Since outfield is such a deep position and keeper league can range in depth, we’re going to go nuts here and take a look at 50 outfielders plus look at a bunch that just missed.
Note: There is a fine line between ranking for 1-3 years down the road and 3-5 years down the road. This makes it difficult to place certain rookies or prospects with little or no major league service time. Keep that in mind as you read through these rankings and be sure to adjust according to your league’s keeper format. For the most part, I will do my best to look at the next 1-5 years worth of projection.
1. Jason Heyward l Age: 21
On a pure talent level, there is almost no one in the game that can match Heyward. He has plus-power, good speed, great plate discipline and a rocket for an arm out in right field. Despite having some rookie struggles this season, Heyward has posted an .808 OPS to this point. Not bad for a guy who just turned 21.
There are some issues with his health to be concerned about, as he has missed time this season with knee problems. He also missed time in his minor league career.
While there is still a ton of room for Heyward to grow, his ultimate fantasy value may not come for a couple more seasons. As long as your keeper format doesn’t limit you to a 2-3 year contract, he’ll be well worth the investment.
2. Justin Upton l Age: 22
Another young super-talented individual, Upton has failed to give us his breakout performance in 2010, but there is plenty still to come. Upton has his flaws, like an extremely high whiff rate that corresponds to a very high strikeout rate. However, his upside greatly out-weighs such flaws. Already closing in on his second 20/20 season at age 22, the potential for 30/20 should be well within reach as soon as next season. His AVG may vary greatly from year-to-year, but you’re not going to find much more long term upside in an outfielder – outside of Heyward – in any keeper format.
3. Ryan Braun l Age: 26
2010 has been a down year for Braun. Maybe he loves fashion a bit too much. Maybe he has been playing through injuries most of the season – His recent wrist injury would explain a lot of the loss in power. Injuries are the only reason I can see, as his peripheral numbers all look quite similar to his previous seasons. The potential for 40 home runs one day is certainly there and a healthy Braun should easily approach .290/30/15 as he hits his prime seasons.
4. Matt Kemp l Age: 25
I feel you Torre. It’s frustrating to roster a player with such immense talent only to see him routinely not give 100 percent. There is no doubt in my mind that Kemp could go 30/30 if he put his mind to it. Instead, he has regressed with his plate discipline and has a career worst stolen base success rate. The only thing holding Kemp back is Kemp himself, but I’ll take my chances on his talent in a keeper league.
5. Mike Stanton l Age: 20
At 20 years of age, Stanton has posted an OPS over .900. Sure he strikes out a ton, but that’s always going to be a part of his game. He also hits a ton and that’s always going to be a part of his game. There is not a single prospect in the game today with Stanton’s power upside – well, maybe the newly signed Bryce Harper, but let’s get him in some game action first – and as young as he is he has shown the ability to improve his plate discipline. I wouldn’t be surprised if he puts up Adam Dunn type power production with the upside for a few 50 home run seasons.
6. Jay Bruce l Age: 23
Wrist injuries and power hitters don’t mix. Bruce fractured his right wrist last July and hasn’t been the same power hitter since. This season he has zero home runs to the opposite field and only one to center.
The right hand is Bruce’s guide hand. It “pulls” the bat through the zone while the back hand “pushes” the barrel through. At the point in which the ball is pulled (for a left-handed batter), more force is being applied to the “push” hand. When a pitch is taken the other way, the ball gets deeper in the zone and the “push” hand has less impact as it has yet to get through the zone.
At least in theory this could explain why Bruce hasn’t hit for as much power in 2010. The good news is that he should come back to 100 percent in that wrist by next season. Given the improvements in his line drive rate, next season could be a true breakout year for Bruce. He might actually come at a bargain price right now in keeper formats.
7. Carlos Gonzalez l Age: 24
Talk about having a breakout season, Car-Go has gone well above and beyond any preseason expectations. My preseason projection called for a .278/.345/.512 line with 25 homers, 22 stolen bases, 76 runs and 80 RBI. He’s basically at those numbers now (with a much higher slash line) and it’s only August 17th. However, there is reason to expect a regression from Car-Go next season. His .365 BABIP is quite high given that he is very much a free swinger. Still, the talent level here is extremely high and the fact that he’s only 24 makes his keeper value skyrocket, even if he regresses a bit.
