Fantasy Baseball 2014: Ranking the Top 50 Outfielders
With the top 150 fantasy baseball players all reordered and reranked on the latest big board, it's time to continue rolling out the individual position rankings.
After providing some sequencing to the shortstops last time out, next up is outfield, which is where owners need to add a lot of top-tier talent as well as all sorts of diverse skill sets to their rosters.
In other words, because most leagues allow for up to five starting outfielders, this is a position where you should be looking to get a stud, like Andrew McCutchen (pictured) or Adam Jones, in the first round or two.
Then you'd do well to add another proven performer, like Shin-Soo Choo or Jay Bruce, with one of your next selections before making sure to address specific category needs, like home runs and RBI (Nelson Cruz or Domonic Brown), stolen bases (Starling Marte or Billy Hamilton) or runs scored (Austin Jackson or Brett Gardner) a little later.
In short, your outfield should start with a star (or two) and then be tailored to fit your team's needs as the draft progresses.
Here's the top 50 fantasy outfielders and a batch of others you should watch.
These rankings consider three factors:
First, everything is based on 10- or 12-team mixed leagues with standard five-by-five rotisserie scoring (BA, R, HR, RBI, SB for hitters; W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV for pitchers).
Second, lineup construction accounts for 22 active roster positions consisting of: one each for catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, corner infield, middle infield and utility, along with five outfielders and nine pitchers.
And third, to be eligible at a particular position, players either must have played at least 20 games there in 2013 or be in line to start there in 2014. Additionally, players are listed in the rankings at the position where their fantasy utility would be most useful.
The Outfield 'Watch List'
Rajai Davis, OF, Tigers
New year, new team, same story for Davis, who joins the Tigers and won't be an everyday starter yet again. He'll still steal 30-40 bases—yet again.
Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Twins
This 22-year-old hit an under-the-radar 14 homers as a rook, in all of 378 plate appearances. There's upside here, and Arcia should see plenty of playing time as the Twins continue to rebuild.
Khris Davis, OF, Brewers
Some love Davis as a sleeper this year after he hit .279 with 11 homers and 27 RBI in a mere 153 plate appearances with Milwaukee in '13. Skeptics will see a 26-year-old with only 56 big league games and a long injury history on his resume. He's got power, but don't overdraft him.
George Springer, OF, Astros (pictured)
After threatening to go 40-40 across Double- and Triple-A last year, Springer has 20-20 potential, whether he's up with Houston from day one or after a month or two more in the minors. His strikeouts (27.3 percent) could keep the average low as he transitions to the majors, though.
Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals
A consensus top-five prospect, the 21-year-old Taveras lost most of 2013 to an ankle injury that eventually required surgery. He's expected to start the year back at Triple-A, but once the career .320/.377/.518 hitter shows he's ready, Taveras will get a shot in St. Louis.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pirates
At 22, Polanco is on the verge of his MLB debut and could be the short- and long-term answer in right field in Pittsburgh. He's a super athletic and sinewy strong freak who could hit 20 homers and swipe 40 bases—eventually. Look for him by midseason as long as he handles his first real look at Triple-A.
No. 50: Daniel Nava, OF, Red Sox
Nava, 31, had an underrated 2013 campaign, hitting .303 with 12 homers, 66 RBI and 77 runs. With Jacoby Ellsbury out of the picture, not only does the switch-hitting Nava have one fewer outfielder to take away his time, he could split leadoff duties with Shane Victorino. With an .833 career OPS against RHP, Nava could see the lion's share from that spot.
No. 49: Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers
Between Matt Kemp's inability to get and stay healthy and Carl Crawford's decline the past few years, Ethier actually may be L.A.'s second-best outfielder behind Yasiel Puig. Although he doesn't have a settled starting job, Ethier should get 450-plus plate appearances and be his usual competently productive self.
No. 48: Dexter Fowler, OF, Astros
Fowler is going into his age-28 season, so he's not a kid anymore. Plus, he no longer has Coors Field to hold him up (.241/.333/.361 career on the road). You could do worse, but you should probably do better.
No. 47: Angel Pagan, OF, Giants
Pagan, 32, is back to being a fantasy sleeper after missing most of 2013 with injury. Prior to that, his average numbers from 2010-12 looked like this: .281 BA, 81 R, 9 HR, 60 RBI, 33 SB. He can do that again.
