For the purposes of our rankings, we assume that the 75th outfielder is replacement level, basically. That’s why the 75th-ranked Mark Trumbo, worth seventy cents, is the last guy you can round to a dollar. But if you’re like me, and you leave the last few outfield positions for the end of the draft, you’re looking deeper than 75. You’re looking in that 75-100 range for some players that will cost bench prices but produce at starting outfielder levels.
Let’s see if we can find three of those for next year. Let’s go with guys that haven’t been there before — Carlos Gonzalez, Allen Craig, Wil Myers, and Ryan Zimmerman don’t count here, even though they were ranked outside of the top 80. We’re looking for young guys on the way in. But let’s also avoid the prospect types. It’s nice that Mookie Betts, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, and Avisail Garcia are good sleepers, but you’ll hear their names many times over.
No, this list is for the grinders, the less-talented, the non-prospects that make up more than half of baseball. What they do have is opportunity.
91) Kevin Kiermaier
There are reasons to dismiss the Rays’ probable 2015 center fielder. His short-sample power numbers were better than expected, for one. He had a .120 ISO for his minor league career, and a .178 number last year. He was caught four of the nine times he attempted a steal, and hasn’t stolen more than 21 bases in a full combined year since A-ball in 2011. His walk rate is below average and was only about average in the minor leagues. His strikeout rate was average (19.5%), his swinging strike rate (9.6%) was worse than average, and his minor league career (18.4%) suggests that contact may not be a strong suit going forward. He had bad platoon splits in the minor leagues (.664 OPS v LHP, .773 OPS v RHP) and those continued in the major leagues (.488 vs LHP, .846 vs RHP). He sat against tougher lefties late in the season.
Okay let’s wax positive instead. Dude’s a highlight reel in center field. And though defense doesn’t score in most fantasy leagues, it should push Keirmaier into regular plate appearances. The Rays don’t field a designated hitter, and Matt Joyce and his exactly scratch major league work in the outfield is the natural fit there. Even if Keirmaier suffers some power regression, his power was developing as he advanced in the minors (he’s added ISO at every stop since 2012). He recently made a mechanical adjustment (added back a leg kick he’d dropped) that he feels helps him with his power, and he also uses his feet to turn doubles into triples. It can also take a bit to learn the major league pickoff move, and Keirmaier was a high-percentage stealer in the minors (73%). If you can use Kiermaier against lefties and bench him otherwise, he could easily give you .260/10/20 type numbers in 2016 — and be an injury away from fulltime work.
97) Robbie Grossman
Might as well label this “and Jake Marisnick.” What’s happening here is mostly about opportunity, and less about talent. Not to say that Grossman is untalented. He walks a ton, and has stolen 15 bases and hit 10 homers over the course of 700 plate appearances. At 25 years old, there’s a tiny bit of projection left in his power, too. He’s a switch-hitter, too, so his upside is a fulltime job in the Astros’ outfield. Even if his major league work against lefties has been unremarkable (87 wRC+), he was better against lefties in the minors and the sample isn’t large enough to be conclusive about his ability to hit southpaws. A full year could give you ten homers, 15 stolen bases and a .240 average, or about what Desmond Jennings did this year on his way to making $4 of fantasy value.
But there is Marisnick there too. And Marisnick has a much better glove, profiling much closer to a center fielder than Grossman. Dexter Fowler has been injured often enough to make Grossman an interesting deep league play, but for him to be useful in mixed leagues, Grossman needs to win the job outright. I’ll take him in the battle, though. Grossman walks almost three times more than Marisnick, whiffs less (both by swinging strikes and strikeouts), has more power, more experience, and isn’t a terrible defender. Marisnick looks like a better fourth outfielder, given his glove. Maybe Grossman is more one to monitor in mixed leagues, and pickup in deep leagues.
167) Rymer Liriano
Honestly, Liriano had the worst kind of debut for a young player. He had one of those debuts where every flaw that was ever put down on his scouting report stepped to the fore and announced itself. Problems with contact? How about a whopper of a strikeout rate (32.2%) held up by a terrible swinging strike rate (13.5%). Unsure his power will translate from the better minor league environments to his terrible major league one? How about three extra base hits in 121 plate appearances and an ISO (.046) worse than Ben Revere‘s (.055)? Iffy defense? Here’s a -12 UZR/150 for you. So yeah, don’t draft Liriano, probably.
But watch his name. Because, with the DH and the state of platooning, even a healthy Cameron Maybin and Will Venable leaves space for a right-handed platoon mate at one outfield position. Seth Smith could end up at first base, or Carlos Quentin could end up on the disabled list. Quentin hasn’t managed more than 350 plate appearances since 2011, and he gets hit by baseballs all the time. Rymer Liriano is the next name on this list, and if Chris Denorfia rode his right-handedness into playing time with worse athleticism, there’s a chance Liriano carves himself out a role. There’s still all those better minor league walk rates, and the fact that Liriano reached and swung less than the major league average in his debut. He should have a better eye than this, he showed speed, and there *might* be more power coming. If Grossman can manage .240 10/15 with lesser tools, Liriano should be option B.
There you have it. All of them look better on a deep league roster, but all three could be mixed-league relevant next year. Stash these names away as the depth charts start to fall into place next spring.