8. Andrew McCutchen l Age: 23
McCutchen is almost exactly where he was through 470 plate appearances last season minus some RBI and runs. Given how often we see sophomore slumps, this is good news indeed. At age 23 and with room to grow, the future is extremely bright for this young star. He has the potential to put up .290/15/30 production annually with upside for 20/40.
9. Carl Crawford l Age: 29
Ever heard of a player having their best season in a contract year? Well, Crawford may not in fact be having his best season, but he’s going to come close. The only issues I have with Crawford come in his below average plate discipline. He is a bit of a free swinger and doesn’t draw a ton of walks. As he ages and his speed regresses, some of those balls in play that were hits before will turn into outs. This isn’t to say that Crawford won’t be a valuable fantasy asset for the next few seasons, but there is a good chance he gets leaped over by some of these younger prospects before long.
10. Josh Hamilton l Age: 29
One comparison I’ve heard a lot this season when people write or speak about Josh Hamilton is Mickey Mantle. That is about as high praise as a ballplayer could get on a pure talent level and I am almost ready to buy it. Like Mantle, however, Hamilton won’t be held back by his talent, but rather the possibility that his body breaks down sooner than expected. Hamilton battled through injury problems last season and they had been a part of pre-breakout past. Also, he’ll be 30 early next season. So his prime years may have already passed him by.
11. Matt Holliday l Age: 30
Holliday seemingly never takes a vacation from his high level of production. He has not hit under .300 since 2004 and has hit 20 or more home runs every season since 2005. While he’s not the .320/30 superstar that he once was, there is no reason to believe that he won’t continue to produce at his current level for the next few seasons.
12. Desmond Jennings l Age: 23
Jennings was ranked as a top ten prospect across the board this preseason. While things haven’t gone according to plan this year, he’s still hitting .290/.361/.418 with 32 stolen bases in 397 plate appearances. He has Carl Crawford-like potential in the long run and could be with the Rays as a full time player as soon as next season.
13. Colby Rasmus l Age: 24
While Rasmus’ overall numbers look good right now, he still needs to cut down his strikeout rate big time if he wants to find consistent success as the years go by. Rasmus has struck out over 30 percent of the time in 2010 while hitting fly balls at around a 50 percent clip. The combination on strikeouts and fly balls can be death to an AVG, but Rasmus has got by this season with a high .342 BABIP. His future as a 25/15 player is for real, but his value may be held back by fluctuations in AVG.
14. Jacoby Ellsbury l Age: 26
With all the criticism that Ellsbury encountered this season while on the DL, he didn’t hold back much once he was back on the field. Ellsbury had six stolen base attempts in nine games before re-injuring his ribs. This will be something to monitor this offseason. A healthy Ellsbury still has the potential to approach 50 steals once again.
15. Domonic Brown l Age: 22
Brown didn’t burst onto the scene when called up by the Phillies this season, but his long term potential for some .300/20/20 seasons still looks bright. Give it a couple of seasons, but I think he’ll get there.
16. Shin-Soo Choo l Age: 28
If not for missing time in early July, Choo would be on the cusp of another 20/20 season. He’s as solid a hitter as there is when projecting forward. .290/20/20 should sustain for the next few seasons.
17. Andre Ethier l Age: 28
It’s been a slow comeback from a broken finger, but Ethier seems to finally be finding his stroke at the plate. When 100 percent healthy, Ethier is capable of hitting for AVG with 25-30 home run power.
18. Chris Young l Age: 26
It may finally be coming back together for Chris Young. He has done a great job of lowering his strikeout rate this season and cutting back on his swings and misses. This is a great sign as he enters his prime seasons. The 30/30 potential is still there, but I’m not ready to bet on a consistent AVG just yet.
19. Adam Lind l Age: 27
The good news? Lind is still showing 20-plus home runs power. I think this was a clear case of trying to hard to repeat his tremendous 2009 season. The same thing happened with Aaron Hill. His approach has been much more aggressive and pull happy. If he can get back to basics in 2011 he might be a solid comeback value, which should help his keeper status going forward.
20. Chris Carter (A’s) l Age: 23
0-for-19 with nine strikeouts was not the major league debut Carter wanted, but that doesn’t do much to change his future projections. See more in his first base keeper ranking.
