Early 2012 Outlook: Top 20 OF

It has been a crazy year for outfielders; from the rise of Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson to the amazing fall of Carl Crawford and Jason Heyward. Here’s an early look at what the 2012 season might have in store.

Please note that these rankings are EXTREMELY early and there is a whole offseason worth of projections and analysis ahead.

1. Matt Kemp – I always thought he had this potential. Kemp will be as good as he want to be.
2. Ryan Braun – .333/.396/.599, 33/31, 107/110. Only the 30-plus stolen bases are a surprise.
3. Jacoby Ellsbury – Did anyone see this coming? Ells lowered his crouch (stance) and hands just slightly enough at the plate to change his swing plane, which resulted in more drives in the air and less ground balls.
4. Justin Upton – Continues to improve, still only 24.
5. Carlos Gonzalez – A slow start and nagging injuries held back his overall numbers, but still came within shouting distance of 2010 production.
6. Jose Bautista – Unlike last season, Bautista faded a bit in the second half. Not sure he repeats as a .300 hitter.
7. Curtis Granderson – The changes in his swing made in late 2010 certainly paid off big time this year. I’m guying the power/speed, but there is still risk in his AVG.
8. Carl Crawford – Perhaps only Adam Dunn had a worse, mostly healthy season. Before this season, Crawford’s track record was outstanding. Sometimes the stats don’t tell us everything and this might be a simple case of a player adjusting to a new environment and learning to deal with the pressures of a huge contract. I’m thinking bounce-back for Crawford in 2012.
9. Andrew McCutchen – One of these days, possibly next season, he’s going to break out with .290-.300 and 25/35.
10. Matt Holliday – Numbers remain steady despite missing some time with injury and moth in the ear.
11. Mike Stanton – Seemingly unlimited upside in the power department. As his pitch recognition improves, his AVG/OPB should rise. Still only 21 years old.
12. Michael Morse – See: Early Top 10 1B
13. Shin-Soo Choo – His 2011 was doomed from the start with a DUI and constant injuries. I’ll give him a pass (not on the DUI) and assume he’s healthy and ready to stare .290/20/20 in the face once again.
14. Josh Hamilton – There will always be an injury risk when it comes to Hamilton, but when he’s on the field he’s proven the natural ability to put up big numbers.
15. Alex Gordon – Finally, Alex Gordon had his breakout season. I believe in his 20/20 bat, but I think his AVG regresses from a .358 BABIP.
16. Ben Zobrist – On the verge of a 20-20 season, Zobrist has had a very nice bounce-back campaign. He should be able to perform at a similar level in 2012.
17. Michael Bourn – When Bourn gets on base, he often runs. However, his AVG has fluctuated each season since becoming a regular in 2008. His game is very BABIP dependent and there is reason to think that he won’t be able to repeat his 26% LD% and .367 BABIP.
18. Hunter Pence – It’s been a breakthrough season for Pence, but his limited power upside and .363 BABIP this season leave room for regression in 2012.
19. Jay Bruce – One day, maybe Bruce will put it all together. He finally broke the 30 home run mark, but had big problems against left-handed pitching and ended with an AVG below .260. That being said, he’ll only be 25 next season, so there is still room for progression.
20. Shane Victorino – Victorino was hanging around the NL MVP discussion for a while, but a flat-line September ended all that. Nonetheless, he has put together a very solid season and could see an improvement in the SB department if he can stay healthy. 
You may notice the leaving out of Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur. Color me skeptical. Both had excellent seasons, but both have less than thrilling track records and below average plate discipline on top of somewhat inflated BABIPs this season… I really like Desmond Jennings, but he has had some injury issues in the minors. There’s upside to crack the top 25 in 2012… Lance Berkman doesn’t make the top 20. He’s getting older and I’m not convinced he’ll have another month like he did this past April (and don’t forget the injury issues he had before this season). There are a number of names not on this list that have the potential to move up based on offseason moves/research.