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February 17, 2014

Fantasy Players to Target

Outfielders

by BP Fantasy Staff

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There are nearly 90 starting MLB outfielders, dozens more platoon/fourth-outfielder types, and a plethora of outfield prospects who provide fantasy owners with a large pool of players from which to choose when filling out their rosters. That being said, the talent in the outfield is shallower than you think, and selecting the wrong outfielder too early can significantly hamper owners in leagues that roster five OFs per team.

Let the BP Fantasy Staff be your guide through the crowded world of the outfield. We will lead you to a better place.

Oswaldo Arcia, Twins
There are some obvious negatives to Arcia, including a 31 percent strikeout rate paired with a below-average walk rate. The good news is that Arcia never showed that type of whiff rate in the minors and was still able to produce despite all those times he came up empty, knocking 14 home runs in only 378 at-bats. That means given a full slate of plate appearances, Arcia should easily clear 20 home runs, and that’s without additional contactm which should generate more home runs (and runs and RBI). With an ADP of 265 (per fantasypros.com), Arcia isn’t being drafted based on potential production just yet, leaving him with room to generate additional value. He could turn into a 25-home-run corner outfielder in short order, and while he won’t add to your stolen-base totals, he shouldn’t sink you in average either. The power production is likely to be steady, and has a chance to be above average in a good season. —Craig Goldstein

Jay Bruce, Reds
From 2011-2013, only three major-league players have hit 30 home runs in each season: Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, and Jay Bruce. No, Bruce is not Miggy or Beltre. He plays in the outfield and, from personal experience, he’s a headache in head-to-head formats. He won’t hit .300. He probably won’t hit .270. But he’ll provide solid contributions in the remaining four categories, including steals. Over the past three years, Bruce has averaged 32 home runs, 87 runs, and 101 RBI. He’s only missed 14 games since 2011, while Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton, who is likely to be drafted ahead of Bruce, has missed 97. Stanton trails Bruce by 70 RBI and 46 runs over that time, but the latter isn’t regarded in the same light. Additionally, only five players collected more doubles than Bruce last season. He’s a near-lock for 30 home runs and 90 RBI. At age 26, he’s poised for a career year. —Alex Kantecki

Jason Heyward, Braves
Appendicitis and a fractured jaw from a HBP robbed Heyward of around 200 PA last season, and he finished 2013 with just 14 homers, two steals, and a .254/.349/.427 triple-slash line. That disappointing performance has many once again doubting whether Heyward can be a cornerstone fantasy player, as evidenced by his ADP of 72 in Mock Draft Central leagues this preseason. Heyward has been in the majors for so long that it's easy to forgot how young he is, but he'll spend most of 2014 at age 24, and there's no reason to think his 2013 line represents the beginning of any serious regression. Instead, look to Heyward's 2012 season, where he finished with 27 homers and 21 steals, as a more likely harbinger of what's to come. I'm no longer a big believer in Heyward's hit tool—I think .270 sounds about right—but I do believe in the pop, and I do think he'll run enough to swipe 15-plus bases once again. He's being drafted after Wil Myers and Josh Hamilton, and I think that's a mistake. —Ben Carsley

Matt Holliday, Cardinals
My pro-Holliday argument is a really simple one: Outfield is one of the positions at which it hurts the most when one of your top picks turns out to be a clunker. There's just too much talent in the position's top 24 to easily recover from severe underperformance by one of your top two, especially given the price you have to pay to acquire that top two (the top 24 outfielders are currently all going off the board before the 60th-overall pick). The value of consistently elite production at the position cannot be overstated. To wit, here are Matt Holliday's wRC+ numbers for the last eight seasons: 139, 151, 141, 141, 149, 154, 142, 148. During those eight seasons he's logged at least 139 games seven times, and 155 or more five times. He missed significant time just once, in 2011, and played 124. Since arriving in St. Louis four years ago the post-Coors version of Holliday has hit .301 with an average of 25 HR and 188 R+RBI. Sure he's 34 and bound to slow down at some point in the next few years, but there's absolutely nothing in either his plate-discipline or batted-ball profiles to suggest that's already in the process of happening. He's currently the 22nd OFr off the board, and at that price he's a steal. He returned the 12th-most value among OFs last year, and I'm more than willing to wager he outpaces his cost again in 2014. —Wilson Karaman

