As we get psyched up for the 2020 fantasy baseball season, we’re ranking the top players at every position, and here we’re going to tackle outfielders.
A couple of notes before we start this: First, these rankings are not my personal rankings. They are consensus rankings established during a rankings roundtable with myself and a handful of other people here at Pitcher List. Second, we’re going to be ranking the top 80 outfielders, but to make it a little easier to parse, we’re going to be ranking 20 at a time in four different articles. We continue here with the top 40!
So let’s get into it! Also, the full list is made up of six tiers, and just for fun, I’ve decided to name the tiers after my favorite David Bowie albums.
21. Nicholas Castellanos (Cincinnati Reds)
I think after three years, you can take a pretty safe guess at what you should expect from Nicholas Castellanos (I still can’t get used to not calling him Nick). Every year, Castellanos is good for a roughly .290-ish average, around 25 home runs, and good runs and RBI numbers. Fortunately, he’s on the Cincinnati Reds now, which is great news for his offensive potential, because that’s a lot better than the Detroit Tigers lineup he’s been in for most of his career, and roughly as good as the Chicago Cubs lineup he was in for part of last year (a season that saw him log a career-best 100 runs). It’s funny: Castellanos is one of those boring-but-productive players who consistently turns in a solid season but isn’t going to absolutely blow you away. I’m all about those guys, I love the safety of a predictable fantasy asset, and Castellanos is exactly that.
Thanks to an excellent Twins lineup, Eddie Rosario posted arguably the best fantasy season of his career last year with a .276/.300/.500 slash line, 32 HRs, 91 R, and 109 RBI. But here’s the thing that’s a bit worrisome for me with Rosario — his plate discipline. Last year, he had an awful 3.7% walk rate and a career-worst 46.3% chase rate alongside an 11.5% SwStr rate, none of which are good. And if you looked at his .273 BABIP and thought “oh nice, that .276 average might come up this year,” take a look at his .269 xBA. All that being said, there are players who somehow beat out their own flaws fairly consistently. Rosario has never had good plate discipline (he’s had a chase rate above 40% in four out of the last five seasons), and his xBA has rarely looked good, at .247 in 2018 and .268 the year before that (compared to a .288 and .290 average, respectively). So should you be concerned? I don’t love it, but I think a season similar to his past ones is what you can expect from Rosario. I just worry that, based on his approach, when he does come crashing down, he comes crashing fast and hard like a three-year-old hours after pounding back pixie sticks.
I love Jorge Soler. In fact, I wrote a whole article about how wonderful he is last year. Jorge Soler had a fantastic season and I think because he’s on the Kansas City Royals, it’s getting kind of glossed over. Seriously, the guy had a .265/.354/.569 slash line (for those doing the math at home, yes, that’s a .304 ISO), 48 HRs, 95 R, and 117 RBI. On top of that, his Statcast profile reads like he’s Emperor Palpatine with UNLIMITED POWER, with a 16.9% barrel rate (seventh-best in the MLB), 92.6 mph average exit velocity (11th-best), 49.9% hard-hit rate (10th-best), .392 xwOBA (14th-best), and a .593 xSLG (eighth-best). That’s a whole bunch of numbers, but suffice it to say, Soler is legit. The average is going to be kind of middle-of-the-road around the .250/.260 mark, but that near-50 home run power? That’s for real.
The Wig-Wham Pham has moved his way out of Tampa Bay and into San Diego after posting his second 20/20 season in three years. Pham is a very solid all-around contributor, likely giving you a 20/20 season (or close to it, steals pending) alongside a .270-ish average. Will Petco Park suck away some of his power? Potentially. But I don’t think it’ll be enough to seriously impact his fantasy value. Plus, think about this: he’s going to be in a lineup likely hitting around Fernando Tatis Jr./strong>. and Manny Machado, which sounds very nice for his counting stats.
