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2020 Fantasy Baseball Primer: Outfield

by Andrew Gould | @andrewgould4 | Featured Writer
Mar 8, 2020

Outfielders rule the fantasy food chain, as every draft should begin with some order of Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Christian Yelich. Depending on how the room appraises pitchers, Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts could immediately follow.

The fun hardly stops there. Outfield may also possess the best upper-middle class of any offensive spot. The extent of that surplus depends greatly on the league. There are plenty to go around in shallow mixed leagues with only three starting slots. Of course, the formula changes in five-outfielder leagues.

The following tiers are based on my personal rankings, and category grades are determined based on 2020 expectations, not 2019 results. I used 10 games as an eligibility cutoff, mostly to make sure Yordan Alvarez could join the festivities.

Check out our early consensus rankings for 2020 fantasy baseball drafts >>

2019 Recap

Outfielders remained a fruitful source of fantasy production in 2019. Last season saw 35 of them finish among the top-75 hitters in FantasyPros’ Value Based Rank. Twenty-four hitters with OF eligibility reached the 30-homer plateau while 28 swiped at least 15 bags.

To varying degrees, Alvarez, Eloy Jimenez, Victor Robles, and Oscar Mercado delivered commendable returns as rookies. Meanwhile, post-hype sleepers Austin Meadows, Jorge Soler, Max Kepler, Willie Calhoun, and Kyle Schwarber all evolved into mixed-league mainstays.

Of course, not everyone lived up to expectations. Injuries derailed Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, Mitch Haniger, and Aaron Hicks, all of whom are now in danger of missing Opening Day.

2020 At a Glance

Because of the position’s depth, drafters often let strong contributions slip in pursuit of other needs. In a three-outfield league, drafters should strongly consider the high supply. Tier 4 features a bevy of high-profile options rounding out the top 35. When needing five outfielders, particularly in mixed leagues with more than 12 teams, gamers shouldn’t overstate the position’s bounty. They also, however, have no need to reach. Several underrated veterans and bounce-back candidates are available well beyond the top-150 picks. A few are bound to drop in every draft.

Last year’s elite neophytes could soon have company in Luis Robert, Jo Adell, and Kyle Tucker. More patience, however, could be required of them.

Grade Legend*

A: A no-doubt stud capable of winning you a category
B: A solid, consistent contributor
C: Won’t lose you the category, but won’t win it, either
D: You can do better here
F: You’re getting NOTHING

(*Grades listed are relative to position and take positional depth into consideration.)

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Tier 1

PLAYER TEAM AVG R HR RBI SB NOTES
Mike Trout LAA A A+ A+ A+ B Trout will remain the king as long as he stays healthy and steals 15 or more bases.
Ronald Acuna Jr. ATL B A+ A A A+ Nobody else is as a legitimate a 40/40 threat. Only batting average could get in the way of superstardom.
Christian Yelich MIL A A A A A- Yelich would be getting far more No. 1 pick consideration if not for last year’s late knee injury.
Cody Bellinger LAD B+ A A+ A+ B Massive contact gains suggest the breakout is for real.
Mookie Betts LAD A- A+ A- B+ B+ Betts could trade a little average for power outside of Fenway. He’s still leading off in a loaded lineup.

 

For the first time in years, there’s a valid case to make against taking Trout with the first pick. He’ll need to avoid the IL and replenish his stolen bases to retain the top spot, so opting instead for Acuna or Yelich instead is hardly a “look at me” selection. And yet Trout’s floor remains the highest after posting a 184 wRC+ last season. Pick No. 4 is a tougher choice now that Betts is leaving Boston to play alongside Bellinger, who will get plenty of chances to drive in his new MVP teammate. Don’t lose too much sleep over ordering these superstars, all of whom should be the top hitters off the board.

Tier 2

PLAYER TEAM AVG R HR RBI SB NOTES
Juan Soto WAS A- A A A B- The best is yet to come, but drafters will gladly take a 2019 repeat.
J.D. Martinez BOS A A A A+ D As reliable as they come, Martinez has eclipsed a .300 AVG, 35 HR, and 100 RBIs in each of the last three seasons.
Bryce Harper PHI C+ A A A B Rising strikeout rate eliminates the chances of Harper hitting .300 again, but he fills the other four standard categories with an elite walk rate.
Starling Marte ARI B+ A- B B+ A Marte is money across the board. Drop him down in OBP or points leagues.

