A four part series covering the two most vast positions in fantasy baseball will begin today with part 1 of the outfielders. There will be an accompanying piece finishing up the outfielders over the weekend and then a two-part series on starting pitchers later in the month. Both iterations will have updates in the rankings throughout the rest of the off-season done in a “rankings-only” format, that is just the pasting of an excel shot like Top 10 & Honorable Mention lists had that I did back in October. I strongly encourage feedback on the rankings and look forward to hearing what you think about them, so please utilize the comments section below. And now, the bottom half of the top 100 outfielders:
100. Rajai Davis, 28 years old, Oakland A’s – He managed 30 stolen bases in 218 at-bats despite just a .248 average and awful .278 on-base percentage. Imagine what 20-25 points of on-base percentage could do for that speed!? Betting on over 300 at-bats is risky, but the fragility of Oakland outfielders (Travis Buck & Ryan Sweeney specifically) add to that potential and you have to love him as a single-digit option or reserve round material for your ballclub.
99. Brandon Moss, 25, Pittsburgh Pirates – It seems like Moss will be the everyday guy in right field for the Pirates and with a full season’s worth of at-bats, he could be one of those unsung guys that gives you a decent line when you check back in October. It’s doubtful he will excel at any one thing, but he could deliver upwards of 15 home runs with handfuls of runs scored, driven in and stolen bases.
98. Carlos Gonzalez, 23, Colorado Rockies – Obviously Coors Field is significantly more beneficial to hitting than McAfee Coliseum, but there is a lot to work on for Gonzalez. After the Matt Holliday trade, there were rumblings that Gonzalez might be flipped again soon but those rumors have tempered and now it looks like he will vie for a spot with the Rockies. There is talent for a 12 and 12 type of season, but any investment in Gonzalez is likely one for the future.
97. Travis Buck, 25, Oakland A’s – As mentioned earlier, Buck has had trouble staying on the field. He doesn’t have an overwhelming skillset even when fully healthy, but he is another guy that doesn’t hurt you anywhere. The Oakland offense stands to improve with the addition of Matt Holliday and health elsewhere so Buck’s runs scored & driven in could see a boost, too. The downside is another year riddled with nagging injuries that prevent him from taking a step forward.
96. Nate Schierholtz, 25, San Francisco Giants – I can’t think of any reason for the Giants to not play Schierholtz for 350-400 at-bats, but by the same token I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he ends the season on the wrong side of 300. He should join Fred Lewis and Aaron Rowand in the San Francisco outfield, but it’s likely that he will have to battle Randy Winn and Dave Roberts for his chances. He is a free swinger with a solid power-speed combo, but uncertainty around opportunity should limit how high you go on draft day.
95. Josh Anderson, 26, Atlanta Braves – The outfield is wide open in Atlanta giving Anderson a great shot at locking up 400+ at-bats. It remains to be seen how much else is there with Anderson, but a bankable category like speed will earn a roster spot in just about any format that finds him in the player pool. His price will be determined by certainty around playing time. Earlier drafts/auctions will see Anderson go at a bargain price.
94. Steven Pearce, 26, Pittsburgh Pirates – Again, the Pirates outfield appears wide open meaning guys like Pearce and Moss should be given ample opportunity to establish themselves as viable major leaguers. With a full season of at-bats, Pearce is someone that could easily find himself notching double digits in home runs and stolen bases. Pay for 300 at-bats because the Pirates are the type of team that would needlessly sign Garret Anderson and run him out there for 400+ at-bats.
93. Rocco Baldelli, 27, Free Agent – How can you not root for this guy? After everything he has been through, he continues to come back time and time again. Now just 27, he’s available on the free market with the Pirates, Rays and Red Sox all in the mix at press time. He will not be able to go everyday with his medical condition, but he can be a cheap source of power with regular playing time. For now, wait and see where he goes and what kind of role he will have for 2009… even then, he might be best left as someone else’s headache.
92. Chase Headley, 24, San Diego Padres – I think we all expected a full season of at-bats last year, but Scott Hairston and Jody Gerut emerged as viable options which left Headley with only 331 at-bats by season’s end. Headley is penciled in as the left fielder with 31-year old Gerut as the odd man out right now, but don’t be surprised if the three split two spots regularly. Headley projects as a bona fide run producer suited for the middle of the order, but Petco saps power like no other and could relegate him to the teens in home runs.
91. Ryan Spilborghs, 29, Colorado Rockies – He was great in 233 at-bats last year delivering across the board production, but I was surprised to see that he was 29 years old. With Matt Holliday and Willy Taveras both gone, only Brad Hawpe holds a secure spot in the outfield coming into the season meaning Spilborghs has a shot at 500 at-bats. A double-double (10+ home runs and steals) is a pretty safe bet with that kind of playing time.
