2019 Outfield Primer (Fantasy Baseball)
The outfield is a treasure trove of talent. It features premier stars at the top as well as specialists, well-rounded players, and depth. There’s a ton of established, elite talent and an influx of youth to add even more excitement and depth to the position. Whether you’re looking back at what players accomplished last year or looking ahead at 2019 expectations as measured by ADP and ECR, the outfield features an impressive group.
How loaded is the position exactly? Well, the three most valuable fantasy hitters in 2018 were all outfield eligible. Despite missing time and playing in only 140 games, Mike Trout was the seventh-most valuable hitter last season. He brought the total to four outfielders in the top-10 hitters in 2018. Six more players with outfield eligibility cracked the top-20 hitters, and only one, Whit Merrifield, was eligible elsewhere on the diamond. An astounding 23 hitters with outfield eligibility landed inside the top-50 hitters in 2018, and exactly half of the top-100 hitters were outfield eligible.
ADP and ECR
The ADP and ECR are in agreement on this season’s top two options, Trout and Mookie Betts. J.D. Martinez lands sixth in ADP but makes a third outfielder in the ECR’s top five. Reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich adds a fourth player to the top 10, ranking seventh in both. Ronald Acuna ranks 14th in ADP after living up to the hype and taking home NL Rookie of the Year, but the experts are even more bullish on his 2019 outlook, pushing his ECR up to eighth. There are 17 outfielders in the ADP’s top 50 and 28 inside the top 100. Looking at ECR, 18 outfielders land in the top 50 and 31 land inside the top 100. It should go without saying, but the outfield is obviously chock-full of statistical goodies.
Let’s start with the outfielders’ power credentials. Players with outfield eligibility posted the top four home run totals in 2018, led by Khris Davis* (48) and followed by Martinez (43), Joey Gallo (40), and Trout (39). Giancarlo Stanton (38) also joined them in the top 10. Of the 27 players who slugged 30 or more homers, 11 of them have outfield eligibility this year. Exactly 100 players hit 20 or more homers last year, and 46 of them are outfield eligible in 2019. There is no shortage of fence-clearing thump patrolling the outfield.
*With 11 games played, Davis is not outfield eligible in all leagues.
The outfield isn’t merely filled with hulking figures thumping dingers, either. Merrifield led MLB with 45 stolen bases last year. Only two other players hit or exceeded the 40-SB plateau, including outfielder Mallex Smith (40). Only 11 players stole 30 or more bases last year, and seven of them have outfield eligibility. If you lower the threshold to 25, Ender Inciarte (28) is one of four more players to make the cut. Just 28 players stole 20 or more bases last year, and more than half of them (16, to be exact) are eligible in the outfield this season. It’s not an exaggeration to call the outfield the home of the top speedsters.
Give an outfielder the crown for top batting average in 2018, too. Among qualified hitters, Betts’ .346 average led the majors. In fact, the top three qualified averages belonged to Betts, Martinez (.330), and Yelich (.326). Trout brought the total to four of the top five qualified hitters residing in the outfield. Sixteen hitters batted .300 or better last year, and 11 hold outfield eligibility. According to FanGraphs, MLB’s cumulative batting average was .248 in 2018. With that league average in mind, let’s use .275 as the baseline for a helpful fantasy batting average. In 2018, 50 qualified hitters batted .275 or better, and 24 of them are outfield eligible in fantasy games this year.
Last year, I highlighted Acuna in this piece as the prize prospect. As I stated above, he lived up to the hype. In 487 plate appearance, he slashed .293/.366/.552 with 26 homers, 16 stolen bases, a 9.2 BB%, and 25.3 K%. He’s only 21 years old, and he headlines the influx of young talent mentioned above.
He wasn’t the only standout rookie outfielder last year, though. Juan Soto slashed .292/.406/.517 with 22 homers, five stolen bases, a 16.0 BB%, and 20.0 K% in 494 plate appearances. He did all of this before blowing out the candles for his 20th birthday at the end of October. He doesn’t offer Acuna’s speed upside, but Soto’s plate discipline and hitting skills are elite, and they’re downright otherworldly for a youngster who isn’t even of legal drinking age in the U.S.
This duo of National League East outfielders set the bar high for rookie outfielders, and it’s unlikely any rookie outfielder will be able to clear it this year. That’s not a knock on this year’s rookie outfielders, as there are two who stand out as worthy of special discussion. Eloy Jimenez and Victor Robles both crack the top five overall prospects on FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB Pipeline. I’ll address the latter first since he has played in The Show.
Robles played in 13 games and totaled 27 plate appearances for the Nationals in 2017, and he recorded 66 plate appearances for them last year. He slugged three homers, stole three bases, and slashed .288/.348/.525 with a 6.1 BB%, and 18.2 K%. Robles missed substantial time early last season after suffering a hyperextended elbow. He played in 40 games at the Triple-A level, and in 182 plate appearances he hit two homers, stole 14 bases, and slashed .278/.356/.386 with a 9.9 BB% and 14.3 K%. The 21-year-old outfielder has plus speed and a plus hit tool. He’s far from punchless, too, and should reach double-digit dingers if he stays healthy and holds down a full-time outfield spot — that’s his for the taking unless the Nationals bring back Bryce Harper — for most of (or all of) this season.
Jimenez is a different type of prospect than Robles, as he doesn’t have plus speed. In fact, Jimenez stole zero bases in 108 games in the upper minors last year. He does, however, possess tons of thump that’s not accompanied by troublesome swing-and-miss issues. The 22-year-old prospect spent his 2018 season split almost exactly down the middle between Double-A (53 games and 228 plate appearances) and Triple-A (55 games and 228 plate appearances). In all 456 plate appearances, he ripped 28 doubles, three triples, 22 homers, and hit .337/.384/.577 with a 7.0 BB% and 15.1 K%. To add a little more context to his numbers, his total output resulted in a 168 wRC+, per FanGraphs.
In summation, the outfield is stacked with talent from the first pick of drafts through the last pick, and there’s more talent on the way.