Commentary

2009 Positional Previews: Outfield

Updated: February 17, 2009, 9:53 AM ET
By Brendan Roberts | ESPN.com

It's like going to a Super Walmart or Super Target.

When you go to the Gap, you know what you're going to get -- clothes. When you go to a grocery store, you know what you're going to get -- food. When you go to a hardware store, you know what you're going to get -- tools, household parts, etc. A Super Walmart has all those things, in one place.

See how they all stack up:
• Outfield rankings
• Projections and Profiles

Well, that describes the group of outfielders in fantasy baseball to a tee; it has everything. It might not be quite as high-end in a few cases, but you'll get good products for a decent price, all in one place.

This is not a Super Walmart or Super Target sales pitch. Frankly, I hate shopping, so I go to the store closest to my house that has what I need, and get out as quick as I can. But it's really the best example of what outfielders offer. And that's the way they should be treated. Sure, there are a handful of elite guys who should be drafted in the first five or six rounds, regardless of what they offer, and the outfield also has a thick upper tier. But the "solid" level is downright loaded with various specialties and skills. Simply put, if after those best-player-available rounds you realize you're short on batting average, or steals, or homers, you're likely to find them at Supe-, uh, I mean the outfield position. You load up on other positions, then use outfield to fill in the cracks.

What you must be careful of is doing exactly the opposite, and that's loading up on outfielders, then using other positions to fill in the category cracks. For instance, say you have five solid, rounded outfielders and your corner infielders, but then you notice you need a few more homers. Too late; you won't get any from catcher or middle infield by the time you'd be drafting them.

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When you cross out ranked players as you draft, you sometimes end up with a player who is not crossed off even though eight to 10 guys below him are. That is when you take an outfielder (after the fifth or sixth round). In other words, you don't reach and take the guy who sits down your list a ways but you "have" to have him. He'll likely be there for you next round, and if he's not, just go with the "generic brand" that is similar.

OK, I'm going to do things a little differently than I did in years past and what I did at other positions. Playing upon my everything-in-one-place theme, I'm going to go ahead and classify some 150 outfielders based on what they'll offer you or how you should consider them. That gets as many (linkable) players on here, and allows you to tag each player and then analyze. Oh, and it also keeps me from writing a novel here. I'll comment on a handful per category.

High-dollar items

This would be the elite class. I'll comment on each guy in this tier:

Josh Hamilton
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireJosh Hamilton had a true breakout season in 2008, so what will he do for an encore?
Ryan Braun: His eligibility moves from third base to the outfield, and that might have made him even more valuable.
Grady Sizemore: As free-swinging as he is, he's never going to hit .290 again, but who can complain about a 26-year-old perennial 30-30 candidate?
Carlos Lee: Why valued so high? Hey, just look at his 2008 numbers before Bronson Arroyo broke his pinkie finger with a pitch. It was a freakish injury.
Alfonso Soriano: Another guy who missed significant time after being hit by a pitch. Soriano missed a month and a half because of a broken knuckle, hit .192 in April, played in only 109 games -- and still hit 29 homers and stole 19 bases.
Josh Hamilton: Let's see, so if he can hit .304-32-130 in his first full season, then ...

Pricey but worth it

The rest of the upper tier:

Ichiro Suzuki: Yes, we know he's 35 years old now. You think there's any way he doesn't hit .310 or better and steal 40 or more bases again? No way.
Nick Markakis: I happen to think this 25-year-old will work his way into the elite class, but it won't be until his lineup improves a little and gives him more RBI opportunities and fewer at-bats in which he's pitched around.
Carlos Beltran: So the formerly banged-up Beltran played in 161 games in 2008. How you like them apples? Better yet, he produced a nifty 25-25 season.
Matt Holliday: The opinions about last year's top-ranked (in the preseason) outfielder in Oakland are all over the board, but considering we dropped him out of our top eight, we think there'll be at least some decline.
Manny Ramirez: Strangely enough, this ranking (top 10 among outfielders) is much higher than we had this 36-year-old ranked last season; that's what a .396 average with 17 homers and 53 RBIs in 53 games combined between August and September will do for you. But will he be as motivated this season? I have my doubts.
Matt Kemp: We seem to like Kemp more than most sites do, but that's because we know of his upside. He's 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, with incredible bat speed, and he steals 30-plus bases. His strikeouts might drop his average a bit, but tell me he doesn't have 30-30 written all over him.
Carl Crawford: A popular late-first-round pick for years before this one, Crawford saw his numbers, including games played, drop across the board last season. We blame injuries, an assortment of them (ankle, groin, wrist, broken hand). Now reportedly healthy and still in his prime (he's 27), there's no reason he can't return to form.
Jason Bay: Having put a knee injury behind him, Bay finally matched his 2006 breakout season in 2008. Now just think about what he could do with a full season in Boston.

