mike-trout.jpg

No matter the scoring format or the stage of the draft, outfield always has a little more of whatever it is you're looking for. Be it a stud or a speedster, an upside play or a late-round power source, this position covers all the bases ... while occupying none of them.

(Get it? Because it's the outfield and not the ... nevermind.)

It's just so darn big, being actually three positions rolled into one since Fantasy Baseball traditionally doesn't distinguish between left, center and right field -- and shouldn't. But it does give the position sort of a bottomless quality wherein it never feels like it's been picked clean.

That goes double for three-outfielder leagues, like traditional Head-to-Head, where I'm careful not to fill those spots too soon. That's not to say I would pass over Juan Soto in Round 1 -- he's my top-ranked player in points leagues, which are almost always three-outfielder -- but I'd avoid filling that second spot until about a third of the way through the draft unless the value was too good to pass up.

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

I've had numerous drafts over the years where my outfield spots were the last to be filled -- all three of them -- and whatever kind of early hole it put me in, it was never a season-long issue. There's never a shortage of sleepers in the outfield, which is true during the course of the season as well. You're at least three times as likely to score big off the waiver wire in the outfield as at any infield spot. Honestly, it feels like more than that.

Now, the deeper the format, the dicier that approach gets, and having five outfield spots instead of three, like in a traditional Rotisserie league, changes the math as well. But regardless of the format and regardless of the year, I'm more emboldened to wait at outfield than at any position other than catcher (Salvador Perez aside) and relief pitcher.

No reason 2022 should be any different.

The first-round contenders

2022 ADP2021 PPG2021 BA2021 HR
14.01.28242
33.88.31329
73.87.30935
94.20.28324
113.51.33318
123.52.26423
133.51.29430

Chances are not all of these seven will go in the first round, but any of them could, particularly in a categories league where you're looking to balance stolen bases with everything else. Most of them figure to make some kind of contribution in that scarcest of categories without costing you in any of the others, and those kinds of players generally aren't available for long.

The two who stand out most in that category not coincidentally have the most upside in Fantasy Baseball, and Fernando Tatis and Ronald Acuna would probably go one and two in most leagues if not for their health concerns -- a balky shoulder for Tatis and a torn ACL for Acuna. Tatis' shouldn't cost him any time at the start of the year, but perhaps intermittently throughout. Acuna probably won't be recovered in time for opening day but should return soon thereafter. Personally, I'm still taking Tatis No. 1 in a categories league, but the possibility of a setback for Acuna has me sliding him to Round 2 (where I probably won't get him).

The two least likely to contribute in stolen bases are Juan Soto and Mike Trout, but they might be the best pure hitters in baseball. Some are fading Trout because of a calf injury that cost him the final three-quarters of last season, but if it's not better by now, then we're truly back in the dark ages of sports medicine.

The Studs

2022 ADP2021 PPG2021 BA2021 HR
193.54.33813
253.77.30812
273.25.27833
283.35.28739
333.26.29130
343.10.27710
353.39.29632
542.99.27420
563.58.30934
573.64.26422
583.92.30619
612.57.24910
653.13.28634
763.22.31814
773.17.28628
933.19.30224

Luis Robert is the standout here, offering the upside of any of the first-rounders but without the same assurances. Generally, if he slips to late in Round 2 in a categories league, I take him. Cedric Mullins offers that kind potential as well -- and, in fact, was the majors' only 30/30 man last year -- but it was the sort of out-of-nowhere-breakthrough that demands a certain level of skepticism. I buy it enough to target him early in Round 3, if only in categories leagues.

It's my mission this year to be intentionally unintentional about stolen bases in the formats where they're most in demand, believing my past attempts to meet that need have sacrificed too much in the power categories. It's why I'm all but certain to pass over Starling Marte, the 2021 stolen bases leader, at his cost. In fact, I'm more likely to take him in a points league, where all production goes into the same bucket and he'll be available a couple rounds later.

Some of the riskier choices here include Tyler O'Neill, whose strikeout rate could overshadow his physical prowess, Nick Castellanos, whose production could suffer outside of Cincinnati, and Randy Arozarena, who was one of last year's biggest overachievers, according to Statcast. Byron Buxton comes with obvious injury risk, but the upside he showed last year may be worth it. At his cost, I like Bryan Reynods the most, and at times I've even made him my No. 1 outfielder.

