Fantasy Baseball 2011: Catching Ryan Braun and 30 Can't-Miss Outfielders

John ZaktanskyCorrespondent IFebruary 13, 2011

Ryan Braun and Carlos Gonzalez are the consensus top 2 outfielders on many fantasy rankings. The question is, who goes first?
Ryan Braun and Carlos Gonzalez are the consensus top 2 outfielders on many fantasy rankings. The question is, who goes first?Bob Levey/Getty Images

It seems that everyone, at some point, references the "good ol’ days." Like how gas was 50 cents a gallon in the good old days, and how a loaf of bread was a nickel.

Of course, no one really ever points out that hourly income was a lot less in those days, too. And that, proportionally, we aren’t as far off as what we make it seem in our minds.

That is a point I try to remember when looking at the 2011 crop of fantasy outfielders. Wasn’t the position deeper in the good old days? Like always, there are a few sure-fire stud players at the position, but it always seemed that there were at least 10 or so of them. This year, there are only two or three that come with no real baggage, in my opinion, and you could find things even with them to nitpick about if you wanted.

Without further ado, here are my outfielder rankings for 2011…

1. Ryan Braun, MIL.

Many have Carlos Gonzalez here, and after his stat outburst last year, he should be considered. However, I’ll go with the guy who has been doing it longer, on a much more stacked lineup and who posted decent 2010 numbers despite several minor injuries (wrist, elbow) hampering him.

2. Carlos Gonzalez, COL.

So many people talked about how talented this kid was, but few expected him to put up the type of numbers he did last year in just his second major league season. He was a much better player at home, but who isn’t when you play for the Rockies? I still wonder if he will experience some growing pains and I’d like a little more track record at the major league level. But it is hard to ignore the true potential of this guy.

3. Carl Crawford, BOS.

On the right side of 30, Crawford still has at least one peak year in front of him, and his mix of steals, homers and .300-plus batting average is hard to beat. The big question here is how the Red Sox use him. He allegedly isn’t thrilled about leading off, where he’d have the most value from a steals standpoint. Allegedly, Boston is considering batting him second behind Jacoby Ellsbury, which may eat into steals numbers. Of course, he’ll still be ahead of the heart of the Red Sox order, which will keep him a great overall option.

4. Matt Holliday, STL.

Many would argue he should be lower on the list. But why? He’s hit well over .300 the past six years in a row, saw an increase in homers and runs scored last year and ultimately has the much better and consistent track record of anyone else on this list. He’s devoted to the team, even offering recently to defer part of his salary to help the team keep Albert Pujols. The steals may have dropped off last year, but he still had more than Josh Hamilton last season, and people are appointing Hamilton a first-round guy this year. Holliday stole double-digit bases five straight seasons before 2010.

5. Matt Kemp, LAD.

We all know that Kemp had a disappointing 2010 season. That should go without saying. However, there were definite barbs between him and Joe Torre, and Torre did bounce Kemp all over the place in the lineup throughout the season. Everyone who’s worked around Kemp admits he has elite-player skills. Here’s expecting Don Mattingly to step in and reform Kemp into an elite option this season.

6. Josh Hamilton, TEX.

Having last year’s MVP as my No. 6 outfielder? Blasphemy you say? Perhaps. However, Hamilton had his career year riding a Goodyear blimp-like .390 BABIP. Anyone who thinks he’ll even come close to replicating his .359 batting average from 2010 is fooling themselves. He’s proven that he can be brittle, he won’t steal more than 10 bases, his average will likely take a decent hit and I just can’t put him higher than this.

7. Shin-Soo Choo, CLE.

Many overlook Choo on draft day, which can be a bad idea. He seems to fall below more well-established names, but has strung together some consistent production at the position. He has hit .300 or better the past three consecutive seasons. His homers have increased from 14 to 20 to 22, in 2008, 2009 and 2010, respectively. His stolen bases and RBI have also seen steady increases. He’s also playing for a contract extension at the moment, and if Grady Sizemore can bounce back at least a little, it will help him get more pitches to hit.