Multipurpose items

Here are the potential five-category studs, or at least 4½:

B-Rob's Bests

Midround sleepers: Lastings Milledge, Delmon Young
Late-round sleepers: Denard Span, Franklin Gutierrez
Prospects: Dexter Fowler, Luis Montanez
Top-10 player I wouldn't draft: Manny Ramirez
Players to trade at the All-Star break:
Aaron Rowand, Marcus Thames
Players to trade for at the ASB:
Randy Winn, Garret Anderson
Home heroes: Magglio Ordonez, Shin-Soo Choo
Road warrior: Chase Headley, Skip Schumaker
Players I like but can't explain why:
Raul Ibanez, Lastings Milledge, Matt Joyce
Players I don't like but can't explain why:
Jeremy Hermida, Adam Jones

High-end: Alex Rios, Curtis Granderson, Corey Hart, Torii Hunter, Johnny Damon, Hunter Pence, Vernon Wells, Delmon Young.

Comments: A drop in homers has people thinking Rios had a "down" 2008 season, but nearly doubling his career high in steals more than makes up for it. ... Same goes for Hart. His average and runs dropped, but his homers and steals were pretty much the same, and his RBIs went up. ... The days of Damon playing in 155-plus games are behind him, but he'll still put up solid all-around numbers. ... After getting caught in 10 of 21 steal attempts, I'm afraid Pence won't be given the green light as often, but he also showed more power than I expected. ... And finally, you'll just have to show some patience with Delmon. After all, he's still only 23.

Low-end: David DeJesus, Jody Gerut.

Comments: Gerut's fine 2008 season went largely unnoticed, but consider he was a fine prospect for Cleveland in 2004 before blowing out his knee.

Trendy products, but should they be?

These are last season's breakout players. In parentheses I'll put a note as to whether I think they'll repeat their performance:

High-end: Nate McLouth (he'll come close), Carlos Quentin (ditto), Ryan Ludwick (ditto again), Jayson Werth (won't fall off the face of the earth, but also won't approach '08 numbers again), Xavier Nady (he'll match it), Milton Bradley (no way).

Comments: As I look at McLouth's swing and body, I don't know how he didn't steal 30-plus bases and how he did hit 26 homers. I expect the steals to go up but the homers to go down. ... Like it or not, Quentin, a bad-ball hitter, is for real. ... Lost in Werth's 2008 numbers was that he still struggled somewhat versus righties, and he wore down in September. ... Bradley hit .358 with 16 of his 22 homers and all five of his steals at Rangers Ballpark last season. Well, the Cubs don't have any games there in 2009.

Low-end: Kosuke Fukudome (probably will improve a bit), Fred Lewis (slight improvement), David Murphy (won't match it), Ryan Church (won't match homers pace before head injuries), Fernando Tatis (no way), Eric Hinske (will match it).

Comments: Fukudome didn't really break out, but he was serviceable, and he'll probably be a little better. ... Lewis' steals pace plummeted in the second half, but he should be good for another 20 this season. ... Still not sure Church can stay healthy. ... Perhaps y'all didn't realize how effective Hinske was last season (20 homers, 10 steals). As long as he gets another 400 or so plate appearances, and he should in Pittsburgh, he should be able to match it. It won't be pretty, but he'll put up the numbers.

Time to modernize, or stick with these oldies?

Vladimir Guerrero
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireVladimir Guerrero is no longer the elite fantasy star he used to be.
Do these veterans have another one of their typical big seasons left in 'em? Once again, my predictions are in parentheses:

High-end: Vladimir Guerrero (others would say yes, but I say no), Magglio Ordonez (yes, another .310-20-100 season comin' right up!), Bobby Abreu (slight decline), Jermaine Dye (he's money once again), Raul Ibanez (yes), Mike Cameron (yes), Eric Byrnes (ouch, oh ... no way), Randy Winn (yes), Hideki Matsui (no), Garret Anderson (no), J.D. Drew (yes), Brian Giles (yes).

