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Sleepers & Busts: NL West Outfielders

Hunter Pence, SF - ADP 99

There was a time when Pence looked to be emerging as a consistent 25-homer, 20-steal threat, which would easily position him as an elite outfielder given his consistent batting average. That proved to be a pretty fleeting thought, however, and at this point Pence is being drafted more on name value than actual performance.

Pence has seen his stolen base totals plummet from 18 in 2010 all the way down to five last season. Following his trade to the Giants last season, he attempted just one steal. While that attempt was a success, it's probably in the best interest of Giants, fantasy owners, and Pence himself that he stop running. He's a 63 percent base-stealer for his career, so let's not pretend that a return to 15-18 steals is in the offing.

Pence's stolen base total isn't the only thing that's eroding. In 2012, he posted the worst swinging strike rate (12.9 percent), contact rate (72.6 percent) and strikeout rate (21.1 percent) of his career. He'll spend his first full season at AT&T Park as opposed to hitter-friendly venues like Minute Maid (Houston) and Citizens Bank (Philadelphia), which in addition to having deeper dimensions in general also is home to a towering right-field wall that will prevent chip shots like this one from becoming long balls.

In an admittedly small 196-plate-appearance sample size, Pence is just a .253/.318/.425 hitter at AT&T Park, and his other skills are deteriorating. If Pence is simply a .255-.275 hitter with 20-homer power, little speed and an average supporting cast... is he worthy of a Top 100 pick? 

Pence is coming off the board directly ahead of Max Scherzer (whom I love, in case you missed it), Jimmy Rollins, Jose Altuve and Danny Espinosa -- all of whom I prefer to Pence. In terms of outfielders, Austin Jackson, Nick Swisher (a more consistent source of 25ish homers, plus solid RBI and Runs totals), Carlos Beltran and Shane Victorino are all coming off the board well after Pence. Each should produce more value. Don't be fooled by Pence's name.

Final Ruling: Bust

Carlos Quentin, SD - ADP 226

Put aside the fact that we all know Quentin is made of something roughly as durable as a sheet of glass and an eighth grade paper mache project for a second and stick with me.

Quentin laid off out-of-zone pitches at much better rate than in his two previous seasons and became ravenously aggressive on pitches within the zone. The only player with at least 300 PAs who swung at more strikes than Quentin was Josh Hamilton, but Quentin swung at 16 percent fewer pitches outside the zone. Hamilton swung at those strikes because he swings at everything; Quentin's swung because he knew he was being hyper-aggressive on hittable pitches.

And the best part is... it worked! Quentin hit .261/.374/.504 in 86 games, with each rate stat representing his highest total since '08.  His 10.6 percent walk-rate was also his best since that season, and his 12.1 percent strikeout rate was a career-best.

Quentin's probably (ok, certainly) going to wind up spending some time on the disabled list this season. When healthy though, his numbers from 2012 were the best he'd managed since his breakout 2008 season. Playing at Petco Park hurt his numbers a bit, as evidenced by a slight downward trend in his plate appearances per homer (21.25), but his occasional deep drives to right field may yield an extra homer or two, given Petco's new dimensions.

Ichiro Suzuki, Lornezo Cain, Dexter Fowler and Justin Ruggiano -- the four outfielders coming off the board ahead of Quentin -- don't offer nearly the same power upside. He might only garner 400 plate appearances, but those could very well be very fruitful in terms of power output.

Final Ruling: Sleeper

Will Venable, SD - ADP 303

Speaking of those new dimensions at Petco Park, is anyone happier with them than Venable? Venable hit .239/.301/.340 at home last season and hit .286/.365/.509 on the road. That pronounced split has held true throughout his career, as he holds a .675 OPS at home compared to a .799 mark on the road.

That's not the only pronounced split with Venable, whose .583 career OPS versus lefties is dwarfed by his .772 mark against right-handers. If you decide to pursue him on draft day, you should know you're not getting an everyday player. And when he does start against a lefty, get him out of the lineup.

Venable is incredibly valuable when he's in the lineup though. A career 83 percent thief on the basepaths, he's averaged 26 swipes over the past three seasons. He's also averaged 10 homers in that time, and the friendlier dimensions at Petco Park figure to pad those numbers a bit.

Venable posted the best strikeout rate of his career in 2012 (20 percent) -- the second straight season in which he's improved his whiff rate. Both his line-drive and ground-ball rates were career-bests as well, which is a nice thing to see for a hitter whose value is derived more from his wheels than his guns. His plate discipline improved across the board -- fewer chases, more swings at strikes, more contact, and fewer whiffs.

Venable's coming off the board after names like Leonys Martin, Delmon Young, Lucas Duda, Cody Ross and Jeff Francoeur (yes, really -- and 40 spots later than Frenchy, no less!). He's a must-draft in NL-only formats, and even those in deep mixers will be able to glean value from his stellar play against righties, presuming you have a suitable backup when Venable's against a southpaw.

Final Ruling: Sleeper




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