Braun, Kemp lead crop of top fantasy outfielders
1. Ryan Braun, Brewers
Fantasy owners holding the No. 4 or 5 slot in deeper mixed-league drafts cannot afford to pass on Braun. It's not like he's a notch above first basemen Miggy Cabrera, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder or Mark Teixeira, per se. But given the relative dearth of superstar outfielders this season -- with leagues that start five of 'em -- Braun is a must-have for owners who believe a top-notch outfield is the key to a fantasy championship. Projections: 34 HRs, 113 RBIs, 109 runs, 23 steals, .325 average.
2. Matt Kemp, Dodgers
In case you hadn't heard, Kemp is the first Dodger in franchise history to amass 25 HRs, 25 steals and 100 RBIs (which is why he earned a No. 6 ranking in last year's countdown). He's also the only outfielder who's a reasonable lock for 20 HRs/100 RBIs/30 steals/100 runs. Put it all together and he's the perfect choice late in Round 1. Projections: 23 HRs, 102 RBIs, 104 runs, 37 steals, .297 average.
3. Matt Holliday, Cardinals
If Holliday had signed with the Mets in the offseason -- instead of the Cardinals -- perhaps his ranking wouldn't be so high. (How's that for tenuous?) The reason: He would have foolishly abandoned the best lineup protection that money can buy -- namely Albert Pujols. Holliday is a fantasy moose with St. Louis, as long as Pujols stays healthy. Projections: 27 HRs, 112 RBIs, 96 runs, 11 steals, .317 average.
4. Carl Crawford, Rays
Crawford likely won't eclipse 15 HRs again while playing for the Rays (he's a free agent at season's end), and he might never rack up 80-plus RBIs at any other point in his career. However, the positives far outweigh the negatives with Crawford, provided the hamstrings remain intact and Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon never turns off the green light on the basepaths. Projections: 13 HRs, 62 RBIs, 108 runs, 53 steals, .297 average.
5. Grady Sizemore, Indians
Pick up any preseason magazine right now, and you'll find Sizemore mired somewhere between 12th and 18th in the outfielder rankings. Simply put, either the fantasy community as a whole has lost total confidence in Sizemore's old capacity for 30/30 -- or I have seriously misjudged the quality and quantity of the 2010 outfield class. Here's hoping it's the former. Projections: 27 HRs, 94 RBIs, 109 runs, 32 steals, .278 average.
6. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
This is probably my shakiest pick of the top 10. Yes, Ellsbury is a lock for 50 steals/95 runs/.295 average with the Red Sox; but if he pulls a hammy or experiences a prolonged slump during the season, he's nothing more than a slightly older version of Dexter Fowler. It goes without saying: Don't reach for Ellsbury in Rounds 1 or 2. Projections: 9 HRs, 57 RBIs, 103 runs, 58 steals, .298 average.
7. Jayson Werth, Phillies
In my warped world, the free-agent-to-be Werth will either have a top-5 season ... or suffer a David Wright-esque mini-meltdown in 2010 -- trying too hard to make things happen. But don't be fooled by the ominous opening ... Werth is an even-money shot to justify the No. 7 ranking. In fact, he might be the National League's closest doppelganger to Matt Kemp this season. Projections: 31 HRs, 96 RBIs, 102 runs, 26 steals, .289 average.
8. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
Upton would probably be a top-3 pick in leagues where slugging percentage and OPS were favored over batting average; but good luck finding such a league in mainstream fantasyland. Bottom line: Upton's .300 average in 2009 feels like an aberration; but lucky for us, his 30/30 potential at age 23 is all too real. Projections: 24 HRs, 90 RBIs, 87 runs, 17 steals, .278 average.
9. Nelson Cruz, Rangers
In a perfect world, the 30-year-old Cruz would have a longer track record of fantasy dominance; but right now, we can only daydream incrementally better numbers from 2009 -- his first full season in the majors. Projections: 31 HRs, 102 RBIs, 92 runs, 14 steals, .268 average.