Comments: Guerrero has a lot of mileage and is banged up, and the steals have gone bye-bye. I'm afraid to own him now. ... Abreu is a solid, professional hitter who is in great shape, but he'll miss the protection and runners on base the Yankees' deep lineup offered him. ... Ibanez is in good shape, and has relatively low mileage, for a 36-year-old big leaguer. Any possible decline is offset by his move to Philly. ... Byrnes is only 33, but in "Byrnes years," he's 44. He was a reckless player in his early years, and he's paying for it now. ... On the other hand, Matsui wasn't reckless, yet he's paying, too. Bad knees limit how much he can play and how effective he can be. ... Now I'm not saying I like Drew, but if used correctly (read: in only 140 games), he can still be effective.

Low-end: Moises Alou (no), Austin Kearns (no), Luis Gonzalez (no), Emil Brown (yes), Jim Edmonds (no), Andruw Jones (no).

Comments: I've given up on Kearns. ... Yes, that's right, Luis Gonzalez will play somewhere this season. Count on it. ... I'm setting flowers on the grave that reads "Andruw Jones' fantasy production."

Beating the popularity rush

This year's trendy breakout/sleeper picks, and whether I'm on board (in parentheses):

High-end: Jay Bruce (no), Andre Ethier (yes), Justin Upton (no), Lastings Milledge (yes), Adam Jones (no), Cameron Maybin (no), Adam Lind (no), Chase Headley (no), Denard Span (yes), Shin-Soo Choo (no), Nelson Cruz (no way), Travis Snider (not this year), Elijah Dukes (no), Jeremy Hermida (I laugh).

Jay Bruce
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesJay Bruce began his major league career with a bang, but can he ever live up to the hype?
Comments: I believe I'm in the minority, but I just don't think Jay Bruce is ready to truly break out yet. As in, I don't think he'll hit above .265 or hit 30 homers, as some are projecting. He's 21, and he still has a lot to learn, such as hitting lefties (he hit .190 against last season). I'm seeing more like .263-28-78. ... Ethier tore it up late last season (seven homers in August, .462 average in September), and he's the real deal. His modest totals line from '08 only provides an opportunity to get an early-round value with a midround pick. ... This early in his career, Upton can hit homers and strike out -- a lot. We're talking one-category production here. ... Milledge very quietly put up fine numbers last season. Look for yourself. ... I guess I just don't see what the Adam Jones buzz is all about. I never have. ... I do understand the Maybin buzz, but he's still very raw.

Continuing: Can Lind hit .290? Yes. Can he do anything else? No. ... Can we really expect much from Chase Headley in that San Diego lineup (and striking out every 3.2 at-bats)? Maybe 20 homers, but 92 (!) major leaguers hit 20 homers in 2008. ... I'm a fan of Span. See what I did there? Well, lemme also say I think he has the wheels to rack up steals. ... Where's all this Shin-Soo Choo speed that everyone keeps talking about? ... I could go on and on about Cruz, but for now I'll simply say that I don't understand all the buzz about a 28-year-old longtime minor leaguer with a .251 average and 22 homers in 557 major league at-bats. ... No way Elijah Dukes stays focused and healthy for an entire season. ... Hermida was put here to mock all those "Hermida-ites." As I've always said, talent is talent, but at some point, doesn't he actually have to play well before you can expect big things from him?

Low-end (lower expectations): Aaron Cunningham/Ryan Sweeney/Travis Buck (one of 'em will have a good season, but which one? I'd say Sweeney), Franklin Gutierrez (yes, I reeeaaaaallly like this guy), Carlos Gonzalez (not as high on him), Josh Anderson (yes, better than you think), Felix Pie (yes, better than the Cubs think).

Just what you need

Now it's time to zero in on exactly what you need. These players can be had after the first five rounds in mixed drafts, yet fill needs for a team that lacks either power or speed coming out of those rounds. First let's look at the power. In many cases, the only category these guys will help you in is home runs (and in some cases RBIs), but boy, will they ever help you:

High-end: Adam Dunn, Chris Young, Brad Hawpe, Rick Ankiel, Pat Burrell, Nick Swisher, Josh Willingham, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Jose Guillen, Jack Cust, Marcus Thames.

Comments: Dunn will be good for at least 35 homers no matter where he ends up. ... Young offers speed, too, but I wasn't quite sure how to classify him. He's no longer considered a breakout candidate, and his average is way too low to be considered an all-around performer. ... If Hawpe could just avoid the slow starts. ... There are some who would put Kubel in the "breakout" category above, but he doesn't hit lefties well enough to expect anything more than what he did last season. ... Scoff at Cust all you want; I do. But he has 59 homers over the past two seasons.