12.0pt;”>21. Alex Rios l Age: 29
Rios has had four and a half solid months and one extraordinary month this season. In May, Rios hit .344 with a season high eight home runs. His stolen base total has regressed every month this season. Taking nothing away from the great season he is having, pushing 20/30, but there is risk involved in his keeper value due to some inconsistencies over his career.
22. Hunter Pence l Age: 27
If nothing else, Pence is consistent. He’ll approach another .285/20/15 season in 2010 while possibly setting career highs in R/RBI. He’ll never be great, but that’s fine as your second or third outfielder.
23. B.J. Upton l Age: 25
Waiting. Waiting. Still waiting. Instead of improving his plate discipline, Upton has actually regressed. His strikeout rate is close to 30 percent, is whiff rate is at 26.5 percent and he has chased pitches outside the strike-zone more often than in any other major league season. His power numbers have actually shown slight improvement, but he’s still miles away from the 24 home run season he had in 2007. The talent has always been there, but getting the most out of that talent seems to be the problem. Could he break out in 2011? Sure, but he’s just as likely to keep you waiting for it to happen once again.
24. Adam Jones l Age: 25
At this point, we know two things about Adam Jones. One, he has a ton of talent. Two, his lack of plate discipline is holding him back. Jones is a free swinger that doesn’t make great contact, which has led to some less than stellar AVG’s. Regardless, he should be a reliable source of 20/10 with potential for more R/RBI in the future as the O’s attempt to put together a competitive offense.
25. Delmon Young l Age: 24
If someone had asked me Delmon Young’s age, off the top of my head I would have said 26. Not yet. Still only 24, Young came into the season in tip-top shape and has had a nice breakthrough season. His contact and strikeout rates have improved, but he still hasn’t shook off his free-swinging ways (41 percent chase rate). His walk rate hasn’t been over two percent since the end of May. While I see a ton of talent that just needed commitment, I also see a risky plate approach that could lead to some ups and downs in the long run.
26. Nick Markakis l Age: 26
If Markakis could ever gain the confidence to start targeting pitches to pull more often, he could see a big jump in power numbers. His SLG is .661 and ISO .287 when he pulls the ball to right this season. Both numbers are in line with his career AVG when pulling the ball.
27. Ryan Kalish l Age: 22
Ranking Kalish this high might make me seem a little high, but he has done nothing but out produce all of his fellow Red Sox prospects along the way to the big leagues. He had 13 home runs and 24 stolen bases in only 293 at-bats between double-A and triple-A this season and he is doing more than just holding his own at the big league level now. He may not be an impact player this season or even next season, but the potential for some 20/20 seasons down the road is quite enticing.
28. Jayson Werth l Age: 31
While the power and speed numbers aren’t what they were the last couple of seasons, Werth is hitting for AVG and has set a career high in doubles (38 currently). However, the chances of the Phillies re-signing Werth this offseason look slim. That could indeed hurt his value. Werth is hitting .352 with a .654 SLG and .302 ISO at home and hitting .265 with a .426 SLG and .161 ISO on the road.
Should he move to a ballpark less hitter friendly as Citizens Bank Ballpark, he could become a real bust for 2011 and beyond.
29. Curtis Granderson l Age: 29
Wasn’t the short porch in right ay Yankee Stadium supposed to help Granderson? Well, he only has a .239 AVG with six home runs at home this season. Grandy still can’t hit lefties (.229 AVG against LHP this season) and he has hit way more fly balls than ground balls, a trend that has continued his entire big league career.
If Granderson is going to hit that many fly balls, he better make sure he pulls them. His HR/FB rate when he pulls the ball is an extraordinary 30 percent.
He still has enough upside to do some major damage in Yankee stadium.
30. Nelson Curz l Age: 30
Imagine what this guy could do if he were to have a season free of the DL. Imagine a season where he is free of the DL. There’s your only, and huge, problem.
31. Shane Victorino l Age: 29
Victorino has set a career high in home runs this season, but he has sacrificed some AVG to do so. However, he has been doing a better job of limiting his fly balls and turning to a line drive/ground ball approach as the season has gone along. Given his mix of medium power and good speed, Victorino will be a valuable keeper for the next few seasons capable of .280/12-15/25-35.
