2018 Outfield Primer (Fantasy Baseball)
The outfield is loaded. You can find everything you need at that position.
There’s elite talent at the top, a robust middle tier, and plenty of value to be had later in snake drafts or on the cheap in auctions. Let’s start tying some numbers to the outfield to really put things in perspective.
An outfielder, Mike Trout, headlines the ECR. He’s joined by Mookie Betts, Bryce Harper, Charlie Blackmon, and Giancarlo Stanton in the top 10 in ECR, and Kris Bryant brings the total to six players who are outfield eligible in the top 12. Aaron Judge, George Springer, and Cody Bellinger add three more outfield eligible players to the top 25 in ECR.
There are 17 outfield eligible players who are in the top 50 in ECR, 29 in the top 100, 45 in the top 150, and 63 in the top 200. As I stated above, the position is well represented across tiers and deep.
While the outfield is deep, it’s also important to point out that the position is also filled with players who are eligible at other positions. With that in mind, the depth can dry up quicker than gamers anticipate on in larger leagues that utilize five outfielders (and that’s saying nothing of leagues that also utilize a corner infield, middle infield, and/or utility spot, where some of the multi-position eligible outfielders could be used). The top-five outfielders in ECR — Trout, Betts, Harper, Blackmon, and Stanton — are all only outfield eligible, but you run into your first player who’s eligible at another position with Bryant at ECR 11.
Bellinger joins Bryant as a second player among the nine in the top 25 in ECR who’s eligible at a second position. Five of the 29 outfielders in the top 100 in ECR are eligible at another position.
That total grows to 12 of the 45 in the top 150, and 17 of the 63 in the top 200. This is a rather wordy way of cautioning gamers to not fall asleep at the wheel when filling out their outfield.
There’s ample thump in the outfield. In 2017, Stanton and Judge each bested 50 homers with an MLB best 59 and American League-best (second best in MLB) 52, respectively. All five players who surpassed 40 homers last year are outfield eligible. The top seven spots in the majors in homers in 2017 were filled by players who are outfield eligible this year.
The upper echelon is filled to the brim with gaudy producers. Last season, 74 players swatted at least 25 homers, 32 of them are outfield eligible.
As I’ve noted a few times in recent weeks, stolen bases are becoming more scarce as teams run less often. However, the outfield features the cream of the crop for base stealers. Billy Hamilton’s 59 stolen bases last year were the second-highest total in “The Show,” and the man he trailed, Dee Gordon (60 stolen bases), will be picking up outfield eligibility as Seattle’s starting center fielder. Of the six players who eclipsed 30 stolen bases, three have outfield eligibility in 2018.
Only 14 players stole at least 25 bases last season, and a whopping 10 of them are outfield eligible. If you lower the threshold to at least 20 stolen bases last year, 29 players hit that mark.
Out of those 29 players, 21 of them are outfield eligible, and Wil Myers (20 stolen bases) will pick up outfield eligibility early this year as a result of moving back to right field to accommodate the signing of Eric Hosmer. If you’re looking for top-end speed or merely a solid contributor on your roster, the outfield is a great place to look.
First of all, batting average isn’t the most static of statistics from year to year. Vagaries in batted balls can impact BABIP and, thus, impact batting average from one season to the next. Gamers in need of batting-average helpers can find plenty in the outfield.
There were 31 players who tallied at least 400 plate appearances and hit .300 or better last year, per FanGraphs, and 13 of them are outfield eligible. If the bar is lowered to a .275 average in at least 400 plate appearances, 82 players hit that mark. Out of the 82, 39 can be slotted into fantasy outfields this season.
The Prize Prospect
Ronald Acuna sits atop the top prospect lists at Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, and he ranks second on MLB Pipeline’s list. Experts aren’t sleeping on Acuna, and he checks in as OF49 and carries an overall ECR of 160. Gamers, in general, are even higher on Acuna as he’s OF40 by ADP, and he has an average ADP of 135.3 between ESPN, CBS, Yahoo!, RT Sports, NFBC, and Fantrax.
Acuna’s tools are tantalizing, and he has first-round pick upside in future seasons as a true five-category contributor. Last year, he opened at High-A (28 games and 126 plate appearances), was promoted to Double-A (57 games and 243 plate appearances), and closed the season at the Triple-A level (54 games and 243 plate appearances). Across the three levels, he hit .325/.374/.522 with a 7.0% BB%, 23.5% K%, 21 homers, and 44 stolen bases, according to FanGraphs.
In the upper minors (Double-A and Triple-A) last year, Acuna slashed .335/.384/.534 with a 7.2% BB%, 21.4% K%, 18 homers, and 30 stolen bases. In other words, he didn’t feast on High-A pitching and stumble in the upper minors. On the contrary, he kicked things up a notch when challenged as he climbed the minor-league ladder.
Our projections at FantasyPros peg the rookie for a .268/.320/.439 slash with 60 runs, 17 homers, 63 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases in 478 at-bats. Steamer is less bullish and projects him to hit .280/.329/.450 with 47 runs, 13 homers, 53 RBIs, and 20 stolen bases in 422 plate appearances. ZiPS, on the other hand, is the most bullish with a projection of .269/.321/.452, 73 runs, 21 homers, 73 RBIs, and 33 stolen bases in 594 plate appearances.
It’s possible Acuna breaks camp on the active roster, but it’s not necessarily probable because of financial reasons. As Cory McCartney of FOX Sports South notes, if the Braves send him down to the minors for a few weeks, they can gain another year of club control. We’ve seen this story before many times, and Kris Bryant comes to mind as a recent example.
However, we’ve also seen teams surprisingly break camp with an elite prospect. In fact, the Braves broke camp with Jason Heyward in 2010, and he’d tallied just 208 plate appearances in the upper minors to that point. Although the Braves took that approach with Heyward in 2010, they’ve since changed general managers and other front office personnel.
It’s probably wise for gamers drafting now to prepare for Acuna to open the year in the minors, and if he doesn’t, consider that gravy. Even if he opens the year in the minors, Acuna has the potential to hit value at his ECR or ADP or even exceed. Of course, he could also struggle at the game’s highest level.
He wouldn’t be the first prospect to stumble out of the gate. Regardless, his ECR and ADP are fair when accounting for the risk and the upside. I currently have him ranked as OF33. Acuna’s value in keeper and dynasty leagues is through the roof, and he’s one of the most desirable players to roster due to his sky-high ceiling long term.