juan-soto.jpg

The problem with developing a cohesive outfield strategy is that the position is just too big. It's not a box you can check off the moment you get your guy, not when the need isn't fully met yet, and that's especially true in leagues that use standard Rotisserie lineups with five outfield openings.

A larger position makes for a broader talent pool, though, so while staring at all of those openings might compel you to feed the need, there's no reason for urgency, really. Provided you play in a mixed league of reasonable size, there will never come a point in a draft when you say "there are no outfielders left." Maybe if the position was subdivided into left field, center field and right field, it would be different, but increasing the inputs has a tendency to balance the outputs. The sheer number of eligible players in the outfield ensures that it isn't lacking in anything.

That goes for individual skills, too. Whether you need another base-stealer, more home runs or some help in batting average, outfield is equipped to meet that need, in all stages of the draft.

Perhaps, then, it's most advisable not to fill it too soon, instead prioritizing the positions that won't leave you with as many options late. Waiting allows you to tailor your outfield targets to what you still need at that point in the draft.

Of course, I'm not suggesting you never take an outfielder early, not when so many of the best players in Fantasy Baseball reside there.

The four in contention for No. 1 overall

2021 ADP2020 PPG2020 BA2020 HR
14.24.25014
24.26.29216
44.11.28117
54.70.35113

You see the ADP column? On average, these are four of the first five players off the board, at least in Rotisserie leagues, and you could make the case for any of them to go No. 1 overall. I'm with the consensus that it should be Ronald Acuna since he's the best stolen base source of the four, but I'd take the other three over him in a Head-to-Head points league.

The other player with a top-five ADP is a shortstop, Fernando Tatis, who statistically rates as a slightly less proven Acuna. One way I might depart from this top five is by grabbing a pitcher, but since these hitters all have the potential to contribute in the all-too-scarce stolen base category, perhaps it's better just to take what you're given. For what it's worth, Trout and Soto are the least likely of the four (or five, if you want to include Tatis) to deliver a considerable steals total.

The Studs

2021 ADP2020 PPG2020 BA2020 HR
112.79.20512
143.21.23912
193.80.26813
343.31.2689
373.09.29614
382.72.23311
393.29.2829
454.12.33818
493.55.26514
502.94.2816
523.43.2579

There are of course studs beyond the top four at a position so deep, and every one in this second group has shown the capacity to deliver numbers at least on the level of a second-rounder. Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger were two who rated alongside Trout and Acuna just a year ago and are certainly talented enough to return to that level of production after sputtering during a wacky season. Meanwhile, Bryce Harper looks like he's back on an MVP track after cutting way down on his strikeouts. The numbers he put up in 2020 were terrific in their own right, but even so, he was one of the players who most underperformed his expected stats, according to Statcast.

Position Strategy: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP   

Generally, I'm too focused on starting pitcher in Rounds 3-5 to make a play for any of the others here, but Kyle Tucker looks like an emerging power-speed source and Eloy Jimenez like sort of a Nolan Arenado of the outfield. Of course, Aaron Judge comes with the usual injury concerns and has the lowest ADP of this group as a result, but the ones I'd be most reluctant to draft are actually Luis Robert and Starling Marte.

Neither would rank with this group in a points league. Both are elevated for categories leagues because of their steals potential, which is fine. If you want steals, you have to pay for them -- that's just the way it is. But in Robert's case, there needs to be a legitimate step forward to justify the ADP. He hit .136 with a .409 OPS in September and struck out 32.2 percent of the time for the season, both of which are cause for concern. Of course, I acknowledge he has the potential to make a Fernando Tatis-like leap in his second season, emerging as a top-five pick himself, but the downside also needs to be addressed.

Other Deserving Starters

2021 ADP2020 PPG2020 BA2020 HR
573.21.2508
623.17.25110
633.26.2817
683.32.26914
713.34.3229
723.43.28916
752.95.3036
862.73.22514
902.93.30811
932.14.2044
1012.58.3114
1063.49.31610
1153.55.29710
1233.16.25713
1323.44.28815
1472.91.3005
1522.10.18110
1872.85.2289

It's not at all uncommon for my first outfielder to come from this group, particularly if I'm not in a spot to grab one of the Big Four in Round 1, and it's not at all uncommon for that first outfielder to be Nick Castellanos. Yup, I'm doubling down on him as a breakout pick despite an uneven first season with the Reds. While he had a curiously high strikeout rate and some horrendous BABIP luck, the power production skyrocketed as hoped in his new home environment. If he puts it all together, he's a stud.