 

Settling for the second tier says far less about Soto than the superstars perched above him. The 21-year-old is still a worthy late first-round pick who could join the truly elite next year. Martinez is also a terrific high-floor investment after hitting .304 with 36 homers in a “down” year. Harper still isn’t cheap, but he’s dropping closer to a fairer price for a prolific compiler who may never rediscover past MVP form. Marte comes with far less excitement, but his skill set is perfectly tailored for a five-by-five roto league.

Tier 3

PLAYER TEAM AVG R HR RBI SB NOTES
Charlie Blackmon COL A A+ A- B+ C Blackmon’s steals, starting with 2015: 43, 17, 14, 12, 2. He’s still a stud who hit .379/.435/.739 at Coors last season.
George Springer HOU B A A- A- C Health, diminished speed, and turmoil in Houston have concealed Springer’s 39 HRs and 156 wRC+ in 2019.
Yordan Alvarez HOU B+ B+ A A D Alvarez looked like a future Triple Crown winner in his debut, but projection systems are curiously cautious on his batting average.
Austin Meadows TB B B B+ B B The current cost doesn’t pay much mind to his struggles to stay on the field.
Ketel Marte ARI A- B+ B B+ B- Last year was the ceiling, but hitting .290 with 25 HRs and 10 SBs would hardly be an ugly drop off.
Kris Bryant CHC B A A- B C Statcast’s expected metrics (.246 xAVG, .460 xSLG, .347 xwOBA) sound the warning sirens, yet he’s routinely outperformed them and should again plate 100+ runs as Cubs’ leadoff hitter.
Whit Merrifield KC A- A- C+ C- A- Averaging .298 AVG, 15 HR, 33 SB, and 91 R over the last three seasons, it’s safe to say Merrifield is for real.
Eloy Jimenez CHW B B A A- D A strong finish puts a .280, 40-HR season firmly in play.

 
Some may want to combine Tiers 2 and 3; none of these guys should slip past the fifth round of a 12-team league. Blackmon, Springer, and Alvarez — he played 10 games at outfield, so he’s a DH only option in some leagues — are viable picks in the middle-to-late third. Those who get cold feet over the injured Yankees can instead bet on the younger Jimenez carrying over his second-half momentum (.292, 15 HRs in 59 games) into a full-fledged breakout.

