Outfield might be deep, but considering you need to start five of them in a standard league, things get scary pretty quick. There aren’t nearly as many “safe” options as in years past.

Matt Kemp is my #1. He will regress a little from last year’s dream season, but still looks like the best option. Jose Bautista is #2 (though Ryan Braun would be #2 if he wasn’t suspended).

Justin Upton is at #3 for me. We finally saw all that talent play out last year and there’s no reason to think the 24-year-old can’t improve even more. I’m going with Carlos Gonzalez at #4 and Jacoby Ellsbury at #5, though they could be swapped if you believe Ellsbury’s 2011 power eruption.

I talked about my man-crushes in the shortstop segment, and my #6 is Andrew McCutchen, one such person. Mike Stanton comes in at #7. Stanton is interesting because, other than Bautista, all of the top outfielders are going to give you 20+ steals and they need that speed because they’re unlikely to go for 30+ home runs. Stanton could give you 40 home runs, so if you got your speed on the infield, then a guy like Stanton does you more good than Ellsbury.

After Curtis Granderson at eight, there’s a real deep tier of “good but not great” type guys. Personally, I lean towards Hunter Pence and Jay Bruce for #9 and 10, but Josh Hamilton, Matt Holliday and Carl Crawford could be in the same round of the draft.

Between 10 and 20 you have some excellent outfielders who come with risk, and some less exciting options who are also a bit safer. The risk averse will look at guys like Michael Bourn, Shin-Soo Choo and Shane Victorino. Those willing to take on more risk might take the oft-injured Nelson Cruz, the suspended version of Ryan Braun or Desmond Jennings. A caution on Braun though… He’s down to 112 games, and if he played all those 112, then he’d still be a top-20 outfielder, but that’s assuming he comes back 100% ready to go, with no adjustment period, no other injuries and no slumps. I’m not buying.

There’s a crop of up-and-comers who I really like. Adam Jones, BJ Upton and Cameron Maybin… if I don’t get one of the top outfielders as my #1, then I’ll be looking to snag two guys in this range because the upside is immense. Most people will have Jason Heyward lower than them, but I actually wouldn’t be surprised to see him fall in with those guys at the end.

As I move down my rankings, I’m not going to name every outfielder, but some names that jump out to me on the list… Ben Zobrist, Jayson Werth, Michael Morse and Ichiro Suzuki… I’d take Zobrist and Morse ahead of the other two, but there’s more downside here than upside. That being said, Zobrist seems like the safest of the four and he comes with 2B eligibility.

Speaking of second basemen who can play outfield, Howard Kendrick is an excellent example, but if he own him (or Zobrist for that matter) you’re probably using them as second basemen.

Austin Jackson and Peter Bourjos will both enjoy new sluggers hitting behind them in the order, but both will need to get on base more consistently to really made an impact on fantasy teams. I also like Logan Morrison quite a bit in this range of the draft. He should produce a good average and topped 20 HR last year. He will score runs, and might enjoy extra RBI chances with the two shortstops at the top of the lineup.

By the way, my stance on guys over 34 years old is basically that I’d rather get out one year early than one year late. Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran were both pretty good last year, but I won’t own either because I’d rather take a chance on a young guy with upside over one of them with only downside. The same could be said for Torii Hunter, Juan Pierre, Bobby Abreu, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee.

Let someone else reach way out for Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Trout might play right away but there’s so many outfielders in Los Angeles right now, there’s no reason to think Trout will be an everyday guy, and even if he was, how many 20-year-olds have helped fantasy teams recently?

There are some young outfielders with serious upside at the back end of the draft and these are guys I’ll likely be targeting for my 5th OF slot or utility options… Delmon Young, Colby Rasmus, Andre Ethier… I like guys who have proven they are capable. Ethier already has one 30 HR/100 RBI season, and before 2011 had three 20-HR seasons in a row. Young’s 2010 was great, with a line of .298, 21 HR and 112 RBI. And Rasmus’ 2010 line of .276 with 23 HR, 85 runs scored and 12 SB is nothing to sneeze at considering he was 23 at the time. All three will likely be taken after the first 40-or-so outfielders and they all have top-25 potential. While Jeff Francoeur doesn’t present the same upside, he shouldn’t be ignored either.

Emilio Bonifacio, Jose Tabata, Rajai Davis, Coco Crisp, Angel Pagan, Ben Revere… speed will be there late. Don’t reach for it.

Randy, Minnesota: With all the stolen base guys out there late, does it make the powerful outfielders more valuable?

Yes, Ryan, it does. Other than first base, you can get steals almost anywhere on the diamond. But unless you grab a JJ Hardy type, or one of the elite middle-infielders, you’re not likely to get power at shortstop or second base. If I could take Mike Stanton, then it allows me to grab a guy like Dee Gordon later at shortstop and fill my needs.

Teresa, Arizona: With the need for five OF, how do you tend to draft them?

Well, Teresa, I like to get one of the top 15 pretty early. Then I usually take one in the top-30. My 3rd and 4th guys, I do like wide receivers in football. Grab several high-upside wild cards and hope a couple work out. On two teams last year I had Maybin as my third or fourth and it worked out like that. The fifth OF is usually one of the last starters I choose, and it’s all about upside. He’s the most expendable player on the team, and I’m thrilled if he contributes, but it’s not a random pick. I am looking for potential. I might look at a guy like Brandon Belt there, or even Mike Trout if he would fall that far. But he won’t. To give a practical example, my outfield could end up being (12-team standard type) Mike Stanton, BJ Upton, Jason Heyward, Logan Morrison and Emilio Bonifacio. And I’d be pretty happy with that.

That’s it for now, everyone. Check back for starting pitchers and relievers later.





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