No. 46: Avisail Garcia, OF, White Sox
This 22-year-old has a lot of intrigue, given the ability he showed in the minors to hit for a high average, provide some pop and even steal the occasional base. With a starting gig in a hitter's park, Garcia could become a third or fourth outfielder if he clicks.
No. 45: Adam Eaton, OF, White Sox
A popular pick for NL Rookie of the Year this time last year, the 25-year-old Eaton was held up by an elbow injury at the start of 2013. Now with a new organization—and a better path to playing time—Eaton could be a solid yet unspectacular fantasy asset in batting average, runs and steals. Especially if he hits leadoff.
No. 44: Carl Crawford, OF, Dodgers
As previously mentioned, the 32-year-old has left his best days well behind him, but if he can stay healthy, he'll help in average, runs and steals to varying degrees. Of course, if the Dodgers really do bump him from the leadoff spot for Yasiel Puig, then Crawford as a bottom-of-the-order fixture is much less appealing.
No. 43: Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins (pictured)
Also 22, Yelich was always a tier or two above Garcia as a prospect, and he tops him here, too. If he simply achieves his prorated numbers from his first 62 big league games last year (.288 BA, 34 R, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 10 SB), that's a useful all-around line.
No. 42: Will Venable, OF, Padres
After years of looking like little more than a part-timer (against right-handers) who steals 25-30 bases and tippy-taps double digits in homers, Venable went 20-20 in 2013. Call it a career year at age 30 built on a 19.8 HR/FB rate that he's unlikely to repeat.
No. 41: Michael Bourn, OF, Indians (pictured)
Bourn's first year in Cleveland brought big drops in both steals (from 42 to 23) and runs (from 96 to 75)—the two categories that make him in fantasy. Part of it was a finger injury that cost him 21 games across April and May. A bigger part of it, though, was his turning 30 as a player who relies on his legs. Oh, he also had offseason hamstring surgery. If the 31-year-old reaches his age in steals, it'd be a gift.
No. 40: Colby Rasmus, OF, Blue Jays
Really, would it be so shocking if Rasmus, at age 27, hit 30 homers? Hey, he knocked 22 out of the park last year despite playing in only 118 games due to injury. Of course, a guy who consistently strikes out nearly 30 percent of the time is liable to hit .240, too.
No. 39: Brett Gardner, OF, Yankees (pictured)
Like Bourn, Gardner is now 30, so his speed-oriented skill set comes with risk. Still, he doesn't hurt in average and helps in runs and steals. The big question is whether he hits in the two-hole or nine-hole more often. If it's the latter, which is likely given that the former is still (perhaps mistakenly) Derek Jeter's spot, then Gardner's counting stats could suffer.
No. 38: Torii Hunter, OF, Tigers
Although he's about 88 in baseball player years (that's 38 in the real world), Hunter continues to hit. Taking him is the equivalent to penciling in a solid-to-great average, with 15 homers and 80-plus runs and RBI. Just be wary that his numbers might dip some without Prince Fielder around to help knock him in. Also, in case you forgot, he's 38.
No. 37: Coco Crisp, OF, Athletics
Some will see Crisp's career-high 22 homers last year and see the potential for another 20-20 campaign. The fact that he doubled his 2012 home run total and had never hit more than 16, though, makes that a foolish hope, as does that career-best 12.4 HR/FB rate that won't be repeated. Draft him for runs and 20-30 steals only while also remembering that he's the king of nicks and bruises and is only getting older (34).
No. 36: Alfonso Soriano, OF, Yankees
A third fogey in a row, Soriano's late-season return to New York brought on a mini-revival, as he matched his Cubs homer total (17) and came within a single RBI (50 to 51) of doing so, too, despite 140 fewer plate appearances. After two straight 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons—yes, really—a third wouldn't be such a shock, even at age 38, given the revamped Yankees lineup. The guy is streaky as all get-out, though, so you take the good with the bad.
No. 35: Leonys Martin, OF, Rangers
The soon-to-be 26-year-old had a nice first full season in the majors in 2013, hitting a respectable .260 and swiping 36 bags. Potential owners targeting him and expecting a whole lot more than that, though, might be disappointed: The power isn't there (35 extra-base hits), and he's likely to hit low in the order.
