I like to start each entry of this series with an explanation for how the position got to be where it is now, with defensive thresholds, historical precedents, minor-league development trends and the end of the juiced-ball era being among the most cited factors.

But how do I explain what's happened here, in the outfield? At a time when the game is gravitating back toward a more conventional distribution of talent, the position that's housed some of the biggest stars in its history is so pitifully lacking, in a way I've never seen before.

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

In years past, I've been inclined to fill my infield ahead of my outfield. It wasn't a strict rule or anything, but while positions like shortstop and second base would eventually run out of talent, outfield, I surmised, virtually never did. It had so many openings -- three times as many as any infield spot, you know -- that there would always be opportunities for new talent to emerge, if not at the start of the year then over the course of it. It's also one of the easiest places to put a big bat. Left field has an especially low defensive threshold, and the outfield is one of the few positions that someone who throws left-handed can play.

So where have all the hitters gone?

Oh, you'll find some early. More than half of your first round will be comprised of outfielders, in all likelihood. But it's a slow trickle from there, followed by a steep drop-off that comes too early to satisfy everyone in a three-outfielder league. And five-outfielder leagues? Forget it.

Throughout this series, I've talked about how position scarcity is a thing again. You have basically two rounds to settle up third base, and the window at second base might be even tighter. But outfield is the most pressure-packed position of all simply because you have to address it multiple times over. There will come a point when you have to reach to do so, but you'd better not do it too often.

So while I've penciled in a third baseman as my Round 2 pick and a second baseman in Round 3, I'd like to start my draft, as in Round 1, with an outfielder, which would naturally be one of these six.

The first-round contenders

2023 ADP2022 PPG2022 BA2022 HR

Whether I succeed in my goal of drafting an outfielder in Round 1 depends somewhat on where I pick. For instance, Aaron Judge is the only one I'd take ahead of third baseman Jose Ramirez, who himself plays a weak position. But I'm not inclined to draft shortstop Trea Turner ahead of either even though he's the consensus choice at No. 1 overall. I'd take Julio Rodriguez and Ronald Acuna (in that order) ahead of Turner as well, which probably means I'm not getting him, but a top-five pick is such a gift given how quickly some of these positions are depleted that I'd rather not waste it on a plentiful one. 

Back to Judge, it seems to me like he should be the obvious choice at No. 1 not only for position scarcity reasons but also because he's coming off one of the most dominant seasons in major-league history. The kneejerk response is "oh, well he won't hit 62 home runs again," but it's more that he hit 16 more home runs than anyone else, his outlier exit velocities counting for more at a time when batted balls aren't leaving the park as easily. His injury history is greater cause for concern than his performance, I'd say.

But it's Acuna and Soto who have the biggest red flags of this group. They came into the league together and looked like they might settle in as Nos. 1 and 2 for the next decade, but each had his struggles last year. Acuna's are a little easier to explain coming back from a torn ACL, but both hitters still demonstrated the qualities that make them great. Naturally, you should opt for Soto over Acuna in a points league given that he's the most disciplined hitter in the game.

For me, Kyle Tucker would rank last of this group because he's a half step behind the others in terms of upside. Even so, a .257 batting average is probably the low-water mark for him given how little he strikes out.

The Studs

2023 ADP2022 PPG2022 BA2022 HR

You'll want to get what you can here, my Nos. 7-20 at the position, because the drop-off isn't far behind. It's not an especially wide range by ADP, and indeed, I've already emphasized the need to fill third and second base within this same range. But that just goes to show you how little flexibility I feel like I have in drafts with position scarcity back in play.

Mike Trout's point-per-game average (if not his reputation) should tell you he belongs with the first group, the studs, in leagues that use points scoring, and you could make the case Michael Harris does in 5x5 leagues. He certainly performed like a stud in 114 games as a rookie last year, exhibiting five-category potential, but his poor plate discipline and high ground-ball rate have me preceding a bit more cautiously. I'm also a bit leery of Adolis Garcia, believing a 30-year-old with a .300 on-base percentage isn't a guy to trust in long-term no matter how many combined home runs and stolen bases he had, and 34-year-old Starling Marte seems like he might be losing his best asset, his speed, in addition to struggling to stay on the field.

Um ... you see what's happening here? These are supposed to be some of the best the position can offer, and I'm finding all kinds of reasons to pick them apart. Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez can't stay healthy. Corbin Carroll has big upside but is entirely unproven. And are we sure Bryan Reynolds is all that good? Like I said, there will come a point when you have to reach at the position, and it may be on the early side to avoid certain mediocrity.

Other Deserving Starters

2023 ADP2022 PPG2022 BA2022 HR

*minor-league stats

It's not getting any better, is it? Well, no, it generally doesn't the deeper you go at a position, but we're up to only 35 names now -- with two also being catchers and one also being a second baseman -- and that's it. We're tapped out. Any outfielder you draft beyond this point probably isn't going to amount to much. Yeah, I have higher hopes for some, and hopefully the position will yield a few breakouts. But even in a three-outfielder league with 12 teams in all, not every team will have had a chance to fill those spots by the time we're playing the lottery.

But only after this group, which is an especially eclectic one. Players like Steven Kwan, Hunter Renfroe and Brandon Nimmo seem pretty secure in their production but with clear limits to their upside. Byron Buxton, Tyler O'Neill and Kris Bryant still have huge ceilings but with few promises of reaching them. Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton are former first-round types who we haven't completely given up on yet. Jake McCarthy is everyone's favorite mid-round steals specialist this year. Andrew Vaughn is a genuine breakout candidate.