90. Mark Teahen, 27, Kansas City Royals – Traded the 2007 speed and average for power, a trade that would be vetoed in most leagues. His walk rate has slid year-over-year since 2006 and in turn sunk his on-base percentage all the way to .311 last year. At his age, he’s not toast, but temper your expectations for this classic “what you see is what you get” guy.
89. Marcus Thames, 32, Detroit Tigers – He simply doesn’t play enough to warrant a higher ranking, but he is a reliable power source that is good for 20-25 home runs even if he doesn’t top 350 at-bats. Another negative tied to the lack of playing time is low totals in runs scored and runs driven in. Mix in a weak batting average and you have 4th/5th outfielder fodder.
88. Michael Cuddyer, 30, Minnesota Twins – Injuries stole 2008, but it opened the door for the likes of Denard Span who showed he’s worthy of several hundred at-bats even if at the expense of Cuddyer. The 2006 season is the clear outlier now and a return seems highly unlikely. If he’s not squeezed out by the youthful trio of Span, Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young, then he will offer a 2007 redux.
87. Aaron Rowand, 31, San Francisco Giants – More valuable in “real” baseball terms than he is for fantasy because of how well he handles the glove. Anybody that expected 2007 numbers last year was only fooling themselves and status quo in 2009 would be a good outcome here. He has lowered his stolen base totals yearly since 2004 making that category a non-factor at this point. A sprinkle of everything here, but nothing more.
86. Marlon Byrd, 31, Texas Rangers – Many were skeptical of a 30-year old breakout from 2007 and Byrd’s first half of 2008 justified those skeptics, but he rebounded with a blistering second half that included a .327 average and seven home runs in 280 at-bats. Invest in 450 at-bats approaching a double-double with plenty of runs scored & driven in thanks to a stout Texas lineup.
85. Ben Francisco, 27, Cleveland Indians – Teams that picked him up off of the scrap heap had to be happy with the returns from Francisco as he emerged into a full-time player. He’s been a double-digit thief throughout his minor league career, but went just 4-for-7 last year. Like the others in this tier, he’s got strong double-double potential with decent offerings in runs scored & driven in without killing your batting average. Don’t assume the speed in your bid, but power approaching 20 home runs should make up for it.
84. Jody Gerut, 31, San Diego Padres – Wow, where’d that come from? Don’t discount Gerut’s rebirth. After two years off, he’s a young 31 and still has plenty left in the tank for a fourth outfielder-type. He does most of his power damage away from home, but he still managed a healthy .295 average with 17 extra-base hits in the cave that is Petco Park. As it stands right now, Gerut is the odd man out in San Diego, but he will get a fair number of at-bats to work with this season.
83. Juan Rivera, 30, Los Angeles Angels – There was so much promise after he made good on a full complement of at-bats in 2006, but 2007 was lost to injury and 2008 was just bad. He re-signed with the Angels and Garret Anderson is now out of the picture so Rivera can log 450-500 at-bats of cheap power in the middle of the lineup.
82. Brian Giles, 38, San Diego Padres – A pending legal case hangs over the head of Giles and it could feasibly alter his status with the Padres depending upon how it plays out, but for now I’ll operate under the assumption that he will be available to and in the lineup for the Padres come April. Two down years in batting average seem linked to his performance against left-handers as he went from .217 and .241 in 2006 and 2007 to .301 last year boosting him 35 points in overall average from ‘07. OBP leaguers love the guy, but otherwise he doesn’t do a ton. He has shaved a home run a year since 2005 when he had 15 and has just 51 and 63 runs batted in the past two seasons.
81. Ryan Sweeney, 24, Oakland A’s – A prototypical Athletic with a very appealing skillset that can’t seem to stay on the field all season. He struggles mightily against lefties, but at worst he would be the good side of a platoon so if he’s healthy, he’ll play. His nine stolen bases last year were his highest yet and being part of Oakland doesn’t lend itself to many opportunities so temper your expectations there. A full season of at-bats could yield a .300-70-15-70-8 line.
80. Scott Hairston, 28, San Diego Padres – He came up as one of Arizona’s brightest prospects, but was shipped to intra-division rival San Diego for a song and he has shown flashes of what made him such a hot commodity years ago. He spent most of his time leading off which helps explain the low RBI totals despite 17 home runs (12 solo shots). In fact, he posted a .958 OPS and .294 AVG with 12 HR as a leadoff hitter; he hit just .199 otherwise.
