After my colleague Andrew Todd-Smith went over the infield fantasy rankings, I’ll be taking over our outfield rankings starter with the Top 20 Outfielders today. Ultimately I’ll be doing a total of 80 outfielders, with 20 dropping each day during the week. Outfield is a deep, and difficult, position, but it’s where you can get some major production.
So we begin with our top-20 outfielders for the 2017 fantasy baseball season:
Tier 1: Really Really Ridiculously Good Looking
1. Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels) – What a shock. I’m sure no one saw that coming. Mike Trout is likely the top player in any and everyone’s drafts this year (though you could argue some other players ahead of him), and for good reason: The man contributes in every single category. Last year Trout his 29 HRs with 105 R, 104 RBIs, 30 SBs, and slashed .315/.441/.550, and what’s crazy is, that was kind of a down year for him. Part of the reason for the drop in power was a drop in HR/FB rate, but I don’t think there’s any reason to be worried, especially considering his hard hit rate was a career high last year. Will Trout hit 40+ home runs again like he did in 2015? Probably not. But he’ll likely hit around 35 or so home runs with another 25+ stolen bases, and a real shot at 30/30. Honestly though, if you told me that Trout ended up going 40/40 next year, I wouldn’t be shocked. Do I think it’ll happen? No, but the man has that much talent. In my opinion, he should be the number one overall pick in any draft.
2. Mookie Betts (Boston Red Sox) – Look, I’m an Orioles fan, so it’s in my nature to hate the Red Sox, but man do I love Mookie Betts. I’ve been a huge Mookie Betts fan since I first heard about him in the minors and read about him. But I think I can speak for most people when I say that we all expected Mookie to be great, but 31 home runs? I don’t think anyone expected that. Personally, I saw Mookie as a 20/20, maybe 20/30 guy with a .300+ average, but the extra power is just icing on the cake. His HR/FB rate shot up last year, and naturally, so did his home run totals. Could Mookie hit 30 home runs again? I think that’s entirely within the realm of possibility, and in fact, I think he could pretty easily go 30/30 next year while batting in the .310s. And with the lineup that’s going to be around him, the runs and RBIs will be there in a big way. I think Mike Trout should be the number one overall pick in drafts, but I think you could make a serious argument for Mookie at number two overall.
3. Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs) – Kris Bryant is a monster. I mean, a monster. The man has power that is almost unrivaled in the major leagues (just look at his 40.3% hard hit rate). Last season was an MVP season for Bryant, and in all honesty, I don’t know if there’s any reason to expect anything less from Bryant this year. Will he put up MVP numbers again? Maybe, perhaps it’ll be a little less, but the guy is only 25 and he’s in an excellent lineup. I don’t see any reason he can’t hit another 35-40 home runs with 100ish runs and 100ish RBIs all while batting in the .280s. He contributes in every single category (except steals) in a major way, and that’s why he belongs in the same class as the elite outfielders.
4. Bryce Harper (Washington Nationals) – Last year was a weird year for Bryce Harper. A year after blasting 42 home runs and hitting .330, both his average and power plummeted, ending the year with 24 home runs and batting .243. He was not what you bought, but still a useful and good player, especially considering the steals bumped up to a career-high 21, making last season his first 20/20 year. So what happened? Well I think a lot of the average issue can be explained by his .264 BABIP, a far cry from his career .317 BABIP, but the more concerning change was his drop in power. Now, I didn’t expect another 40+ home runs out of him last year. While it wasn’t out of the question, I think a 27.3% HR/FB rate is a little hard to sustain, especially when he’s never done it in the past, but his HR/FB rate dropped to 14.3% (a career low) while his fly balls went up to a career-high 42.4%. Also, his hard hit rate dropped to 34.1%, though that was still good for second-best in his career. In all honesty, I think the real Bryce Harper is somewhere in between 2015 and 2016’s version. I think the power and average will come back up and I think we could see a .285 season with 30 or so home runs and like 15-20 steals. Perhaps I’m being optimistic, but I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that he’s just falling off a cliff for some reason.