There are so many interesting cases here, from October standout Randy Arozarena, who hit .333 with 17 homers if you combine his regular and postseason stats, to unexpected breakout Teoscar Hernandez, who emerged from his fourth-outfielder pigeonhole with some top-of-the-scale exit velocity, to COVID decliner Austin Meadows, who maybe deserves a pass because of his bout with the illness. I'm finding it difficult to pull the trigger on any of the three -- on Arozarena and Hernandez because of the price tag and on Meadows because of the Rays' unpredictable lineup choices -- but I see the appeal for each.

I gravitate more toward frugal choices like Dominic Smith, Mike Yastrzemski and Eddie Rosario. Or even Max Kepler -- what's going on with his ADP? Is everyone forgetting he hit 36 homers two years ago?

The DH-onlys

2021 ADP2020 PPG2020 BA2020 HR
813.32.30316
844.00^.313^27^
882.36.2137
1092.85.2504
1402.48.2759
1442.30.2288
1952.46.1907
3491.36.1901
4891.57.2002

^2019, majors

One of the oddities of 2020 is that few of the hitters who played primarily DH had a chance to pick up eligibility at some other position. The position where they most likely would have gotten that chance -- and perhaps still will shortly into 2021 -- is the outfield, so I've represented them here.

Frankly, I wouldn't dream of overlooking them because the value for the top three especially is just too great. Nelson Cruz, Yordan Alvarez and J.D. Martinez all performed like second-rounders as recently as 2019, and two of them were drafted that high just last year. The one who wasn't, Cruz, is perennially underrated because he's ancient but still shows no signs of slowing down. Alvarez is coming off a lost season in which he had work done on both knees, but he's still only 23 and can seemingly do no wrong at the plate. Martinez was one of the first to point out that the limited video access because of the pandemic would disrupt his routines, and it seems like a viable explanation for his struggles.

I'll be thrilled to take whichever of those three lasts the longest. In fact, it's one of my top priorities going into every draft. It's not the worst thing in the world if I have to settle for Giancarlo Stanton either. He remains the preeminent power hitter in the game today and is bound to stay healthy one of these years. Even for Jorge Soler and Franmil Reyes, the price tag looks too good to be true. Let's not forget that in 2019, they hit 48 and 37 homers, respectively.

I guess they all slide because nobody has use for more than one, but the point is that you should absolutely devote your utility spot to one, whichever presents the most value.

The Sleepers

2021 ADP2020 PPG2020 BA2020 OPS
1182.80.254.844
1192.80.262.801
1262.86.308.844
1312.37.211.624
1343.43.256.855
1462.39.213.704
1512.66.333.878
1563.85.261.890
1591.67.200.616
1602.71.258.866
1773.03.276.881
1793.31.267.905
1863.42^.291^.899^
2122.65.255.932
2462.90.246.795

^2019, majors

You see what I mean about the outfield having no shortage of quality options? I don't even know where to begin with this group. I guess I'll point out that a number of viable base-stealers remain -- and with the potential to contribute in other categories as well. There's a reason Byron Buxton, Kyle Lewis, Tommy Pham, Dylan Moore, Ramon Laureano and Dylan Carlson last this long -- they're not exactly proven or reliable -- but having them to fall back on if you still need help in that category is a luxury not found at most other positions.

My personal favorites from this group are Trey Mancini, who seems to have made a full recovery from colon cancer and is well worth the gamble after the numbers he put up in 2019, and Clint Frazier, who doesn't seem to be getting enough credit for his long-awaited breakout in 2020. Mark Canha's on-base skills still give him a leg up in points leagues, but the power he showed in 2019 didn't carry over to last year.  