10. Carlos Lee, Astros
This will likely be Lee's last season as a top-10 outfielder; but that doesn't mean he shouldn't go out with a bang -- or at least be the wonderfully consistent stud of the last five years (steals excluded). Projections: 28 HRs, 101 RBIs, 73 runs, 4 steals, .306 average.
11. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
I'd feel a lot better about Ichiro's fantasy prospects if he were a lock for 100 runs -- especially with Chone Figgins wreaking havoc in the lineup. But then again, I'm not in the business of disrespecting .352 hitters. Projections: 9 HRs, 51 RBIs, 94 runs, 24 steals, .343 average.
12. Bobby Abreu, Angels
Don't let the No. 12 ranking be a Debbie Downer here: Abreu would make an excellent mixed-league pick sometime in Round 2. And don't let the 'old' age fool ya, either: Abreu, at 36 years young, has shown very few signs of slowing down. Consider this the line of demarcation for outfielders. Projections: 17 HRs, 102 RBIs, 101 runs, 26 steals, .287 average.
13. Adam Jones, Orioles
If anyone outside the top-10 is primed for top-5 billing this time next year, it's the 25-year-old Jones -- a relative lock for 20/25 if he stays healthy for 150 games. Of course, staying on the field is easier said than done for Jones. This is the beauty of fantasy countdowns, though, where optimism reigns for on-the-cusp superstars. Projections: 23 HRs, 84 RBIs, 93 runs, 27 steals, .275 average.
14. Jason Bay, Mets
For a few dollars more ... Bay abandoned the comfy confines of Fenway Park for cavernous Citi Field. For a few dollars more ... Bay is not a top-5 outfielder in fantasyland. For a few dollars more ... Bay is no longer a lock for 25 homers or 100 runs. For a few dollars more ... oh wait, you get the idea. Projections: 24 HRs, 87 RBIs, 85 runs, 9 steals, .272 average.
15. Shane Victorino, Phillies
In mixed leagues, Victorino has solid value. In NL-only leagues or leagues where owners place a major emphasis on speed, Victorino will not disappoint -- even though he's already inked a lucrative three-year extension. Projections: 11 HRs, 63 RBIs, 108 runs, 33 steals, .286 average.
16. Nick Markakis, Orioles
Nick the Stick had been a model of efficiency in his short MLB career ... before the random disappearance after Sept. 1 (2 HRs/12 RBIs/.233 BA). But we're not giving up the ship with Markakis, even if he's not the Orioles' most prodigious outfielder. Projections: 19 HRs, 98 RBIs, 101 runs, 5 steals, .301 average.
17. Josh Hamilton, Rangers
In some ways, Hamilton seems like the oldest twentysomething athlete in professional sports, but that doesn't necessarily portend meager fantasy prospects (at least in this countdown). When sizing up Hamilton's production of 2008 vs. 2009 ... I'm leaning toward the monster production of two years ago. (Warning: This glowing paragraph has no bearing on the Home Run Derby.) Projections: 28 HRs, 108 RBIs, 88 runs, 6 steals, .284 average.
18. Shin-Soo Choo, Indians
Cleveland is just one Michael Brantley or Matt LaPorta breakout from having the Central's best outfield -- if not every American League city north of Tampa/St. Pete -- thanks to the lightning-quick emergence of Choo, an unheralded version of Matt Kemp or Grady Sizemore. Bottom line: There is no wrong time to pluck Choo from the draft board after Round 3. Projections: 18 HRs, 89 RBIs, 96 runs, 23 steals, .308 average.
19. B.J. Upton, Rays
Of the top 20 outfielders, no one has regressed more than B.J. in the last three seasons. Seriously, how does one drop 60 points in batting average in their mid-20s? And how does someone not collect 80 runs in their sleep, as part of the Rays' power-packed lineup? That aside, we're not losing faith with the hyper-competitive Upton just yet. If anything, he'll be a certifiable steal in Round 7 of mixed leagues. Projections: 17 HRs, 72 RBIs, 94 runs, 45 steals, .276 average.
