Would you look at these tiers? They're so much bigger than at every other position.
But of course, outfield isn't like every other position. Depending on your format, you'll start either three or five players there, and that's before giving any thought to your utility spot.
The primary purpose of tiering positions is to help identify the best time to fill each position. But if one outfielder isn't enough to fill it, the best time shouldn't be the only time, right? So then, how long do you wait before settling for less than the best? Or is it even a matter of waiting if you can start more than one from the same tier?
The same questions could apply to starting pitcher, but its differences go without saying. Adopting a more flexible approach to the outfield while still making rigid use of the tiers in the infield is one of the more understated challenges on Draft Day.
The Elite: Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Bautista, Carlos Gomez, Yasiel Puig, Adam Jones, Michael Brantley
The Near-Elite: Jacoby Ellsbury, Ryan Braun, Bryce Harper, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Hunter Pence, Nelson Cruz, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Holliday, Yoenis Cespedes, George Springer, Corey Dickerson, J.D. Martinez, Melky Cabrera
The Next-Best Things: Danny Santana, Josh Harrison, Alex Gordon, Christian Yelich, Starling Marte, Billy Hamilton, Jorge Soler, Ben Zobrist, Ryan Zimmerman, Jason Heyward, Jayson Werth, Jay Bruce, Mark Trumbo, Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, Gregory Polanco
The Fallback Options: Kole Calhoun, Charlie Blackmon, Shin-Soo Choo, Steve Pearce, Denard Span, Brett Gardner, Yasmany Tomas, Wil Myers, Brandon Moss, Joc Pederson, A.J. Pollock, Marcell Ozuna, Ben Revere, Marlon Byrd, Michael Cuddyer, Adam Eaton, Torii Hunter, Curtis Granderson
The Last Resorts : Leonys Martin, Arismendy Alcantara, Carl Crawford, Coco Crisp, Nick Markakis, Steven Souza, Travis Snider, Avisail Garcia, Domonic Brown, Oswaldo Arcia, Desmond Jennings, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rios, Shane Victorino, Khris Davis, Angel Pagan, Josh Reddick, Dexter Fowler, Dalton Pompey
The Leftovers: Allen Craig, Lorenzo Cain, David Peralta, Austin Jackson, Michael Morse, Michael Taylor, Rajai Davis, Josh Hamilton, Norichika Aoki, Seth Smith, Dustin Ackley, Chris Coghlan, Brock Holt, Matt Joyce, Michael Saunders, Kevin Kiermaier, Ryan Rua, Andre Ethier
Outfield tiers do serve a purpose, of course. Even if you're not necessarily waiting until the end of one to draft from the position, it's still an added incentive. Let's say you have only one outfielder by Round 9, and Cespedes is the last of The Near-Elite available. Well, you'll have to fill that second outfield spot eventually, right? Better now than a round from now when you'll most likely be settling for a top player from a lower tier.
So then, should the possibility of drafting Cespedes in Round 9 (or Martinez or Cabrera or whoever that final player ends up being) dissuade you from drafting, say, Cruz in Round 8? Not necessarily. After all, you'll have to fill that third outfield spot eventually, too, and two of The Near-Elite is better than one of The Near-Elite and one of The Next-Best Things.
It just depends what all is available at the other positions. Maybe Round 8 is looking like your last chance to grab one of The Near-Elite at second base, with only Jason Kipnis left on the board. Drafting him is probably the better bet than doubling up on second-tier outfielders.
The best way to describe my approach to outfielders, then, is to pick them when the tiers don't make for an obvious pick in the infield, with special emphasis given to the end of a tier. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm passing up Trout first overall or letting McCutchen or Stanton drop outside the top five. Again, the first round of a draft -- or really, the first round and a half -- is more or less choreographed and is what it is for a reason. When you begin having to improvise is when the tiers become your lifeline.
That begins after Gomez, which is why Puig, Jones and Brantley are such a priority at the back end of the second round. They're only three deep, after all. They stand out from The Near-Elite because they're at a place in their careers where you can halfway expect first-round production from them.
Ellsbury is borderline, especially when you consider he was about as productive as Jones in Head-to-Head points leagues last year, but part of what you're paying for with Jones is reliability -- an attribute Ellsbury doesn't possess, whether in terms of production or health. I'm more comfortable tiering him with The Near-Elite, which consists of players who are either reliably high-end but decidedly incapable of first-round production, such as Upton, Pence and Cespedes, or have that kind potential but also serious impediments to reaching it, such as Braun, Harper and Gonzalez.
Among The Next-Best Things, you'll find plenty of potential -- players who could be great but who no one really knows where they go from here. Gordon is an exception in that we know more or less what he's going to do, but it's just not on the same level as Kemp or Holliday. Marte is also an exception and probably deserves to be a tier higher in Rotisserie leagues, but I think he showed us the full extent of his potential last year.
I love to draft from this tier, particularly in shallower mixed leagues. Players like Castillo and Betts I think have the potential to overtake most of The Near-Elite, and if it doesn't happen, it's not like there's any shortage of alternatives. You'll have an easier time patching things up via trade or the waiver wire here than at, say, third base.
You may be counting on some of The Fallback Options to start for you at the beginning of the season, and they may perform well enough to stick in your lineup all season. But most likely, none of them are coming close to elite production. You could at least envision it for players like Choo, Pearce and Pederson, but they have a lot to overcome and/or prove.
You'll still find sleepers beyond that, of course, but The Leftovers mostly consist of category specialists, marginal contributors or mid-range prospects still completely unproven in the majors, like Souza and Pompey. If you have to resort to this tier for your fifth outfielder, it's not the end of the world, but we're into waiver fodder now in standard mixed leagues.