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Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: Outfielders (2023)

Jan 31, 2023
Position Scarcity Draft Strategy & Targets (Fantasy Baseball)

The outfield gives us a large pool of rosterable players, so we owe it to ourselves to be flexible with outfield strategy.

It’s fine to target specific outfielders in your draft or auction, but with the position being so deep, the outfield is a good place to go value-hunting. There will be OF bargains. Saavy fantasy managers will recognize them and pounce on them.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit

Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy

I am guilty of overpaying for some players in my auctions and drafts, but I am rarely guilty of overpaying for an outfielder. The ample depth at the position makes it imprudent to lock onto specific targets and refuse to pivot when the price is too high.

It’s not sinful to overpay for a baseman — first, second or third — because talent is scarce at those positions. The realities of supply and demand sometimes require overpaying in order to obtain acceptable infield production. Outfield talent isn’t scarce, so overpaying for outfielders is a mistake.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Outfielders

Above all, the goal is to maximize value in the outfield.

There isn’t one optimal approach to populating your outfield, aside from the principle of maximizing value. You can go power-heavy, speed-heavy, or aim for statistical balance. You can go young or old. You can spend in a balanced manner or take more of a stars-and-scrubs spending approach.

Rather than map out a particular outfield strategy, I’ll lay out four guidelines that I try to follow when constructing my outfield.

1. Don’t stack superstars at the expense of other positions. Taking Aaron Judge, Mike Trout and Michael Harris II with your first three picks would give you outfield firepower unrivaled by any team in your league. It would also leave you undermanned at other positions, and you’ll discover that it’s more difficult to address infield and starting pitching deficiencies in-season than it is to address outfield deficiencies.

2. At-bats, at-bats, at-bats. Or plate appearances, if you prefer. The point is that quantity of playing time is important in the outfield. Most, if not all, of your outfielders should be everyday starters — and preferably ones who’ll have a top-five spot in the batting order. With plenty of outfield at-bats, you should be competitive in the counting-stat categories. It’s fine to roster a toolsy outfielder whose playing time is uncertain, but don’t roster more than one.

3. Go cheap with the final OF spot. As noted above, I think it’s fine to roster one toolsy outfielder with a squishy outlook for playing time. In fact, I want to roster one such player. It makes sense to gamble with your last outfield spot. There are usually some pretty good outfielders available in the free agent pool, even in deeper leagues. You might not be able to find a decent waiver wire third baseman in-season, but you can almost always find a decent waiver wire outfielder. That cushions the blow if you miss on an outfield gamble, so go ahead and take that promising rookie with your final draft pick or with $1 in the endgame of your auction.

4. Be vigilant about batting average. With talent scarce at first, second and third base, you might need to sacrifice batting average to acquire players at those positions who can pile up counting stats. With talent more abundant in the outfield, no such sacrifice is required when filling your OF positions. Outfield is the place to make up ground or get ahead in batting average, not lose ground.

Let’s dig into the outfield tiers. In addition to the rankings and tiers themselves, I’ll offer a few words about some of the players from each tier.

Please note that these rankings are limited to players who appeared in at least 20 games at second base or played more games there than at any other position.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings: Outfielders

Fantasy Baseball Outfielders Tiers & Draft Advice

Tier 1

Julio Rodriguez was mind-bogglingly good as a 21-year-old rookie, delivering multi-category goodness. The Statcast numbers confirm that J-Rod crushes the ball — his average exit velocity was in the 92nd percentile, and his max exit velocity was in the 98th percentile. Rodriguez stole only six bases from July on but still finished with 25. With his abundant power and his 98th percentile sprint speed, we could conceivably get a 40/40 season out of Rodriguez before long.

Aaron Judge turned in a season for the ages in 2022, mashing 62 home runs, batting .311 and finishing with 133 runs and 131 RBI. After missing struggling to stay healthy in 2018 and 2019, Judge has kept his body intact the last three years. As long as he’s healthy, the home runs will continue to pile up.