32. Carlos Quentin l Age: 27
Quentin is the epitome of a slugger. He he’ll swing and miss a ton, but when he makes solid contact he can drive the ball a long ways. The biggest issue with this keeper value is the wear and tear his body has already endured. Unless he starts to DH at an early age, he may decline faster than a less injury prone player of his skill set.
33. Corey Hart l Age: 28
As of this article, Hart has only hit five home runs since July 1st. He hasn’t had a single month in which he hit more than five homers except for May, when he hit 10. He has only drawn eight walks in that time frame, while he drew 11 walks in the month of June alone. Think that three-year extension has anything to do with it? And where are the stolen bases? (in Ken Macha’s back pocket) As good as Hart’s numbers have looked in 2010, he has been far from consistent. This could be a risky play going forward.
34. Denard Span l Age: 26
Span’s AVG is down this year, which is a big deal as he doesn’t put up any huge counting numbers. The weird thing is that he is hitting only .216 on the road, which has never been a problem in the past. If that split ends up being an outlier, which seems likely, Span should bounce back in 2011 and be a decent deep league keeper option going forward.
35. Grady Sizemore l Age: 28
I am afraid that Grady Sizemore may never have a chance to live up to expectations. Sizemore’s knee injury might be something that lingers and affects him the rest of his career. It is a similar injury to the one Carlos Beltran is dealing with and everyone sees how much less of a player Beltran is currently. Yes, Sizemore is much younger, but he was inconsistent even before the injury. I’d be trying to unload him in a keeper format in hopes that another owner still believes in his potential.
36. Nick Swisher l Age: 29
Swisher took a more line drive/contact oriented approach this season and found that his power numbers wouldn’t suffer. However, even this new approach might not turn him into a .290-plus hitter in the long run. His .339 BABIP this season is by far the highest of his career. There is a lot of risk that this season will end up being his outlier.
37. Travis Snider l Age: 22
Snider’s swing generates a lot of power. It also generates a lot of swings and misses, which lead to a lot of strikeouts, which lead to a low AVG. Injuries have also been a part of his profile, which is a concern going forward. The upside for .275/25-30 home runs is there, but there is plenty of risk in putting too much stock into his projections.
38. Jason Kubel l Age: 28
2009 will likely go down as Kubel’s career year, but he still has the upside to be a solid third or fourth fantasy outfielder. His struggles against left-handed pitching will likely hold his AVG back, but 20-25 home runs for the next few seasons seems likely.
39. Jose Tabata l Age: 22
Tabata has been a touted prospect for a long time, but year-after-year he never seemed to be able to turn his natural talent into success on the baseball field and in the stat sheet. This season, Tabata finally turned the corner. While he’ll never hit for much power, his speed should give him some 30-steal seasons and his contact/plate discipline should give him a shot to hit .285-.300 annually.
40. Jose Bautista l Age: 29
See: 3B Keeper Rankings. Who knows what position he’ll stick at?
41. Ichiro l Age: 36
Though Ichiro is having another fine season, his team has actually been letting him down. Despite a .300-plus AVG and .360 OBP, Ichiro has only scored 50 runs to date. His age already knocks his keeper value down a bit. So too will the offense around him should nothing improve going forward.
42. Jason Bay l Age: 31
Citi Field: How you like me now?
Mets fan: Go f yourself.
Bay may not have made the best choice I going for the big bucks with the Mets. He certainly has the ability to hit for more power going forward, but his days as a 30 home run threat may be over.
43. Angel Pagan l Age: 29
Solid hitter showing what he can do with playing time. Some struggles as a right-handed batter hinder his overall potential.
44. Franklin Gutierrez l Age: 27
Last season it looked as if Gutierrez might finally live up to his 20/20 potential. He fell a bit short and this season he has fallen even shorter. Still only 27, there is a chance he gets to 20/20 over the next couple of seasons, but it’s only worth the risk in deeper keeper leagues.
45. Dexter Fowler l Age: 24
Fowler has been inconsistent at the big league level and a high strikeout rate (for his skills set) has a lot to do with that. If that changes, he could be a consistent threat for .290 with 30-plus steals. As for now, however, we’ll have to wait and see if it actually happens.
46. Vernon Wells l Age: 31
This is about what a healthy Wells can do: .275 with 20-25 home runs. He’s a good player, but not one that can come close to sustaining his April/May numbers.
