’ve got Michael Brantley. Brantley has appeared in only 28 MLB games, though he managed to bat .313, post a .358 OBP and steal four bases in that limited sample. I agree that extrapolation from these numbers would be improper; luckily we have well over 1,849 minor league ABs to look at as well. Over these at bats, Brantley hit .300, posted a .387 OBP, and stole 149 bases. He won’t provide much pop, but if you’re looking for a cheap source of steals, Brantley is your man. He could come out of nowhere to steal a bunch of bags in 2010.
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