When the 2023 season begins, Ronald Acuna will be nearly two years removed from the ACL tear that prematurely ended his 2021 season and delayed the start of his 2022 campaign. The power didn’t fully return last season (15 home runs), but Acuna belted 41 home runs in 2019, his age-21 season, so we know he has big-time power to go along with his elite speed. He’s still just 25, and presumably the best is yet to come.

Juan Soto has 60 more walks than strikeouts over his five-year career. He has an outrageous .424 career OBP and a career OPS of .950. Soto hasn’t hit more than 34 home runs in a season, and he hasn’t driven in 100 runs since 2019, but there are monster seasons ahead for this 24-year-old hitting prodigy. Being able to get him around the first-round/second-round turn in drafts feels like stealing.

Kyle Tucker has strung together consecutive 30-HR seasons, and he established a career high in stolen bases last season with 25. One small complaint: Tucker might bat as low as sixth in a loaded Astros lineup.

Yordan Alvarez has massive power, a .296 career batting average and the knees of your grandfather. As Meatloaf once sang, two out of three ain’t bad.

Mookie Betts had somewhat of a power outage in 2021, hitting only 23 home runs, but he was back up to 35 HRs last year and chipped in 10 stolen bases. Will we get a rebound in batting average this year? Betts has a .293 career average and hit .346 in his MVP season with the Red Sox in 2018, but he’s batted under .270 the last two years.

Mike Trout hasn’t gotten 500 at-bats in a season since 2016, but the oft-injured star rakes when healthy, providing ample power and a batting average north of .280. He doesn’t run any longer, but that’s probably a good thing, as base stealing would only ratchet up the health risk.

Tier 2

There’s a case to be made that Michael Harris II belongs on Tier 1. His rookie season wasn’t that much less impressive than that of Julio Rodriguez, after all. But I just don’t know how much power we’ll get from Harris in his age-22 season. He hit 19 home runs last year in 441 plate appearances, but he had a 56% groundball rate. Unless he starts lifting the ball more, Harris might be capped at 20 HRs.

It would be fun to see what Luis Robert could do with a full season of good health. He made 401 plate appearances last season and batted .284 with 12 home runs and 11 steals (though he had zero stolen bases in the second half of the season). Robert has a 99th percentile max exit velocity along with other peripherals that highlight his power upside.

Randy Arozarena and Bobby Witt Jr. were the only MLB players to hit 20 home runs and steal 30 bases last season. A heavy groundball tilt caps Arozarena’s power upside, but he’s still a solid five-category contributor.

George Springer‘s power fell off a bit last season (25 home runs), but he made up for it with 14 stolen bases, which were the most he’s had in a season since 2015. Will Springer go back to being a 30-HR guy? Probably, but he’s 33 now, so age-related slippage is at least a slight concern.

Tier 3

Adolis Garcia was a force in 2021 with 27 HRs, 101 RBI, 88 runs and 25 stolen bases. He batted only .250, however, and his high strikeout totals suggest he might be a BA liability. Garcia will be 30 this season, so that stolen base total is much more likely to go down than up.

Speaking of batting average liabilities, Kyle Schwarber‘s mammoth power comes at a cost. He smacked a career-high 46 home runs in 2022 but batted only .218 and struck out 200 times.

Brian Reynolds is a high-quality hitter who’ll be downgraded because he plays on the Pirates. But what if the Pirates trade him? Reynolds will give you about 25 HRs and a batting average somewhere between .260 and .300. Put him in a good lineup and he could make a run at 100 RBI.

Take the discount on Nick Castellanos, who’s coming off a disappointing season in which his power mysteriously evaporated. Bet on a rebound from this professional hitter, who’ll be nestled in the middle of a potent Phillies lineup.

Remember the admonition earlier in this article to be vigilant about batting average with your outfielders? Drafting slap hitter extraordinaire Steven Kwan is a fine way to do that. Kwan batted .298 as a rookie and chipped in 19 stolen bases. He has no power to speak of, however.

Eloy Jimenez has big-time power and will bat above the league average, but he has zero speed and is an injury waiting to happen. He’s too expensive for my taste.