Tier 4

PLAYER TEAM AVG R HR RBI SB NOTES
Tommy Pham SD B- A- B- C+ B+ One of just nine 20/20 players last year, Pham should score way more than 77 runs batting second for San Diego.
Eddie Rosario MIN B B+ A- A C A better 5X5 fantasy than real-life hitter, Rosario should once again drive in 100 RBIs in a stacked Twins lineup.
Giancarlo Stanton NYY C+ A- A A- D Stanton has only pleased investors once in the last five years. Of course, he won leagues in 2017 and could easily do it again. But he likely won’t be ready for Opening Day (calf).
Victor Robles WAS C+ B+ C+ C A Horrid Statcast metrics dampen his power upside, but Robles could run wild if the Nationals give him the chance to lead off.
Michael Brantley HOU A B+ B- B+ C Leading the majors in contact rate from 2018-19, Brantley should have no trouble hitting over .300 again.
Ramon Laureano OAK B B B C B He’s too unpolished to bank on another .288 AVG, but Laureano’s power/speed upside is immense.
Marcell Ozuna ATL B B A- A- C+ Ozuna made major improvements in walks, hard hits, and barrels despite the drop in AVG (.241). Any steals are gravy.
Nick Castellanos CIN B+ B+ B+ B+ D Castellanos was looking like a draft-day steal before moving to Cincinnati. If success with Cubs (16 HRs, 1.002 OPS in 52 games) is any indication, he’s on his way to his first career 30-homer campaign.
Jeff McNeil NYM A A- B- B C+ McNeil is more than an empty average after tallying 23 HRs and 5 SBs in 133 games.
Joey Gallo TEX D B+ A A- C Gallo was on the verge of filling everyone’s wildest dreams before getting hurt. Despite batting .253 in 297 PAs, the average remains a major concern.
Jorge Soler KC C B+ A A- D The raw power was never in question, but can Soler stay healthy and play 162 games again?
Luis Robert CHW C+ C+ B C B+ Robert could go 20/20 right out of the gate, but there’s enough rawness to envision early growing pains a la Yoan Moncada.
Michael Conforto NYM C+ A- A- A- C Pay for the 2019 baseline (.257, 33 HR, 90 R, 92 RBIs, 7 SB) rather than expecting another leap.
Trey Mancini BAL B B+ B+ B+ D The 35 HRs will drop if the balls return to normal, but Mancini’s 2019 otherwise looks more sustainable than his BABIP-fueled 2017 breakout.
Andrew Benintendi BOS B A- C B B He doesn’t do any one thing but particularly well, but Benintendi — once considered a future star — is only 25 with a 20/20 2017 and 103-run 2018 on his resume. Could lead off again.
Oscar Mercado CLE C+ B+ C+ C+ B+ Mercado has the makings of a cheaper Robles, especially if Cleveland continues to bat him second.
Max Kepler MIN C A A- B+ C- A shoulder injury halted the breakout, but 30+ HRs and 90+ runs are easily repeatable.
Aaron Judge NYY B- B A- B C It’s not a matter of if, but how long he’s sidelined with a rib fracture. Judge already fell short of 500 PAs in both 2018 and 2019.

 
There’s plenty of value to expunge from this grouping. Ozuna and Castellanos have each deservedly gained popularity after landing in favorable spots. Even if his steals are dwindling, our ECR identifies Rosario as a steal at his current ADP (86). The same is true for Pham, Brantley, and Kepler. I’m frequently targeting outfielders at this range.

All these options make it easier to resist the Evil Empire’s injured sluggers. Judge plummetted all the way from Tier 2 to the bottom of Tier 3 when his Opening Day status became clouded in mystery. He now drops beyond the top-100 overall players after Aaron Boone said the outfielder has a fractured rib that could require surgery. Judge may drop more without any encouraging developments. Stanton was looking like the ultimate boom-or-bust proposition even before injuring his calf. At a certain point, however, the 2017 NL MVP becomes a worthy gamble who could still swing leagues if returning in April.

Tier 5

PLAYER TEAM AVG R HR RBI SB NOTES
David Dahl COL A- B- B B- C+ Dahl set modest personal bests with 100 games played and 413 PAs last season. He isn’t running nearly much as expected either … but Coors.
Franmil Reyes CLE C B A A- D He faded down the stretch after trade to Cleveland, but the 24-year-old Reyes punishes baseballs.
Kyle Schwarber CHC C B+ A B+ D Schwarber hit .280/.366/.631 with a significantly lower K rate (21.8%) in second half. He’s improved enough to escape a platoon and alleviate major AVG concerns.
Danny Santana TEX C+ B- B B- B Don’t pay for the out-of-nowhere breakout.
Byron Buxton MIN C C B- C A- Buxton had his best year yet, but it was limited to just 87 games. Health is now far bigger worry than production.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. TOR B- B- B B+ B- His brother’s late power surge drew more attention, but Gurriel Jr. hit .292/.339/.580 with 20 HRs after returning from a demotion in late May.
Lorenzo Cain MIL B B+ C- C- B+ Cain hit .260 despite a .290 xAVG; last year’s dip could prove a false alarm.
Mallex Smith SEA C- C+ D D A+ He’ll need to find middle ground between .290 AVG in 2018 and .227 AVG last year to hold a spot in fantasy (and Seattle’s) lineups.
J.D. Davis NYM B B- B+ B D Don’t screw this up, Mets. Playing time is the only deterrent to J.D. Davis becoming a poor man’s J.D. Martinez.
Willie Calhoun TEX B B B B D Calhoun showed major pop when finally given the chance. He didn’t strike out much (15.7%) and routinely hit for a high average in the minors.
Yasiel Puig FA B- C+ B C+ B The longer he remains unsigned, the more Puig will fall.