5. Trea Turner (Washington Nationals) – One of the best prospects in baseball who finally came up for the Nationals last year, I think everyone said, in unison, “THANK GOD” when the Nationals finally called Trea Turner up. In just 73 games last year, Turner showed everyone why he was such a highly-regarded prospect, stealing 33 bases with 15 home runs and .342. The dude is crazy talented, and while I don’t think the power is going to keep up (he’s never profiled as a .225 ISO, 34.8% hard hit rate guy), everything else should. The guy has incredible speed, and that’s where a lot of his value comes from. I mean, he stole 33 bases in 73 games, that’s pretty amazing. Had his wSB (stolen bases and caught stealing runs above average) qualified, it would’ve been good for third best in the league at 4.0, just ahead of Paul Goldschmidt and behind only Jonathan Villar and Starling Marte. Could Turner steal 40 bases next year? I think that he could easily do that, and I think he’ll do that while batting .300 and hitting 15-20 home runs. And, considering his speed and the solid lineup around him, I think there’s a real chance that his run total could hit the triple digits. All that together is why he deserves to be in this top tier.
Tier 2: Blue Steel
6. Carlos Gonzalez (Colorado Rockies) – I think Carlos Gonzalez scares just about every fantasy player. He’s always got the potential for amazing production, but you just worry about injury, especially now that he’s 31 years old. However, he’s had two straight years of 150+ games, so I think it’s fair to ease the injury concerns a bit. That being said, CarGo was drafted last year coming off a 40 home run season batting .271, and he followed that up with 25 home runs and a .298 batting average. So which CarGo should you expect to get? I think he’s somewhere in between. We all know that the stolen base days are gone for CarGo, but playing in Coors Field gives him a nice advantage in the offensive categories. While I don’t think he’s a 40 home run guy, I think he’s easily a 30 home run guy who can bat in the mid-.280s. The Rockies lineup is going to be incredible, between Nolan Arenado, David Dahl, Ian Desmond, and Trevor Story, there’s gonna be a lot of offense, so I think the chances of CarGo hitting the triple digits in RBIs are very real, especially since he’s driving the ball more (a three-year high in line drive and hard hit rate last year). He’s still a very skilled outfielder and as long as he remains in Coors, he’s worth owning.
7. J.D. Martinez (Detroit Tigers) – The 2015 version of J.D. Martinez was pretty different from the 2016 version of J.D. Martinez, but both were exceptionally useful players. J.D. Martinez in 2015 hit 38 home runs with over 100 RBIs and almost 100 runs. Then, J.D. Martinez in 2016 hits only 22 home runs but batted 20 points higher in batting average. So which J.D. Martinez should you expect? I would say somewhere in between. Martinez’s hard hit rate has been insane the past few years, sitting over 40% for the past three seasons, and he’s still hitting the ball hard. The problem that happened last year was a big increase in groundballs and big decrease in fly balls, along with a slight decrease in HR/FB rate. However, his average jumped up to .307, and I believe that was pretty BABIP-driven, considering his BABIP was .378. I would expect his average to drop to around the high-.270s, low-.280s with about 27-32 home runs and about 80-85 runs and RBIs a piece, a really useful outfielder.
8. Charlie Blackmon (Colorado Rockies) – So yea, what was up with Charlie Blackmon last year? He wasn’t what you drafted, but it’s hard to complain about what he did. When you drafted him last year, you were expecting like 17-21 home runs and 35-40 steals while batting in the .280s. Then, instead, he goes ahead an bats .324 with 29 home runs, a ridiculous 111 runs, and only 17 steals. So it naturally follows to wonder if Blackmon could hit 30 home runs and steal 20-30 bases. He obviously has the speed to steal 40, he’s done it before, and he obviously has the power to hit 30 home runs, he came close last season. So could he go 30/30? I think that’s possible but not likely. Blackmon seems to me to be more of a 20/20 guy this year. His HR/FB rate increased about seven points, but his hard hit rate and fly ball rate didn’t show as much of an increase (though they did go up). Now, Coors Field throws all conventional hitting wisdom out the window, but I don’t see Blackmon hitting 30 home runs (though I think he has that ability). I think you can reasonable expect a 20/20 season batting .290ish with 100 runs a realistic possibility considering he’ll be leading off one of the best lineups in baseball.
9. Nelson Cruz (Seattle Mariners) – Nelson Cruz is 36 and shows no signs of slowing down. He’s had three-straight years of 40+ home runs, and in all honesty, I don’t see any reason to expect less than 35 from him, with a realistic shot at a fourth straight year with 40+. Considering Cruz is a massive power hitter, hits very few line drives and a fair amount of groundballs, it’s pretty incredible that Cruz has managed such a high average and high BABIP over the past few seasons. I personally think it’s not going to keep up, and I think a batting average in the .260s is a lot more realistic for Cruz. Despite the average drop, I still think he’ll hit 35+ home runs with 90ish runs and triple digits in RBIs. Cruz still has some gas left in the tank, he’s an ageless wonder.