Tier 4

Byron Buxton is such an adventure. The Twins’ talented but porcelain outfielder belted a career-high 28 home runs in only .340 at-bats last year, but his BA plummeted from .306 in 2021 to .224 in 2022. Buxton’s batting average is a wild card, but you can count on power, speed … and injuries.

Arizona youngster Corbin Carroll is projected to bat leadoff for Arizona and could provide 20-25 home runs along with a little bit of power. But Carroll is 22 and has only 258 MLB plate appearances under his belt, so any projections for him have to be done in pencil, not in pen.

The MVP-caliber Christian Yelich of 2018-2019 is gone. Yelich his 80 home runs over those two seasons. He cleared the fences only 14 times last season. Yelich had modest HR totals when he was with the Marlins early in his career, but he was also close to a .300 hitter in those days. Yelich hit .252 last season and .248 in 2021. He still runs a little, but there’s not much to get excited about anymore. Yelich will be overpriced based on the name brand.

I’m probably too low on Kris Bryant, who could put up big numbers in Colorado if his health cooperates. But Bryant dealt with back and foot issues last year, and he hasn’t given us more than 77 RBI since 2016.

Tier 5

Brandon Nimmo is an interesting case. He has 80th percentile but hits too many groundballs to be a major home run threat. He has 80th percentile sprint speed but has never reached double digits in stolen bases. But Nimmo should provide a solid batting average, and because of his plate patience, he’s a real asset in OBP leagues. He could also score plenty of runs batting at the top of the Mets’ lineup.

Some people have suggested that the new shift rule could really help Cody Bellinger. But the shift isn’t the sole reason he’s batted .193 over the last two seasons. Bellinger still has the power potential that made him the NL Rookie of the Year in 2017 and the NL MVP in 2019, and he’s still only 27, so he could pull out of his career tailspin. Just understand that the BA risk with Bellinger is massive.

There’s a lot of enthusiasm for young Cardinals right fielder Lars Nootbaar (and he has a cool name). With a .231 average over 471 big-league plate appearances, Nootbaar has been a BA liability to date. But with advanced plate patience, Nootbaar probably won’t remain a BA liability for long.

Oakland’s Esteury Ruiz has 98th percentile sprint speed and the potential to steal a lot of bases for the A’s. But regular playing time isn’t guaranteed, and Ruiz could be a batting average risk.

Tier 6

Is this the end of the line for Charlie Blackmon? The Rockies’ hairy longtime stalwart batted .264 last year (33 points below his career BA), with 16 home runs and four stolen bases. An increased strikeout rate and decreased walk rate point to late-career slippage. But Blackmon was still useful last season and could give fantasy gamers another year of value.

Jesse Winker wouldn’t be the first player to get a power boost upon joining the Brewers and playing in their cozy park. After hitting 14 HRs in Seattle last year, Winker could be a candidate for 25 in Milwaukee. But he’ll still do fantasy teams more harm than good unless he can boost last season’s .219 batting average.

Trent Grisham offers an intriguing power-speed combination. He’s still only 26 and plays in a strong Padres lineup. But Grisham has a career batting average of .222, and his 25th percentile hard hit rate last season is not encouraging.

Harold Ramirez doesn’t offer much power or speed, but he batted .300 last season and tattooed lefties at a .360 clip. He could be a sneaky source of RBI batting near the middle of the Rays’ lineup.

Tier 7

Max Kepler is a comeback candidate after an injury-plagued 2022. The power that produced a 36-HR season in 2019 is still lurking, but Kepler has always been a batting average liability.

The Cardinals are still hoping for a breakout from former first-round draft pick Dylan Carson. He was decent in 2021, with a .266 average, 18 HRs and 65 RBI, but he batted .236 last year and cleared the fences only eight times. Carson is an end-gamer at best.

What should we make of Mariners uber-prospect Jarred Kelenic, who’s batted .168 over his first 558 MLB plate appearances? Kelenic is only 23, so it’s too early to give up on him, but it’s probably wise for fantasy managers to monitor his development from afar.

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