No. 34: Austin Jackson, OF, Tigers
Jackson, 27, seemed on the verge of something big entering last season, but then a mid-May hamstring strain cost him 30 games, and he turned in a good but not great campaign. Whether or not Jackson leads off is in question now that Ian Kinsler is also around, but maybe he'll just be a year late on his "something big."
No. 33: Curtis Granderson, OF, Mets
In his age-33 season, Granderson's best days are behind him, and he has to adjust to a new league and a much less hitter-friendly park, too. A pair of broken bones after being hit by two different pitches limited his 2013 to just 61 games, so he'll come at a discount and still has a chance to smack 25-30 homers, but don't invest too heavily.
No. 32: Michael Cuddyer, OF, Rockies
Fresh off his NL-high .331 average, Cuddyer can be found higher on other rankings, but that average was such an anomaly—in 12 seasons, he had never hit north of .284!—that paying for 2013's performance in 2014 will only bring disappointment. Heads-up: Cuddyer, who'll be 35 in March, missed 32 games last year and 61 the season prior.
No. 31: Domonic Brown, OF, Phillies (pictured)
It took about two years longer than expected for this former top prospect to finally click, but he did with a .272-27-83 line. Thing is, the 26-year-old clumped so very much of that production—18 homers and 46 RBI, to be exact—into two months. His 12-homer, 25-RBI May was simply superb—and entirely unrepeatable. Draft as a third outfielder option, sure, but make him earn anything more than that.
No. 30: Carlos Beltran, OF, Yankees
Now 36 (37 in April), Beltran is another ageless wonder among outfielders. His move to Yankee Stadium will help prop up his fantasy stats for another year or two, so a .275-25-85 outing could be in the offing.
No. 29: Shane Victorino, OF, Red Sox
Following a pair of seasons in which his average dipped a bit too much, Victorino, 33, found Fenway to his liking: He hit .322 at home on his way to a robust .294. Although he's been dealing with a slow recovery from thumb, back and hamstring injuries that limited him to 122 games, that could help Boston's potential split-duty leadoff man cost less on draft day.
No. 28: Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers
Speaking of slow slogs on the recovery front, Kemp—once a no-doubt fantasy first-rounder—is having all sorts of trouble getting and staying healthy. Over the past two seasons, the 29-year-old has made five trips to the DL, with various leg injuries and a serious shoulder ailment. His chief malady of the moment? A left ankle that required surgery in October and has kept him from running outdoors since, per Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. If you're considering Kemp, you must feel lucky.
No. 27: Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds
Hamilton is facing all kinds of pressure and expectations as a 23-year-old prospect who sported a .308 OBP at Triple-A last year yet is expected to take over the top of the order in Cincinnati. If he can prove he's ready for the role, Hamilton, who thieved a single-season record 155 bases at Double-A in 2012, could be a top-50 fantasy player based solely on the potential for 60-80 steals. He flashed his wheels upon his debut last September, when he swiped 13 of 14 in just 13 games. His legs will play, but the bat, however, may not.
No. 26: Alex Gordon, OF, Royals (pictured)
After following up his 72 extra-base hits in his breakout 2011, Gordon tallied 70 more in 2012. In 2013? Well, that number dropped to 53. Owners who like the 30-year-old see a guy who does a little of everything, but perhaps they're missing the fact that he does a little of everything. If you can pluck him as a third outfielder option, it's a good fit, but as a second outfielder, you may be left wanting more homers....or more steals...or more RBI...or just more.
No. 25: Nelson Cruz, OF, Orioles
Considering how poorly his offseason had been going until last week, the 33-year-old Cruz landed in a pretty good place for fantasy purposes—in Camden Yards. Historically, Cruz has hit best at his former home, the Ballpark in Arlington (.911 career OPS), but he still should be capable of closing in on his usual 25 homers with RBI and run totals commensurate with his new dynamic lineup. Just plan for a stint on the disabled list.
No. 24: Josh Hamilton, OF, Angels
While you're making plans to cover an injured slugging outfielder, you might as well do the same for Hamilton, if you're going after him. The 32-year-old former MVP is out for the next two weeks due to a calf strain, which could hinder his ability to be ready by Opening Day, according to Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com. Health isn't exactly a new concern for Hamilton, so to see him ailing this early isn't a good sign for a potential bounce-back season. Once he gets right, though, he has as much upside as any outfielder outside the top 15.