Leonys Martin, Rangers
I became a big Martin fan in 2012 when I saw him a whole bunch at Triple-A Round Rock. He crushed it in 55 games there that year with 12 HR, 10 SB, and a 1.033 OPS. The performance even earned him a couple of tastes of the majors, but he didn’t do much in sporadic playing with just 52 PA in 24 games. He got a real shot in 2013 and ended up with a nice fantasy season despite an unspectacular .698 OPS, thanks in large part to struggles against southpaws (.573).

He did put up an .803 OPS against lefties in the minors, albeit in just 201 PA, but at least it was done exclusively in the high minors (Double- and Triple-A). Even a repeat of his 2013 would earn back his ninth round price tag in NFBC drafts, but it’s not unreasonable to project some growth. More importantly, why would you take Starling Marte five rounds earlier when you can emulate almost his entire line with Martin?

AB

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

Marte-2013

510

83

12

35

41

0.280

Martin-2013

457

66

8

49

36

0.260

Martin-adj.

510

74

9

55

40

0.260

Martin is close enough to be worth waiting on even without the adjustment, but I extrapolated him to Marte’s AB just to put them on an even playing field. Now, this isn’t meant to rail on Marte, but rather to prop up Martin. Marte only played 135 games, so volume alone should help him improve his 2014, and he bats first whereas Martin bats last. Without having to vastly improve, Martin can fully emulate Marte’s 2013, and Martin has also shown the skills to be even better. —Paul Sporer

Justin Upton, Braves
Remember how high Justin Upton’s stock was when he was slugging .734 into April? And conversely how low his stock sank when he hit three homers in the months of May, June, and July? The inconsistent production is obfuscating a highly valuable 26-year-old power-hitting outfielder who still has the potential to be a top-30 fantasy player. Take the sum of the season rather than cherry picking months and realize that he hit 27 HR in a league context that lacks power, is of an age when power tends to mature, and will likely be hitting in a pretty damn good ATL lineup in 2014. We all thought the breakout was going to happen during April of last year; I think it’s going to happen right now. —Mauricio Rubio

Will Venable, Padres
I normally don’t like later-career-breakout hitters, but I’ll make an exception in Will Venable’s case. No hitter benefited more from the Padres moving the fences in at Petco Park than Venable, and this combined with an increased propensity to pull the ball created the 22-home-run season that Venable enjoyed in 2013. Some regression is certainly possible, but the fences aren’t being moved back again, and Venable will continue to take advantage of this in 2014. For a 20/20 hitter, Venable is going way too low in drafts. Even without a terrific batting average, Venable should be more of a target than he has been so far. —Mike Gianella

Jayson Werth, Nationals
There are other things in play here, but the pattern of Werth's recent career has led him to being an undervalued asset in 2014. First of all, he resonates as a player who got a big contract he hasn't lived up to--which may have been true for his first two years in Washington, but certainly was not the case in 2013. Now, coming off a stellar season, the 34-year old is being treated more like a dead cat who's run out of bounce rather a very sturdy second outfielder. His ADP is 93rd overall now, and in the LABR Mixed draft that Mike Gianella and I just completed, he fell to us in the seventh round at 97th overall--which means there's some room to take advantage here, regardless of your level of competition.

The biggest thing with Werth has been the reduction of his strikeout rate over the last two seasons. From 2011 to 2012, Werth dropped his 24.7 percent strikeout rate to 16.6 percent, and before the season I said that if he were able to maintain half of that improvement, it would be enough to bump up his value considerably. It turns out, he was able to do that and then some, as his 19.0 percent rate was closer to his 2012 level than the season prior. With Werth's consistently high BABIPs (.331 career mark), this means that a near .300 average is something that is very reasonable to expect. The power may regress slightly from the 25-homer mark of 2013, but he should be able to clear 20. The more I talk about Werth, doesn't it sound more and more like Matt Holliday's profile? I'd still take Holliday over Werth, but I do not think they should be 40 spots apart in the draft. —Bret Sayre

BP Fantasy Staff is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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