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Top Five Targets in the AL Outfield

Earlier today, Jason rolled out our outfield rankings for the American League and upon scanning the list, I was left rather dissatisfied, like watching an episode of 30 Rock without Tracy Morgan getting the crazy eyes. For all of the talent in the outfield, there’s really only one guy that is being considered in the first round, and that’s not even a sure thing. It seems disingenuous to call outfield a thin position but when you need three outfielders, that means a minimum of 36 of these guys will be starting for someone, so you best find a couple towards the top.

Carl Crawford

The $142 million dollar man was mostly known for his legs, but being dropped into a batting order with some bonafide thuggery means he’s not necessarily going to need to be standing on second base to score anymore. No doubt Crawford will run, but his steals could dip south of 40 sans urgency and in an effort to preserve the investment (although he stole two in their game yesterday). Despite that, 100 runs is almost a guarantee and he is almost as likely to hit better than .300 and drive in 75-80 runs while giving you HR’s in the teens. That’s a spicy meatball.

Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton did his Hulk-smash thing for 133 games and made owners drool over the possibility of a full season of production. But no two words have more readily appeared in a player analysis than ‘if healthy’ to describe the fortunes of Hamilton headed into 2011. If he can stay on the field, he’d produce like a first rounder. But that he’s prone to injury is no secret, and it’s only the gambling sort of manager that will select him early in the second round, where he’s currently projected. I’ve seen age mentioned as another reason to be concerned about Hamilton, but he’s only 3 months older than the guy that tops this list, and he’s still a year junior to the likes of Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista, Nelson Cruz, and Matt Holliday, and you don’t read a lot about their length of tooth too much.

Can he repeat what he did in 2010?  Probably not.  But give him 130 games and he can give you a .300 batting average with close to 30 home runs and triple digit RBI. But there’s about as good a chance he has 350 PA’s as 700, so have your nerve pills handy.

Shin-Soo Choo

The guy with the name that my kid loves to say, Choo is kind of an understated version of Matt Kemp with a more reliable batting average. He has become a proverbial take-it-to-the-bank .300 BA, 20 homers, 20 steals hitter which doesn’t arouse visions of rocket’s red glare, but you’re not going to find too many outfielders with the ability to check all five boxes the way Choo does. If some of the Cleveland kids can stay healthy enough (Grady Sizemore, Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera), Choo ought to flirt with triple digit RBI as well as 85+ runs. No longer the sleeper pick, he’s coming off the board in the late 3rd/early 4th in most mixed, so if you’re a believer, you’ll have to pay for it.

Nelson Cruz

If I were feeling particularly impish, I’d just say “See Josh Hamilton” here. All the same things apply for the two Rangers. But I have to say that I enjoy watching Cruz hit because he inflicts pain on the ball like he’s the Clubber Lang of the Nation’s pastime. He hits for high average, drives in oodles of runs, and perhaps because of a reckless style of play, gets hurt frequently. You really have to plan on no more than 125 games with Cruz, and yet even in that number of games, he’s capable of hitting .290, pushing 30 home runs and 100 RBI. What’s even better is he’ll steal you 20 bags in between all the visits to the trainers room. However, I’d have to think there will come a time when he stops running so much to try and stave off some of the injuries, and that time might be 2011, so plan accordingly.

Jose Bautista

What he does for an encore after the whole Babe Ruth act, I don’t know. So much has been written about Bautista going into 2011, that I’m loath to add to it, so let’s just state the obvious: he’s unlikely to repeat those home runs, it’s entirely possible that he turns into some version of the guy he was with the Pirates, and it’s probably smart to plan on something in between the old and the new Jose. This leaves you with a risky pick, but a guy that ought to hit for a middling average, 30 home runs, and 90/90 runs/RBI. That he will be eligible for third base probably means that he won’t be in too many fantasy outfields, but nevertheless, the versatility is a plus.