If I can grab somebody like Renfroe (more likely in a 5x5 league) or Kwan (more likely in a points league) as my third outfielder, I feel pretty good heading into the abyss. But I'll tell you: it's easier said than done and will most likely require a big sacrifice along the way.

The DH-onlys

2023 ADP2022 PPG2022 BA2022 HR

Yeah, I'm shoehorning in the DH-only guys here. I felt like I need to address them somewhere, and the most likely place for them to gain eligibility is the outfield. It's almost certainly not going to happen for Shohei Ohtani, and investing a first-round pick in a DH-only bat isn't ideal, particularly given the number of positions that are critical to fill early. Naturally, if you play in a daily lineup league that allows you to switch him between pitcher and hitter, the calculation changes.

For Bryce Harper, keep in mind he had Tommy John surgery around Thanksgiving and figures to be out until midseason. His ADP is about the earliest I start thinking about taking him, and I'm most inclined to do in a shallower league, where I can secure a reasonable fill-in easier.

The Sleepers

2023 ADP2022 PPG2022 BA2022 OPS

*minor-league stats
^2021 stats

At this point, you've got to ask yourself one question: do I feel lucky? Because that's what it's going to take to get an every-week starter from this group, at least in a standard-size league where Ian Happ-level production isn't going to cut it. Your best bet is either in a bounce-back season for Nick Castellanos or a step forward for Seiya Suzuki, neither of which seems terribly unlikely. But you'll pay for the privilege, even more than for some in the previous group.

It might be better to load up on upside late. Some of my favorite such targets include Lars Nootbaar, who showed a premier batting eye and high quality-of-contact numbers in a semi-regular role for the Cardinals, Bryan De La Cruz, who returned from the minors scorching hot last September and had better expected stats than Rafael Devers overall, and Jesse Winker, who played much of last year with back and knee issues and is back to a more favorable hitting environment in Milwaukee.

My favorite sleeper of all, though, is Oscar Colas, a Cuban defector (by way of Japan) who finally got a chance to play stateside last year and crushed upper-minors pitching. The White Sox have left the right field job open for him, and his stock could soar this spring.

The Deep Sleepers

2023 ADP2022 PPG2022 BA2022 OPS
player headshot
Sal Frelick MIL SS

*minor-league stats

It'll take a true miracle for any of these guys to meet your outfield needs from opening day, but in theory, the upside is there for all of them. Prospects like Sal Frelick and Alec Burleson could find their footing later, but how likely is it you'll still be clinging to them by the time they do? A more likely bet is Jake Fraley coming into regular at-bats for the Reds, providing cheap power and speed, or Marcell Ozuna claiming a job for the Braves, replicating the production from his best seasons. And neither of those cases is especially likely.

Some others who might surprise include Oswaldo Cabrera, Kerry Carpenter and Alex Call, who all put up big minor-league numbers and at least showed flashes in the majors, albeit with few assurances of regular playing time.

The Base-Stealers

Here's where I'd normally feature all of the viable stolen base sources for the position in question, but for the outfield, there are just too many. The table would stretch so far down the page that you'd get tired of scrolling, 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 article, denoting how many stolen bases each had in 2022:




Aaron Judge


Byron Buxton


Seiya Suzuki


Ronald Acuna


Tyler O'Neill


Cody Bellinger


Julio Rodriguez


Steven Kwan


Lars Nootbaar


Kyle Tucker


Christian Yelich


Ramon Laureano


Mookie Betts


Jake McCarthy


Brandon Marsh


Shohei Ohtani


Wil Myers


Michael Harris


Jarred Kelenic


Randy Arozarena


Trent Grisham


Daulton Varsho


Akil Baddoo


Cedric Mullins


Jake Fraley


Luis Robert


Lane Thomas


Adolis Garcia


Sal Frelick


Starling Marte


Oswaldo Cabrera


Corbin Carroll


Will Brennan


Jose Siri


*minor-league stats

OK, so who haven't I covered yet?

Other stolen base specialists

2023 ADP2022 SB2023 hopeAlso eligible

*minor-league stats

It's an uninspiring group overall, though Esteury Ruiz and Garrett Mitchell could theoretically deliver some monster steals totals if they hit enough to stay in the lineup. I have my doubts about that. Harrison Bader's ADP is shockingly high given his lack of hitting prowess. He did make a name for himself with five postseason home runs, though, which may be driving enthusiasm. It was as many as he hit during the regular season.

Other home run specialists

2023 ADP2022 PPG2022 BA2022 HR

*minor-league stats

Seth Brown and Joc Pederson are near certain to be drafted in five-outfielder leagues, and it's deserved in both cases. Don't sleep on Jorge Soler and Adam Duvall, though, who were both big contributors in 2021 before struggling with injuries last year. Duvall in particular seems like a great fit in Fenway Park given his tendency to hit towering fly balls to left field.

Other batting average specialists

2023 ADP2022 PPG2022 BA2022 HR

#stats from Japan

I may be selling Masataka Yoshida short given that the Red Sox are penciling him in as their leadoff hitter, but I just don't see the power translating from Japan. And there's certainly no speed there. Gavin Lux still carries a ton of name value from his days as a top prospect and is in line for more at-bats this year, but his ceiling seems rather modest now. He's just as likely to be drafted as a second baseman.