In case you missed the infield positions, let’s get you caught up:
With that out of the way, it’s time to order the outfielders. If you’ve been following along or you’re familiar with this exercise from years past, you know that these rankings function best as something like a cross between keeper preferences and dynasty rankings for those whose window of contention is open in the immediate future. It’s important to state that these rankings are mine alone. They no doubt vary from the opinions of other writers on this site and that’s okay. Good, even. This wouldn’t be much fun if we all thought the same thing about every player and couldn’t learn from each other in the cases where we diverge.
Off we go:
Don’t get cute.
This time last year, Harper was coming off the best offensive season since Bonds registered a 1.421 OPS (1.421!) and the precocious 23-year-old had an argument for the top spot. There’s really no other way to put it: Harper was a massive disappointment in 2016. It’s hard to find a bright spot other than the surprising 21 steals that nearly carried him to a top-20 finish at the position. A rumored shoulder injury may be to blame for diminished power and a dip in batted ball velocity contributed to his cratered batting average. It would be irresponsible to hand wave the results, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if Harper reclaims second chair in the 2018 rankings. He’ll have to overtake Betts, whose floor is incredibly high. Don’t expect a repeat of 2016 – those may well go down as career best numbers across the board – but you’d gladly take 80 percent of that production if I gave it to you right now.
8. Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates
Speaking of balance, each of these five in-their-peak options has the goods to explode for a position-best season at some point in the next three years. Marte is a firmly speed over power, and as I covered earlier this winter, he’s due for a significant bump in his contextual stats going forward. Blackmon finished as fantasy’s third best outfielder in 2016 despite missing a couple weeks in April. Don’t discount him much, if at all, if he becomes the subject of trade rumors again. Sure, leadoff for the Rockies is a cushy assignment, but Blackmon batted .313 with 17 home runs on the road in 2016. Yelich finally began lifting the ball with more regularity, more than doubling his previous career high HR output while not sacrificing any batting average. Locked into the third spot in the Marlins lineup, you can count on him for counting stats aplenty. Springer went the other way on the lineup card, slotting in as Houston’s leadoff hitter for most of 2016 and is poised to do the same in 2017. A repeat of triple digit runs is likely, with ample power. He was caught stealing more than he was successful last season, a curious and sudden development considering his previous success on the bases. Last of the group is Polanco, who requires the most projection to validate this placement. After a first half that looked like what we’ve been waiting for since he broke into the majors in 2014, Polanco faded badly down the stretch thanks to nagging injuries and poor batted ball luck. He’s entering his age-25 season and I’m expecting full realization of his considerable talent sooner rather than later.
11. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
Pollock lost most of 2016 to injury after out-earning all outfielders in 2015. On skills, he fits somewhere in the group above. A broken wrist in June didn’t sap any of Martinez’s power upon his August return. The new J.D. Martinez isn’t that new anymore; we’re 1500+ plate appearances into his Tigers career, during which only 11 qualified players have a higher OPS. If you don’t believe yet, I’m not sure what it’ll take. Mike Stanton rarely missed a game in his minor league career and played almost every day from his call-up in 2010 through the conclusion of the 2011 season. Giancarlo Stanton has played more than 125 games just once in the five seasons since then. Someone point that man to the nearest Dade County DMV. I have concerns that Braun won’t reach 2016’s power and speed numbers ever again, but he’s too good a hitter to fade hard, even as he approaches his mid-30s. Upton gets the slightest edge over Cespedes for his longer track record, two-year age advantage, and handful of steals.