10. Giancarlo Stanton (Miami Marlins) – Giancarlo Stanton could be a top-10 player if he could just stay healthy. Problem is, he’s had all kinds of weird injuries, some of them flukey, some of them concerning. So what can you expect from Stanton this season? Well I think that, even if he plays roughly the same number of games as last year (let’s say 120), he could hit 35 home runs while batting .270. But, let’s get crazy and say that, for the second time in five years, Stanton is able to get through 140+ games, then you could be looking at 40+ home runs with triple digits in RBIs and like 80-90 runs, and if you can snag that where Stanton is going, you’ll look like a genius. I don’t think that’s likely to happen, but hey, I like to be optimistic.
11. Starling Marte (Pittsburgh Pirate) – I think a lot of people who owned Startling Marte last season were saying “Where’d the power go?” Sure, I mean, you can’t really complain with a .311 average and 47 steals, but I think a lot of people were drafting Marte expecting 20 home runs and they got nine. What’s stranger is that, while the home runs dropped significantly, Marte’s hard hit rate went up to a career-high 34.7%, his fly ball rate went up, and his infield fly ball rate went down. So basically, what that tells me, is that Marte was hitting the ball hard, but the balls were staying in the outfield. But they weren’t dying in the outfield, they were landing for hits, so I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing for Marte. He’s hitting the ball in the gap more, hence the .311 average and even more so, the .380 BABIP. Now, it’s tempting to look at that .380 BABIP and shout “HE GOT LUCKY,” but I don’t necessarily think he did. While .380 is high, and I think it’ll come down, Marte is insanely fast, he had the highest speed score in the majors last year, so he can beat out those linedrives to the outfield. Since I believe the BABIP will come down, I think the average will come down some as well, but I also think the power will go up a bit. Will he hit 20 home runs? No, I don’t think so, I don’t think that’s his game right now. He’s playing like a top-of-the-lineup hitter, making good, solid contact with the ball and stealing tons of bases. I think a .290-.300 average this season is likely with probably 12-16 home runs. As for the steals, could he finish the year with 50? Yea, he’s got that kind of speed, and if he’s getting on base through contact (cause it sure isn’t gonna be through walks) like he is, then he’ll get a lot of steals, but I don’t necessarily know that high-40s or 50 is in the cards. I think realistically you can expect his steal total to be in the mid-to-high 30s with a chance at 40. That being said, 50 is in the cards, he was pretty efficient on the basepaths last year, ending up with the second-highest wSB in the majors.
12. A.J. Pollock (Arizona Diamondbacks) – So last season kind of sucked for A.J. Pollock. At the end of spring training, Pollock slid into home plate and broke his elbow, missing the vast majority of the 2016 season. This comes a year after his massive breakout season in which he batted .315 with 20 home runs, 111 runs, and 39 steals. So having Pollock miss an entire season was kind of a downer, because we all hoped he’d repeat the previous season. However, I don’t think there’s any reason to as pessimistic about Pollock as so many people are. Coming into his 2014 season, which was pretty promising until it too got shortened by injury, Pollock had changed his swing, which lead to some major improvements. Since that change, we haven’t really seen Pollock be bad in any way. I don’t see why he can’t essentially repeat his 2015 season, provided he stays healthy. I’d expect a .290-.300 average with about 20 home runs, another 30+ steals, and the real potential to hit triple digits in runs, especially since he’ll be leading off.
13. Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh Pirates) – Ah man, Andrew McCutchen. The player that had so many people cursing at their fantasy teams last year. While the 24 home runs were nice, the .256 average and six steals were not what you signed up for when you drafted him. Unfortunately, I don’t think Cutch is who he used to be anymore, but I don’t think he’s as bad as he was last year. His hard hit rate dropped, his infield fly ball rate shot up, his plate discipline as a whole got worse, including an increased chase rate and strikeout rate, it just doesn’t look good. Now, I’m not going to say that, at 30 years old, Cutch has just hit a wall and he’s done being relevant. On the contrary, I think Cutch will pick it up a bit from last year, but you just have to be realistic in what you expect from him. He’s not a 20/20 hitter any more, but I think it’s entirely reasonable to expect like 20 home runs with 7-10 steals while batting in the .280s. Cutch isn’t dead, he’s just not who he used to be, but he’s still useful. Don’t take him out back and shoot him just yet.
