In the first two parts of this series, we covered the infielders that I’ll be relying on this fantasy season, starting with catchers and corner infielders in part one and looking at middle infielders in part two. While players like Francisco Lindor, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, and Tim Anderson provide a nice, stable foundation to build off of, you need more to field a top-notch offense in competitive formats. Safe, high floor players alone aren’t going to get the job done. It’s important to find some impact hitters that’ll make a real difference. That’s where the outfielders come into play. Not only does the outfield represent the largest player pool in fantasy baseball on the offensive side of things, but it is also the most demanding position in terms of starting lineup requirements (5 OF in both the online championship and draft champions NFBC formats). Outfielders are similar to middle infielders in that you can find anything you need here: power, speed, counting stats, and batting average. I’m looking for production in all of these categories, and since there are quite a few players to cover, let’s get started, shall we?
As a quick refresher, each player will be placed into one of the following four categories:
The Studs: These guys are the cream of the crop at their positions. Elite talents with proven track records who project for more of the same in the near future.
Risky Business: These are the high risk, high reward options. There’s elite upside here, but there’s also at least one big red flag in their respective profiles. Could provide high-end production at a bargain rate or leave a gaping hole on your (my) roster.
The Fallback Options: These are the players who you settle for if you miss on your primary targets. Could be boring vets, low ceiling youngsters, or just players who don’t elicit strong feelings one way or another.
The Lottery Tickets: These are the $1 scratch-offs that you play hoping for that $500 million jackpot. Cheap and dripping with upside. These are typically young, unproven players at the MLB level, but it could also be the profile of an injury-prone vet or someone who has struggled at the highest level, but has shown something special at some point in his career.
Here’s a breakdown of the many, many outfielders in my 2020 fantasy portfolio:
Strategy: As I mentioned in part two when discussing middle infielders, I drafted out of a middle slot (6-8) in each of my five NFBC leagues this year, so you won’t be seeing players like Acuna, Trout, or Yelich listed here. In fact, due to my multiple shares of premium players at non-outfield positions like Lindor, Freeman, and a few others who will be discussed in part four, there aren’t going to be a ton of elite players mentioned here. There will, however, be a mix of power and speed with a general emphasis on upside. Some of these players have been elite in the past, and some have the tools to join the elite in the near future, but they either lack the track records or have a serious wart or two in their profiles. Regardless, the approach here is similar to that of the middle infielders – grab as many five category players as possible, a few power bats who aren’t huge average drains, and bank some extra speed in the process.
I already touched on Bellinger in part one, but he’s so good that I figured I’d mention him twice. Plus, with the risks that I’m taking in the outfield, I just might end up moving him there eventually. Belli fell to my pick at #6 overall in one OC league, and I happily pulled the trigger on him there. .280/35/10 (full season pace) floor, with a repeat of last season (with perhaps even a touch more speed) as a realistic ceiling. Should be a first round stalwart for years to come.
Martinez has proven himself to be one of the best hitters in baseball over the past few seasons. Since 2017, here’s where he ranks among all MLB players in some of the key fantasy categories: 1st in HR (124), 11th in runs scored (294), 2nd in RBI (339), and 2nd in batting average (.313). There’s nothing to be concerned about in terms of his batted ball or plate discipline profiles – they’re virtually pristine. If you want to nitpick, he doesn’t run much and he turns 33 years old this August. But he’s a true four category monster; the AL version of Nolan Arenado without the downside of potentially no games at Coors Field this season.
Like most Houston hitters, Springer is a tricky player to evaluate this year. Well, maybe not quite as tricky as some of his other teammates, actually. Springer produced a 96/39/96/.292/6 line in 556 PA, which allowed him to finish as the #30 overall fantasy player, and #5 OF on a per-game basis, according to the player rater. His .974 OPS was the 8th highest in MLB among qualified players, while his 14.3% barrel% was the 13th best mark. He had the 9th lowest chase rate (22.8% O-Swing%) and 22nd highest walk rate (12.1%) as well. It’s certainly worth noting that his road OPS (1.012) was a full 80 points higher than his home OPS (.932) last season, indicating that his success wasn’t merely a product of any shortcuts the Astros may have taken along the way. Springer’s track record and profile suggest that’s he’s a high floor 110/35/90/.280/7 type of player entering his age 30 season.
