Fantasy Baseball 2012: Top 40 Outfielders
Here's the initial top 40 listing of fantasy outfielders. For all we know, the Class of 2012—led by Matt Kemp, Jose Bautista, Ryan Braun, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson—may include prospective champions in homers, RBI, steals, runs and/or batting average.
The position may also produce baseball's largest number of four- and five-category studs by season's end. But all that star power at the top still cannot obscure the uncertainty of drafting inexperienced young players, injury-riddled veterans or certain big names that will fall short of sustaining the pace of last year's amped-up stats.
Put it all together, and it's easy to see why prioritizing outfielders throughout the early and middle rounds makes perfect sense. It eliminates doubt...especially in leagues which require five starters at the position.
No. 40: Corey Hart, Brewers
Skinny: Hart actually stood as the No. 29 outfielder before his knee injury; but now, we're left to wonder just how long he'll occupy space in the top 40.
Yes, Hart has 25-HR/80-RBI/85-run/.285 potential at age 30...but that best-case scenario has a limited shelf life, too.
No. 39: Torii Hunter, Angels
Skinny: The day will come when Hunter isn't a reliable threat for 23 HRs, 80 runs and 82 RBI. But that's more of a concern for his 2013 (and beyond) owners.
Maybe Hunter can make one last run at double-digit steals this season.
No. 38: Coco Crisp, Athletics
Skinny: Let's be blunt—if Crisp doesn't tally at least 45 steals and/or 75 runs, this ranking won't have any substance by season's end.
The other three categories are just too pedestrian.
No. 37: Howard Kendrick, Angels
Skinny: Factoring in Kendrick's two-position eligibility (2B/OF), three-year power surge (38 HRs) and four-category potential (excluding RBI), perhaps we'll need to rethink this ranking before the end of spring.
He's quite a find.
No. 36: Melky Cabrera, Giants
Skinny: Cabrera hasn't lost any momentum from his superb 2011 with the Royals (18 HRs, 87 RBI, 20 steals, .305 BA), grabbing early honors in OPS and total bases during spring training.
We're taking a leap of faith that more good news is on the way.
No. 35: Nick Markakis, Orioles
Skinny: At this point in his successful, but hardly earth-shattering career, Markakis remains a middle-round consideration for owners who desire modest production in three to four categories.
Targets: 17 HRs, 75 RBI, 68 runs, 10 steals, .287 average.
No. 34: Carlos Beltran, Cardinals
Skinny: With full health, the 35-year-old Beltran still has the capacity for 25 HRs, 83 RBI, 80 runs and .290 average.
But this ranking doesn't assume anything beyond 130 games played.
No. 33: Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
Skinny: At 38, Ichiro may be at the crossroads of a career that included 10 straight seasons of 200 hits (2001-10)...and all but one year of 30-plus steals.
If Suzuki can recapture his .300 mojo, he'll be a three-category factor at a reasonable draft price.
No. 32: Michael Cuddyer, Rockies
Skinny: This ranking only accounts for Cuddyer's eligibility at 1B and outfield—not the leagues which might classify him as a gem at second base, as well.
Targets: 18 HRs, 73 RBI, 74 runs, 9 steals, .282 average.
No. 31: Cameron Maybin, Padres
Skinny: It'll be a surprise if Maybin (40 steals, 82 runs last year) doesn't collect 90 runs and 45 steals for the young and athletic Padres.
He's also a safe bet for 10-12 homers in his age-25 season.
No. 30: Desmond Jennings, Rays
Skinny: The gifted Jennings will surely tantalize fantasy owners on draft day with his 13-HR/40-steal/100-run potential.
As a result, he won't drop much further than Round 10.
Comparison: Jennings may be the American League version of Drew Stubbs.
No. 29: Jayson Werth, Nationals
Skinny: What's easier to explain from Werth's quirky 2011 campaign—the expected power decline, or absurd jump in steals?
Of the top 30 outfielders, Werth may possess the greatest likelihood of being all over the 5x5 map this season.
