When you think about the most important positions on a baseball field, what comes to mind? The starting pitcher is the one who gets his name in the paper before the game. The catcher calls the shots, a corner infielder anchors the lineup and the closer pumps his fist when the game is won.
Outfielders don't get much glory. Patrolling the big green is a thankless effort.
In an attempt to help shine some light on these deserving players, I humbly present my power rankings of the 30 Major League Baseball teams' outfields.
I based the rankings on my best guesses for who each team's three Opening Day outfielders would be, not bench depth or up-and-coming prospects.
Read on, and be sure to tell me who I got wrong!
LF: Mitch Maier
CF: Lorenzo Cain
RF: Jeff Francoeur
I'm not sure how exactly the Royals' 2011 outfield will come together, but it won't be pretty.
Cain, acquired from the Brewers in the Zack Greinke deal, will probably start in center. Plug your nose as Francoeur and either Maier or Melky Cabrera man the corners.
LF: Felix Pie
CF: Adam Jones
RF: Nick Markakis
For all the revamping the O's have done in the infield, the outfield still leaves something to be desired.
Even if Markakis regains his mojo, he'll be flanked by "meh" center fielder Jones and mediocre left fielder Pie.
LF: Ryan Ludwick
CF: Cameron Maybin
RF: Will Venable
San Diego will have a full season of July import Ludwick, a roughly league-average player over the last two years, in left field. It's tough to get excited about his right-field counterpart, Venable, who hit .245 in 2010.
They're joined by former blue-chip prospect Maybin, who has failed to live up to his lofty expectations in the big leagues.
LF: Delmon Young
CF: Denard Span
RF: Michael Cuddyer
Span's got game, but his supporting cast leaves something to be desired.
Cuddyer's poor glove offsets most of his offensive value, and Young's 112 RBI last year don't offset two prior seasons of negative WAR.
LF: Juan Rivera
CF: Peter Bourjos
RF: Torii Hunter
Hunter provides a steady bat and the move to right field offsets his poor defense, but Rivera's breakout 2009 season looks like a fluke.
Bourjos is a name to watch in center, but terrific glove aside, this is a guy who had a .237 OBP last year.
LF: Tony Gwynn, Jr.
CF: Matt Kemp
RF: Andre Ethier
Ethier is one of the most feared hitters in the National League, but it's hard to take the Bums' outfield seriously when he and Kemp combined for a UZR of -39.4 last season.
Combine that with the uncertainty in left field, and the Dodgers may miss Manny Ramirez.
LF: Raul Ibanez
CF: Shane Victorino
RF: Domonic Brown
A year-and-a-half ago, the Phillies could have challenged for the top spot on this list. Victorino hasn't changed much, but Ibanez's decline and the loss of Jayson Werth drops their stock significantly.
Brown is a name to remember for the future, but after hitting .210 in 35 games in a late-season call-up last year, it's safe to say that he's not an impact player just yet.
LF: Brennan Boesch
CF: Austin Jackson
RF: Magglio Ordonez
At first glance, the Tigers' outfield of Ordonez, Jackson and Boesch sounds intimidating.
Consider, though, that Ordonez's production has dropped off precipitously, Jackson's near-Rookie of the Year season was a fluke and Boesch hit .163 after the All-Star Break this year.
LF: Jose Tabata
CF: Andrew McCutchen
RF: Matt Diaz
Young center fielder McCutchen gives Pittsburgh fans something to be excited about, and Tabata was solid in his MLB debut last year.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, neither player is a true star (yet), and the favorite for the third outfield spot is Diaz, whose OBP barely cleared .300 in 2010.
LF: Alfonso Soriano
CF: Marlon Byrd
RF: Kosuke Fukudome
The Cubbies aren't getting much bang for their buck with Soriano and Fukudome, who will be paid $33.5 million in 2011 despite posting just 4.4 WAR last year.
This outfield's only real hope for respectability is right fielder Byrd, who is coming off a career year.
LF: Logan Morrison
CF: Chris Coghlan
RF: Mike Stanton
Stanton and Morrison give the Fish a reason to be optimistic in the corners, and 2009 NL Rookie of the Year Coghlan is in center.
But with just four partial seasons combined experience, none of the three is a proven quantity, and the presence of two converted infielders (Morrison and Coghlan) means the defense could be disastrous.
LF: Roger Bernadina
CF: Nyjer Morgan
RF: Jayson Werth
Newly-signed Werth gives the Nats one outfield stud, but that's about it.
Bernadina and Mike Morse (a breakout candidate for 2011), who will get the bulk of the playing time in left, have demonstrated decent potential in limited playing time, but Morgan (.633 OPS in 2010) is an absolute offensive liability.
LF: Juan Pierre
CF: Alex Rios
RF: Carlos Quentin
The consistent Pierre will be joined by question marks Quentin and Rios in the South Side.
If Rios' 2010 rebound carries over to 2011 and Quentin can rediscover his groove from his 2008 breakout campaign, this could be the best outfield in the division. If not, it could be the worst in baseball.
LF: Pat Burrell
CF: Andres Torres
RF: Cody Ross
Breakout star Torres combined with rebounding Burrell and playoff hero Ross to give the Giants one of the best outfields in the game last year.
Call me a skeptic, but I'm not confident that Torres, 32, can sustain that kind of production after spending most of his career as a zombie. Nor is it a safe bet that Burrell's resurrection holds up, on either side of the game.