14. Mark Trumbo (Baltimore Orioles) – Full disclosure, I’m an Orioles fan. But I’m checking my bias at the door when I say TRUMBO FOR MVP HE IS A GOD. Ok, I got that out of my system. Now, Trumbo had the best season of his career last year, crushing 47 home runs while batting .256. The average was about what you’d expect from a Trumbo season, but that power was way out of nowhere. Even looking at his batted ball stats, his hard hit rate shot up to a career-high 39.3% and his HR/FB rate shot up similarly to a career-high 24.6%. Now, if you wanted to look at that season and say “well that was a one-time thing,” I could understand that, but Trumbo did something last year that makes me think this is legit. For an in-depth look at it, check out this article I wrote on what to expect from Trumbo in 2017, but to sum it up, Trumbo changed his approach. He condensed the movement in his swing, making his leg kick more subtle and getting rid of a lot of wasted movement. This lead to those career-highs in hard hit rate, HR/FB rate, and fly ball rate. Going even deeper, Trumbo is sitting on fastballs better than ever before. his weighted runs above average (wRAA) on fastballs shot up to 26.5 last year, when the highest it had ever been before that was 6.7. But, that comes with a price, and that price was a decreased ability to hit sliders and cutters, the former ending up with a career-low wRAA of -8.1, and the latter ending with a wRAA of -1.4. I think this year, pitchers are going to figure that out, and unless Trumbo can adjust, the numbers are going to go down a bit. There’s also one more thing to keep in mind about Trumbo, and he’s probably the only player in baseball that I’ll bring this up about, and that’s his first and second half splits. Normally, I take zero stock in first and second half splits, but for whatever reason, Trumbo has some serious splits there. Last season, in the first half of the year, Trumbo batted .288, in the second half, he batted .214. And he’s been like that his whole career. For his career, his first-half average is .265 and his second-half average is .237. So what I would recommend doing is draft Trumbo, enjoy what will likely be a good first half of the year, and then sell high on him as fast as you can before he drops off again. Ultimately, I think 40 home runs is within reach again for Trumbo, though I think 35 is more realistic, and he’ll likely bat around the mid-.250s again.
15. Ryan Braun (Milwaukee Brewers) – Last season was the best season we’ve seen from Ryan Braun in quite some time. He got his average over .300 for the first time since 2012 and hit the most home runs he’s hit since then too. Oddly enough, even though he hit the most home runs he’s hit in four years, his hard hit rate dropped. What got him those home runs was an increase in his HR/FB rate, which shot up to a career-high 28.8%. The steals disappointingly dropped last season as well, showing that 2015’s 24 stolen bases was more than likely an outlier rather than the start of Braun becoming a stolen base machine again. I think ultimately what we can expect from Braun this year is the power of 2015 with the stolen bases of last year. Braun has shown himself to be fairly consistent over the past few seasons, with a few fluctuations here and there. I think we can expect what we’ve been getting from Braun, and that’s a batting average in the mid-to-high .280s, maybe even .290, with 25ish home runs and 12-17 stolen bases.
16. George Springer (Houston Astros) – I think we all knew that George Springer had 29 home runs in him, we were just waiting to see it, and see it we did last year, along with a fantastic 116 runs and a .261 batting average. The thing that was concerning about Springer’s season last year though was the decrease in stolen bases. As a prospect, Springer came advertised as a 20/20 guy with potential for more, and we saw that a little bit in 2015 with his 16 steals and 16 home runs in only 102 games. But in 2016, he played all 162 games and only stole nine bases, so what gives? Well he was just bad at stealing bases last year, there’s really no other way to put it. He wasn’t efficient. In 2015, Springer attempted 20 steals, made 16 of them and got caught four times. Last year, Springer attempted 19 steals, made nine and got caught 10 times. So not only was the attempt total down (you’d expect with an extra 60 games, he’d attempt more steals), but the efficiency dropped from 80% to 47%. We can hope that he’ll work on that this season and get his steal totals back up. A big positive, though, is that Springer will be leading off for the Astros this season, and that should do well for his run totals. I think a .260ish average with 25+ home runs, triple digits in runs, and 15ish steals is perfect reasonable to expect from Springer.