79. Franklin Gutierrez, 26, Seattle Mariners – I got this one wrong big time last year. I scooped up Gutierrez wherever I could last year in hopes of a season approaching 20-20. Upon further review, I was overly optimistic in the first place. I won’t be making the same mistake again despite a clear opportunity for playing time in Seattle. At 26, hope isn’t completely lost but it’s hard to see development in Gutierrez right now. I’ll pay for a low end double-double with a middling batting average and accept anything more as bonus.
78. Josh Willingham, 30, Washington Nationals – A back injury derailed the beginnings of a career season for Willingham and he never really got going again. He was hitting .345 with five home runs in 108 at-bats when he was shelved for all of May and most of June. I think the Nationals’ lineup is starting to come together a bit which should allow Willingham to add some substance to his bankable power in the form of RBIs and runs scored. At worst, you’ve got 25 home runs.
77. David Murphy, 27, Texas Rangers – One of a bumper crop of rookies who was well on his way towards a 20 homer-100 RBI season until a knee ended his season prematurely. He wasn’t a grade A prospect, but the results weren’t overly surprising given his home environs. He joins Byrd, Brandon Boggs, Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton for the three outfield spots, but there is nothing to suggest that his rookie season was smoke & mirrors meaning he’ll get a fair shot at repeating.
76. Jose Guillen, 32, Kansas City Royals – It’s hard to find takers for sub-.300 on base percentages these days, just ask Dayton Moore. The Royals have dangled Guillen on the market but nobody appears interested and it’s tough to blame them. His 20 HR/97 RBI season looks usable on the surface, but the lack of any patience whatsoever and a horrible second half creates a dim outlook. If the second half carries over into the spring and/or early part of 2009, he could be pushed to the bench by Mark Teahen. Proceed with caution.
75. Adam Lind, 25, Toronto Blue Jays – Had virtually the same amount of playing time in both 2007 and 2008 and the skills displayed didn’t vary much: 11 in 290 AB for 2007, 9 in 326 last year, a 4.1 K:BB ratio in 2007, 3.6 last year and 36% XBH (extra base hit) rate in 2007 against 32% last year. With some more selectivity, he can be a .280-20-80 player in 2009, but pay for .270-15-80 and accept anything better as a bonus.
74. Nelson Cruz, 28, Texas Rangers – He finally translated his minor league success into the majors albeit in just 115 at-bats. However, he is now in a group of five vying for three spots… one of which is guaranteed to Josh Hamilton without question. Then it’s he, Byrd, Murphy and Brandon Boggs for the other two spots. The power stroke is legit and it is of course enhanced by playing in Texas. Meanwhile, he has stolen double digit bags in three of the past four seasons meaning a full-time gig would likely yield a robust power-speed combo in the neighborhood of 25-15. Playing time is the key here and I’m not certain he has it locked in.
73. Michael Bourn, 26, Houston Astros – The second player in our bottom quartile that managed a ton of stolen bases (41) despite an outright disgusting on-base percentage (.286). In his 594 major-league at-bats, Bourn is hitting .182 against lefties. If only the problems stopped there. Teammate Kaz Matsui scored one more run than Bourn in 92 fewer at-bats; Bourn needs an on-base percentage at or above .320 or he may start losing playing time. His lack of contributions elsewhere makes him a cheap speed option and right now there isn’t anything to suggest he will be anything but…
72. Jack Cust, 30, Oakland Athletics – Another category specialist, but Cust combines his massive power with an excellent eye that adds to his run scoring opportunities despite a .233 batting average. A friendlier home park could see him hit 40 home runs and become the American League’s Adam Dunn (though Dunn could move to the AL and be the AL’s Dunn himself!). For now, he’s a bargain bin home run hitter and he’s unlikely to veer from that distinction. His value skyrockets in OBP leagues, but standard leaguers are paying for 80-30-80 and you should be able to absorb the batting average hit as long as you don’t add Dunn, Jason Giambi or Mark Reynolds to your roster, too.
71. Cody Ross, 28, Florida Marlins – It was an up & down year for Ross. He posted a .415 OPS in April while failing to hit a home run and drove in just two. Then he blasted 10 home runs with 18 RBIs en route to a 1.259 OPS in May. He had another down month in June before evening out for the rest of the summer. The sum of it is that Ross is a legitimate double-digit home run hitter, but struggles mightily against righties (.249 in 317 AB) and could be robbed of playing time because of it. Playing as a 28-year old on a team in a perpetual youth movement doesn’t help either. Buying into a season with more than 400 at-bats is risky.