Similar to Jorge Soler, Marcell Ozuna is another guy I love this year. You may look at his .241/.328/.472 season with 29 homers and say, “what’s so special about that?” In response, I would direct you to his Statcast profile. He had 91.8 mph average exit velocity (18th-best in MLB) and a 49.2% hard-hit rate (11th-best). Plus, his xBA was .288, giving him the largest gap of any hitter in baseball last year between his average and xBA. It’s a similar story with his xSLG, which was .548 (22nd-highest in MLB), giving him the third-largest SLG to xSLG gap in the league last year. In other words, Ozuna is due for some serious positive regression: He was hitting the ball very well last year and just had some bad luck. Now he’s on the Braves in the best lineup he’s probably ever been in in his career, which is even more exciting for his fantasy potential. Oh yeah, and he stole 12 bases out of nowhere last year, a career-best by a long shot. If that speed keeps up too, he could be a serious fantasy asset.
Victor Robles has loads of potential, and I think a lot of people are banking on him stepping into that potential this year. Last year’s season was a solid one, with a .255/.326/.419 slash line alongside 17 HRs, 86 R, 65 RBI, and 28 stolen bases. Robles’ main asset is speed: He’s someone who honestly could steal 35+ bases, and he’s got enough power to likely belt 15+ home runs on a regular basis (though his poor 23% hard-hit rate last year isn’t overly encouraging). If he can bump up the average slightly, still hit nearly 20 home runs and steal 30+ bases, he’ll be a really solid all-around contributor for your team. And of course, given his talent and the fact that he’s still just 22, he’s got quite the ceiling.
The Orioles don’t have much in the way of fantasy-relevant players, but they do have Bae Mancini himself, who at this point is basically the only player getting people in Baltimore to actually come to games. Mancini, like much of the league, cranked up the power last year, posting a career-best 35 home runs alongside a .291/.364/.535 slash line, 106 runs, and 97 RBI, which is really awesome. I’m not expecting that to repeat itself, but I think Mancini has proven to be a guy who can hit for a good average with 30+ home run power (sure is nice to hit in Camden Yards, isn’t it?). Will he scrape close to a 100/100 season again? I doubt it, given this Orioles lineup, but he certainly has that talent. Regardless, Mancini is a very useful fantasy player.
Whit Merrifield was useful last year, but he wasn’t nearly as exciting as he’s been in years past. After posting 34 and then 45 steals in 2017 and 2018, Merrifield had just 20 steals last year while still maintaining an average around .300 with 16 home runs. Basically everything else was the same for Whit minus the steals, and that definitely knocks his value some. And it’s not like he missed time — in fact, he didn’t miss a single game, playing in all 162. So what gives? Merrifield just decided to stop stealing as many bases last year to stay healthy. He said himself that, since the Royals were out of contention, he didn’t feel the need to be aggressive on the basepaths. Hopefully that won’t be the case this year.
Jeff McNeil was a nice little surprise last year. After performing well in limited action in 2018, McNeil showed up last year and slashed .318/.384/.531 with 23 HRs, 83 R, and 75 RBI. McNeil isn’t going to light the world on fire, but he’s a solid guy who can contribute in most categories. I do worry about his power some, as he had a pretty measly 4.8% barrel rate last year, not to mention a .472 xSLG, but McNeil should be able to give you a decent amount of power along with a very good average, and that’s a useful guy.
I get that people were hesitant on Michael Brantley in 2017 and 2018 following his injury-plagued seasons, but over the past two years, Brantley has played in at least 140 games and has proven to be a very good hitter. Last year, he had a nice .311/.372/.503 slash line with 23 HRs, 88 R, and 90 RBI. I don’t love that the steals dropped from 12 in 2018 (and 11 the year before that) to just three last year, but Brantley should at least be counted on for a good average, around 20-ish home runs, and solid run/RBI numbers given the lineup he’s in.
31. Yasiel Puig (Free Agent)
The fact that Yasiel Puig is still a free agent continues to baffle me, because he’s a very solid player. Over the past two seasons, he’s had exactly a .267 average and .327 OBP, which is bizarre, and he’s been able to hit just under 25 home runs. What you can expect from him this year will vary slightly depending on where he eventually signs (especially his counting stats), but Puig has become a fairly predictable player from a fantasy standpoint over the past few years. A .260-ish average, 20-25 home runs, 15-20 steals, and solid runs/RBI totals should be in store for Puig, especially if he ends up in a nice lineup and/or park.