Other Deserving Starters

2022 ADP2021 PPG2021 BA2021 HR
812.96.27335
842.58.2489
921.68.16510
983.13.25339
1002.81.26211
1013.72.30524
1092.75.25533
1143.32.26632
1162.23.24611
1173.04.23427
1352.73.19938
1362.70.25420
1402.56.27621
1532.67.24331
1552.74.28913
1612.96.25931
1822.88.23923

*minor-league stats

A handful of these outfielder straddle the line between studs and serviceable starters. Truth is I'm not drafting Giancarlo Stanton, Mitch Haniger, Jesse Winker or Kyle Schwarber all that differently from J.D. Martinez, though I suppose they have more downside. The one I draft most is Schwarber, who I think emerged as one of the game's elite power hitters last year and isn't getting enough credit for it. Winker was the best on a per-game basis, but he has both health and platoon issues.

Beyond them, I'm not particularly inclined to pay up for anyone in this group. Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger are clearly the upside plays, both being former MVPs, but they've been a mess the past two seasons and show few signs of turning things around. It's always possible something clicks -- particularly for Bellinger, whose problems I think are largely self-inflicted -- but there are still too many players I like, if mostly at other positions, at their going rates.

I tend to draft Hunter Renfroe and Robbie Grossman the most from this group, possibly because they cost the least. Genuinely, I don't understand the lack of enthusiasm for Renfroe, who cut way down on his strikeouts last year and is going to a hitter's paradise in Milwaukee. Grossman last year was about as goofy of a 20/20 guy as you'll ever see, but hey, how often can you find a 20/20 guy this late?

The DH-onlys

2022 ADP2021 PPG2021 BA2021 HR
183.60.25746
player headshot
Franmil Reyes CLE DH
1122.94.25430
1463.01.26532
3862.52.25011

Yeah, I'm shoehorning in the DH-only guys here. I felt like I needed to address them somewhere, and the most likely place for them to gain eligibility is the outfield.

At least in categories leagues, Shohei Ohtani always seems to go in the first round, despite what ADP shows (one site of the sites contributing to the data has him going oddly late). He's at risk of being overworked as a two-way player, but the power/speed combo is so enticing. Plus, you may want to use him at starting pitcher every once in a while. Franmil Reyes offers another shot at Giancarlo Stanton/Mitch Haniger/Kyle Schwraber numbers, but a couple rounds later, and Nelson Cruz continues to do his thing at age 41. True, he did finally show some signs of decline last year, but only small ones. You still can't beat the price.

The Sleepers

2022 ADP2021 PPG2021 BA2021 OPS
1322.54.242.740
1342.11.181.615
1542.52.266.780
1702.82.263.820
1732.27.232.729
1742.31.213.645
1782.34.251.722
1852.48.223.749
1912.56.259.740
2012.51.259.766
2062.60.270.761
2072.27.226.757
2092.10.235.705
2172.63.289*.934*
2312.92.297.892
2382.72.246.760
2392.73.256.769
3352.60.267.785

*minor-league stats

Like I said, there's never a shortage of sleepers in the outfield. We've got another load of them behind this one. Jarred Kelenic, Alex Kirilloff and Jo Adell are the big upside plays here as former top prospects looking to make good. The one going earliest, Kelenic, has so far done the least with the most at-bats, but he came on strong toward the end of last season and was considered the best prospect of the three. For the cost, though, I'd rather have the other two.

For a couple of older guys, Marcell Ozuna and Jorge Soler offer considerable upside as well. Ozuna has had his ups and downs but was the top outfielder in Fantasy during the pandemic-shortened 2020. It sounds like he'll be back with the Braves after his arrest for a domestic incident last year. Soler has been a 48-homer guy in the past and got back to performing that way in the second half last year. He's one of your last chances for a potentially game-changing power bat.

Some of the most expensive here are among my least favorites. Trent Grisham and Michael Conforto both experienced a steep reduction in power last year, and judging by their exit velocities, I imagine the new ball had something to do with it. Dylan Carlson hasn't shown enough upside for my liking, and Avisail Garcia's new ballpark may not suit him so well.