70. Jeremy Hermida, 25, Florida Marlins – After a disappointing season for a once-promising prospect, Hermida isn’t yet behind the eight ball because he is still just 25. That said, paying for 2007’s numbers is a mistake at this point even though it can be achieved. Until further notice, he is a dime-a-dozen outfielder that gives you mid-teens power and underwhelming numbers the rest of the way.
69. Ryan Church, 30, New York Mets – This one hurt on a personal level. I’ve always been a fan of Church and I pegged him for a big season last year. Things started off swimmingly, but then collapsed under the weight of two severe concussions. Completely healthy and ready to go, Church should be a 20 home run hitter with nice returns in runs scored and driven in thanks to that star-laden lineup for the Mets.
68. Eric Byrnes, 33, Arizona Diamondbacks – An amazing 2007 had Byrnes’ stock at its peak, an injury-riddled disaster last year has now bottomed out that same stock. Even 100% health on those hamstrings won’t facilitate a return to the 50-stolen base mark, but a double-double in the high teens with 75 runs scored and driven in is a fair expectation. The signing of Felipe Lopez hasn’t squelched all rumors of Byrnes being dealt to Boston. A move there would dent his value significantly as he’d move from starter to 4th outfielder.
67. Randy Winn, 34, San Francisco Giants – How is his speed improving at this advanced age?! Don’t bet on another 20+ stolen base season, but a double-double season with .285+ average is what you are buying here. He’s logged 600 plate appearances since 2002 so you know you can count on him. This team has made some great moves this off-season and they could hang around in the west deep into the summer with Winn playing the role of veteran leader with Randy Johnson for an otherwise very youthful team.
66. Jeff Francoeur, 25, Atlanta Braves – When it was all said & done, Francoeur was probably my biggest mistake of the 2008 season. I loved him for a big season. Everything went wrong for him. It started with him falling apart against lefties. They had never proven difficult for him since his arrival into the majors and then all of a sudden he hit .210 against southpaws in 2008. At the break, it was clear that 2008 was a washout, but I thought Francoeur might make some adjustments and have a reasonable second half to build upon for 2009. He didn’t. At 25, there is hope, but the leash could be short given the stable of young outfielders in the Braves’ system. An 80-20-80 would be a success as he re-figures it out.
65. David DeJesus, 29, Kansas City Royals – He doesn’t wow you with his fantasy contributions, but the sum of a .290-85-10-85-10 line is quite nice. It’s not going to overwhelm opposing pitchers, but that Kansas City lineup will be improved from 2008 and DeJesus will be the leader there even if he relinquishes the leadoff spot to newly acquired Coco Crisp in favor of the 2-hole. If you play in a league that uses individual outfield slots, enjoy DeJesus’ triple eligibility.
64. Hideki Matsui, 34, New York Yankees – The Yankees might not be done making moves this winter and Matsui could be on his way out if they can find a taker. A move could be really good or really bad for Matsui. Right now, he’s penciled in as the designated hitter, but that leaves Nick Swisher on the bench. Thus, if he stays in New York he might not garner a full season’s worth of at-bats and a move out to a team that would play him daily would be welcomed.
63. Juan Pierre, 31, Los Angeles Dodgers – He could be on the outside looking in for playing time right now, but I can’t envision the Dodgers going with Andruw Jones for any regular amount of time given how bad he has been over his past 781 at-bats. That doesn’t mean that they won’t look into the trade or free agent market for a better option, though. Pierre has always been reliable for runs, speed and batting average, but last year with just 375 at-bats he was unable to reach the usual 90+ runs scored. With regular playing time, look for a return near previously established norms: 80 runs, 50 steals and a .290 average. Otherwise, a 2008 redux.
62. Cameron Maybin, 22, Florida Marlins – Nice sip of coffee for the youngster with 16 hits in 32 at-bats over the course of eight games, but it’s insignificant in determining his 2009 value. He had an .831 OPS in 108 games in AA with 21 stolen bases and 13 home runs. He’s a five-category threat without a doubt, but at such a young age there will likely be several peaks and valleys throughout the season. The lack of options in the outfield for Florida suggests that Maybin will be the guy in center all year long. A year similar to Delmon Young’s 2008 with more stolen bases and less batting average is what I’m expecting.
61. Carlos Guillen, 33, Detroit Tigers – To see Guillen walk, let alone run, you’d never believe that he’d be a stolen base threat. Hobbled by nagging injuries nearly all year in 2008, he still managed nine after seasons of 20 and 13. Double-digit SB days are behind him, but the power and run production abilities remain. He will still qualify at 3B for 2009 where holds more value, but if you take care of your corner infield and need a solid 3rd/4th outfield option good for 15-18 home runs with a boatload of runs scored & driven in, then Guillen’s a good choice.