17. Ian Desmond (Colorado Rockies) – So Ian Desmond had quite the year last year didn’t he? For the fourth time in five years, Desmond went 20/20, and had the best batting average he’s had in four years, hitting .285. Now he’s got a nice big contract with the Rockies and he’ll be taking that power to Coors Field, which can only help his offensive numbers. The important question, though, is was last year legit? Is this what Ian Desmond is? That’s what Desmond was in 2012 and 2013, but then the average dropped significantly in 2014 and 2015, so which Desmond should you expect? I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect last year’s Ian Desmond to show up in Colorado this year. He was making excellent contact last year, increasing his line drive rate back to 2013 numbers and decreasing his infield fly ball rate back to his 2013 rate. He started making better contact with the ball last year, plain and simple, and playing in Coors is only going to help those numbers. I could see another 20/20 year from Desmond with 25 home runs (possibly even 30) and the potential to hit triple digits in RBIs considering he’ll be batting in the middle of one of the best lineups in baseball.
18. Justin Upton (Detroit Tigers) – Justin Upton made a lot of people very angry last season. Through the first half of the year, Upton was batting .235 with nine home runs, and I heard people asking “Should I drop Justin Upton for Melvin Upton Jr.?” For those that held strong with Justin Upton, they were rewarded (somewhat) with a much better second half that saw Upton batting .260 with 22 home runs. Still, a .246 average and nine steals is not what you’d expect from Justin Upton. So what happened? Well one of the strangest things that, to me, points to some bad luck is his infield hit rate, which was a miserable 2.6%, good for the bottom six percent in the league. Upton isn’t a slow guy, he stole 19 bases in 2015, so the fact that he couldn’t beat out virtually any infield balls is strange. The other thing that was odd was the fact that his infield fly ball rate shot up and almost doubled from the previous year, while his hard hit rate, line drive rate, and HR/FB rate all increased. Upton also had a four-year high in contact rate last season. All of this suggests to me that Upton was the victim of some serious bad luck last year. I don’t necessarily think he’ll hit 30 home runs again (last year’s 31 was a career high), but I think it’s reasonable to expect 25 or some home runs from him while batting in the .260s. The thing that’s going to be a real deciding factor with Upton is the steals, and that’s hard to predict. Last year, he stole nine bases, the year before was 19, and the year before that was eight, so it’s hard to predict what Upton’s going to do in the stolen bases department, but I’d expect maybe 10-15 steals from him this season. Don’t sleep on Justin Upton just yet.
19. Yoenis Cespedes (New York Mets) – We’ve had two straight seasons of excellent production out of Yoenis Cespedes, and honestly I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t continue. There honestly isn’t all that much to say about Cespedes, other than the fact that he should keep doing what he’s been doing. Not a whole lot changed for him between 2015 and 2016. His hard hit rate went up a bit, as did his HR/FB rate, and his plate discipline got a lot better, increasing his walk rate substantially and slightly decreasing his strikeout rate. I think 2015 is the best year we’ll ever have seen from Cespedes, but I think 2017 should be a very useful year for him. I believe Cespedes will likely hit in the high-.270s to .280s with 30+ home runs, and considering the lineup around him, his runs and RBIs will like be in the 70s and 80s respectively. You know what you’re getting from Yoenis Cespedes when you draft him: a power-hitter with a batting average that won’t kill you.
20. Adam Jones (Baltimore Orioles) – I love Adam Jones (obviously) but he scares me. The man swings at everything, yet somehow he also makes contact with everything, and he has done that for a very long time now, so I don’t think I’m expecting that to change all of a sudden, but one day it will. One day his hit tool will catch up to his age and all of a sudden he’ll hit a brick wall and plummet. The sad thing is, though, that that will likely happen right in the middle of a season. That’s not to suggest that 2017 is the year Adam Jones stops being Adam Jones, but it’s something to keep an eye on. You don’t swing the bat that much and keep making contact the same amount every year. However, all that being said, Adam Jones’s end-of-year stats have been relatively easy to predict over the past few seasons, with the only fluctuation being his batting average, which ebbs and flows along with his BABIP. But I would expect a fairly Adam Jones style season next year, which would be about 25-30 home runs while batting in the high-.260s or low-.270s. He’s got an excellent lineup around him, so the RBIs should still be there, as should the runs, especially if the Orioles oddly decide to keep leading him off periodically. He’s 31 and hasn’t hit a wall yet, let’s just hope that 2017 isn’t the year that that wall finally pops up.
JD Martinez also missed about 6 weeks of games in 2016. His Power dropoff wasn’t as significant as you make it seem. Hopefully a lot of people are scared away on draft day.
Eh, I mean I’m still expecting around 30 home runs for him, so I’m not expecting him to drop off all that much. But yes, I believe injury likely played a part in his 2016 stats.