No. 23: Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays
The 27-year-old made some nice improvements last year, setting career bests in homers (14), doubles (31) and RBI (54) as well as walking more and striking out less. Not all of that translates to the fantasy game just yet, but if Jennings' approach continues to advance, he could bump his average out of the .250 range. He's more or less established a 15-homer, 20-steal, 80-run baseline, so now it's time to see how much better he can be.
No. 22: Starling Marte, OF, Pirates (pictured)
Marte burst onto the scene in his first full year, hitting .280 with 83 runs and 41 swipes. His aggressive approach, both on the bases (caught stealing 15 times!) and at the dish (4.4 percent walk rate), makes him riskier than might appear at first blush. While he has some oomph (12 homers), you should draft him for the stolen bases and the runs—not so much for the batting average and the home runs.
No. 21: Alex Rios, OF, Rangers
Rios' career has been up and down...and up and down and up again. Now in Texas, things are looking good, but recent history shows he's way too unreliable to consider as anything more than a third or second outfielder. His 18-homer, 42-steal 2013 has some expecting even more as a Ranger for a full season, but chances are that career-high stolen-base total will slip at age 33, so he'll need to maintain the other areas of his game to make up for it. For Rios owners, the line between happy and crappy has always been thin.
No. 20: Jayson Werth, OF, Nationals
2013 Fantasy Stats: .318 BA, 84 R, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 10 SB (532 PA)
In fantasy formats that include facial hair as a category, Jayson Werth is a no-doubt first-round pick, as you can tell from the photo above. In leagues that use the mere standard five-by-five scoring, he's still plenty good.
Werth suffered through a bothersome hamstring injury early on last year but then went bonkers over the second half of 2013, hitting .339 with 46 runs, 15 homers, 49 RBI and seven swipes.
At 34, he's getting up there, but his skill set remains intact to replicate most of the above numbers (save for that aberration of a batting average), particularly if he doesn't miss 30-plus games again.
No. 19: Jason Heyward, OF, Braves
2013 Fantasy Stats: .254 BA, 67 R, 14 HR, 38 RBI, 2 SB (440 PA)
In baseball, there's a saying that once a player displays a skill, he owns it. If that's the case for Jason Heyward, he just needs to do a better job of displaying his at the same time.
Still only 24, through his first four years, Heyward has shown power, speed and patience—the kind of combination that usually applies to the very best players. But aside from a very, very good all-around 2012 season, he's struggled to put it all together.
Injuries have been a big obstacle, including last year's ugly late-season beaning, which occurred just when Heyward was coming on like gangbusters: After the All-Star break, he hit .317 with 25 runs, six homers and 16 RBI in the 28 games before taking a Jon Niese pitch to the head.
As the prime candidate to lead off in Atlanta, Heyward has his best shot yet to put all his skills on display.
No. 18: Justin Upton, OF, Braves
2013 Fantasy Stats: .263 BA, 94 R, 27 HR, 70 RBI, 8 SB (643 PA)
While the 26-year-old Justin Upton is still far too young to say his 2011 production was his career year, it's looking more and more likely. That doesn't mean he's not worth snatching as a second starting outfielder in fantasy. If it all coalesces again like it did three years ago, Upton has the power to smack 30 homers and the speed to steal 15 bases.
Even if that doesn't happen, you'll still enjoy owning a player who will help—or at least not hurt—in all five categories and who has scored 102 runs on average since 2011.
No. 17: Hunter Pence, OF, Giants
2013 Fantasy Stats: .283 BA, 91 R, 27 HR, 99 RBI, 22 SB (687 PA)
Hunter Pence was an all-around stud in 2013, and somewhat quietly, too. That's because he was much better after the break, hitting .314/.387/.525.
His month of September, in particular, was borderline epic with a .293 average, 11 homers and 32 RBI.
While Pence, 30, is unlikely to once again set career highs in home runs and stolen bases in the same season, he is a steady, comforting presence in fantasy lineups as a No. 2 outfielder.
No. 16: Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Athletics
2013 Fantasy Stats: .240 BA, 74 R, 26 HR, 80 RBI, 7 SB (574 PA)
Funny, but in some ways, Yoenis Cespedes' 2013 looked a lot like his 2012, but in others, well, not so much.
