The trouble with outfielders is there's just so darn many of them.
Which is understandable, of course. Teams start three of them as opposed to one at all those other positions, so naturally, I have to rank more players to feel like I've properly addressed the position.
But that's not the only or even the biggest complication. A surplus of options means a surplus of candidates for every spot in the rankings, so I can't be as confident who belongs where as at second or third base.
Which makes pinpointing the "correct" order, if there is such a thing, harder than ever.
That surplus also means a wider variety of players whose contributions translate differently from format to format, so whatever order I settle on won't be one-size-fits-all anyway.
Guess I should just get to it, then, huh? It's October, after all. We'll have plenty of time to tinker with the order in the months ahead.
Top 10 outfielders for 2016:
2. Mike Trout, OF, Angels
3. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins
4. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates
5. Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays
6. A.J. Pollock, OF, Diamondbacks
7. Mookie Betts, OF, Red Sox
8. Michael Brantley, OF, Indians
9. George Springer, OF, Astros
10. J.D. Martinez, OF, Tigers
Harper or Trout? It's as big of a debate now as when the two were on the verge of breaking into the big leagues in 2012, and as Trout did then, Harper seems to have flipped the script now with a breakout for the ages. Of course, it helps that Trout tried to play through a wrist injury in August, bringing his numbers down a healthy margin, but the bigger reason I rank him behind Harper is because I don't think he's capable of the kind of Fantasy production Harper just had now that he's no longer a big stolen base threat. His 11 in 2015 were a far cry from the 40 he was putting up at his rewriting-the-record-books best.
I don't think anyone would dispute the top five, really. Apart from Harper, it's the same group we've seen for years now, and while Stanton still has trouble staying on the field and Bautista isn't getting any younger at age 35, they're just too dominant to pass up in the first two rounds.
The names after them, though, might surprise some people. None of Pollock, Betts or even Brantley have achieved superstar status, but they're all so good in so many areas that the numbers really do stack up. Pollock averaged 3.64 Head-to-Head points per game this year to Trout's 3.59 and, thanks in large part to his batting average and stolen bases, ranked behind only Harper in Rotisserie leagues as well. He showed his first signs of that kind of potential during an injury-plagued 2014, so I feel confident saying it's not a fluke.
Betts needed a strong finish to bring himself into this discussion and got it, batting .340 with eight home runs, eight stolen bases and a .941 in his final 48 games. Just looking at the all-around production at age 22, right down to the low strikeout rate, I'm fairly convinced he's the next McCutchen, which isn't too far-fetched considering he already was better than McCutchen this year, at least going by Head-to-Head points per game. So is McCutchen overrated, then? Well, he didn't have his best year, but if that's as bad as it gets for him, he's not going to disappoint you no matter where you draft him.
Here's where format really comes into play. Brantley makes as much contact as any player in baseball, and the lack of strikeouts gives him a big advantage in Head-to-Head points leagues. Which isn't to say he's just another guy in Rotisserie leagues -- that contact rate also makes him one of the safer bets to hit over .300 -- but you might prefer the pure power of Springer, Martinez and several of the players behind him to the 15 homers and 15 steals Brantley is probably limited to.
Yes, I know Springer is sort of a theoretical pick at this point, having yet to play a full season in the majors (a fractured wrist did him in this year), and top 10 is awfully high for that sort of player at a position as deep as this one. But as one of Springer's biggest skeptics coming into this season, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw in the 102 games he did play. He cut his strikeout rate to a not-so-embarrassing 1 in 3 1/2 at-bats (down from 1 in 2 1/2) while performing at a 25-homer, 25-steal pace. The top three players on this list all strike out nearly as often (Stanton more, actually), so it seems kind of ridiculous to hold it against Springer now, especially with him looking so promising otherwise.
Next 10 outfielders for 2016:
12. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Mets
13. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers
14. Chris Davis, 1B/OF, Orioles
15. Nelson Cruz, OF, Mariners
16. Lorenzo Cain, OF, Royals
17. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies
18. Charlie Blackmon, OF, Rockies
19. Kyle Schwarber, C/OF, Cubs
20. Carlos Gomez, OF, Astros
The last of that first group, Martinez, is where it starts to get tricky. Frankly, you could rank Nos. 10-17 in any order without getting any guff from me. They all have their warts, but they're all fully capable of elite production. It's a matter of weighing risk vs. upside, which largely depends on personal taste. Just to make sure I wasn't on an island with mine, I polled Twitter and, sure enough, the responses ran the gamut.
I'll attempt to break it down as succinctly as possible ...