60. Luke Scott, 30, Baltimore Orioles – A tale of two halves for Scott, but the power was prevalent throughout. There is 30-home run power in that bat. Combining that with a budding lineup should yield a solid 85-30-85 season or thereabouts. Likely older than most realize at 30, but his primary skill, power, ages well so hitting the pivotal age isn’t worrisome.
59. Carlos Gomez, 23, Minnesota Twins – Given his age, it’s hard to pile on despite how he was in 2008. He was a key return for Johan Santana so the expectations to perform well and quickly were astronomical and thus he may’ve been rushed into duty. He has a long way to go before being anything more than a stolen base specialist with a bad average and little else residing in your 3rd or 4th outfielder slot.
58. Fred Lewis, 28, San Francisco Giants – This relatively unknown speedster burst onto the scene with a very impressive first full season. Whiffed way more than you want a leadoff hitter to do (91 times hitting 1st), but still managed a .350 on-base percentage from the top spot. Horrible supporting cast suppressed RBI total, even for a leadoff hitter. Lineup should improve with Lewis as the table-setter, but temper your expectations of growth. A repeat could be the ceiling here.
57. Kosuke Fukudome, 32, Chicago Cubs – Though he didn’t live up to the hype (who can these days?), Fukudome wasn’t all bad in his major league debut. He had a bit of power and speed with a great eye that made him a gem in OBP leagues. The biggest concern is that his batting average and OPS virtually dropped month-over-month all season (the OPS raised slightly from August to September but was still at .577). With such a sharp eye and really good raw skills, I foresee legitimate improvements for 2009. A line in the neighborhood of 85-15-70-15 is more befitting of someone with his skills.
56. Nick Swisher, 28, New York Yankees – The raw power remained, but not nearly to the degree expected with his move out of McAfee Coliseum into U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. He has been a batting average anchor for years, but last year’s .219 was just downright awful. After back-to-back seasons of .291 average against left-handers, he hit just .197 off of them last year. A correction will bring his average back into the .250s where he normally resides. He moves over to New York where he should fall into 90 runs and 80 RBIs as long as they play him. My favorite thing about Swisher in 2009 is that he will no doubt be very cheap to roster.
55. Willy Taveras, 27, Cincinnati Reds – Those justifying his signing with the Reds are saying, “At least he’s better than Corey Patterson.” Sure, but is there a player about whom you can’t say that exact phrase? Anytime someone swipes 68 bases, they are going to be a fantasy baseball asset even if it’s paired with NOTHING else of legitimate value as was the case in Taveras’ 2008 season. The only time he has topped a .321 on-base percentage was when he hit everything in sight and went off with a .320 AVG/.356 OBP. It’s pay-n-pray with Taveras, pay for 35 stolen bases and pray for 80 runs and a batting average above .280.
54. Jason Kubel, 26, Minnesota Twins – His march towards fulfilling his promise continues in the right direction with his best season yet. At 26, there is more to come from this slugger though lefties continue to be a problem for him. This could be the season that sees him hit 30 home runs, but 2010 is more likely for that. With four options in the Minnesota outfield, he could be relegated to DH for majority of the season, but that won’t impact his 2009 eligibility.
53. Adam Jones, 23, Baltimore Orioles – A further along version of Cameron Maybin, Jones is the kind of guy that will have a month that makes your entire league start requesting him in a trade followed by a month that will make you regret not pulling the trigger on one of those trades. By season’s end you should be happy with the net results of this budding star. He should bring a double-double with high 70s in runs scored and runs driven in.
52. Coco Crisp, 29, Kansas City Royals – His 2007 and 2008 totals were virtually the same despite the fact that he had 165 fewer at-bats last year. A trade to the Royals gives him a full-time role again, but simply extrapolating last year’s numbers into 550-600 at-bats would be dangerous. I’d be more willing to bet on 30+ stolen bases than 10+ home runs. For now, a 2007 repeat feels right.
51. Mike Cameron, 36, Milwaukee Brewers – He enjoyed a power spike despite missing a month due to suspension. Three years of declining stolen base and RBI totals may scare some, but the suspension played a large role in continuing that trend for 2008. This skill set is one of the more reliable ones in the league so you can expect an 85-25-75-15 line with a poor batting average. Trade rumors have put him in center for the Yankees which would only help his value, but for now he is part of a solid lineup in a neutral park.
There it is. I’ll have the second part ready this weekend and then a visual breakdown of the list including an echelon-divided list, a by team list and a by age list. Again, feedback is strongly encouraged.