Targets: 21 HRs, 69 RBI, 81 runs, 14 steals, .267 BA.
No. 28: Brett Gardner, Yankees
Skinny: As long as he's wearing Yankee pinstripes, Gardner (96 steals in 2010-11) shall remain a two-category monster and ideal third outfielder in fantasy land.
Targets: 6 HRs, 43 RBI, 94 runs, 47 steals, .272 average.
No. 27: Chris Young, Diamondbacks
Skinny: Unseemly strikeout rate aside, Young has settled into a nice pattern of production the last five seasons.
A four-category factor, when healthy. Targets: 23 HRs, 81 RBI, 90 runs, 24 steals.
No. 26 Michael Morse, Nationals
Skinny: With a productive spring camp, Morse has the potential to improve another 2-3 slots before Opening Day.
Targets: 28 HRs, 96 RBI, 78 runs, .294 average.
No. 25: Drew Stubbs, Reds
Skinny: Even if Stubbs never breaks new ground in RBI and average (thanks to poor plate discipline), his 15-HR/40-steal/100-run potential covers up the warts in other areas.
A solid Round 9/10 pick.
No. 24: Ben Zobrist, Rays
Skinny: This triple-eligibilty wonder at second base, third base and outfield also has 20-HR/100-run/20-steal potential.
Don't let Zobrist slide past Round 6 in 12-team drafts.
No. 23: Lance Berkman, Cardinals
Skinny: The days of Berkman scoring 100-plus runs, notching 40-plus doubles and stealing 18 bases are long gone, but there's still plenty of pop left in this four-category stud—with OF-1B eligibility.
Targets: 26 HRs, 84 RBI, 88 runs, .294 BA.
No. 22: Adam Jones, Orioles
Skinny: Jones (25 HRs, 83 RBI, 25 steals last year) is a three-category force heading into his age-26 season.
But it remains to be seen if he'll take elite steps in batting average and runs.
No. 21: Carl Crawford, Red Sox
Skinny: Crawford's current ranking is based on the assumption he'll only be 12-16 days behind his Red Sox teammates in terms of recovering from wrist surgery and preparing for the season ahead.
Any more delays would certainly affect his status.
No. 20: Jason Heyward, Braves
Skinny: Sophomore slump aside, Heyward still has the physical gifts to become a fantasy force for years to come.
Thankfully, he has sufficient motivation to break through (again), as well.
Targets: 20 HRs, 77 RBI, 81 runs, 10 steals, .262 average.
No. 19: B.J. Upton, Rays
Skinny: It's strange to say, but Upton brings stability to the fantasy party every year.
He's a safe bet for 19 HRs, 92 runs and 42 steals in 2012.
No. 18: Shin-Soo Choo, Indians
Skinny: This ranking essentially ignores last year's sluggish campaign (8 HRs, 36 RBI, 37 runs, .259 average) and faithfully acknowledges Choo's 25-25 ceiling and prior four-category track record.
No. 17: Shane Victorino, Phillies
Skinny: Victorino should yield four-category goodness to owners in Round 6 or 7. Now, if he could only hit .275 or above.
Targets: 16 HRs, 66 RBI, 93 runs, 22 steals.
No. 16: Alex Gordon, Royals
Skinny: Gordon's excellent 2011 campaign (23 HRs, 87 RBI, 101 runs, 17 steals, .303 BA) evoked fond memories of Shin-Soo Choo (from 2009-10).
Here's hoping Gordon is in the middle of his own multi-year run of five-category greatness.
No. 15: Jay Bruce, Reds
Skinny: Bruce (32 HRs, 97 RBI, 84 runs, 8 steals) posted career bests in four categories last year, despite declining OBP, OPS and slugging rates.
So, where does that leave us for 2012?
Targets: 26 HRs, 89 RBI, 88 runs, 11 steals and .266 average.
No. 14: Michael Bourn, Braves
Skinny: At 29, Bourn (174 steals from 2009-11) can be a threat for 50-plus steals only so much longer...but don't expect a downturn this season.