The 28-year-old scored a few more runs (74 to 70), hit a few more homers (26 to 23) and nearly matched his RBI total (80 to 82) from his rookie campaign.
And yet he also stole only seven bases (compared to 16 the year prior) and hit a whopping 52 points lower. That last part can be attributed to a BABIP dip from .326 in '12 to .274 in '13, and that was fueled by more fly balls at the expense of line drives and grounders, which go for hits more often.
It's possible that an April thumb sprain could have lingered and altered Cespedes' swing mechanics or ability to impact that ball as he normally would. With that behind him and a return to a simpler swing and approach, Cespedes could be ready to blast off like one of his Home Run Derby moonshots.
No. 15: Wil Myers, OF, Rays
2013 Fantasy Stats: .293 BA, 50 R, 13 HR, 53 RBI, 5 SB (373 PA)
It's never quite this cut and dry, but Wil Myers put up those statistics in 88 games, barely more than half a season, which means his pace over a full slate was about 90 runs, 20 homers 90 RBI and perhaps 10 steals—as a rookie.
The 23-year-old is going to go through an adjustment period, and his top priority will be to cut back on the whiffs (24.4 percent), but Myers has only just scratched the surface.
No. 14: Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays
2013 Fantasy Stats: .259 BA, 82 R, 28 HR, 73 RBI, 7 SB (528 PA)
The past two seasons have come to premature endings for Jose Bautista, who missed the final two months of 2012 with a wrist injury that required surgery and then the final six weeks last year with a bruised hip.
That knocks him down a peg, but when Bautista has been healthy, he continues to hit. He'll never again approach his incredible 54-homer 2010, and his 43-homer 2011 also might be too much to expect, but he easily would have mashed 30 long balls in both '12 and '13 had he not been hurt.
Because he hits oh-so many fly balls (his 54.5 percent FB rate since 2010 is the third highest in baseball), the 33-year-old's batting average won't likely be a positive, but he'll make up for it in runs, homers and RBI. If he can play 140-plus games with that kind of production, he could be a borderline No. 1 outfielder again.
No. 13: Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins
2013 Fantasy Stats: .249 BA, 62 R, 24 HR, 62 RBI, 1 SB (504 PA)
Another year, another disappointing, injury-hampered season for Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton, all of 24 but with four years in the majors already, has topped 125 games played but once, in 2011, when he played 150.
That kind of injury history, as well as the Marlins lackluster lineup, has prevented this masher from blossoming into the fantasy force many have been projecting. One of these years, though, that's liable to happen, which will make Stanton a constant tease until it actually does.
The good news is, rather than burning a first- or second-round selection on him like you had to in 2013, he's more palatable as a pick in the third or fourht round, with a much better chance to earn that value.
No. 12: Jay Bruce, OF, Reds
2013 Fantasy Stats: .262 BA, 89 R, 30 HR, 109 RBI, 7 SB (697 PA)
It's hard to argue with Jay Bruce's consistency, so don't bother. The 26-year-old has scored at least 80 runs four years running and has hit at least 30 homers and driven in at least 90 in each of the past three.
Bruce is still young enough to make slight improvements, but even if he doesn't, he's proven to be as durable as he is powerful, having played at least 148 games every season since 2010. When production is this reliable, the cost of acquisition is high but also worth it.
No. 11: Matt Holliday, OF, Cardinals
2013 Fantasy Stats: .300 BA, 103 R, 22 HR, 94 RBI, 6 SB (602 PA)
What's crazy about Matt Holliday's 2013 is that he did all of the above while playing in 141 games, in part due to missing two weeks with a hamstring injury in July.
Holliday is as rock-solid as they come in batting average, runs, homers and RBI, and hitting in the middle of a deep, talented Cardinals lineup doesn't hurt.
At some point, the 34-year-old is going to have a cliff season, but until he does, would you really want to bet against him?
No. 10: Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers
2013 Fantasy Stats: .319 BA, 66 R, 19 HR, 42 RBI, 11 SB (432 PA)
After making his June debut, Yasiel Puig was arguably the dominant topic of the 2013 baseball season based on his overaggressive style of play, flair for the dramatic and knack for finding his way into the spotlight—for reasons both good and bad.
Even though he slowed some following his bat-out-of-hell introduction to the league, the 23-year-old Cuban sensation displayed legitimate five-tool talent, which has fantasy owners drooling.
