Going 20 deep isn't so daunting at those positions where every team starts just one player.
But the outfield isn't one of those positions. The outfield is a jumble of names, all made relevant by the projections of their near past, present or future, that somehow need to be ordered by preference.
Going 20 deep, like I did around the infield, just isn't going to cut it.
Neither will going 30 deep, really, but that's where I draw the line. Anything beyond that would be maimed beyond recognition by the start of draft season, which is of course still months and months away. This gives us something to chew on for now.
Remember: It's just a foretaste. We're not finalizing a plan of attack here. I mean, it doesn't hurt to start thinking along those lines, but it's October, for crying out loud. Would it kill you to watch a football game?
Top 10 outfielders for 2015:
1. Mike Trout, OF, Angels
2. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates
3. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins
4. Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays
5. Carlos Gomez, OF, Brewers
6. Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers
7. Adam Jones, OF, Orioles
8. Michael Brantley, OF, Indians
9. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Yankees
10. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers
In terms of Head-to-Head points per game, Trout, McCutchen, Stanton and Bautista stand apart at the position -- or at least they did in 2014. To put it in perspective, the gap between them and what comes next (with the notable exception of Brantley, but I'll get to him in a minute) was about the same as the gap between what comes next and Adam Eaton or Dexter Fowler. I don't think what Trout, McCutchen, Stanton or Bautista did in 2014 was particularly out of character, so I won't entertain the notion of anyone else in my top four.
I'll make an exception for Gomez, but only at Bautista's expense. He was the one player halfway between that gap I referred to earlier, and for that alone, he belongs in the discussion. More than anything, though, his value relative to Bautista's is a matter of format. It wasn't as noticeable in 2014 because Bautista maintained a high batting average for once, but Rotisserie leagues don't highlight his strengths so well. When he hits .260, it's not a big deal in points leagues because he walks so darn much, but walks don't count for anything in Rotisserie leagues. Stolen bases do, and Gomez trumps Bautista in that category by far. Not wanting to pass up the superior power, I would opt for Bautista over Gomez in Rotisserie regardless, but I wouldn't blame anyone for going the other way.
Of course, the second-best outfielder on a per-game basis in 2014 was actually Brantley, but given that he was a fringy mixed-leaguer for several years leading up to his unexpected breakthrough, the Jose Bautista-Edwin Encarnacion-Chris Davis discount applies. The abundance of caution may have been unwarranted for the first two, but the third gave us a welcome reminder why the discount is necessary.
While I think Brantley has more in common with Bautista and Encarnacion than Davis (his plate discipline limits his shortcomings, reducing the chance of pitchers "figuring him out"), the power did come out of nowhere. I'm not sure its validity is all that important, though. Even regressing to five home runs in the second half, Brantley was still the third-best outfielder in Head-to-Head points leagues and the seventh-best in Rotisserie during that time. Because plate discipline directly influences a player's production in Head-to-Head leagues, I may even opt for Brantley, discount and all, over the ultra-reliable Jones (a plate-discipline dunce) in that format, but certainly not in Rotisserie, where power is a requirement and Jones is a near lock for 30 home runs (or at least the 29 he hit in 2014).
Ellsbury and Braun may seem like comfort picks considering neither had a banner year in 2014, but Ellsbury did hit more home runs, as so many hoped he would, in his first year with the Yankees. If he stays healthy, which he's managed to do in back-to-back years, he's basically a lock for the top 15. Reliability counts for something, too. Braun, meanwhile, gets a pass for playing through injury. His thumb was messed up basically from the beginning. He was the same old Braun in April before it really started bugging him.
He waited until the offseason to have surgery. Modern medicine, yo.
Next 10 outfielders for 2015:
11. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
12. Justin Upton, OF, Braves
13. Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers
14. Hunter Pence, OF, Giants
15. Nelson Cruz, OF, Orioles
16. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies
17. Matt Holliday, OF, Cardinals
18. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Red Sox
19. Corey Dickerson, OF, Rockies
20. Jayson Werth, OF, Nationals
Turns out Harper is as divisive in Fantasy as he is in real life. You have your contingent of owners who'll continue to draft him in the second round until he inevitably becomes a first-rounder, and then you have those, like me, who aren't afraid to admit he was kind of crappy in 2014. I recognize the ligament he tore in his thumb in late April cast a pall over his entire season, and he did hit a bunch of home runs late to get some of his rate stats back to normal. But he just didn't slug like we're used to seeing, and his plate discipline wasn't up to snuff either. In Head-to-Head points leagues, Desmond Jennings was better on a per-game basis, if you can believe it.
Harper is all upside -- I get it -- but the first two rounds is too early for a lottery ticket. I'd take him in Round 4, just ahead of the perpetually underwhelming (though perhaps unfairly castigated) Upton, who I personally wouldn't be so disappointed to draft as my top outfielder. Hey, a 29-homer season is no small feat in these modern times.
Neither is a 40-homer season, which means I have some 'splainin to do with Cruz. First off, he's a little like Brantley -- which isn't to say he was a nobody coming into the year, but his production went beyond anyone's wildest hopes and dreams -- so the same discount applies. With that discount, I think most people would agree he belongs behind Upton, but they may fail to recognize just how good Kemp was over the final two-thirds of the year and just how consistent Pence is.