 
This tier is loaded with upside … and risk. Will Dahl or Buxton every stay healthy? Can Santana possibly replicate last year’s 28 homers and 21 steals, and are Smith’s steals really worth the drain on every other category? Those guys may not warrant the hassle, but the rest of this tier is awfully tempting. Drafters needing power past the 10th round should highlight Reyes and Schwarber, each of whom could pelt 40-plus dingers with a handful of walks. Davis’ 2019 outburst looks legit; it’s just a matter of the Mets keeping him in a lineup that will get awfully crowded if Yoenis Cespedes is ready to attempt a comeback. Calhoun is getting oddly overlooked for a formerly hyped 25-year-old who performed well (.351 wOBA, 21 HRs in 83 games) in his first prolonged taste of action. Cain, meanwhile, looks like a prime bounce-back candidate to return value in five-outfielder formats.

Tier 6

PLAYER TEAM AVG R HR RBI SB NOTES
Tommy Edman STL B C+ C+ C B+ Although power came from nowhere in 2019, Edman could be a nice source of AVG and SB if ADP doesn’t grow out of hand.
Bryan Reynolds PIT B+ B C+ B- C He may not hit .314 again, but Reynolds has the skills and minor league track record to remain an AVG asset.
Justin Upton LAA C- B B+ B+ C Upton had reached at least 26 HRs and 8 SBs in six straight seasons before tumbling in an injury-plagued 2019. Could easily return to 90-100 RBIs batting behind Trout and Anthony Rendon.
Scott Kingery PHI C- C B- C B+ Strikeouts create a low AVG floor at the bottom of the order, but 20/20 potential is real.
Alex Verdugo BOS A- B C+ C C+ Verdugo could turn strong contact skills into a key role for Boston. Just don’t let the hype get too out of hand; he likely won’t be ready for Opening Day due to a back injury.
Adam Eaton WAS B+ A- C+ C- B Eaton could easily go 15/15 with 100 runs again … as long as he stays healthy.
Kyle Tucker HOU C C B C B This should be the year Houston finally lets Tucker loose. Steamer projects 20 HRs, 14 SBs in just 99 games.
Shin-Soo Choo TEX C+ A- C+ C B- Death, taxes, Choo getting under-drafted. A solid asset in any format, he’s a stud in OBP or points leagues.
Hunter Dozier KC C B- B- B- D .279 AVG is the most dubious part of 2019 breakout. Unlikely to be a major contributor anywhere.
Andrew McCutchen PHI C+ B+ B C C McCutchen was as steady as they come before tearing his ACL last year. The owner of a .378 OBP (2019 and career) should regain leadoff role in Philly when he returns, likely sometime in April.
Ryan Braun MIL B- C+ B- C+ B- Braun hasn’t fallen off nearly as much as drafters seem to think. He can still go 20/10 with a good AVG in 450-500 PAs.
Garrett Hampson COL B- B- C+ C B+ Hampson showed his league-winning ceiling in September (.318, 5 HR, 9 SB), but his basement-level floor through August.
Avisail Garcia MIL B- C+ B- C+ B- Although he’ll likely open 2020 in a timeshare, Garcia has all the tools for a substantial breakout in Milwaukee.
Nick Senzel CIN C+ C C+ C B It’s unclear where he’ll play or if he’ll ever be ready for Opening Day (shoulder).
Joc Pederson LAD C- C+ B+ C+ D Pederson will stay in a platoon as long as he’s with the Dodgers, who will reassign his leadoff role to Mookie Betts. Stay on the lookout for another trade.

 

Boring veterans! Get your boring veterans! Those starting five outfielders still don’t need to fill out the spots too hastily, as Choo and Braun both routinely fall beyond the top-200 picks despite often offering 20-homer, 10-steal campaigns. A full year of health led to 103 runs for Eaton. McCutchen and Upton, meanwhile, are prime bounce-back candidates after injuries halted years of reliability from the former stars. And although they’re much younger, Reynolds and Verdugo could fall under the radar as unflashy hitters fueled by plus contact skills rather than prolific power or speed.

