The outfield used to be a prime destination for the fantasy needs of every baseball shopper. Times have changed.
Other positions are more fruitful and stolen bases are more valuable than ever because they’re not as readily available.
In 2017, outfielders accounted for 38 percent of all plate appearance in Major League Baseball, and accordingly represented 38.9 percent of home runs and 37.9 percent of all RBIs. Looking at other standard categories, outfielders accounted for 41 percent of runs scored and 54.9 percent of stolen bases. They hit an average of .260 versus the typical .255 batting average. They were even better with on-base percentage, earning a .332 mark compared to baseball’s average OBP of .324.
Combine those numbers with the reality that HRs overall are up 45.8 percent since 2014, and RBIs increased by just 15 percent – but stolen bases are down 29.8 percent from their peak this decade.
The takeaway: You can get power anywhere, but steals are at a premium and the outfield is a key place to find them. Hitters who contribute 10-25 stolen bases are climbing up draft boards despite lower power numbers compared to others in similar draft spots.
With that in mind, here are the top 20 outfielders for 2018. Because many leagues require five starting OFs, we’ll mention some potential values after the list:
1.Mike Trout, Angels
2.Charlie Blackmon, Rockies
3.Mookie Betts, Red Sox
4.Bryce Harper, Nationals
5.J.D. Martinez, Red Sox
6.Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees
7.Aaron Judge, Yankees
8.George Springer, Astros
9.Marcell Ozuna, Cardinals
10.Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox
11.Rhys Hoskins, Phillies
12.Justin Upton, Angels
13.Starling Marte, Pirates
14.Christian Yelich, Brewers
15.Yoenis Cespedes, Mets
16.Tommy Pham, Cardinals
17.A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks
18.Khris Davis, Athletics
19.Byron Buxton, Twins
20.Lorenzo Cain, Brewers
These rankings reflect a 2018 trend seen so far in drafts. Fantasy players are passing on a hitter like J.D. Martinez, who is capable of 40 HRs, but no more than a handful of steals, for a player like Springer or Benintendi. Any loss in HRs and RBIs can more easily be recovered throughout the draft or on the waiver wire during the season.
Beyond these Top 20, your outfielders fall into certain categories and drafting them depends on your strategy, the players you selected early in your draft, and your propensity for risk.
Injury comebacks: Michael Conforto, Adam Eaton, and David Dahl. (Joey Gallo logged 18 OF games in 2017, which qualifies in some leagues).
Power Hitters with Low Batting Average: Kyle Schwarber, Adam Duvall
Pure Stolen Base Hitters: Billy Hamilton, Keon Broxton, Rajai Davis, Ben Revere
Outfielders with Eligibility at Other Positions: Marwin Gonzalez, Chris Taylor, Eduardo Nunez, Ian Happ (and Gallo)
Prospects Who Could Shine: Ronald Acuna, Willie Calhoun, Dustin Fowler, Eloy Jimenez
Bounceback Players: Gregory Polanco, Odubel Herrera, Corey Dickerson, Joc Pederson, Stephen Piscotty.
Draft like it’s October. If you only grab two of the Top 20 outfielders (typical in a 10- or 12-team league), select outfielders who have potential to play into the tier above them. So you might select Conforto as a third or fourth outfielder, or a multi-position player like Marwin Gonzalez for roster flexibility. One approach is to select several players with 15-20 stolen base potential, and potentially use a surplus of power to trade for a speedster during the season.
There will always be speed and power options available in the outfield, but the position is not as deep as it has been in the past. Beyond the first 75 or so draft picks overall, each OF tends to come with a glaring weakness. Know what it is, and make sure you’ve compensated for that loss elsewhere.
If you know what you’re looking for and what the risk is for each outfielder, you should do fine. But do your homework first.
This column was provided to The Associated Press by the Fantasy Sports Network, http://FNTSY.com