Top 5 Fantasy Baseball Prospects: Outfielders (2021)
The outfield offers a few prospects with 2021 fantasy potential. Four of the five outfielders included in this space spent time in The Show last year. The headliner is a postseason star who came up just short of carrying his team to a championship.
5. Cristian Pache (ATL)
Pache’s calling card is his defense. Defense in itself doesn’t help fantasy squads, but if it keeps him in the lineup in the event his bat struggles at times as he adjusts to big-league pitching, it has value in that sense. From a fantasy perspective, Pache is most likely to help fantasy clubs with his speed.
The young center fielder’s speed/run tool gets plus or better grades from MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs. His speed checks out statistically, too. Among players with a minimum of 10 opportunities, Pache’s sprint speed is tied for 24th fastest out of 454 qualified players, per Baseball Savant. He hasn’t reached double-digit stolen bases since swiping 32 in Single-A back in 2017, but his wheels allowed him to steal seven bases in High-A in 93 games in 2018 and eight in 104 games in Double-A in 2019. The upside’s there for him to reach 10 or more steals this year despite falling short in the minors in recent seasons.
His bat is likely to keep him in the bottom-third of Atlanta’s order, hurting his run and RBI upside. However, he has enough pop to reach the teens in taters. Pache’s strikeout rate is a bit high (24.0% in 433 plate appearances at Double-A in 2019) for someone with modest pop. However, his speed should help him run high BABIPs and keep his batting average from being a train wreck, albeit probably not helpful for fantasy purposes.
4. Jarred Kelenic (SEA)
Kelenic’s 2021 fantasy value will come down to how much the Mariners manipulate his service time. Jeff Zimmerman of RotoGraphs shared a news snippet in his Mining the News piece that leads him to believe “it’ll be just a couple of weeks for Kelenic to work on his defense before getting called up.” I’m more bearish. THE BAT, ATC, Steamer, and FanGraphs Depth Chart projections have plate-appearance projections ranging from 309 to 368, as you can see on his FanGraphs page. That range feels about right to me.
Kelenic offers five-category potential. His across-the-board contributions were on display in 500 plate appearances split between Single-A (218), High-A (190), and Double-A (92), hitting .291/.364/.540 with a 10.0 BB%, 22.2 K%, .248 ISO, 23 homers, and 20 stolen bases in 27 attempts. He’s worth drafting to stash in leagues as small as 12-team mixers, and he’s a must-add in shallower formats than that upon his promotion to the Mariners.
3. Dylan Carlson (STL)
Carlson is the first of three prospects featured who received substantial playing time for their parent club last year. He barely still qualifies as a prospect after playing in 35 games and amassing 119 plate appearances. His struggles that resulted in a demotion to the alternate site briefly and hamper his overall numbers are the reason he’s still eligible for this piece.
Overall, his .200/.252/.364 slash and 29.4 K% last year are ugly, but he finished strong slashing .278/.325/.611 with two homers in 40 plate appearances after returning from the alternate site, according to FanGraphs. He did strikeout in 30.0% of those plate appearances, so there’s still work to do. Strikeouts weren’t a problem in the minors, though, with just a 22.8 K% in 79 plate appearances in Triple-A and a 20.3 K% in 483 plate appearances in Double-A 2019. I like his odds of improving his contact rate substantially this year.
Carlson’s stolen-base upside isn’t as high as Kelenic’s, but he did steal 20 bases in 2019. He also projects to help in homers and batting average. Further, Carlson has a path to claiming a prominent lineup spot, bolstering his run and RBI potential. I have Carlson ranked as a top-50 fantasy outfielder.
2. Ryan Mountcastle (BAL)
All Mountcastle has done in professional baseball is hit, which didn’t change in 140 plate appearances for the Orioles last year when he slashed .333/.386/.492 with five homers — albeit with an unsustainable .398 BABIP. Before projecting it to plummet, take note he ran a .343 BABIP in 379 plate appearances at High-A, .339 BABIP in 428 plate appearances at Double-A, and .370 BABIP in 553 plate appearances at Triple-A in 2017, 2018, and 2019, respectively. Running high BABIPs are the norm for Mountcastle, but some regression is almost certainly in order.
Mountcastle is an aggressive hitter who walks at a below-average clip but has managed acceptable strikeout rates in turn. He struck out in 21.4% of his plate appearances for the O’s last season, and he sported an identical 21.4% in 1,067 plate appearances in Double-A and Triple-A combined in his minor-league career.
Mountcastle has the hitting ability to surpass 20 homers with a batting average north of .275. He could steal a few bases, but banking on more steals than you can count on one hand is unwise. His bat should find itself nestled into the heart of Baltimore’s rebuilding lineup after totaling 76 plate appearances hitting third or cleanup last year. His lineup spot bolsters his run and RBI potential. I have him ranked as a low-end OF3 or high-end OF4. Mountcastle played 10 games at first base and should have eligibility there at some fantasy providers, adding positional flexibility as a bonus.
1. Randy Arozarena (TB)
Arozarena was excellent in the regular season with sporadic playing time, but he went nuts in the postseason. After slugging seven homers, stealing four bases, and slashing .281/.382/.641 with a 7.9 BB%, and 28.9 K% in 76 plate appearances in the regular season, he smashed 10 homers with a .377/.442/.831 slash, 9.3 BB%, and 22.1 K% in 86 plate appearances in the postseason.
He’s not going to sustain his homer pace, but his power is legitimate. Arozarena’s average flyball/line-drive exit velocity of 96.8 mph was identical to Joey Gallo’s mark and tied for 29th-highest out of 437 players with a minimum of 25 batted-ball events, per Baseball Savant.
He can fly on the bases, too. His average sprint speed of 28.8 feet/second tied for 31st-fastest out of 454 players with a minimum of 10 sprint opportunities. He used his plus speed to steal 26 bases in 113 games between Double-A (24) and Triple-A (89) in 2018. Arozarena followed that up with 19 stolen bases in 111 games split between Double-A (28), Triple-A (64), and MLB (19) in 2019.
Arozarena offers a drool-inducing power/speed combination. A 30/20 season isn’t an outlandish outcome for 2021. He’ll hit in a run-production-friendly lineup spot and, if he’s able to carry over his reduced strikeout rate from the postseason to this year, a high batting average could be in the cards, too. I’m buying what he’s selling, and I have him ranked as OF8.
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