47. Torii Hunter l Age: 35
I can’t really say anything bad about Hunter, other than the fact that he’s getting older. He has been a solid player throughout his career and a selfless one at that – as evident by his agreeing to move to right field for the Angels. There is just not a lot of long-term keeper value in a player of his age.
48. Michael Cuddyer l Age: 31
He’s one of those players that you look at and say, “Ehh.” At his age and skill level, which is well established, he’s not likely to have another huge season.
49. Brett Gardner l Age: 26
Gardner is the definition of a slap hitter. His .340 BABIP is a bit high, but not completely unsustainable if he holds a high line drive rate and ground ball rate. While Gardner had been doing just that from about May through most of July, he has fallen into a funk of late and his AVG has suffered because of it. Michael Bourn is a great example of how risky it is to rely on BABIP with this type of hitter. Juan Pierre in his heyday was an elite line drive machine. Gardner has not proven to be that just yet.
50. Drew Stubbs l Age: 25
There is no doubt that Stubbs has very real power/speed potential as he is knocking on the door of a 20/20 season through only 365 at-bats. The problem is and will be his AVG. He strikes out a ton and has held a whiff rate this season closing in on 30 percent, which is really bad. Given his track record, there isn’t a lot of hope that he’ll simply change his plate approach.
Others of note
Austin Jackson l Age: 23
Amazingly, this far into the season, Jackson still has a BABIP over .400. Granted, he is hitting a ton of line drives and ground balls, but how sustainable are those rates from year-to-year? The ground ball rate? Maybe, but a consistent line drive rate over 25 percent would be amazing. He doesn’t offer any huge counting stats for any other category, so his future value is in the hands of his AVG, which makes him a risky keeper.
Luke Scott l Age: 32
Scott’s second half breakout is something he’s been flirting with for a long time. He has always had the power, but has never been able to hold a high AVG. Now, hitting .295, Scott is doing it all. However, he still has his issues with left-handed pitching and a track record/age that suggests this is as good as it gets.
Carlos Beltran l Age: 33
Knee problems have killed his ability to be a star level player. He may be able to have a few hot streaks here and there, but the combination of failing health and declining skills should be too much to overcome with regard to his keeper status.
Brennan Boesch l Age: 25
Boesch had flashed plenty of power in the minor leagues, but had never hit over .300 in a single season. While he was a source of both power and AVG for a good chuck of his major league debut, that AVG has taken a nosedive down to .273 currently. He should be exactly what he was in the minors; a source of power, but not AVG. His approach is super-aggressive and leads to very few line drives. According to minorleaguesplits.com his career minor league line drive rate is only about 15 percent.
Carlos Lee l Age: 34
Looking more Prince Fielder these days – ok, not THAT bad – Lee is in a clear decline both at the plate and in the field. He needs to be a DH, but plays in an NL city.
Alfonso Soriano l Age: 34
He’s basically a non-factor anymore. Injuries have sped up his overall decline.
Bobby Abreu l Age: 36
He’s in decline and could fall off completely as soon as next season.
Juan Pierre l Age: 33
Still stealing a ton of bases, but his line drive skills have declined. Speed is next.
Tyler Colvin l Age: 24
Colvin has 18 home runs in only 286 at-bats. That’s one home run every 15.8 at-bats, or in other words, he’s doing his best Adam Dunn impression. With a HR/FB rate of over 22 percent, this home run rate screams fluke. If he’s not hitting a ton of home runs, his value takes a huge hit. Colvin is only hitting .248 on the year with a 29 percent strikeout rate.
Andres Torres l Age: 32
Torres has had a fine season, but the chances of him sustaining this production at the age of 32-33 are slim (24 percent strikeout rate and .354 BABIP).
Magglio Ordonez l Age: 36
Age and injures keep his keeper value low despite a solid season.
Bryce Harper l Age: 17
This is just a formality as the newest member of the Nationals franchise is signed on to start his professional career. We all know about the power upside and the Nats moving him to the outfield should help get him to the big leagues quicker. It’s going to be at least a couple of seasons in the minors for Harper, where he will no longer receive the front and center attention he did while in high school and junior college. How he reacts to his first failures will be a big part of his development as many have called out and questioned his attitude.