20. Torii Hunter, Angels
Hunter might never launch 30 homers again, but the 35-year-old has evolved into a more dynamic (read: more diversified) fantasy threat in recent years, which explains his imperceptibly better ranking than Curtis Granderson. Projections: 23 HRs, 91 RBIs, 79 runs, 22 steals, .294 average.
21. Curtis Granderson, Yankees
If you can get past Granderson's low OBP, high strikeout rate and painful track record against left-handed pitchers, then you'll enjoy reaping the rewards of 115-plus runs and 25-plus homers this season ... thanks to his placement in the prodigious Yankees lineup. Projections: 26 HRs, 72 RBIs, 119 runs, 17 steals, .261 average.
22. Adam Lind, Blue Jays
With an on-base percentage that has climbed steadily in the last three years -- including the .370 in 2009 -- I am reasonably certain that Lind will approach 175 hits and .300-plus average this season. As for the 35 homers ... that's an entirely different kind of flying altogether. But then again, I'm not in the business of denigrating studs with .932 OPS rates.
23. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
Keeper-league owners would be wise to move heaven and earth to acquire McCutchen for the next 3-5 years ASAP ... unless you enjoy buying on the bubble down the road. On some levels, McCutchen draws comparisons to a younger Granderson; but I liken him to Alex Rios, circa 2006. Projections: 17 HRs, 73 HRs, 74 runs, 38 steals, .282 average.
24. Andre Ethier, Dodgers
If Ethier channels his 2008 self and hits .300 or above this season, then he'll be a major steal on draft day. After all, what's not to love about 30-homer, 100-RBI, 90-run potential, year-in and year-out? And that doesn't even cover his back-to-back seasons of .500-plus slugging. Boom! Projections: 27 HRs, 104 RBIs, 97 runs, 3 steals, .288 average.
25. Carlos Beltran, Mets
If fully healthy, Beltran would have easily garnered a higher ranking in this countdown. But an ambitious May return from knee surgery has knocked him back -- not unlike Alex Rodriguez in 2009. Projections: 18 HRs, 66 RBIs, 71 runs, 7 steals, .315 average.
26. Alfonso Soriano, Cubs
How bad was Soriano last year? In two separate instances, I dumped him in a deep-rostered fantasy league for Cody Ross and Chris Coghlan ... and yet, he boasts a higher preseason ranking than any Marlins outfielder. What's that old saying about people who "fail to remember the past?" Projections: 24 HRs, 64 RBIs, 66 runs, 11 steals, .273 average.
27. Adam Dunn, Nationals
Just like last year, I'll make a gentleman's bet with the world that Dunn will finish with 38-41 HRs, 98-103 RBIs AND 3-4 stolen bases. He's that consistent, regardless if he's trade-deadline fodder for the sad-sack Nats. Projections: 39 HRs, 104 RBIs, 75 runs, 3 steals, .254 average.
28. Hunter Pence, Astros
I was going to write a paragraph about how Pence continues to be underrated force. But then it dawned on me that a 28th ranking isn't necessarily a glowing endorsement of his diverse talents. Perhaps he'll move up 4-5 slots before spring training ends. Projections: 24 HRs, 75 RBIs, 76 runs, 16 steals, .281 average.
29. Corey Hart, Brewers
Hart should have no problems returning to his old form -- where 20/20 was the norm. He's 28 and hasn't sustained a major injury that would curtail his production. Plus, he has the luxury of being in the National League's most potent lineup. Projections: 21 HRs, 83 RBIs, 74 runs, 20 steals, .264 average.
30. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
Speaking of 20/20, the Colorado-Oakland trade involving Matt Holliday is looking really good for the Rockies, huh? Yes, Huston Street has been a pleasant surprise at Coors Field, but the coup de grace remains Gonzo, who's primed for a McCutchen-like breakout. Projections: 22 HRs, 64 RBIs, 61 runs, 26 steals, .273 average.