And the sleepers don't end there. Outfield has so many to offer that I had to split them into two tables:

The Deep Sleepers

2021 ADP2020 PPG2020 BA2020 OPS
1422.31.250.685
1751.66.220.608
1821.74.188.653
1852.31.268.671
2002.93.254.757
216-----.291*.904*
2270.96.103.442
2452.88.280.888
2542.76.225.793
2551.77.234.671
2601.85.186.604
2662.45^.260^.697^
2740.75.161.478
276-----.283*.756*
2873.09^.220^.778^
2991.42.183.470
3060.00.277*.802*
3292.89^.267^.785^
3381.88.189.632
4411.75.209.710

*2019, minors
^2019, majors

This group has upside, clearly, but at least in three-outfielder leagues, you'll have your starting lineup filled out by the time you dip into them. The five-outfielder leagues are more often Rotisserie scoring, which is where base-stealers like Tommy Edman, Victor Robles and Garrett Hampson have the most value.

These players fit into a wide variety of subcategories, from reclamation projects like Mitch Haniger and David Dahl to post-hype sleepers like Nick Senzel and Sam Hilliard to bounce-back candidates like Andrew Benintendi and Bryan Reynolds to draft-and-stash prospects like Jarred Kelenic and Jo Adell. The player I most want to highlight, though, is Alex Kirilloff, who got a chance to start the Twins' lone postseason game last year after reportedly dominating at the alternate training site. They like him so much that they cut Eddie Rosario loose this offseason to make sure they had an opening for him. Kirilloff's most recent minor-league numbers are misleading because he was playing through a wrist injury in 2019, but the .348 batting average and .970 OPS he delivered in 2018 point to a high ceiling he has offensively. 

The Base-Stealers

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 2020:

Studs

Starters

Sleepers

Ronald Acuna

8

Cavan Biggio

6

Byron Buxton  

2

Mookie Betts

10

Trent Grisham

10

Kyle Lewis  

5

Mike Trout

1

Randy Arozarena

4

Tommy Pham

6

Juan Soto

6

Teoscar Hernandez

6

Dylan Moore

12

Christian Yelich

4

Wil Myers

2

Tommy Edman

2

Cody Bellinger

6

Ramon Laureano

2

Bryce Harper

8

Dylan Carlson

20*

Kyle Tucker

8

Victor Robles

4

Luis Robert

9

Nick Solak

7

Whit Merrifield

12

Jarred Kelenic

20*

Starling Marte

10

Garrett Hampson

6

Nick Senzel

2

Lorenzo Cain

18^

Jo Adell

7*

Yasiel Puig

19^

*2019, minors
^2019, majors  

Wil Myers, Byron Buxton, Tommy Edman and Victor Robles were all off their usual steals pace last year, which is understandable since steals generally aren't so evenly distributed over the course of a 162-game season. You shouldn't let their modest totals over a 60-game season discourage you.

OK, so who haven't I covered yet?

Other Stolen Base Specialists

2021 ADP2020 SB2021 hopeAlso eligible
208815-20----
236825-30----
247710-152B
249925-302B
2611225-30-----
298510-15-----
330820-25-----
366310-15-----
379815-20-----
401625-30-----
428815-20-----
431510-15-----
453715-20-----
466310-15-----
496815-20-----
5081220-25-----
661420-25----

We're kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel at this point, but with steals sources in such short supply in Rotisserie leagues, it's possible you'll need to make a play for one of these guys late in drafts. My favorite is probably Raimel Tapia, who could bat at the top of the Rockies lineup and has a pretty good hit tool as well.

Victor Reyes figures to play every day for the Tigers and isn't a total zero in the other categories. Jon Berti has a chance to be eligible all over the diamond and has proven twice over that he likes to run. Leody Taveras is only just getting started, and we still don't know the extent of his potential offensively. Myles Straw, meanwhile, had a 70-steal season in the minors and has a knack for getting on base. As the Astros roster currently stands, he's in line for more playing time than ever.

Other Home Run Specialists

2021 ADP2020 PPG2020 BA2020 HR
1903.03.27312
2042.22.18911
2323.43.22616
2962.35.2049
3002.79.29810
3102.79.23716
3652.00.1907
4722.13.1568

By the end of last season, Randal Grichuk, Kole Calhoun and Adam Duvall were more or less must-start in five-outfielder Rotisserie leagues, but they all have shaky track records and, at least in the case of Grichuk and Duvall, playing-time concerns. Kyle Schwarber, Joc Pederson and Hunter Renfroe have better track records, but they all crashed pretty hard last year. None is a bad choice if you're looking to make up ground in the most plentiful category late in drafts, but there are clear limits to each players' ceiling.

So which 2021 Fantasy baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Will Smith's huge breakout last season, and find out.