8. Nelson Cruz, TEX.

The story of Cruz in 2010 was dictated by his health. When on the field, he raked with 22 homers, 17 stolen bases and a .318 batting average in just 399 at-bats. Imagine what he could do if he stayed healthy a full season. Just don’t draft him to play a full season and you’ll be happy with the outcome.

9. Hunter Pence, HOU.

Higher than many would suggest, Pence deserves more love. He homered 25 times the past three consecutive seasons, has seen a steady increase in stolen bases and hit exactly .282 the past two years. He will man the team’s No. 3 spot in the lineup, a position he thrived in last year for 292 at-bats. Remember, too, that Pence recorded 90-plus RBI and runs scored in 2010, and could surpass 100 in each category if the stars align this year.

10. Andrew McCutchen, PIT.

Stat-wise, McCutchen was very similar to Pence, only that he produced more on the stolen base side of things and less in the power department. He’s young (only 24), playing for a beefier contract and is very talented, all attributes that help make up for playing on a mediocre Pirates team. The emergence of young Pedro Alvarez will only help McCutchen’s overall stat line.

11. Justin Upton, ARI.

Another young uber-talented player with plenty of upside, Upton struggled last year as he played through a slightly torn labrum. He has 30-30 potential, but it will take him some time to get there. A 20-20 season (like he had in 2009) would be a good place to start.

12. Jason Heyward, ATL.

Always one with a hankering for young upside guys, I can’t put Heyward any lower than this. His rookie numbers were decent (18 homers, 11 stolen bases and a .277 batting average in 520 at-bats). They are even more impressive when remembering that he struggled with a sore thumb most of the season and was a true rookie, experiencing some expected growing pains along the way. Heyward will be better for it this season, and an improved offense around him in Atlanta will only help those numbers climb higher.

13. Jay Bruce, CIN.

A guy who I was touting loudly this time last year, Bruce didn’t match the expectations. However, he did produce well in spurts, and showed improvement as the season went on. He’ll continue to move up the rankings moving forward, just not as quickly as I envisioned last season.

14. Alex Rios, CWS.

The final stats look pretty good for Rios. He had 21 homers, 34 steals, 88 RBI, 89 runs scored and a .284 batting average along the way. That’s better than guys like McCutchen and Upton. Except that, looking closer, you’ll notice his amazingly hot first half in 2010 was followed by a statistical collapse in the second half. Which player will start the season this year? That’s the big question with Rios. A drastically better offense around him makes me think we’ll see more of the former and less of the latter.

15. Andre Ethier, LAD.

Many are touting him higher than this. I can’t. His batting average hovers around .300 and he easily hit more than 20 homers this season. But he lacks in speed. Not a flashy option, he still produces enough quietly to be considered at this position.

16. Jose Bautista, TOR.

We all know about the 54 homers that seemingly came out of nowhere last season. We also should all realize he won’t repeat that output, especially since his career batting average is more Paris Hilton than John Goodman. If you know what I mean.

17. Jayson Werth, WAS.

Just like Dorothy realizing she wasn’t in Kansas any more, I expect Werth to realize that Washington is no Philadelphia when it comes to protection in the lineup. He still has 20-plus homer ability, double-digit steal potential and a batting average that will fall somewhere in the .280s. Just not ready to think that the Nationals will help his RBI or runs-scored numbers.

18. Ichiro Suzuki, SEA.

I put him here because someone will be drafting him in every league. It just won’t be me. Sure, you have to love his .300-plus batting average and his 40-ish steals, but that is all you can expect, if even that, from a 37-year-old. What helped keep Suzuki’s value up in the past was his ability to score runs. A withering offense around him ensures that he won’t produce enough in this category to draft him where others will.

19. Mike Stanton, FLA.

Many will overlook Stanton on draft day due to his youth or his .259 batting average in 2010. I suggest he’ll be a sneaky-good value thanks to the number 16.3. That was his homers per at-bats last season as he whacked 22 dingers in just 259 plate appearances. To better illustrate this, consider that out of all outfielders in 2010, only Jose Bautista (10.5) and Josh Hamilton (16.2) were better than him. No one else was even close. He could be in store for a 40-homer sophomore season.