31. Carlos Quentin, White Sox
There are two ways of looking at Quentin's fantasy prospects for 2010: The optimist would point to his MVP-quality season of 2008 (36 HRs, 100 RBIs, 96 runs) -- in just 130 games. The pessimist would point to Quentin's injury-prone ways -- which includes the '08 campaign -- and deem him an unreliable source for success this year. This one's almost too close too call. Projections: 24 HRs, 72 RBIs, 59 runs, 4 steals, .284 average.
32. Jay Bruce, Reds
In a perfect world, we'd be able to confidently predict Bruce's numbers based on 150 games played. And in that perfect world, we could gauge whether or not he'll be a regular All-Star with the Reds. But with only 209 MLB games under his belt, it's still too early to project greatness (or mediocrity) for the 2007 version of the Next Great Thing. Projections: 22 HRs, 63 RBIs, 59 runs, 7 steals, .264 average.
33. Manny Ramirez, Dodgers
Steroids or no steroids, I'm amazed that Man-Ram still has relevance in fantasyland. His home-run potential has been artificially enhanced, he's lazy on the basepaths and looks like he's never worked out with weights or run three consecutive miles a day in his life. Plus, he's 38. Ouch. Projections: 21 HRs, 72 RBIs, 64 runs, 1 steal, .278 average.
34. Garrett Jones, Pirates
If it appears strange to see a player in his late-20s with a .939 OPS and 42-homer pace from '09 this low in the countdown, you're not alone. Simply put, this is based on the assumption that Jones will likely endure some kind of sophomore slump. Hope we're wrong. Projections: 26 HRs, 79 RBIs, 69 runs, 8 steals, .289 average.
35. Ben Zobrist, Rays
How's this for taking both sides of an argument? On one hand, I'm not dismissing Zobrist's All-Star breakout from 2009 (27 HRs, 91 RBIs, 17 steals, 91 runs, .297 BA). After all, Zobrist has been a highly regarded staple of the Rays' fertile farm system for many years ... and finally, at age 28, he's making the most of his opportunity. On the flip side, I believe that Tampa Bay scored a major coup in acquiring Sean Rodriguez in the Scott Kazmir trade. Rodriguez, in my opinion, is the Rays' future at second base. Best way to rectify this quandary? Simply take Rodriguez as a last-round handcuff (unless his cover is blown with a big-time spring).
36. Johnny Damon, Tigers
I have very little to say about Damon here. Really. Projections: 17 HRs, 74 RBIs, 85 runs, 12 steals, .286 average.
37. Nate McLouth, Pirates
McLouth regressed in runs, homers, RBIs, steals, batting average, strikeouts, slugging, OBP and OPS last year. For what it's worth, he also regressed in preseason ranking amongst the outfielders from 2009-10. Put it all together, and we're skittish about being too positive about the season ahead -- even if McLouth finally becomes an integral cog on a playoff-contending club. Projections: 21 HRs, 66 RBIs, 84 runs, 17 steals, .267 average.
38. Denard Span, Twins
If you're seeking career highs in homers and/or RBIs from Span in 2010 ... perhaps you'd be more comfortable grabbing the 39th and 40th-ranked guys. But if you're expecting career highs in runs, steals and average ... this might be your fantasy lottery ticket after Round 11. Projections: 7 HRs, 51 RBIs, 98 runs, 29 steals, .314 average.
39. Michael Cuddyer, Twins
Cuddyer owes an improved preseason draft ranking to his 32 homers from 2009 ... and Justin Morneau's well-chronicled back injury last September. Such versatility probably has greater meaning in AL-only leagues, which explains his pedestrian location in this countdown. Projections: 25 HRs, 88 RBIs, 82 runs, 2 steals, .278 average.
40. Kyle Blanks, Padres
I should have probably gone the veteran route (Alex Rios? Nolan Reimold?) at No. 40 ... but there's just something about Blanks' Ryan Howard-like potential with the Padres -- even with PETCO Park as his home address. As a rookie last year, Blanks bashed 1 HR/14.8 at-bats, with very little lineup protection, to boot. With 450 at-bats under his belt in 2010, Blanks could conceivably launch 30 homers (and 85-plus RBIs) without breaking a sweat.
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