From June 1 on, which is about the time he stopped trying to be Superman on his bad ankle and settled into an outfield corner, Kemp hit .303 with 20 home runs and a .908 OPS, putting him about in Gomez territory in terms of Head-to-Head points per game. Hard to say that's a fluke, given his history. Pence, meanwhile, has been a top-15 outfielder in both formats four of the last five years. Again, reliability counts for something, too.
For the majority of his career in Texas, Cruz had nothing on Pence, and I would suspect that at age 34, he's more likely to revert to those numbers than not. And that's assuming he stays healthy, which he never (OK, almost never) did prior to this year. That's really the sticking point for me. It's why I rank Gonzalez so low as well. Granted, his injury concerns (finger, knee) are more specific and potentially chronic, but ranking Cruz ahead of a perennial first-rounder is an endorsement of him in some ways. I think it's the perfect middle ground.
The second big drop-off at the position comes thereafter with Holliday. He and Werth are the unexciting old guys who continue to deliver despite everyone's insistence that they won't. Holliday has been the steadier of the two over the years even though he needed a second-half surge to bring this year's numbers up to snuff. Plus, he's a year younger and markedly less injury-prone.
The gap between the two is enough for me to squeeze in Cespedes, who remains a reliable source of home runs and RBI, if nothing else, and Dickerson, who might be the one of the top 20 outfielders you're most excited to draft. I'd feel better about him if he didn't bat left-handed, giving the platoon-happy Walt Weiss a chance to go off script, but a 25-year-old who hits .312 with 24 homers and a .931 OPS in 436 at-bats has a chance to be something special. Sure, those are Coors-inflated numbers, but it's not like he's going anywhere.
Next 10 outfielders for 2015:
21. Melky Cabrera, OF, Blue Jays
22. George Springer, OF, Astros
23. Josh Harrison, 3B/OF, Pirates
24. J.D. Martinez, OF, Tigers
25. Danny Santana, SS/OF, Twins
26. Alex Gordon, OF, Royals
27. Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins
28. Jason Heyward, OF, Braves
29. Starling Marte, OF, Pirates
30. Jorge Soler, OF, Cubs
The position takes another turn after the top 21. For Cabrera and up, we may quibble about the order, but I'm confident the names are the right ones.
Cabrera at 21 may strike some as harsh because it doesn't fully appreciate what he did for Fantasy owners before breaking his pinkie in early September, and in points leagues, he probably deserves more benefit of the doubt. But players in that 15-to-20-homer range who don't steal a relevant number of bases have a thin margin for error in Rotisserie leagues, as we saw with Martin Prado and Billy Butler in 2014. Cabrera is now 30, has suffered a season-ending injury in back-to-back years and still has the stink of that 2012 season (and probably always will). Plus, he's a free agent. If he leaves Toronto for some less hitter-friendly locale, it may be enough to penetrate that thin margin.
Still, only after he's gone do I begin entertaining biases and hunches. I have my share for Springer. He can't make contact, but when he does, he hits the ball a long way. In a worst-case scenario, he's another Chris Carter. In a best-case scenario, he's maybe closer to Kemp. Given his pedigree, I think he at least has a chance of being one of those rare players who, like Kemp, consistently delivers a high BABIP, though I know better than to count on it. If I didn't, he'd be in my top 15.
As big of a question as his batting average is whether or not the Astros turn him loose on the base paths. They didn't this year, but Springer had 45 steals in 53 attempts in his last full minor-league season. If he goes 30-30, he could hit .230 and still be a stud. In other words, you're not putting all your eggs in one basket with him. One way or another, I'm guessing he comes through big as a sophomore.
Harrison and Santana get a boost in my outfield rankings because they're eligible at other, weaker positions, but it's worth pointing out that as an everyday player (from May 18 on), Harrison averaged 3.14 Head-to-Head points per game, which was as many as Cabrera and more than Puig, Jones, Ellsbury or most anyone out of the top five. Martinez's totals are even more impressive -- Dickerson-like, you might say -- but the Brantley discount also applies for him. I want to believe in him just because the narrative of him retooling his swing seems plausible to me, but I've been fooled before by similar narratives. And unlike Brantley, his plate discipline isn't an asset unto itself.
You'd never mistake Gordon, Yelich and Heyward for No. 1 outfielders, at least not in their current form, but all three walk a lot and offer modest power and speed. Gordon is the most consistent of the three, but Yelich and Heyward have the potential to overtake him. Pick your favorite between those two. Yelich was better in 2014, but I still think that with the right hitting coach -- and the Braves will have a new one in 2015 -- Heyward could be a stud. His issues seem mostly mechanical.
I rank Soler where I think Kris Bryant would rank if he was eligible in the outfield and assured a job from the get-go. Soler was about as good as Bryant in the minors this year and impressed in a September call-up. Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo, who also have huge upside, were near misses. Gregory Polanco as well, but his role going into 2015 isn't as secure.
And of course, you have your bounce-back candidates like Ryan Zimmerman, Jay Bruce, Shin-Soo Choo, and Wil Myers, but this group of 30 is promising enough that I don't see the benefit in rolling the dice on one of them so early.