20. Colby Rasmus, STL.

A solid sophomore campaign saw definite increases in each of the five main statistical categories we care about the most in fantasy baseball. His age (24) suggests he still has time to improve. Hitting in a lineup with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday helps, too.

21. Drew Stubbs, CIN.

Thirty stolen bases and 22 homers suggest he could be higher on this list. His 168 strikeouts in 2010 say otherwise. Still, Stubbs is a young 26, and there is time for him to improve upon his plate discipline. Just be sure to have help elsewhere in your lineup for batting average numbers.

22. Shane Victorino, PHI.

Career highs in homers (18) and RBI (69) and a solid stolen base haul (34) mask a definite drop in runs scored (84) and batting average (.259). Reports from Philly suggest that management is discouraged that Victorino is not showing enough motivation to improve himself as a hitter heading into 2011. Too bad, because he has more than enough potential and lineup protection to vault up this list.

23. Delmon Young, MIN.

At age 25, Delmon is starting to tap into his potential after a season when he hit a career high 21 homers and 112 RBI while producing a respectable .298 batting average and 77 runs scored. If Young can keep himself on track, he has the potential to better these rankings yet again this season. However, in some ways, he’s pretty raw yet. Time and maturity are key for Young.

24. Chris Young, ARI.

It boggles my mind that a player with Young’s talent and a guy who can hammer out 27 homers and steal 28 bases continues to be so dismal at the plate (.257, which is actually an improvement over the previous season). Until Young starts showing more discipline, he’ll never reach his true potential as easily a top-10 fantasy outfielder.

25. Curtis Granderson, NYY.

A shell of what he was in previous seasons, Granderson struggled at times in 2010 with the Bronx Bombers. He still managed 24 homers and 12 stolen bases but finished the season with a disappointing .247 batting average. The plus here is that Granderson showed signs of improvement late last year under the tutelage of hitting coach Kevin Long. Granderson hit .262 with 10 homers, 20 runs and 26 RBI over the final 30 games and was scorching hot in the playoffs. If that trend can continue, he may be a nice middle-to-late-round fantasy value in the potent Yankees lineup.

26. Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS.

After basically a lost 2010, it is hard to know exactly what to expect out of Ellsbury in 2011. He has elite speed potential when atop the Boston lineup, but will he be able to stay healthy for the long haul? Will newcomer Carl Crawford eat into Ellsbury’s base-stealing numbers? Will Ellsbury remain the leadoff hitter long-term? Some things to consider and watch during spring training.

27. B.J. Upton, TB.

For the third consecutive season, Upton stole 40-plus bases in 2010. Also for the third straight year, he had a dip in batting average. Not a good trend. His 18 homers were a nice surprise, and one would think his batting average should bounce back from a career-low .237 last year—especially considering he hit .300 just a couple seasons ago. However, he’s still a big risk.

28. Corey Hart, MIL.

An injury-plagued second half sort of took some luster out of a season in which Hart hit a career-high 31 homers. Still, with a decent batting average and a solid lineup around him, Hart should produce adequate numbers.

29. Nick Markakis, BAL.

He always could hit for average. The feeling last year was that he was going to add more power to his repertoire. That didn’t happen. In fantasy baseball, you can only give a player so much slack before you need to move on to the next upside guy. Markakis has the tools and the Orioles have improved during the offseason, so this is my last chance for Markakis.

30. Nick Swisher, NYY.

I considered 2010 flops Jason Bay and Grady Sizemore here. Instead, I finally decided to go with a Nick Swisher who has belted 29 homers in each of the past two seasons, improved his batting average despite a track record of strikeouts and slumps and hits in a batter-friendly park with a solid lineup around him.

Don’t miss my rankings at other positions:  C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

And, a pretty cool story on the top 25 players under age 25.

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