In the vast majority of fantasy baseball drafts this season, the first player selected is going to be an outfielder. While that much is certain, the specific outfielder that goes first overall is much less of a lock.
Although Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera could make a strong argument that he should be the first-overall pick, the decision for most fantasy owners will come down to Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun or Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout.
That said, it's like choosing between a Rolls Royce or a Bentley. In other words, there's not really a wrong choice.
As the unanimous choice for American League Rookie of the Year, Trout finished second in the AL MVP voting behind Cabrera, the first triple-crown winner of my lifetime. Not only did Trout get six of the 28 first-place votes over the triple-crown winner, he began the season in the minor leagues.
Despite playing his first 20 games of 2012 in the minors, the 20-year-old (now 21) made the most of his opportunity once he was called up. Trout hit .326 with 30 home runs and 49 stolen bases in only 139 games. In addition, he scored 129 runs and finished with 83 runs batted in.
Imagine what his stat line would have been had he started the year in Anaheim.
Adding in his minor-league numbers, his 2012 totals over both levels were 150 runs scored, 31 home runs, 96 runs batted in and 55 stolen bases.
Like Trout, Braun is a player that will help fantasy owners in all five roto categories and both players had 30/30 seasons in 2012. Trout had a 30/50 season; Braun actually had a 40/30 season.
In fact, Braun has back-to-back 30/30 seasons under his belt.
Since being called up in 2007, Braun has hit above .300 in all but one season (.285 in 2008) and .319 or better in four of those six seasons. In addition, Braun has scored more than 100 runs in four consecutive seasons and driven in more than 100 runs in each of the past five seasons.
Perhaps he won't steal 30-plus bases for a third consecutive year, but Braun is a lock for a line of .300/100/30/100/20 with upside in all five of those categories.
Can CarGo Go For More than 145 Games?
In addition to Braun and Trout, several outfielders should go in the first round of drafts, including Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez.
The glass-half-full view with CarGo is that he has three consecutive 20/20 seasons despite playing 145 games or less in each of them.
Of course, the glass-half-empty view is that he has averaged only 135.7 games per year over the past three years.
If healthy (or close to healthy) for a full season, Gonzalez can post a monster stat line. Back in 2010 with 145 games played, he posted a career-best line of .336/111/34/117/26.
As a career .299 hitter, a lot would have to go right for him to approach the .336 average he had that season, but he certainly has a shot of repeating his production in the counting statistics if he can set a new career high in games played.
Onward and Heyward
After a disappointing and injury-plagued (shoulder) sophomore season in 2011, Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward had a breakout season last year.
Not only did he play a career-high 158 games, but the J-Hey Kid set career highs in hits (158), home runs (27), runs scored (93), runs batted in (82) and stolen bases (21).
Heyward is expected to move to second (from third) in the batting order this year, so it's likely that he scores a few more runs but drives in the same or maybe fewer runs.
Only 23 years old and as a former top prospect, Heyward should continue to improve his overall game and fantasy production.
A Teenager No More
At only 19 years old, Washington Nationals phenom Bryce Harper won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2012.
Like Trout, Harper made his big-league debut last season on April 28, and for the (not quite) full season, he hit 22 home runs and stole 18 bases. In addition, he finished fifth in the league in runs scored (98).
Harper carries positive momentum with him as he enters his second season.
In his final 12 regular-season games last year, he hit .415 with three home runs, eight runs batted, 11 runs scored and five steals. In 19 games this spring, Harper is hitting .396 with three home runs, eight runs, 12 runs batted in and two steals.
While we may be a season or two away from the day that Harper becomes a perennial MVP candidate, he has all the physical tools and virtually unlimited potential. With Trout's monster season as a 20-year-old last year, maybe we're not as far away as some would think.
Here are my top-40 fantasy outfielders (based on Yahoo! eligibility):
1. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
2. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
3. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
4. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
5. Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
6. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
7. Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels
8. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
9. Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves
10. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
11. Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves
12. Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers
13. Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals
14. Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox
15. Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles
16. Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
17. Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
18. Allen Craig, St. Louis Cardinals
19. Yoennis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics
20. Shin-Soo Choo, Cincinnati Reds
21. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays
22. B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves
23. Alex Rios, Chicago White Sox
24. Michael Bourn, Cleveland Indians
25. Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays
26. Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees
27. Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals
28. Melky Cabrera, Toronto Blue Jays
29. Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels
30. Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers
31. Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles
32. Martin Prado, Arizona Diamondbacks
33. Carl Crawford, Los Angeles Dodgers
34. Shane Victorino, Boston Red Sox
35. Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers
36. Hunter Pence, San Francisco Giants
37. Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers
38. Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers
39. Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins
40. Ichiro Suzuki, New York Yankees
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