Low-end: Matt Joyce, Ken Griffey Jr., Scott Hairston, Chris Duncan, Gabe Gross, Brandon Moss.

Comments: Watch Joyce's playing time in Tampa Bay. If he gets a lot of it, he could surprise with 20 homers. ... Strange to see a man with 611 career homers on the "low-end" list, but that's what Ken Griffey Jr.'s career has become.

And here are the speed demons:

B.J. Upton
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireB.J. Upton will steal lots of bases, but it's unclear what his real power is.
High-end: B.J Upton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Carlos Gomez, Willy Taveras, Coco Crisp, Juan Pierre, Michael Bourn.

Comments: My putting Upton down here is my way of saying I don't expect his power (or batting average) to return. Just too lanky and free-swinging. ... We have Ellsbury projected to steal 49 bases, and I think even that's not enough. ... You don't fully appreciate Victorino until you own him. ... Let's remember, with Gomez, and to an extent with Bourn, their defense will keep them in the lineup, even if they're hitting .230. ... Just you watch, Taveras and Pierre will somehow get their share of steals this season.

Low-end: Ryan Freel, Fernando Perez, Brett Gardner, Jerry Hairston Jr., Jerry Owens, Willie Harris, Joey Gathright, Rajai Davis, Norris Hopper, Dewayne Wise, Dave Roberts, Reggie Willits, Tony Gwynn Jr.

Comments: These guys are all about the same. They'll steal bases if they get regular playing time, but right now it's not certain that any of them will.

Don't use enough to pay full price, but if they're on sale ...

These are the platoon players, and when I started to list all the noteworthy platoon players, it numbered about 35 deep. No thanks. Instead, I'll simply list the players I think would make a fantasy impact if they were to play every day. No Matt Stairses, David Delluccis or Alfredo Amezagas on this list:

Ryan Spilborghs: Contrary to popular opinion, he can hit righties and on the road, too.
Luke Scott: Hit 23 homers last season, and still might not play every day.
Ben Francisco: Really like his upside.
Chris Dickerson: Nice hint of what he can do in 2008.
Cody Ross: Ditto.
Juan Rivera: The Angels hardly played him in '08, yet still signed him to a three-year deal this offseason.
Daniel Murphy: I'll always remember him as the guy who won me an NL-only league.
Skip Schumaker: A legit .300 hitter.
Nyjer Morgan: It's gonna take a Nate McLouth injury to get him PT. Ryan Raburn: Didn't play much with Detroit last season, but went for .292-17-64 in 85 Triple-A games in 2007.

Due out in 2009

Dexter Fowler
Dustin Bradford/Icon SMIDexter Fowler has the tools to be a star and has a favorable home ballpark as well.
Ah, the prospects. These aren't necessarily the best prospects, but rather the ones I think will get a chance to make an impact in 2009:

Wladimir Balentien, Mariners: I think he'll be a bust, but since he does have talent ...
Colby Rasmus, Cardinals: Great batting eye, but I don't think it'll turn into fantasy numbers until 2010.
Matt LaPorta, Indians: Will get a shot this season, but just how good is he?
Steve Pearce, Pirates: Ditto.
Dexter Fowler, Rockies: Love this kid's all-around upside maybe more than any prospect in baseball.
Andrew McCutchen. Pirates: We've been following him for years, but he's only 22.
Luis Montanez, Orioles: Might hit so well in the minors the O's have no choice but to play him.

A few others to watch: Nate Schierholtz, Giants; Brandon Jones, Braves; Drew Macias, Padres; Nick Evans, Mets; Will Venable, Padres; Fernando Martinez, Mets.

Auction strategy

There really is no strategy to this. This year outfielders are pretty standard. There are high-dollar guys who will be worth their price. There are plenty of upper-tier options. There are a lot of intriguing low-dollar sleepers and prospects. If anything, it seems to me the middle tier is a bit thicker this year than it has been in past years, so if you find yourself in a bidding war for your No. 3 outfielder, back out. There will be a very similar option to get instead. Oh, and try to save a spot for at least one cheap outfielder. There are enough sleepers in the bunch that you might as well take a shot on an upside guy.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN.com Fantasy.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy. He has been covering fantasy sports as an editor and writer for more than eight years and was awarded the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2006 from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Roberts can be read in both the fantasy baseball and football areas at ESPN.com.