All that hype and cache is going to push Puig's draft price through the roof, but the scary thing is, the second-year stud, who may be the Dodgers leadoff man, could be prove to be worth it in the end.
No. 9: Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Rangers
2013 Fantasy Stats: .285 BA, 107 R, 21 HR, 54 RBI, 20 SB (712 PA)
As fun as it was to own Shin-Soo Choo last year, it might be that much better in 2014.
Now that he's a Ranger, the 31-year-old gets to hit atop perhaps the best lineup in the game while taking half his hacks in maybe the most hitter-friendly park this side of Colorado.
Choo's splits against left-handers are getting worse (.215 BA, .265 SLG but a .347 OBP in '13), and yet he still gets on base against same-sided throwers, so he'll have plenty of opportunities to continue treating home plate like a turnstile as he crosses it over and over and over.
Better yet, Choo remains a 20-20 threat, and his RBI tally should get a bump from not having to bat behind eight-hole hitters and pitchers in the NL.
No. 8: Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Yankees
2013 Fantasy Stats: .298 BA, 92 R, 9 HR, 53 RBI, 52 SB (636 PA)
Jacoby Ellsbury remains one of the trickier players to rank for two reasons. First, he's had plenty of trouble staying healthy, having missed almost all of 2010, more than half of 2012 and even most of last September with a fractured right foot.
Second, Ellsbury is a player who's game and fantasy contributions are built largely around his speed, meaning if that dips, he doesn't have as much to fall back on in categories like homers and RBI. (Sorry, that 32-homer 2011 was an aberration.) For a guy who is now 30, that's something to monitor.
None of this is to say that Ellsbury, in his first year taking advantage of Yankee Stadium, can't post a season where he hits around .300 with 100-plus runs, 12-15 homers, 50-60 RBI and 50-plus stolen bases. If he does, he'll be a top-10 player, but "if" is a tricky word.
No. 7: Carlos Gomez, OF, Brewers
2013 Fantasy Stats: .284 BA, 80 R, 24 HR, 73 RBI, 40 SB (590 PA)
You name the statistic—batting average, runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, RBI, stolen bases, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage—and Carlos Gomez set a career high in it last year.
He's not going to do all that again, but it is conceivable that we haven't seen career bests yet from the 28-year-old in at least one or two of those categories. For example, it's not an impossibility that Gomez could come close to pulling off a 30-homer, 50-steal season.
Then again, that's been done exactly two times—ever. So maybe that's a bit much even for Gomez, but he's still a fantasy force.
No. 6: Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
2013 Fantasy Stats: .274 BA, 71 R, 20 HR, 58 RBI, 11 SB (497 PA)
To those who scoff at such a high ranking for a guy who hasn't yet "proven it," read on:
If Bryce Harper has one flaw, it's simply that he has questionable timing. Otherwise, his should-be once-in-a-generation talent wouldn't have to be shared with—and so far, overshadowed by—Mike Trout.
This is a player who's put up an unbelievable 125 OPS+ through his first two seasons, which, by the way, came at ages 19 and 20.
Heck, Harper's 42 career home runs to this point are the third most ever by a player through his age-20 season, ahead of some dudes named Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Robinson, Micky Mantle and, yes, Trout.
Oh, and Harper would have had more homers last year—not to mention more of everything else—had he not suffered a serious knee injury that limited him throughout the summer and to only 118 games.
In his 44 games prior to that, Harper was hitting .287/.386/.587 with 29 runs, 12 homers and 23 RBI.
Now healthy, Harper's ready for his leap year. To those of you who are scoffing at the scoffers: buy in and enjoy.
No. 5: Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers
2013 Fantasy Stats: .298 BA, 30 R, 9 HR, 38 RBI, 4 SB (253 PA)
Ryan Braun's 2013 was an unequivocal disaster. First he injured his wrist, which proceeded to bother him all summer, then in late July, he suffered through something even worse—a 65-game ban for being linked to the Biogenesis scandal, which covered what was left of the season at that point.
Those two complications have raised serious questions and severe concerns about the 30-year-old former MVP and how he might perform in the wake of all this.
Strictly from a fantasy perspective, though, smart owners should be realizing that all of the above presents an opportunity to buy a player who has been a consensus top-five pick for the past several seasons at a discounted rate.