• Martinez's back-to-back years of elite power production at a relatively young age (28) give him as much upside as anyone in this group with relatively minimal downside (pretty much just the strikeouts).
• Jones was the least productive of this group in 2015, but that's because he missed time with injuries for once in his life, costing him some counting stats. His percentages were typical, and typically we're drafting him in the second round.
• Cespedes took the NL by storm after his trade to the Mets, finishing with numbers that are probably too good to be true, but even if you assess him just by his numbers with the Tigers, which probably undersells his potential a bit, he's about on the same level as Jones.
• Braun probably still has the most upside of this group, coming off what would have been a 25-25 season if he hadn't missed the final week with a sore back. But of course, he did and ended up needing surgery for it, which is always scary.
• Thanks largely to a monster second half, Davis led the majors with 47 home runs, giving him MVP-caliber production in two of the last three seasons. It's that .196 batting average in between that should give you pause.
• You could make the case that Cruz was the best of this group in 2015, but he was also the best he has ever been at age 35. It's all downhill from here, right?
• A jack of all trades but master of none (unless you're counting defense, which we aren't), Cain will have to continue the balancing act to remain among the best at his position. Any slippage in any one area could wreck the whole thing, and batting average and stolen bases aren't the most repeatable categories from year to year.
• Gonzalez, who was a first-round lock not too long ago, just hit a career-high 40 homers, and yet the threats loom larger than ever, both the perpetual injury risk and the possibility of the Rockies dealing him in the second-to-last year of his contract, taking him out of the park that made him.
Then there's Blackmon and then Schwarber, who ranks this high because of his catcher eligibility more than anything else. He serves as the line of demarcation between those with elite potential and those without -- or with much longer odds of achieving it, anyway.
Gomez certainly fits the bill. Yeah, he was banged up this year, but he still shouldn't have averaged fewer Head-to-Head points per game than Ender Inciarte and Delino DeShields if he's the player we all thought he was.
Next 10 outfielders for 2016:
22. Starling Marte, OF, Pirates
23. Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers
24. Corey Dickerson, OF, Rockies
25. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Yankees
26. Jason Heyward, OF, Cardinals
27. Hunter Pence, OF, Giants
28. Matt Kemp, OF, Padres
29. Hanley Ramirez, OF, Red Sox
30. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Rangers
Interesting group here. Upton and Marte both have five-category potential and have stretches where they make the most of it, but their final numbers are rarely more than just adequate (thought it's worth noting that for what he lacks in home run power and plate discipline, Marte's contributions in batting average and stolen bases rank him up there with Cain in Rotisserie leagues).
Next come the players whose 2015 seasons were wrecked by injury: Puig, Dickerson and Ellsbury. I guess I can't really say they don't have elite potential considering we were drafting Puig and Ellsbury in the second round just this year, but after seeing him taking a big step back each of the last two years, it's fair to wonder if Puig's rookie season set our expectations too high, like with Pence way back in 2007. Ellsbury, meanwhile, may simply be on the decline at age 32. His value was always dependent on speed, a skill that typically doesn't age well.
If I was picking a favorite from Nos. 26-30, it would probably be Pence, who couldn't stay off the DL after years of dodging it. He was thought to be a bit of a compiler whose health was his greatest asset, but on a per-game basis, he actually outperformed Springer and Martinez, among others, in Head-to-Head points leagues this year.
If the strides Heyward made in his year with the Cardinals, spurning power for a more contact-oriented approach, carry over to 2016, I could see him having a Cain-like season if he lands in the right spot, but I've gotten burned by him so many times in the past that I can't help but be a little gun-shy.
Kemp again finished strong, batting .286 with 15 home runs and a .868 OPS in the second half, but I won't make the mistake of thinking he can sustain it over a full season again. And I'll be careful not to do the same for Choo, who looked like a lost cause before batting .343 with 11 home runs and a 1.016 OPS in the second half. He's 33 years old now, so while he finished as a top-20 outfielder in 2015, we shouldn't go thinking he has much of a future.
To me, the risk is similar to Ramirez, who's one of those players I have no idea how to rank. He'll no longer be eligible at shortstop, which was of course his greatest asset, but he has had seasons where he would have been a stud anywhere and is still young enough to recapture something close to that form. I wouldn't love having him as my third outfielder, but I wouldn't want to sell his upside short either.
Plenty of near misses for this list, of course, including top-30 mainstays Alex Gordon, Jay Bruce and Billy Hamilton, none of whom give me as much confidence as they did at this time a year ago. I wouldn't sleep on sophomores Stephen Piscotty, Michael Conforto, Randal Grichuk or Joc Pederson. I might even prefer to wait for one of them than resort to one of the less promising types in this third group of 10.