15. David Dahl, Colorado Rockies
16. Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox
We spilled a lot of ink last week telling you how impressive the young core of shortstops is. The outfielders aren’t too far behind. I was slow to come around on Dahl, even as he quickly ascended from Double-A to the big leagues in 2016 and produced all the while. He won’t be as good as his .315/.359/.500 stint in Denver might lead you to believe, and doesn’t need to be to justify this placement. Coors and speed—not a combination I recommend outside of a baseball context—will help hide some of the short-term growing pains. Benintendi’s 80th percentile PECOTA projection looks awfully similar to Betts’ 50th percentile, less some stolen bases. Given PECOTA’s (or any system’s) bearishness on players who have limited major league experience, are you sure there’s a wide gap between the two? Schwarber is a beast, but much like Kris Bryant last year, I want to see Schwarber hit his way through the elevated swing-and-miss number before I jump him to the next tier. Buxton has a strikeout problem of his own that needs correction before he can reach his considerable ceiling. As promising as last August was, he did strike out in 38 of 101 plate appearances to go with the nine dingers. Buxton has fantasy’s scarcest asset to lean while he figures the rest out. To be honest, I’m not spending much time trying to figure out what Hamilton is going to do at the plate. He’s good for 50 steals regardless of what the answer is and that alone makes him a top-20 option.
23. Ian Desmond, Colorado Rockies
24. Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles
26. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
27. Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
Don’t be the dope who holds Trumbo’s real life value against him in fantasy. He made real changes to his swing that resulted in more pull side fly balls and returns to an ideal park for a power hitter. Just because the leaguewide power surge has devalued home runs in our game doesn’t mean you should turn your nose up at the guys with a shot to lead the league. The bottom half of this list are the veterans I’m arguably too low on. Desmond’s second half terrifies me, Jones swings too much, McCutchen is done running, and CarGo is only going to be in Colorado for, at most, one third of the time period these rankings consider.
32. Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox
A few power-speed guys, led by veterans with longer track records. As I said last year in this space, I’m not sure why Kiermaier doesn’t get more attention. He’s still at a point on the aging curve where you don’t have to work too hard to imagine further offensive development. There’s a 15-30 season in there and the contextual stats should benefit greatly from a full season in the top third of the order instead of the bottom third. I confess to having little idea just how impactful Herrera was in 2016 until I dug in for this rankings. If he can continue to trim his chase rate and attack pitches in the zone the way he did in 2016, I like his chances of continued success. Bradley is a fine player, but his strong earnings were largely a product of run and RBI totals that he has a slim chance of replicating. I’m not sure what to do with Piscotty, the outlier profile in this group. On the one hand, he’s solid and should hit in the middle of the Cardinals lineup. On the other, I don’t think it gets any better than the 86/22/85/7/.273 roto-slash line he offered up in 2016. That was good for 27th at the position.
34. Yasmany Tomas, Arizona Diamondbacks
35. Randal Grichuk, St. Louis Cardinals
Lump Tomas into the large group of players who benefitted from shifting their batted ball mix around to emphasize pull side power. He has enough raw to challenge 30 bombs routinely if he keeps that approach. Grichuk slashed .269/.300/.554 with 16 dongs in 70 games after a brief demotion to Triple-A. He also struck out 34 percent of the time. There’s a distinct chance he whiffs himself right out of a job. Bautista is obviously the best short-term bet of the group. This ranking is a hedge against health and age.
I feel similarly about present day Mazara as I do Piscotty. There’s value in the floor, I just don’t see where the impact is going to come from. He’ll play 2017 at 22 years old and I trust him as a long-term asset; I just don’t want to pay a price that requires the power to arrive now in order to break even. Pederson made incredible progress in 2016, raising his contact percentage by 8.5 percentage points. Trouble is, he was dreadful against lefties on the rare occasions he was allowed to face them. A .125/.250/.219 line isn’t going to buy him more chances, and the Dodgers are flexible enough that they have no need to force him out there.
39. Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
Puig has been an above-average offensive player every season by your advanced metric of choice and still possesses enough upside to reach heights that most in this area of the list aren’t capable of. I love Brantley’s skillset but I’d be lying if I said I had a good read on what to expect. My hunch is that he’ll hit for average and rack up enough contextual stats in the middle of Cleveland’s loaded lineup to be valuable even if the low-teens power and speed never come back.
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