Tier 7

PLAYER TEAM AVG R HR RBI SB NOTES
Jo Adell LAA B- C B- C B- He’s an elite prospect with game-changing potential, but Adell is likely to stay stuck in the minors for a bit.
David Peralta ARI B B- C+ B- C- Peralta hit .292 with a .352 OBP in consecutive seasons before a down 2019. The 30-HR power isn’t coming back, but the rest can with better health.
Brett Gardner NYY C B C+ C B- Gardner hit 28 HRs with 10 SBs last season. Nobody seems to care.
Mark Canha OAK C B B C+ C- After only lefties throughout his career, Canha suddenly notched a 160 wRC+ vs. them in 2019. Rise in walks, hard hits suggests breakout wasn’t a total fluke.
Luis Arraez MIN A C+ D C C Arraez could win a batting title, but he won’t offer much else.
Wil Myers SD D C B- C B Ghastly 34.3% K rate cost Myers a starting job, and yet it’s impossible to ignore someone who went 28/28 in 2016 and 30/20 in 2017.
Brian Anderson MIA C+ B- C+ B- C Second-half surge (140 wRC+) raises hope of extra power jump.
Corey Dickerson MIA B C+ C+ B C- He’s hit at least .300 in the last two years and has a job at Miami’s likely cleanoff hitter.
A.J. Pollock LAD C+ C B- C B- Pollock looks stuck in the short end of a platoon now, but that could change if Pederson is injured or traded.
Jon Berti MIA C+ C- C- D B+ 30-year-old journeyman is not secured playing time following unexpected breakout. Berti could still steal 20 bags in super-utility role.
Nomar Mazara CHW C+ C+ C+ C+ C Drafters can’t keep paying for a mediocre hitter just because he used to be a top prospect. But Mazara is still only 25 …
Domingo Santana CLE C C B- C+ B- Last March’s MVP, Santana is now a bargain as a late signee whose 2019 resurgence took a hit due to an elbow injury. There’s not much competition in Cleveland’s outfield to block another go at a 25/10 campaign.
Shogo Akiyama CIN B- B- C+ C B- The 31-year-old routinely hit over .300 with steady power and speed in Japan. Think an Eaton type, but with a platoon possibility.
Austin Riley ATL D C B+ C+ D Riley belted 16 homers through 50 big league games, Then the strikeouts buried him. Raw power is still through the roof.
Aristides Aquino CIN C- C B+ C B- The talk of the town last summer in suddenly a demotion candidate with all of Cincinnati’s OF options.
Randal Grichuk TOR D C+ B+ B+ C- There’s probably no higher gear or hope of a solid average, but Grichuk is a cheap source of 30 long balls.
Gregory Polanco PIT C C C+ C+ B- Polanco says he’s 100% healthy from shoulder injury that limited him to 42 games in 2019. He averaged 18 HRs and 12 SBs from 2016-18.
Trent Grisham SD C C C+ C+ B- Grisham tallied 35 HRs and 13 SBs across all levels last year, and the Padres look poised to play him in CF.
Mike Yastrzemski SF C+ C+ B- C+ C Huge second half saw Yas hit .287 with 16 homers. He spent most of the summer batting first or second in San Fran.

 
This grouping isn’t relevant in a shallow mixed league that starts just three outfielders. However, there are plenty of solid fifth options and players better suited for 15-teamers. Gardner, Peralta, and Dickerson meet the last tier’s team of overlooked veterans. Elsewhere, there’s more exciting fresh faces (Adell, Arraez, Akiyama, Riley, Grisham) and options who’d go much higher with a defined role (Myers, Pollock, Berti).