Here’s where things start to get interesting. It’s easy to land studs like Lindor and Freeman in the first couple of rounds, and grab a few reliable, high floor bats like Rizzo and Abreu several rounds later, but one of the main things that separates the successful fantasy teams from the mediocre ones is the ability to land impact players at bargain prices. It’s important to pick your spots, but as a fantasy owner you gotta swing for the fences every once in awhile. Perhaps no player embodies this concept (both literally and figuratively) quite like like Giancarlo Stanton. We all know the story. The hulking slugger who dominated the league en route to winning the 2017 NL MVP, was unloaded to the Yankees in a salary dump by the thrifty Marlins the following offseason, had a solid, yet unspectacular 2018 season in NY, then missed virtually the entire 2019 season with various injuries. And now here he is, perceived as an overpaid, injury prone player on the downside of his career, and an overrated fantasy player to boot. However… before he’s sent to the glue factory, consider these stats regarding Stanton:
- he’s one of 10 players in MLB history to hit 300+ HR through his age 28 season
- from 2017-18, he finished 4th in MLB in PA, 1st in HR, 4th in runs, and 4th in RBI
- in his “down” 2018 season, he finished with the 6th highest HR total (38) in MLB and was one of just 8 players to produce 100+ runs and 100+ RBI
- he hits the ball really hard (top 10 in avg exit velocity, barrels, and hard hit % virtually his entire career)
Stanton’s power shouldn’t really surprise anybody. But what I think that some people are forgetting in lieu of his lost 2019 campaign is how durable he was the two seasons prior to that. As highlighted above, his 1397 plate appearances from 2017-18 were the 4th most among all MLB players. Also, he hasn’t been just a typical all-or-nothing slugger either – his .274 batting average since the start of the 2017 season is comparable to other elite sluggers such as Trevor Story (.276) and Bryce Harper (.272) over that same span. Giancarlo might not be the safest option out there, but outside of the top 50 overall, there’s the potential for huge profit here.
How do I feel about Luis Robert? 53, 66, 67. Need I say more? What? Damn, I thought this would be a short one. Ok, well those numbers represent where I drafted him in two of my OC leagues as well as my lone DC league this year. Pretty aggressive for a player who’s never sniffed the big leagues before, huh? Consider the profile. In his age 21 season last year, Robert combined to hit .328/.376/.624 with 32 home runs, 92 RBI, 108 runs scored, 36 stolen bases and a 1.001 OPS over 122 combined games across three minor league levels (A+/AA/AAA). He became the first minor league player since 1988 to hit .325 with with 30 doubles, 10 triples, 30 homers, 90 RBI, 100 runs scored, 300 total bases and 35 steals in a single season, and the first since Joc Pederson in 2014 to go 30/30. While last season was his coming out party, Robert has performed well at each level throughout his career (.312/.389/.505 w/ 56 homers and 97 steals in 426 games across seven seasons). He recently signed a long term deal with the White Sox, giving him job security for the foreseeable future. One thing that’s considered to be a minor red flag in his profile is his plate discipline. His BB% has ranged from 4.8% to 5.7% in his various stops from high A ball through AAA over the past couple of seasons. However, his K% has only risen above 25% in one brief 32 game stint in 2018. A player comparison that I think fits pretty nicely is Starling Marte. Very similar overall skill sets and plate discipline profiles. The main difference between the two players is power. Marte hadn’t hit 20 homers at any level until his age 29 season in 2018, or slugged over .500 until just last season. How does Marte with more power sound? Even if there is a learning curve for Robert this season, I see his floor as a poor man’s Marte. For his ceiling, see: Acuna Jr, Ronald. It could be a gradual rise up the fantasy draft boards for Robert over the next few seasons, or this might be the last time that you’ll see him outside of the first round for the next decade. I think it’s a chance worth taking.
Oscar Mercado isn’t as young as you might think. He was already 24 years old by the time he was called up by the Indians to experience his first taste of the big leagues, and he turns 26 this December. I’m not suggesting that he’s finished improving, but if you think there’s a chance at a Trea Turner type of season here, you might want to pump the brakes. There’s still a lot to like here though. Mercado was one of 26 MLB players who hit at least 15 homers and stole at least 15 bases last season, and he accomplished that in less than a full season’s worth of at bats. His 17.4% K% shows that he’s a good contact hitter, and his SB success rate (78.9%) and sprint speed (29.5 ft/sec – 19th in MLB) indicate that he’s capable of swiping a few more bags moving forward. Based on power, speed, plate discipline, and batted ball profile, a good comp for him might be Victor Robles. Robles is coming off of a 17 homer, 28 steal season with a .255/.326/.419 slash line, and that seems to be in Mercado’s wheelhouse. Whether he runs enough to reach 28 steals is another story, but a 20+ steal pace (to go along with 15-20 homers) seems like a safe bet. Mercado might never join the ranks of the fantasy elite, but around pick #100 overall, he’s a nice OF3 with some upside.
