As fantasy drafts are being planned, or are already wrapped up, the time is now to consider who to grab or who to trade for. The outfield position has long been a place to go to for all things fantasy relevant, as there is no shortage of both counting stats and rate stats to be found there. Here you will find rankings for the American League outfield, so no Ryan Braun here. The tiers and the rankings within each tier are my own opinion on what will take place for the 2013 season. The rankings are meant to reflect that in a vacuum, I would not trade the first player in a tier straight up for the second player in the tier, and so on.
What more is there to say about Trout? He is five category stud. I drafted a team for my friend and took Trout 1:1 and didn’t even blink. If you are in an AL-Only league, I would probably lean towards Miguel Cabrera first overall based on his third base eligibility and draft according to the positional scarcity in addition to Cabrera’s talent. Either way, if you have the second overall pick, you’ll be very happy with either Trout or Cabrera. You can’t miss.
Jose Bautista will most likely have more RBIs and likely more home runs than either Jones or Cespedes, but his injury concerns keep him from joining Trout in the top tier. It could be a homer pick, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cespedes go 30-30 this season. He is the second best AL-only center field eligible player and should be drafted as such. As for Jones, sure, he has some flaws (e.g. not drawing many walks) but they are largely overstated. He provides help in all five categories and is yet to turn 28. Many will view Gordon’s inclusion in this group as a surprise, but a .300 average with plenty of counting stats brings him up to the second echelon for me. I think his home run rate comes back and we see some of his 51(!) doubles last year clear the wall this season.
Hamilton and Ellsbury could have MVP caliber seasons or they could play 70 games each and be total fantasy busts. Hamilton’s increasing strike out rate and injury history scares me off, and Ellsbury has played in 140 games just three times in his career, most recently in his breakout 2011 season. Given that he is already missing time in spring training with a slight heel injury, that just makes me even more cautious on drafting him. Bourn brings steals and runs to your fantasy ledger. Grabbing Bourn to be your primary speed guy rather than your first outfielder off of the board would make the most sense to me. He is all but a lock for 40 steals and while you can find some steals on the waiver wire, Bourn is going to hit leadoff for a lineup that should score runs — despite the Cleveland Indians being in the bottom third of runs scored last year. The new acquisitions in the outfield plus Carlos Santana and a full season of Lonnie Chisenhall should produce plenty of chances for Bourn to get driven in.
I admit, I am pinning an awful lot of hopes and dreams (read: fantasy titles) on Austin Jackson being great this season. He is aggressively ranked here based on the lineup that he will be surrounded by as well as the faith that I have in him to re-discover his running game from 2010 and 2011. If he can clear the 20 steals mark then he will easily be a top 15 AL-only outfielder, possibly top 10. Despite his lineup flexibility — he is eligible at 1B, LF, RF and 3B in leagues with a five games started requirement — I am not terribly high on Trumbo. Last season he had the fourth worst qualified SwStr% and the seventh worst O-swing% in the American League. Swinging so much at pitches out of the zone is usually bad, but it is especially bad when he simultaneously had the seventh worst O-Contact% in the AL too. He is swinging more overall, more out of the zone, and making contact on those swings less. Not a recipe for success in my book. Granderson should be back by mid-May but I worry about lingering power issues with a broken arm.
Of the players in this tier, I believe that Swisher and Reddick have the most upside. In the final weeks of last season, Reddick’s BABIP fell off a cliff to a a .174 mark. At the same time, his .30 BB:K ratio remained very close to his .33 career average. This leads me to believe that he either A. wore down over the course of playing the most games in a single season of his career or B. just got horribly unlucky. Either way, if someone in your league is judging Reddick as a .240 hitter, I would exploit that mistaken thought to your advantage. On the opposite end of late season BABIP spectrum we have Torii Hunter. After the All-Star break, Hunter posted an insane .443 BABIP. Given that he has a .307 career BABIP, I would (rightly) presume that Hunter won’t hit .350 in the second half again. I worry about Victorino hitting the wall figuratively by not hitting the wall literally in Boston. He is a switch hitter who performs much better as a left-handed hitter, but struggled to go to the opposite field last season. Of 167 qualified batters last season, Victorino ranked 156 in opposite field batting average. His 2011 ranking of 127/162 doesn’t fare much better, nor does his 2010 rating of 163/166. Opposite field hitting isn’t everything of course, not even close, but while Fenway increases doubles and triples for lefties, it greatly depresses home runs on them. If you play in an Ottoneu SABR Points League or a total bases league then Victorino is still a very good draw, but his value will go down in a 5×5 format.
My favorite picks of this tier are the first and last of them. I (wrongly, oh so wrongly) touted grabbing Gardner multiple times last season and he wouldn’t dare burn me twice in a row, right? With word that Chris Carter will be Houston’s left-fielder — at least for the start of the season, and hopefully enough to garner OF eligibility — then he should be drafted late as an OF/1B flier to fill out your roster. He is guaranteed playing time and produced very positive numbers. albeit it in an admittedly small sample size last season. His new home park in Houston is much more conducive for hitting home runs than the Coliseum and I have high hopes for Carter this year.
It is only appropriate to end this tier with a Yankee. Cheap steals, a little power, and a lot of eternal optimism in this tier.