Tier 8

PLAYER TEAM AVG R HR RBI SB NOTES
Austin Hays BAL C+ C C+ C B- An excellent post-hype sleeper, Hays quietly hit .309/.373/.574 as a September call-up and should play regularly in Baltimore.
Mike Tauchman NYY C C C+ C+ C+ Stanton and Judge injuries give Tauchman a clearer path to playing time, making him instantly draftable following last year’s unheralded breakout.
Ian Happ CHC C- C B- C B- After spending most of 2019 in Triple-A, Happ notched a 127 wRC+ in 58 games with the Cubs.
Mitch Haniger SEA C C- C+ C- C Haniger won’t be ready for Opening Day after undergoing surgery on his herniated disk. Not worth the hassle after hitting .220 with a major rise in punchouts and pop-ups.
Niko Goodrum DET D C+ C+ B- B- Hard hits and walks are trending upward; he can at least go 15/15 with a full season of health.
Kole Calhoun ARI C- C+ B- B- C- The 33 HRs look like a byproduct of MLB’s power boom. Expect 20-25 with a double-digit walk rate plays better in OBP leagues.
Hunter Renfroe TB D C B+ C C- Remember when Renfroe hit 46 HRs from 2018’s second half to 2019’s first half? Now he could be relegated to only playing against lefties.
Anthony Santander BAL C C B- C C Approach is lacking, but there’s enough power to use him in 15-team and AL-only leagues.
Sam Hillard COL C+ C- C+ C- B- After slugging .647 in a tiny sample, the allure of Coors makes Hillard a worthwhile end-of-draft dart throw.
Brandon Nimmo NYM C- C+ C C- C+ A likely platoon and low average limit his 5X5 upside, but Nimmo remains a tremendous OBP play who should lead off against righties.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo TB C C- C+ C- D The lefty raker will likely have to settle for efficient numbers in a part-time role.
Dylan Carlson STL C+ C- C+ C- B- Given St. Louis’ quiet offseason, Carlson is a prospect stash who could force his way up sooner rather than later with a strong spring.
Nick Markakis ATL B C+ C- B D Don’t count out 90+ RBIs if Markakis plays every day over Ender Inciarte.
Kevin Pillar BOS C+ C- C+ C- B Fun fact: Pillar finished 2019 as the 31st-ranked OF with 21 HRs and 14 SBs. He won’t, however, get another 645 PAs (and maybe not even a starting job) in Boston.
Ender Inciarte ATL C+ C C- C- B Don’t count out 15-20 SBs if Inciarte plays every day over Markakis.
Kevin Kiermaier TB D C- C+ C- B Tampa Bay appeared to abandon any hope of Kiermaier staying healthy all year when acquiring the like-minded Manuel Margot.
Teoscar Hernandez TOR D C B C C+ Those who miss out on Grichuk can find another end-of-draft slugger in Toronto.
Jesse Winker CIN B+ C- C+ C- D A quintessential post-hype sleeper, Winker will cost nothing because of Cincinnati’s crowded outfield.
Stephen Piscotty OAK C+ C C+ C D Like in 2018, he could have a boring bounce-back with a .260, 20-HR season if healthy.
Tyler O’Neill STL C- C B C C With Ozuna gone, O’Neill has a golden opportunity to finally seize a starting role in St. Louis.
Franchy Cordero SD C C- B- C- B- A worthy power/speed lottery ticket who could at least see the strong side of a platoon.
Brandon Belt SF C- C+ C+ C C- Belt finally stayed healthy, but he’s yet to hit 20 HRs in a season. He’s a warm body with a starting gig.
Clint Frazier NYY C C B- C C- Yankees suddenly may have no choice but to start Frazier, whose power has never been a question.

 

Those willing to roll the dice on skills in the absence of certain playing time will find plenty of late talent available. While Tauchman benefits the most from injuries to Stanton and Judge, Frazier could also smash his way into a starting showcase. Both intriguing post-hype sleepers, Hays and Happ could move up a tier by locking down an everyday gig with a standout spring. These players don’t necessarily look like league-winners, but plenty could end up exceeding their minimal draft cost.

2020 Fantasy Baseball Primer: Catcher
2020 Fantasy Baseball Primer: First Base
2020 Fantasy Baseball Primer: Second Base
2020 Fantasy Baseball Primer: Shortstop

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Andrew Gould is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Andrew, check out his archive and follow him @andrewgould4.

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