Will Braun, who hit a homer in his first spring at-bat, get back to being his usual .300-30-100 self with 100-plus runs and 30 steals? Probably not, simply because it would be hard to expect anyone to maintain that level of elite production. But if he can even come close, then he would be a no-doubt first-round selection yet again, and he's been going in Round 2 in most drafts.
Look, Braun's a risky play this year, no matter when he's taken, but he's also the kind of player who wins fantasy leagues.
No. 4: Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies
2013 Fantasy Stats: .302 BA, 72 R, 26 HR, 70 RBI, 21 SB (436 PA)
Carlos Gonzalez is the ultimate if-only player, as in: If only this guy could stay healthy for a full season, he might be a top-five fantasy performer.
The fact that the 28-year-old managed to bash 26 homers, swipe 21 bases and reach 70 in both runs scored and RBI in 2013—all while playing in only 110 games due to a strained ligament in his right middle finger—is rather amazing.
Sadly, when it comes to CarGo, such a performance being cut short by such an injury-related outcome has become an expectation. He has gone 20-20 (at least) in four straight seasons, and yet in each one, he's played between 110 and 145 games. Over the past three years, Gonzalez has missed 52, 27 and 35 games, respectively, with various injuries, ailments and maladies.
That's a lot to risk on a player who requires a second- or even first-round pick and essentially comes complete with at least 25 missed games. Gonzalez will be worth it when he plays, though—just be ready to make good use of that "DL" option.
No. 3: Adam Jones, OF, Orioles
2013 Fantasy Stats: .285 BA, 100 R, 33 HR, 108 RBI, 14 SB (689 PA)
Think of Adam Jones as the Robinson Cano of outfielders. Like the All-Star second baseman, Jones, 28, offers consistency, durability and production in spades.
To wit, Jones has played 622 out of a possible 648 games over the past four seasons. Over the last two, in particular, all five of his fantasy stats look eerily similar, with averages of .287 then .285, runs of 103 then 100, homers of 32 then 33 and steals of 16 then 14. The biggest difference from 2012 to 2013 was a spike from 82 RBI to 103.
Now, RBI can be a fickle stat, because it's so very dependent on opportunities presented by surrounding hitters. That, though, is also why Jones is such a snazzy selection: The Orioles lineup was one of the best in baseball last year, finishing in the top five in runs scored, doubles, slugging percentage and OPS—and leading the way with 212 homers.
Jones, of course, is at the literal and figurative center of all that.
No. 2: Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates
2013 Fantasy Stats: .317 BA, 97 R, 21 HR, 84 RBI, 27 SB (674 PA)
Here's a fun thought for those of you with one of the first few picks in your draft: Fresh off winning the NL MVP last year, Andrew McCutchen could be even better in 2014.
That's because McCutchen has been better—already. He actually had a stronger fantasy year in 2012, when he hit for a higher average (.327), scored more runs (107), smashed more homers (31) and totaled more RBI (96).
And remember, folks, this is a 27-year-old. While he's unlikely to get that much better, it's at least possible he hasn't enjoyed his prime seasons just yet. Neither, then, have fantasy owners. Don't think twice about taking him with the third or fourth overall pick.
No. 1: Mike Trout, OF, Angels
2013 Fantasy Stats: .323 BA, 109 R, 27 HR, 97 RBI, 33 SB (716 PA)
Man, Mike Trout stunk last year—compared to Mike Trout in 2012.
Much like McCutchen, Trout actually was better in just about every fantasy category in his first full season, when he hit .326, scored 129 runs, homered 30 times and swiped 49 bases. (OK, so he drove in "only" 83.) He did all that, by the way, in 18 fewer games.
Clearly, then, the dude's career arc is trending down. Conclusion: You probably shouldn't pick him after all.
OK, for real, this is a 22-year-old who just posted arguably the best first two seasons of any career in the history of baseball. Like, ever. Trout does it all—and then some—which makes him a monster in standard five-by-five formats.
If you have the first pick in a roto league, here are your instructions: Take Trout, sit back, enjoy the show. (You know, after you make your other 20 or so picks.)
If you have the second pick, here are your instructions: Take Trout after you've "convinced" the owner with the top choice that Miguel Cabrera is the only way to go.
Here are the fantasy rankings at other positions:
To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.
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