Danny Santana might have been the biggest surprise of the 2019 season. After a productive rookie season for the Twins in 2014 in which he hit .319 (aided by a .405 BABIP) with 7 homers and 20 steals in 430 plate appearances, Santana struggled to do much of anything. From 2015-18, he managed just a paltry .219/.256/.319 slash line with 6 homers and 28 steals in 735 PA. Not only was he an afterthought in fantasy circles; he was in danger of being out of MLB completely. After signing a minor league deal with the Rangers last offseason, he rewarded them with a 28 HR/21 SB season, both scoring and knocking in 81 runs, while slashing a robust .283/.324/.534, allowing him to finish as the #46 overall player on the Razzball player rater. So the question is… where did all of this come from? Well, I can’t tell you exactly where it came from, but I might be able to shed some light on how it came about. He hit the ball in the air more often, and he hit the ball much harder. It’s as simple as that. There’s not much difference in his swing, chase, or whiff rates from his lean years to last season, but his average exit velocity saw a 7 mph jump from 84.4 mph from 2015-18 to 91.4 mph in 2019. Also, he cut his ground ball percentage by over 12 points from 53.2% to 40.9%. It should be no surprise, then, to learn that his launch angle changed drastically as well, increasing from 4.0 degrees to 13.5 degrees. To put that in perspective, he went from hitting the ball as hard as players such as Jose Iglesias and Mallex Smith to hitting it harder than Juan Soto, Cody Bellinger, and Mike Trout. And his line drive rate went from well below league average to top 20 among qualified hitters, tied with Ozzie Albies and just behind Trout. Perhaps pitchers figured Santana out as the season progressed? Well, Santana slashed .300/.333/.514 with 9 HR and 9 SB in 226 first half PA; in the second half of the season, he slashed .269/.316/.549 with 19 HR and 12 SB in 285 PA. For the season, he had a .858 OPS vs RHP and a .856 OPS vs LHP. His expected batting average (xBA) was .275 and his expected slugging percentage (xSLG) was .496. He was one of five players to hit at least 25 HR and steal at least 20 bases last season – Acuna, Yelich, Story, and Lindor were the other four. Was Santana’s 2019 a fluke? It’s certainly possible. But the batted ball numbers look legitimate to me, and the risk is more than being baked into his price (I took him at 128 and 163 overall).
Dahl has an uncanny knack for disappointing his fantasy owners. He plays half of his games in the most hitter friendly ballpark in MLB, and has a .297/.346/.521 career slash line in 240 games (921 PA) to boot. Despite stealing 20+ bases multiple times in his minor league career, how many steals does Dahl have in those 240 MLB games? Fourteen. How many 20+ HR seasons does he have while getting so many opportunities to hit at Coors Field? Zero. How many times has he played in more than 100 games in a single season? Zero. So, to sum up – he can’t stay healthy, has mediocre power, and barely runs. And yet… he’s been extremely productive on a per game basis, is entering his age 26 season, and finally seemed to figure out how to hit left-handed pitching last season (.319/.357/.543 in 126 PA). There might be a .315/27/10 season in here somewhere, and wouldn’t it be appropriate for a player such as Dahl to save his best performance for a shortened season?
Since I spent far too much time (and space) discussing the risk/reward outfielders in the above group, I’ll be approaching the remaining players in a rapid-fire manner. If you have any questions or would like discuss any of these players in greater depth, let me know in the comments. Ready… set… go!
Benintendi is a strange case. He established himself as a 20/20 player with great counting stats and a solid batting average for 2017-18, before hitting for less power last season (with a juiced ball, mind you) and having his steals cut in half. While he was slightly more aggressive last season, he wasn’t absurdly so, and he increased his launch angle to a career high 17.3 degrees, which indicates that he was trying to hit the ball into the air more often but wasn’t completely selling out to do so. Entering his age 26 season, and perhaps having an opportunity to fill Mookie Betts’ vacancy at the top of a potent Red Sox lineup, Benintendi looks poised for a bounceback season.
Kepler has two things going for him – fantastic plate discipline and solid power. Anytime someone has a double digit walk rate and a sub 20% strikeout rate, they’re doing something right. It might sound harsh to categorize a player coming off of a 36 HR, .519 SLG season as having just solid power, but Kepler had never hit more than 20 homers in a season prior to last, and his exit velocity and hard hit rates weren’t anything special. He doesn’t steal bases or hit for average, so if he slumps and is dropped down the batting order, his counting stats and overall value would take a serious hit. But Kepler’s in his prime and cheap enough that he looks like a decent bet to return a profit this year.