LF: Xavier Nady
CF: Chris Young
RF: Justin Upton
If Young is for real, then the D-backs will have a strong outfield even if Upton holds steady and Xavier Nady does nothing.
If Young regresses, though, the Snakes will need Upton to have that monster season we've been anticipating for so long.
LF: Martin Prado
CF: Nate McLouth
RF: Jason Heyward
Heyward is already a bona fide star after one season in the majors, and while Prado loses value by moving from second base, his bat will still play in left field.
The wild card is McLouth, who was worth 7.1 WAR in 2008 and 2009 but hit just .190 in 2010.
LF: Carlos Lee
CF: Michael Bourn
RF: Hunter Pence
Who'd have thought the weak link here would be Lee?
With Bourn and Pence squared away, the only question mark is El Caballo. His days as a good player may be over, but could Lee really have negative WAR again in 2011?
LF: Travis Snider
CF: Vernon Wells
RF: Jose Bautista
At the risk of seeming overly cynical, I have to imagine Bautista will come back down to Earth after hitting 54 homers last year. Of course, Wells may be in for an even bigger fall, given that 2010 was his first solidly good season since 2006.
In other words, Snider could have his long-awaited breakout and Toronto's outfield would still be significantly worse than last year.
LF: Seth Smith
CF: Dexter Fowler
RF: Carlos Gonzalez
Smith was productive even in a down 2010 and Fowler is emerging as a solid player, but the real prize here is Gonzalez.
Even if CarGo has hit his developmental peak at age 25 (which, of course, is extremely unlikely), the Rockies don't need much of a supporting cast to have a good outfield.
LF: Ryan Braun
CF: Carlos Gomez
RF: Corey Hart
If this was just about corner outfielders, the Brew Crew would rank a lot higher than this. Braun is well established as one of the best hitters in the National League, and Hart isn't far behind him.
The problem is Gomez, who has never posted an OBP over .296.
LF: Michael Saunders
CF: Franklin Gutierrez
RF: Ichiro Suzuki
The ageless Ichiro and Franklin "Death to Flying Things" Gutierrez make for perhaps the best defensive outfield duo in baseball, plus Ichiro is perhaps the game's most consistent hitter.
Don't sleep on Saunders—there's nothing wrong with struggling in the big leagues when you're 23.
LF: Jonny Gomes
CF: Drew Stubbs
RF: Jay Bruce
Even assuming Gomes is a non-factor, the combination of 20/20 man Stubbs and young phenom Bruce is enough to make the Reds' outfield look very good.
And given that Bruce's walk rate is steadily improving and his power declined during his monster 2010 season, there's reason to believe his ceiling could be quite a bit higher.
LF: Desmond Jennings
CF: B.J. Upton
RF: Ben Zobrist
This ranking isn't a reflection of 2010 performance, but a testament to the pure talent the Rays will have in the big green this year, even without Carl Crawford.
Upton is a five-tool player, Zobrist was an MVP candidate in 2009 and Jennings was ranked as Baseball America's No. 6 prospect heading into last season.
LF: Michael Brantley
CF: Grady Sizemore
RF: Shin-Soo Choo
Okay, maybe this is a bit of a stretch, but the Tribe's outfield is better than you think.
The eternally underrated Shin-Soo Choo is one of the best players in the game, and if Sizemore can be half the player he was in 2008 he could be an All-Star. Throw in a possible breakout from Brantley, and the Indians could surprise some people.
LF: Jason Bay
CF: Carlos Beltran
RF: Angel Pagan
Another high-risk, high ceiling team. Pagan's breakout could be sustainable (his rate stats last year were actually lower than they were in 2009).
A rebound from either Beltran or Bay would make this outfield solid; bounce backs from both would make them elite.
LF: Josh Willingham
CF: Coco Crisp
RF: David DeJesus
Here's a statistic that may surprise you: Crisp and DeJesus combined for 5.9 WAR in 166 games last year.
Assuming full seasons from them and on-base machine Willingham, the A's will have quietly amassed one of the best outfields in the game.
LF: Lance Berkman
CF: Colby Rasmus
RF: Matt Holliday
Holliday was worth 6.9 WAR in 2010, his first full season with the Cards, and 24-year-old center fielder Rasmus is already looking like a stud.
Then there's Berkman—a comeback year from Big Puma could put St. Louis over the top in the NL Central.
LF: Brett Gardner
CF: Curtis Granderson
RF: Nick Swisher
For all their yammering about Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, the Bombers really don't need to improve their outfield.
Granderson, Swisher and Gardner might not be in the MVP discussions, but they combined for a fantastic 13.1 WAR last year.
LF: J.D. Drew
CF: Jacoby Ellsbury
RF: Carl Crawford
Injuries were Boston's biggest problem last year, but adding Crawford certainly doesn't hurt. Combining him with Drew and a healthy Ellsbury should give Yankees fans goosebumps.
Boston's outfield is so good that the reserves (Ryan Kalish, Mike Cameron and Josh Reddick) could probably combine to be better than some of the other teams' outfields on this list.
LF: Josh Hamilton
CF: Julio Borbon
RF: Nelson Cruz
Cruz posted a 5.1 WAR while playing only two-thirds of the season. Borbon provides good speed and defense. And, of course, left fielder Hamilton is the reigning American League MVP.
What more could you possibly want?