The final part of my series of the top 100 outfielders for 2009 counts down the top 10. If you’ll notice, the longest capsules came in the middle of the rankings because those are your game breakers that will can boost your season over the top. Spending 250 words explaining why Carl Crawford or Matt Kemp is a stud (duh??) isn’t as useful as explaining why Shin-Soo Choo or Elijah Dukes is a worthy addition to your fantasy roster and is likely worth that extra dollar or slight reach to secure their services.
Enjoy the final countdown:
10. Carl Crawford, 27, Tampa Bay Rays – Wouldn’t you know it, the Rays have their best season ever and Crawford has his worst?! Injuries contributed largely to the digression from his usually amazing offerings. Nothing in his foundational skills suggest that he won’t come back as good as ever in 2009 so invest the standard 50-stolen base speed with double digit power, a ton of runs, around 75 driven in and a .300 average. Outside of a league filled with inexperienced members, it is doubtful that Crawford’s injury-shortened season will depress his value much at all. For the top 10 outfielders, I will add where the guy went in two mocks I’m following. One is mlb.com’s Fantasy 411 podcast expert’s draft and another is one I’m participating in with a group of guys from the fantasy baseball message board Rotojunkie.com. 411: 2nd round – 20th pick overall/7th outfielder taken, RJ: 2nd round – 24th pick overall/7th outfielder taken.
9. Jason Bay, 30, Boston Red Sox – That’s the Bay we were used to prior to 2007! He still hasn’t completely come back to 2005/2006 levels against left-handers, but everything else is back on track and a full season in the Red Sox lineup will be trouble for opposing pitchers. A 2006 redux with more runs scored and driven in thanks to the Red Sox lineup seems very likely for Bay in 2009. Despite a great rebound back to previously established levels, Bay might still drop a bit as a result of the collapse in 2007. He has a legitimate shot to jump back into the $30 dollar levels as a part of that Red Sox lineup. 411: 4th round – 37th pick overall/15th outfielder taken, RJ: 4th round – 40th pick overall/14th outfielder taken (I got him).
8. Matt Kemp, 24, Los Angeles Dodgers – He whet the appetites of fantasy owners with a great 292 at-bat sample in 2007, but the glut of outfielders coming into last season helped give Kemp a little more value. Sure, he was the odds-on favorite for the third spot with Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre, but there were no guarantees for him getting 500 at-bats. Well he got 606 and didn’t disappoint in the least. He used out and out destruction of lefties (.369) to fuel a .290 average along with 18 home runs and 35 stolen bases. He boosted his power in the second half portending 20+ HR potential to match that elite speed making a better than $30 season a very real possibility if everything breaks in his favor. 411: 4th round – 44th pick overall/17th outfielder taken, RJ: 3rd round – 33rd pick overall/12th outfielder taken (I got him, too).
7. B.J. Upton, 24, Tampa Bay Rays – Fears that his power was gone as opposed to merely absorbed by a sore shoulder were erased with a monstrous playoff (7 home runs). For the trouble of dropping 13 home runs off of his 2007 total, he did add 22 stolen bases giving him nearly equal value year over year. The big gains in walk rate and contact rate are very promising, too. Come off of surgery on that shoulder might prevent him from maxing out his potential in 2009, but look out in 2010. For now, I expect a move back into double digits for power and continued elite speed en route to a high $20s season in value. 411: 2nd round – 18th overall/6th outfielder taken, RJ: 2nd round – 15th overall/4th outfielder taken.
6. Josh Hamilton, 27, Texas Rangers – Was there a better story than Hamilton in 2008? He is showing why he was the #1 overall pick all the way back in 1999. It is hard to peg a “prime” for a guy like this because of the time he missed so perhaps he is still improving like a 24-25 year old as opposed to establishing a prime level like most 27-year olds. How good is a player when he hits 13 home runs, drives in 50, steals six bases and hits .298 and it’s is labeled a 2nd half fade? It isn’t unreasonable to expect another boost in performance from this guy, but an even a repeat of his $30 dollar season would be a great success. 411: 2nd round – 16th overall/4th outfielder taken, RJ: 1st round – 10th overall/3rd outfielder taken.
5. Carlos Lee, 32, Houston Astros – His fourth straight 30-100 season was a lock before a broken finger derailed his season. He still only missed the mark by two home runs despite just 436 at-bats. He has a remarkably strong skillset that is as consistent as it gets. There are at least three more 30-100 seasons coming from Lee including another monster season for 2009. He was pacing near the 40 home run mark before last year’s injury and while I don’t know he can do that again, a 2007 repeat brings in almost $30 dollars of value. I feel like he is slipping a bit despite nothing in his skills that should give owners pause. 411: 3rd round – 26th overall/10th outfielder taken, RJ: 3rd round – 26th overall/9th outfielder taken.
4. Carlos Beltran, 32, New York Mets – His home run totals are in a three year decline while his batting average and stolen base totals are in a three year incline. The power drop is no doubt tied to a huge uptick in groundball rate from 2007 to 2008, but the slight gains in speed and batting average plus 23 extra runs offset the six home run loss. He is no longer a flashy pick that makes you think of 40/40 potential like back in 2004, but it is hard to argue with how much production he offers across the board. 411: 2nd round – 15th overall/3rd outfielder taken, RJ: 2nd round – 22nd overall/5th outfielder taken.
3. Alfonso Soriano, 33, Chicago Cubs – I feel like people are forgetting that Soriano missed a bunch of time due to injuries and managed just 453 at-bats. That is the only way I can explain why he’s not being given credit for nearly going 30-20 in those 453 at-bats. Even at 33, he is still one of the best players in the entire game when it comes to fantasy baseball. He is still one of the preeminent power-speed combos with 30-30 a real possibility if he can stay on the field all year. In these two mocks and a few others I’ve seen, Soriano is representing a value pick when you consider he his potential in 550-600 at-bats. 411: 2nd round – 22nd overall/9th outfielder taken, RJ: 2nd round – 23rd overall/6th outfielder taken.
2. Ryan Braun, 25, Milwaukee Brewers – Is this guy really 25?!?! The two seasons that he has put up are amazing on their own, but then you consider is age and it’s unthinkable. His numbers are legit, his skills are legit and there is growth in this profile. His difference-making power turns heads, but it’s his mid-to-high teens speed and quality batting average that make him an elite first round pick. He could be on the verge of one of those special seasons that will just carry an entire fantasy team. 411: 1st round – 12th overall/2nd outfielder taken, RJ: 1st round – 9th overall/ 2nd outfielder taken (I got him… yep, I took three from the list’s top nine).
1. Grady Sizemore, 26, Cleveland Indians – My #1 ranked guy didn’t drive in 100 runs and he hit .268, so I know what you’re thinking… are you crazy? The reason I like him so much is that he didn’t have to do anything extraordinary to get near 35 HR/40 SB. He finished at 33/38 and it wasn’t due to two out of this world months, instead he just put up quality month after quality month. A better September (2 HR/3 SB) could’ve taken him to the famed 40-40 heights. He is cutting K’s while maintaining a solid walk rate. The Indians lineup should be consistently viable throughout the entire season which will only help Sizemore’s runs scored and runs driven in. We might get that 40-40 season in 2009. 411: 1st round – 11th overall/1st outfielder taken, RJ: 1st round – 5th overall/1st outfielder taken.