Targets: 3 HRs, 53 RBI, 91 runs, 58 steals and .283 average.
No. 13: Nelson Cruz, Rangers
Skinny: This lofty ranking has more to do with Cruz's absurd output during last year's playoffs (eight home runs) than anything he accomplished in the regular season.
A return to 31-33 homers seems appropriate for this four-category factor.
No. 12 Matt Holliday, Cardinals
Skinny: Holliday experienced declining numbers in all five categories last year, a troubling trend that looms larger in the wake of Albert Pujols' post-championship exodus to SoCal.
At 32, Holliday still has 20-100-100 potential, but fantasy owners shouldn't be quick to reach on draft day.
No. 11: Hunter Pence, Phillies
Skinny: Pence has been a dependable source for 24 HRs, 94 RBI, 90 runs, 13 steals and .297 average the last four years.
And yet, at 29, he still has more room for growth with Philly. A solid value midway through Round 4.
No. 10: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Skinny: Fantasy owners should embrace the unpredictability of Hamilton, a free agent at season's end.
Especially when this masher is averaging 32 HRs, 100 RBI, 95 runs, 8 steals and .330 average in even-numbered years.
No. 9: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
Skinny: McCutchen has made great strides in his first three pro seasons.
Still, fantasy owners should expect more bang for their buck in Year 4, a time when most stars cement their status as four- or five-category factors.
Targets: 22 HRs, 93 RBI, 97 runs, 34 steals and .287 average.
No. 8: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
Skinny: Not only is Stanton (34 HRs, 87 RBI last year) a formidable candidate for 40 homers and 87 runs at age 22, he's also a dark-horse bet for 10 steals—doubling his output of the last two seasons.
Say hello to the outfield's next superstar.
No. 7: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
Skinny: Gonzalez's regression from a 2010 breakout was expected last season. But here's the good news: A majority of stars would have enjoyed Gonzo's production from that "down" year.
Things are looking up in 2012, in the realm of 28 HRs, 103 RBI, 95 runs, 22 steals and .294 average.
No. 6: Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
Skinny: At just 24, Upton may finally be ready to make a big jump in batting average and RBI, justifying his status ahead of Stanton and Gonzalez.
A likely five-category monster.
Targets: 28 HRs, 97 RBI, 102 runs, 24 steals and .296 average.
No. 5: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
Skinny: Even if Ellsbury (105 RBI, 119 runs, 39 steals, .321 BA last year) fails to bash 32 HRs again in 2012 (a likely occurrence), he still might finish top 10 in the other four categories.
Simply put, if Ellsbury racks up even 20 homers, the No. 5 ranking may look foolishly conservative.
No. 4: Curtis Granderson, Yankees
Skinny: Granderson (41 HRs, 119 RBI, 136 runs, 25 steals last year) may never consistently hit .300 for the Yankees, but does it really matter?
Here's to a four-category machine with another three to four seasons of potential greatness. Expect 110 RBI and 125 runs in 2012.
No. 3: Ryan Braun, Brewers
Skinny: The reigning NL MVP probably deserves a better fate than No. 3. But then again, Braun is the only one of the Big Three outfielders to lose someone of Prince Fielder's caliber in the lineup.
Targets: 29 HRs, 104 RBI, 27 steals, 101 runs and .323 average.
No. 2: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
Skinny: There's a Barry Bonds-esque aspect (circa 2001-04) to Bautista's development—his walks are steadily on the rise (56 to 100 to 132); and yet, his power and efficiency rates haven't suffered from the diminished at-bats.
Okay, so Bautista may never club 50 homers again, but he's a virtual lock for 40 HRs, 100 RBI, 100 runs, 8 steals and .315 average.
No. 1: Matt Kemp, Dodgers
Skinny: Kemp may have difficulty replicating last year's output in runs (115) and RBI (126), but there's no doubting his 40-40-.320 potential in the other three categories.
In short, Kemp's a fantasy giant, and worthy of a top-three pick in NL-only and mixed-league drafts.