After two pretty disappointing years, Max Kepler had a power explosion last year, hitting 36 home runs alongside a .252/.336/.519 slash line, 98 runs, and 90 RBI. So what happened? Kepler cranked up his launch angle to an average of 18.2 degrees and, in turn, increased his barrel rate to a career-best 8.9%. I do have some concerns about his power given his xSLG was .458 last year, so I’m not expecting nearly 40 home runs this year, but I think around 30 home runs is reasonable, alongside a .250s average and solid runs/RBI totals given the lineup he’s in. He’s not going to amaze you, but he’ll be solid.
Luis Robert is almost definitely starting the year with the White Sox as their starting center fielder. It’s hard to know exactly what kind of year we can expect from Robert, but he’s certainly got the talent to be a very good fantasy asset. He’s got obvious 20/20 potential, but the question will be his average. He’s had a solid average in the minors, but he’s also not a guy who takes many walks, and when those types of hitters face major league pitching for the first time, it can often turn into strikeout problems. That’s not a guarantee, but it does mean there’s a decent bit of risk involved here, as he could easily be a .240s/.250s hitter, or he could adjust quickly and turn in a Tommy Pham-like season. It’s hard to say, but the talent is definitely there.
Throughout these rankings, you’ll see some players with an (a) next to their name. These players, like Cavan Biggio, are only outfield-eligible on certain platforms. For example, Biggio started eight games in the outfield last year, which is enough to give him outfield eligibility in Yahoo leagues, but not in others. We covered Biggio in our second base rankings article.
Tier 5: Heroes
34(b). Franmil Reyes (Cleveland Indians)
I’m all about the Franimal this year. Reyes smashed 37 home runs last year and posted some absurd Statcast numbers, including a 14.8% barrel rate (tied for 14th-best in baseball) and a 51% hard-hit rate (fifth-best in baseball), not to mention a phenomenal .478 xwOBACON. Reyes isn’t going to give you much of a batting average, but he also won’t hurt you. It’ll probably be around the .250s, but his 35+ home run power is legit and is about what I’m expecting from him this year. The Indians lineup isn’t awesome, so the runs/RBI may not be incredible, but Reyes will definitely give you loads of power.
Tsutsugo had quite the career in Japan, slashing .282/.382/.528 for his career with a 13% walk rate and averaging 34 home runs a season over the past four years. Now, Japan isn’t the MLB, obviously, and we can’t expect Tsutsugo to dominate the MLB like that (though he might). It’s hard to project exactly what Tsutsugo will do, but I think it’s safe to say he’ll definitely hit for power. I also think it’s safe to say his average will come down a bit against MLB-level pitching. Still, if he’s a .250s hitter with nearly 30 home runs, he’s going to be a useful player.
37. Oscar Mercado (Cleveland Indians)
Oscar Mercado is another guy who isn’t going to totally blow you away with his fantasy production, but is going to be a solid contributor in just about every category. He’s got the ability to steal 20 bases, hit around 15-ish home runs, and hit for a decent average. That’s what he did last year (though he had 15 steals), and I’d say it’s a safe bet he’ll do it again this year.
Another new Japanese signing this year, Akiyama projects a bit differently from the aforementioned Tsutsugo. Akiyama is a good defensive outfielder with decent offense. He’s got some speed, decent power, and should hit for a solid average. Like I said with Tsutsugo, it’s really hard to project what Akiyama will do, but if given a full-time job, he should be able to hit around the .270s and potentially hit 15-ish home runs with low double-digit steals. Problem is, the Reds’ outfield is extremely crowded. Alongside Akiyama, they’ve got Castellanos, Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino, Phillip Ervin, and Michael Lorenzen. I’d expect Akiyama to get priority playing time (they didn’t just sign him for fun), but consistent playing time may still be a bit tricky to come by.
I think we can make a safe guess as to what we should expect from Michael Conforto this year. It’s safe to say his .279 season in 2017 appears to be a bit of an anomaly, and instead, he’s more like a high .250s kind of hitter, but he’s going to have good power. Around 30 home runs alongside solid run/RBI totals is essentially what he’s done in the past, and I think it’s what’s safe to expect.
Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)