With so many bargains out there in the outfield on Draft Day, you don’t want to get stuck with a lemon. Here are some outfielders to avoid in your fantasy drafts or auctions, as selected by our fantasy staff at Baseball Prospectus.
Rusney Castillo, Red Sox
I get wanting to gamble on Castillo. He has the natural speed and power to serve as a 15-homer, 20-steal threat, and he plays in a great home ballpark as part of a good lineup. It’s all there for Castillo… except it’s really not. The 28-year-old has killed more worms in 329 professional PA than millions of allegorical early birds combined, generating a not-so-nice 63.9 GB% in his stateside career. Castillo can’t hit righties (.189 TAv), is a TOOTBLAN waiting to happen every time he reaches base (4 SB, 5 CS in 2015), and walked at just a 4.5 percent clip last year. He deserves a longer leash than most players his age thanks to his unique circumstances, but there are no real signs pointing to a breakout other than solid but unspectacular Triple-A numbers. Castillo is currently the no. 65 outfielder drafted according to FantasyPros.com ADP, going before Kevin Kiermaier, Denard Span, and Marcell Ozuna, among others. Do better, mock drafters. There is some upside here because of the tools, but Castillo’s floor is probably lower than you think. —Ben Carsley
Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets
Let’s get this out of the way first: There are a great many things I love about Cespedes. The workout video, booting routine plays in the outfield only to subsequently cut down runners from the warning track, firing down heaters in the tunnel like it’s several decades ago, that laser beam in Game Three of the NLDS, wearing uniform accessories that match a parakeet. And on and on. Fantasy baseball is supposed to be fun, and there’s no more fun player to ride with for a summer than Cespedes. All of that is great, but it won’t help you beat your friends and colleagues, the other, more important reason to play fantasy baseball. I don’t think drafting Cespedes as the 12th outfielder off the board and inside the top 40 will either.
I don’t have to tell you that Cespedes was terrific after joining the Mets, and he was just as good the month before the trade. He hit 25 home runs in a torrid 62-game span before going ice cold in mid-September and continuing that rut into the postseason. Twelve percent of his batted balls during those 62 games left the park. Going back a few years, maintaining that kind of rate over a full season is impossible unless you’re Chris Davis. The power is going to back up.
As special as Cespedes’ 2015 was, it was a back-half-of-the-top-10 performance at the position. He set new career highs in three roto categories and missed his career high batting average by a point. He’d need to make most of that stick to justify his current draft position. As much as I hope I’m wrong, paying full freight the season after a career year rarely works out. —Greg Wellemeyer
Nelson Cruz, Mariners
An extreme outlier his entire career, Cruz predictably dispelled the industry-wide notion that shifting from Baltimore to Seattle would sap his home-run power. It turns out when you crush a baseball as hard as he does on occasion (with an average batted ball exit velocity in excess of 106 mph and an average distance of 413 feet on his 44 home runs last season according to Baseball Savant) it doesn’t really matter where they put the fences. He’s the only hitter in the majors to eclipse 40 home runs in each of the past two seasons, meaning there’s no argument he’s an elite power hitter in today’s offensive landscape. However, there are some glaring red flags in his statistical profile, which are becoming egregious to overlook completely.
For starters, he turns 36 in July. That’s the more ancillary concern, but just like mixing Rob Gronkowski with a cruise ship (pun not intended), it only amplifies the overall risk factor. The more pressing concern is the precipitous decline in his fly ball rate, which fell from 43 percent from 2009-14, to just 34 percent in 2015. The increase in groundballs led to a lofty .302 average (thanks to an absurd .350 BABIP), but his power was buoyed by a preposterously high 30 percent HR:FB rate last season. It was the highest rate of any hitter to qualify for a batting title in the last half decade. He also struck out in a career-high 25 percent of his plate appearances.
Will Cruz continue to find a way to translate his bizarre offensive profile into another stellar fantasy campaign? It’s certainly possible, which is an excellent way to hedge against such a bold prognostication on my part. However, let’s not forget that gravity and regression are the strongest forces on the planet and they’re inevitable. The longer he continues to defy the latter, the more likely it is he’s not actually human. —George Bissell
Khris Davis, Athletics
While no one can really figure out just what it is Oakland is doing this offseason, we can figure out what you should not be doing, and that is drafting Khris Davis (at his current ADP). Davis is currently the 36th outfielder off the board per NFBC ADP, going around 134th overall. While there's nothing wrong with Davis per se, the switch from Milwaukee to Oakland certainly is a negative, as Miller Park played to a 113 Park Factor for RHB over the last three seasons versus O.Co's 102.
Sure, that's not a huge gap, but for Davis to be going ahead of players like Shin-Soo Choo, Billy Burns, Joc Pederson, Byron Buxton, Randall Grichuk, and Curtis Granderson (no particular order), all of whom have different mixes of upside and security, doesn't really make sense. The reality is that Davis is a one-trick pony who will be limited in terms of counting stats because Oakland will continue to platoon him, and he's on the short side of that platoon. Not to mention HitTrackerOnline tells us that 10 of his 27 home runs qualified as Just Enoughs, meaning that even though the Park Factor hit isn't as big as some may think, it could play a significant role.
It's true, Davis has the power to hit the ball out of any park, but more of his fly balls could be falling in mitts than turning into souvenirs. And if he's not hitting 25+ home runs, he's not worth his draft position, or close to it.
Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
Coming off consecutive seasons of missing 50 and 90 games, Gonzalez still held firm at 51st overall by 2015 ADP numbers, and he responded with a $22 season that rated 45th. So he justified his price, but he did it in a much different, less well-rounded, less stable way than Prime Time Carlos Gonzalez used to. He's become a significantly more aggressive hitter over the past two years, swinging about six percentage points more often than he did in the three-season run from 2011-2013. He’s chasing much more often, and then with all the additional swings he's been coming up empty on more and more of them, especially in-zone. That's led to a spike in his strikeout rate, and coupled with above-average fly ball tendencies it's a recipe for the kind of depressed BABIP numbers he's posted lately. Toss in a well below-average line-drive rate over his past nearly-900 plate appearances, and last year's .271 average looks like just about the best-case outcome.
After a career of poor platoon splits against same-handed pitching, he devolved into unplayable territory against southpaws. He posted a .473 OPS in 84 plate appearances against them at home (part of a .530 overall mark), and his road OPS was more than 200 points south of his home mark. He was 2001 Manny Ramirez against righties in Coors, sure. But in over 60 percent of his plate appearances on the year he was a marginally below-average hitter with pretty good home run production. Weekly-leaguers and head-to-head players are nodding wistfully right now.
You’ll notice we haven’t talked about his injuries yet. He’s been injured a lot. Like, a lot. He crossed the 600 plate appearance threshold last season for the first time since 2010, which was incidentally his only other season hitting that mark. Might he stay on the field for another 600 in his age-30 season? Sure, especially if reported rumors of a first base dalliance come to pass. Given the crippling struggles against lefties last year, should he start every day even if he can? Probably not. Either way, wanna bet that he does?
If you draft him, you'll have to. There's just way too much that has to go right for Gonzalez to have a shot at justifying his ADP again. He's off the board 19th among outfielders and within the top 60 overall. That means you have to pay full freight for a repeat of last year's production and assume all of the risk that he doesn't get injured, doesn't regress from his career-high HR:FB rate, doesn't continue sliding against lefties, doesn't see negative BABIP regression eat further into his batting average, and doesn't get saddled with a further-diminished supporting cast (or worse yet get jettisoned from Colorado). That’s a big sky, right there. —Wilson Karaman
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