Mike Trout And Sustainability

The Nationals made waves when they called up Bryce Harper in late-April, so much so that Mike Trout returned the big leagues on the same day and was barely noticed. The 20-year-old Trout has actually out-produced his 19-year-old top prospect counterpart so far, and in fact he's producing like a top-five fantasy outfielder. He's hit .315/.382/.539 in 102 plate appearances this year, clubbing four homers and stealing six bases in his 23 games. There is no question he has the talent to play like this, but the question becomes how long can he keep it up at his age?

Over the last 50 years, only 23 players have qualified for the batting title as a 20-year-old. Alex Rodriguez circa 1996 was by far the most productive of the group, hitting .358/.414/.631 with 54 doubles, 36 homers, and 15 steals. Only three others managed to hit .300 (Ken Griffey Jr., Starlin Castro, and Claudell Washington) and only two others hit more than 20 homers (Griffey and Tony Conigliaro), though eleven of them stole at least 15 bases and five stole more than 20. That isn't to say Trout can't put up numbers like that -- what those guys did has zero impact on him going forward -- it just goes to show how rare it is for a player this young to be that productive.

First of all, I have little doubt that Trout will steal a boatload of bases this season. He stole 56 bases in 2010 and another 54 between the Majors and minors last season, so that's very clearly a huge part of his game. If Trout plays every day the rest of the season, he could steal 30+ bases very easily. Forty might be pushing since it's already late-May, but I wouldn't put it past him. The kid is going to steal a ton of bases for your fantasy team, that's all but certain. At the plate, maintaining a high average might be a little more difficult.

Trout's batting average is propped up by a .381 BABIP at the moment. That's obviously extremely high but it's incorrect to simply say his performance will suffer going forward because his BABIP will come back down to Earth. Trout is exactly the kind of player that will consistently post higher than usual BABIPs, meaning a speed guy who doesn't hit a ton of true fly balls. Guys like Austin Jackson (career .371 BABIP), Carlos Gonzalez (.346), and Emilio Bonifacio (.340) have similar offensive profiles and sky-high BABIPs. Now Trout's BABIP is sure to come down a bit, as .381 is a bit nutty, but he's capable of maintaining a .340+ pace and that will hopefully keep his batting average right around .300 mark.

Over-the-fence power is a different story. Trout did hit 16 homers between the Majors and minors last season but he is stuck in a division with not only some really good pitching, but also some big ballparks. His home park in Anaheim has a home run park factor of 93 for right-handed batters according to StatCorner, meaning it suppresses homer output by righties to roughly 93% of the league average. Safeco Field in Seattle is notoriously unfriendly to right-handers (83 HR factor) and the Coliseum in Oakland is even worse (80 HR factor). The Ballpark in Arlington is his one divisional reprieve (114 HR factor). The Angels will play 76 of their 117 remaining games (65.0%) at home, in Seattle, or in Oakland, so that's going to hurt Trout's power. Double-digit dingers seems inevitable, but I would be skeptical about his ability to threaten 18-20.

One non-statistical concern I have about Trout is his durability. He's not injury prone or anything like that, but reports indicated that he looked noticably worn down late last year and in the Arizona Fall League. Remember, he's still a 20-year-old kid who only has two full seasons under his belt. The 162-game grind is tough, especially for a leadoff hitter and base stealer who takes a pounding sliding into second and diving back to first on pickoff throws. This has nothing to do with Trout's skills and talent, but anecdotally there is a slight concern about his ability to maintain a high-level of performance right through the end of the fantasy season.

Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS system projects a .272/.342/.427 batting line with 11 homers and 26 steals out of Trout for the rest of the season, which is actually a bit below my expectations. That's a valuable player but probably not a top 20 fantasy outfielder. Trout is clearly one of the most exciting and best all-around prospects to break into the big leagues in quite some time, but as Matt Moore and Brett Lawrie owners are finding out, that doesn't guarantee instant and sustainable success right out of the chute.

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Stealing Steals With Xavier Avery

The Orioles are one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season, sitting atop the AL East with a 24-14 record and a +16 run differential. Most of that success stems from a pitching staff that owns the second best ERA in the American League (3.42), but they've also received larger than expectated offensive contributions from players like Adam Jones (12 HR), Matt Wieters (.851 OPS), and Nolan Reimold (.960 OPS). Reimold has been on the disabled list for the last two weeks though, and he recently told Peter Schmuck and Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun that he's made very little progress coming back from a neck problem.

“It's frustrating,” said Reimold, who is on anti-inflammatories and recently received an epidural that may be the first in a series of three injections. “I don't know if I'll have a little improvement every day or wake up one day and have it be gone.”