The Deep Sleepers

2022 ADP2021 PPG2021 BA2021 OPS
259-----.301*.921*
2612.45.251.808
2642.09.256.768
2921.98.249.674
player headshot
Rafael Ortega CHC CF
3002.22.290.823
3081.73.244.667
3162.39.285.848
3231.52.215.578
325-----.347*1.001*
3422.21.246.726
3482.21.234.752
3751.68.254.672
4271.78.252.638
4342.10.247.778
446-----.313*.953*
4981.92.215.757
5002.00.291*.916*
5151.97.296.783

*minor-league stats

I call them "deep sleepers" because they're going later than the previous group, but some of them I actually like more. Exhibit A is Connor Joe, an on-base specialist who was settling in as the Rockies leadoff hitter last August before a hamstring injury ended his season. Coors Field is of course a special place to hit if he can keep the job. Lane Thomas and Rafael Ortega are both also in line to lead off for their respective teams, and they both offer a modicum of power and speed.

Of course, this is the point in a deeper draft when the next wave of prospects begins to garner some attention, and there's none more attractive than Julio Rodriguez, who I suspect will be up sooner than later given the Mariners' contention hopes. Riley Greene isn't too far behind him in terms of upside and could have a similar opportunity with the Tigers. The paths for Joshua Lowe and Alek Thomas aren't as clear, but there isn't much more for them to accomplish in the minors.

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 piece, denoting how many stolen bases each had in 2021:

Studs

Starters

Sleepers

Fernando Tatis

25

Tommy Edman

30

Jarred Kelenic

6

Bryce Harper

13

Christian Yelich

9

Trent Grisham

13

Ronald Acuna

17

Daulton Varsho

6

Akil Baddoo

18

Mookie Betts

10

Chris Taylor

13

Harrison Bader

9

Kyle Tucker

14

Adolis Garcia

16

A.J. Pollock

9

Shohei Ohtani

26

Robbie Grossman

20

Jo Adell

8*

Luis Robert

6

Ramon Laureano

12

Starling Marte

47

Lane Thomas

6

Cedric Mullins

30

Wil Myers

8

Whit Merrifield

40

Rafael Ortega

12

Teoscar Hernandez

12

Brandon Marsh

6

Tyler O'Neill

15

Jarren Duran

16*

Randy Arozarena

20

Julio Rodriguez

21*

Byron Buxton

9

Riley Greene

16*

Sam Hilliard

5

Joshua Lowe

26*

Tyrone Taylor

6

Alek Thomas

13*

*minor-league stats

OK, so who haven't I covered yet?

Other stolen base specialists

2022 ADP2021 SB2022 hopeAlso eligible
1633025-30-----
player headshot
Raimel Tapia COL LF
2452020-25-----
2881720-252B
3811315-20-----
435815-20-----
player headshot
Bradley Zimmer CLE CF
5261520-25-----
5501020-25-----
5621020-25-----

Myles Straw is the big draw here, but I'm not sure the juice is worth the squeeze. He's exactly the sort of player my intentionally unintentional approach to stolen bases is intended to avoid: a true stolen base specialist who'll offer zero power at a point when it's still critical to get some. As stolen base specialists go, I prefer shortstop Nicky Lopez about 100 picks later. He'll contribute in batting average as well.

Most of these other choices are desperation pickups for deeper leagues. Yes, I'm including Victor Robles, who surprisingly hasn't run much the past two years.

Other home run specialists

2022 ADP2021 PPG2021 BA2021 HR
2052.70.22838
2752.34.24118
2912.47.23122
3282.19.24122
3452.09.23818
3512.67.21119

I said earlier that Jorge Soler is your last chance at a game-changing power bat. It's actually Adam Duvall, who didn't fit neatly into any of the above categories but is a pretty handy player. He'll drain your batting average, sure, but I'm not so quick to disparage his 38 homers and 113 RBI last year. We're scraping the bottom of the barrel with these others, except maybe Eric Haase in leagues where you can use him as a catcher.

Which sleepers, breakouts, and busts do you need to know? Visit SportsLine now to get rankings for every single position heading into your draft, all from the model that called Brad Hand's disappointing season, and find out.