Cain is old and coming off of a down season, which is never a good combination. But he’s still a solid source of speed, scores a healthy amount of runs hitting atop a solid Brewers lineup, and got a bit unlucky last season (.260 BA vs .290 xBA). A nice, cheap OF4 if you need some late speed.
Upton has been around forever, yet he’s still just 32 years old. Can you believe it? He’s not that far removed from stud status either. Of course, injuries and Father Time have taken that status away from him, but a healthy Upton is still a solid source of power and run production, especially hitting behind players like Trout, Rendon, and Ohtani. Need a late power boost and have some wiggle room in the batting average category? Upton could be a fine option.
Heyward is a player with a reasonably high floor and solid job security, which makes him a decent bench option in draft-and-hold formats like the 15 team DC one where I drafted him. That about sums him up.
The Lottery Tickets: Willie Calhoun, Hunter Dozier, Ian Happ (x2), Anthony Santander, Delino DeShields (x2), Jo Adell (x3), Austin Hays, Trent Grisham, Mike Yastrzemski (x2), Hunter Pence, Lane Thomas
We’re into the home stretch now, so let’s do a true rapid fire!
Willie C. is a four category monster in the making. Well, maybe mini-monster. Grey gave you his Willie Calhoun Sleeper, so take a look, won’t ya?
Dozier had a nice mini-breakout last season, is in his prime, has solid job security, and still has some upside. Oh, and he’s affordable too. What’s not to like? Grey gave you his Hunter Dozier Sleeper too, where he goes more in depth on Dozier’s rosy outlook.
Happ has 30/10 skills, and a clear path to playing time this season. He’s burned us before, but he’s a prime post-hype sleeper entering his age 25 season. He’s another one of Grey’s darlings, so give it a look at the Ian Happ Sleeper post too if you want. Or don’t, your call.
Santander is a late high floor option with solid power, job security, and a prime lineup spot. Grey recently gave you his Anthony Santander Dart Throw, so you know what to do. Just don’t shoot your eye out!
SAGNOF alert! DeShields has proven to be a reliable source of speed, and given the defensive inadequacies of Domingo Santana and Franmil Reyes, the Indians are likely to give him a fair amount of playing time in the outfield this year. According to Grey’s Delino DeShields Sleeper post, DeShields could be a real difference maker for your team, so you don’t want to miss out here.
Adell is one of the top prospects in the game. A true power/speed threat who has produced a .298/.361/.518 line with 35 HR and 30 SB across three minor league seasons (1002 PA). Entering his age 21 season, the Angels are looking to contend, and have Brian Goodwin penciled in as their starting right fielder. Adell has a chance to be a true impact player in the near future. Will that be in 2020? Who knows, but with an ADP outside of the top 200, the price is right to find out.
Hays had a nice little run for the Orioles down the stretch last season, posting a .309/.373/.574 slash line with 4 HR, 2 SB, 12 runs scored, and 13 RBI in just 75 plate appearances. His plate discipline and batted ball profiles support those numbers, and he’s likely to be a big part of the team entering his age 24 season.
Grisham is a sabermetric darling. He walks a ton, rarely strikes out, and has only attempted one steal in 51 MLB games. Somebody’s read Moneyball! With the departures of Reyes and Renfroe in recent years, Grisham should have an opportunity to earn regular playing time in the Padres outfield, and he has the skills to capitalize on that opportunity. If your league has a category for 80s porn mustaches, bump him up even further.
Yastrzemski just might be the best player on the Giants right now. Let that sink in for a moment. At least you have three World Series titles in the last decade, Giants fans. But back to Yastrzemski, who produced a .272/.334/.518 line with 21 homers, 64 runs scored, 55 RBI, and 2 steals in 411 PA. That might not jump off the page in the juiced ball environment, but it equates to a 32 HR, 97 R, 83 RBI pace across a full season. He’s slated to play everyday and hit in one of the top two spots in the Giants lineup, which makes him a solid OF5 in just about any format.
Pence experienced a nice rebirth last season. Check out Grey’s sleeper post for more info. Psyche! Grey’s an ageist, you should know that. Pence produced a stellar .297/.358/.552 line with the Rangers in his age 36 season last year, and he appears to have some gas left in the tank. A nice bench option in deeper formats.
With Ozuna leaving in free agency, Thomas is indisputably the best outfielder on the Cardinals. That’s a fact. Go get him.
Have any questions about any of the players listed here? Agree/disagree with these assessments? Let me know in the comments, as well as which outfielders you’re relying on this season.