Reimold was eligible to come off the 15-day DL yesterday but that obviously didn't happen. Sometime in June is a more likely target according to Schmuck and Connolly, creating an opening in the outfield. Players like Endy Chavez, Wilson Betemit, and Bill Hall have gotten reps in left field during Reimold's absence, but the recently recalled Xavier Avery has settled into the job of late. The 2008 second round pick was called up over the weekend and has five hits and a walk in 20 plate appearances so far (four games), but his fantasy value lies not in his bat, but his legs.

Baseball America ranked the 22-year-old Avery as Baltimore's ninth prospect before the season, saying he's "an above-average runner" who "has improved his bunting to make better use of his speed" in their subscriber-only scouting report. He has yet to swipe a bag as a big leaguer, but he did steal eight (in eight attempts) in 33 games at Triple-A before being recalled. Avery has stolen at least 30 bases in each of the last three seasons in the minors, including 36 and 38 steals in the last two seasons. It is worth noting that he's not the most efficient base-stealer, with a 75.3% success rate that is above the break-even point (68-70% these days) but on the low side for most true speed threats.

Buck Showalter seems committed to playing Avery early on, even starting the left-handed hitter against CC Sabathia earlier this week. With Reimold out for another few weeks, Avery's spot in the lineup seems secure for the time being and should allow him to provide fantasy value as a temporary but cheap source of stolen bases. A 30-steal pace works out to something like three steals for every two weeks for most everyday players, so another month on the shelf for Reimold could mean another 6-8 steals for your fantasy club. Don't expect many homers or a great batting average, Avery figures to be a one-category contributor for the next few weeks. Keep his relatively low stolen base success rate in mind if you place in a net steals league.

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Elite Prospect Updates: Moore, Trout, Harper

Elite prospects are always popular targets come draft day, and this year we have a trio of ultra-promising young players on the cusp of the big leagues and eager to help your fantasy team. To help you prepare for the early part of the season, here's the lastest news on each of those three players. Average Draft Positions come courtesy of Mock Draft Central.

Matt Moore, LHP, TB
ADP - 104

A mild oblique strain held the game's best pitching prospect back early in Spring Training, but Moore got into his first game action this week and struck out three of the six men he faced. Thanks to his new contract extension, the Rays have no salary or free agency-related reason to send the 22-year-old southpaw to Triple-A to start the season. Either Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis will be shifted to the bullpen to free up a rotation spot, with Niemann the favorite to remain a starter. A trade is always possible as well. There's enough time left in Spring Training for Moore to make four starts, which should give him plenty of time to properly stretch out and start the team's fourth or fifth game of the regular season. Oblique issues can be tricky though, and a setback would surely have him start the season on the DL.

I ranked Moore as the 43rd best starting pitcher in fantasy baseball a few weeks ago, but I like him quite a bit more than that. I can definitely see a Madison Bumgarner-type of performance coming in 2012, which means something like 13 wins, a 3.30 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, and 8.5 K/9. Given the tough AL East competition, I would probably take the over on the ERA though.

Mike Trout, OF, LAA
ADP - 220

Injuries are a theme in this post, but in Trout's case it's an illness. The 20-year-old told Bill Plunkett of The Orange County register that he's "feeling weak and feverish with no appetite" due to a flu-like virus which has also caused him to lose ten pounds. Trout hasn't played in close to a week now, so his already long chances of making the club out of camp have been diminished further. The Angels have a logjam of outfielders and DH-types with Mark Trumbo, Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, and Kendrys Morales penciled into just three lineup spots (four if you're feeling generous and think Trumbo can cut it at third). Abreu and Wells are release candidates, but the latter will likely get a significant opportunity to show he's worth the $63MM left on his contract.

Trout was #59 on my list of fantasy outfielders mostly because his playing time is so uncertain. The talent is there for him to club double-digit homers with 30+ steals if given 400 plate appearances, although the high batting averages might not come right away. Fantasy owners won't benefit from Trout's above-average defense, but there's enough here to become a top ten fantasy outfielder in the near future. I just wouldn't expect it to happen this summer given the team's currect roster situation.

Bryce Harper, OF, WAS
ADP - 227

Harper has been limited by a calf issue this week, prompting him to tell Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com that he probably won't be able to make the team out of Spring Training despite his (and manager Davey Johnson's) wishes. Still just 19, Harper has five singles and two walks in 13 at-bats this spring, and he was going to really have blow the doors off the competition to have a realistic chance to make the club. There's a open spot in the outfield calling his name and GM Mike Rizzo says he's still a candidate for the roster, but I get the sense the club is content with letting the game's best power prospect get some more time in the minors rather than throw him to the big league wolves as a teenager.

