2020 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Outfield strategies, complete with sleepers and ADP review
Making up more than one-third of the entire hitter pool, outfield is the position best equipped to meet whatever needs arise mid-draft, according to Scott White.
There's ... a lot to bite off here.
Outfield, as you know, is actually three positions in one, with left field, center field and right field all merged together for ease of playability. It succeeds in that regard, but almost to the point of being too easy. A position usually takes on an identity, one that's often tied to its distribution of talent or maybe some of the hiccups therein. But outfield is too vast to have any such quirks. It's less a position than an expanse.
Everything you could possibly need from a hitter is here, but in larger quantities and spread throughout the entire draft. It's where you'll find most of the base-stealers, however fleeting they are within the game as a whole, but it's also where you can turn for big power production late. Need an upside play? Regardless of how far into your draft you are or how deep your league is, you can always find one in the outfield.
Because of the sheer number and variety of options, I'm always afraid of filling my outfield spots too early. This is especially true in a three-outfielder draft, where the quality of those options remains high throughout. More recent years have tested this approach, with every infield spot now also boasting enviable depth, but outfield still presents you with a wider variety of choices late in a draft, when you may be looking to bolster specific categories.
But just because I'm reluctant to fill up my outfield spots doesn't mean I won't when the right opportunity presents itself. And it just so happens the right opportunity this year would be any of the first five picks. Yes, virtually every Fantasy Baseball draft in 2020 will begin with five outfielders.
While there may be some disagreement as to the exact order, there's little room to debate whether these five should be the first five. Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts have each won an MVP over the past two years, mostly on the strength of their hitting accomplishments, but each just so happens to be a worthwhile contributor in stolen bases as well.
Securing some of those in the early rounds, when it doesn't require you to forfeit anything else statistically, is critical, and in fact, it's that steals scarcity that makes Ronald Acuna the consensus No. 1 in traditional 5x5 leagues. He's the safest bet for a big steals total, having delivered 37 last year, and is beginning to close the gap with the bat, but of course, you can never go wrong taking Trout No. 1. For what it's worth, Acuna's inferior plate discipline would push him to the bottom of this group in a Head-to-Head points league.
But what about after these all-too-obvious five? Who are the big bats in the outfield?
|2020 ADP||2019 PPG||2019 BA||2019 HR|
Juan Soto WAS LF
J.D. Martinez BOS DH
Aaron Judge NYY RF
Bryce Harper PHI RF
Starling Marte ARI CF
George Springer HOU CF
Charlie Blackmon COL RF
Austin Meadows TB RF
Ketel Marte ARI CF
Kris Bryant CHC 3B
Giancarlo Stanton NYY LF
Jorge Soler KC DH
Joey Gallo TEX CF
Jeff McNeil NYM 2B
Juan Soto is beginning to get some first-round love, and as you know, J.D. Martinez, Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper and Charlie Blackmon aren't strangers to the first round themselves. They've gotten pushed down in a crowded hitter pool, but their expected contributions haven't actually changed that much. This is true even for Harper, provided you never bought into him as a great source of batting average. He finished strong in his first season with the Phillies, and his stolen base contributions (15 in 18 attempts) shouldn't be ignored.
I don't find myself drafting from that particular foursome so often because they tend to go off the board at a point when starting pitching is my top priority, but the one who strikes me as the best bang for the buck is Blackmon. He seems to have been downgraded for no other reason than because he's 33, which I guess is a risk factor, but Martinez is 32 and apparently that's no big deal. Blackmon remains an elite source of runs and batting average while contributing all the home runs you could want at this stage, and you would have been pinching yourself two years ago if he was still available in Round 4.
No, the risky one to me is Giancarlo Stanton, who doesn't seem to have been downgraded enough after a tumultuous first couple years in New York, underachieving in one and sitting out the other due to injury. Jorge Soler, meanwhile, is coming off a 48-homer season, has the more favorable batted-ball profile of the two now, and is still available after most of the high-end starting pitchers have gone off the board. I'll have more shares of him, personally.
But sometimes I'm preoccupied with other needs up through the point Soler goes off the board, and in such cases, I'm compelled to grab one or two from this group:
|2020 ADP||2019 PPG||2019 BA||2019 HR|
Eloy Jimenez CHW LF
Victor Robles WAS CF
Eddie Rosario MIN LF
Ramon Laureano OAK CF
Tommy Pham SD LF
Luis Robert CHW CF
Andrew Benintendi BOS LF
Trey Mancini BAL RF
Marcell Ozuna ATL CF
Nick Castellanos CIN RF
Michael Conforto NYM RF
Michael Brantley HOU LF
Max Kepler MIN RF
Danny Santana TEX 1B
David Dahl COL CF
As you can see from the points-per-game column, some of these compare favorably to some of those from the previous group, but it's a case of players like Eddie Rosario, Trey Mancini, Michael Brantley and Max Kepler maxing out their potential in 2019 while those from the previous group (yes, even Soler) left a little something on the table. Still, there's no shame in taking a Brantley or Kepler as your first outfielder, and that's especially true in a points league, where their low strikeout rates give them a scoring boost.
One player from this group who quite obviously underachieved last year was Marcell Ozuna, who you can see still put up an impressive point-per-game average despite drastically underperforming his xBA and xwOBA. Both, along his average exit velocity and hard-hit rate, ranked among the elites, putting him in the same range as new teammate Ronald Acuna, actually. Not a bad player to single out here.
The one who actually gets singled out in drafts, though, is Eloy Jimenez, and it's easy to understand why. He was an elite prospect who finally came through late in his rookie season, batting .322 with 13 homers and a .985 OPS over his final 43 games. It's possible he'll soar to new heights from there, but given the quality of the alternatives, is it really worth the upcharge? I say no.
Some of the players with the biggest risk factors here — Victor Robles, Danny Santana and top prospect Luis Robert, who yes, is expected to make the opening day roster — nonetheless deserve to go here just because the demand for speed is so high. Which isn't to say it's the last of the speed to be found at the position ...
|2020 ADP||2019 PPG||2019 BA||2019 OPS|
Kyle Tucker HOU LF
Willie Calhoun TEX LF
Garrett Hampson COL 2B
Scott Kingery PHI CF
J.D. Davis NYM LF
Jo Adell LAA CF
Alex Verdugo BOS CF
Mark Canha OAK CF
I'll just put it out there: These will be some of my most drafted players this year, all positions included. It's sleepers like these that compel you to wait at a position or, perhaps more accurately, demand that you don't fill it too soon. As far as I'm concerned, J.D. Davis, Willie Calhoun and Mark Canha have already proven themselves (profiling as something like Marcell Ozuna, Mike Moustakas and Michael Conforto, respectively). They need to do it over a full season, but the underlying numbers back up what they've done. Canha, in fact, might be the most underdrafted player in all of Fantasy Baseball, according to ADP.
Then, of course, there's Kyle Tucker, who offers an enormous ceiling as a power-speed threat in a deep lineup, Scott Kingery, who could ascend to 20-20 production with more consistent playing time this season, and top prospect Jo Adell, who should get the call at some point in the first half.
And the sleepers don't end there. Outfield has so many to offer that I had to split them into two tables:
|2020 ADP||2019 PPG||2019 BA||2019 OPS|
Avisail Garcia MIL LF
Luis Arraez MIN 2B
Dylan Carlson STL 1B
Austin Hays BAL CF
Mike Yastrzemski SF LF
Austin Riley ATL LF
Trent Grisham SD CF
Sam Hilliard COL CF
Mike Tauchman NYY LF
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo TB 1B
*minor-league stats (or Japan, in Tsutsugo's case)
The star-making potential of Miller Park could work its magic on Avisail Garcia, who has gotten better about not putting the ball on the ground so much the past couple years. Applying a simple park overlay to last year's spray chart suggests a home run boost is likely, and he's already a solid contributor in batting average.
Most of the others here are prospects who could find themselves with regular playing time — maybe not from the start, but soon enough — with Dylan Carlson being the most high-end of the bunch. But the one I want to shine a spotlight on is Sam Hilliard, who had 42 homers and 24 steals between the majors and minors last year. There are strikeout issues, but not the sort Coors Field wouldn't be able to plaster over, and after a strong September showing, he's in line for at least a platoon role heading into 2020. He tends to be one of my go-to guys in the late rounds of a Rotisserie draft.
Here, I'd normally feature all of the viable stolen base sources at the position, but for outfield, there's just too many. The table would stretch so far down the page that you'd get tired of looking at it, which is a losing situation for everyone. So I'll consolidate by quickly listing off the stolen base sources already covered in earlier sections of this piece, denoting how many stolen bases each had in 2019:
One who might require further explanation is Garrett Hampson, who accumulated those 15 steals in less than 300 at-bats and was a lost cause for most of the season, only finding his stroke in September. He had nine of his 15 steals in that month alone, going 9 for 9, so you shouldn't underestimate his steals upside. A breakout season for him would probably yield 30-40.
OK, so who haven't I covered yet?
|2020 ADP||2019 SB||2020 hope||Also eligible|
Oscar Mercado CLE CF
Yasiel Puig CLE RF
Aristides Aquino CIN RF
Mallex Smith SEA CF
Byron Buxton MIN CF
Lorenzo Cain MIL CF
Nick Senzel CIN CF
Adam Eaton WAS RF
Ryan Braun MIL LF
Jon Berti MIA SS
Wil Myers SD LF
Brett Gardner NYY CF
Manuel Margot BOS OF
Harrison Bader STL CF
Kevin Kiermaier TB CF
Delino DeShields CLE CF
Jarrod Dyson PIT CF
The one who'll be drafted strictly for steals, making up lots of ground in the category with just one pick, is Mallex Smith, who it's worth pointing out hit just .227 last year. He has hit better in the past and would appear to have good job security, but Jon Berti may have more to offer at this point and goes far later. Even Jarrod Dyson, if you're just looking for steals, offers more bang for the buck than Smith, especially since he figures to play most every day for a rebuilding Pirates team.
Most of these other players offer only modest steals help. Oscar Mercado tends to go pretty early since he's also of help in batting average and not a zero for power, but the overall upside isn't quite what I'm looking for.
Outfield being as big as it is, there were some important players that I felt like didn't fit into the above categories but nonetheless still deserved a mention. Basically, they all provide (or at least could provide) big power. You might consider Kyle Schwarber, Franmil Reyes and Lourdes Gurriel to be serviceable starters — and strictly speaking, they are — but they're so one-note that they're generally not what I'm looking for in the draft. I'll take them if the need is there at the appropriate time, but it's more of a resignation than a celebration.
So which sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Kenta Maeda's huge breakout last season, and find out.
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