I didn't rank Harper among the game's 60 best fantasy outfielders only because I find it very hard to believe a kid that young will be that productive right away. Harper has insane power, legitimate 40 homers-a-year type of power, but no teenager has ever hit even 30 homers in a season, and only twice in the last 50 years has a 20-year-old managed 30 homers (Alex Rodriguez in 1996 and Tony Conigliaro in 1965). There figures to be a point in the not too distant future when Bryce is among the game's very players (fantasy or reality), but that probably won't happen in 2012.

2012 Position Rankings: Outfield

Update: The rankings have been changed to reflect Ryan Braun's successful appeal of his 50-game suspension.

It's time to move out of the infield and into the outfield, where we'll find fantasy's most diverse group of players. As always, these rankings are based on 12-team mixed leagues with traditional 5x5 scoring.

  1. Matt Kemp, LAD - While I doubt Kemp will be able to make good on his promise of going 50-50 this year, the new $160MM man is the best all-around player in fantasy baseball. He might not hit .324 again, but 30-30 with 100+ RBI and 100+ runs scored feels like the floor here. He missed 40-40 by one homer in 2011, don't be surprised if he gets it in 2012.
  2. Ryan Braun, MIL - Now that we know Braun will be in play for the first 50 games of the season, he steps in as the clear number two behind Kemp. Expect MVP caliber numbers again. (Formerly #11)
  3. Justin Upton, ARI - Still six months shy of his 25th birthday, Upton is just scratching the surface of his potential. He cut down on his strikeouts drastically last year, and has a chance to turn that 30-20 effort into 35-25 this summer.
  4. Jose Bautista, TOR - It's tough to expect anyone to hit 40 HR these days, but if I was going to put money on someone, it would be Bautista. He does everything but steal bases.
  5. Carlos Gonzalez, COL - CarGo missed more than three weeks with a wrist problem last season, but he was on a 30 HR, 25 SB pace and nearly drove in 100 runs anyway. Now he's healthy.
  6. Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS - We're going to have to see if that 30+ HR power he showed last year is here to stay, but Ellsbury is still tremendously valuable if he only goes deep 20 times because of his stolen base ability.
  7. Curtis Granderson, NYY - He might not hit 40+ HR again, but Granderson's power isn't just a product of cozy Yankee Stadium: he hit 21 HR at home and 20 on the road last year.
  8. Andrew McCutchen, PIT - McCutchen hit more fly balls than ever before last season, which is why his average (and BABIP) dropped 30 points. You'll get 20-20 production and hopefully a rebound in batting average.
  9. Mike Stanton, FLA - If HR distance was a category, he'd be the first overall pick. Stanton has massive power and run production potential, but he won't hit for average or steal many bases.
  10. Josh Hamilton, TEX - The production is elite ... when he's actually on the field. Hamilton has played in 135 games just once in his five years, and that came back in 2008.
  11. Hunter Pence, HOU - Hopefully Pence gets back to stealing 15+ bases again, but otherwise he's a better than average contributor in the other four categories.
  12. Alex Gordon, KC - Last year's breakout was long-awaited, and Gordon has the potential to do even more next season (think .300/20/100/100/20).
  13. Matt Holliday, STL - Holliday will be asked to do more following the departure of Albert Pujols, and some good health will get him back into .300/25/100/100 territory.
  14. Jay Bruce, CIN - Bruce might not hit for much average or steal many bases, but he's about to become a perennial 30/100/100 fantasy player.
  15. Ben Zobrist, TB - Zobrist doesn't hit for much average but he helps everywhere else. His production is more useful at second base, however.
  16. Shin-Soo Choo, CLE - One of fantasy' biggest disappointments last year, an obligue strain kept Choo from his usual .300 average and 20-20 production. I expect a big rebound.
  17. Michael Bourn, ATL - It's all about stolen bases (think 50+), batting average (.280+), and runs (90+) here, not power (maybe five if you're lucky) or RBI (maybe 50).
  18. Lance Berkman, STL - We got to see vintage Puma one last time last year, and I wouldn't expect another .300/30/100/100 season. That said, he'll still be really productive at an easier position.
  19. Mike Morse, WAS - There will continue to be doubters, but Morse is going on nearly 900 plate appearances of elite production and is right in his prime. He'll do just about everything but steal bases.
  20. Nelson Cruz, TEX - Cruz is a lesser version of Hamilton, meaning he produces when he's on the field, which isn't often enough (hasn't topped 130 games since 2008).
  21. Adam Jones, BAL - Jones is entering his prime years and could push 30 HR in the obscurity of Baltimore. There's plenty of breakout potential here.
  22. Shane Victorino, PHI - The Flyin' Hawaiian missed time with thumb and hamstring problems last year, but he should get back over 30 steals and push 20 dingers with good health.
  23. B.J. Upton, TB - You can pencil the elder Upton in for 30+ steals right now, and he should offer 20+ HR power to go along with a middling batting average and okay run production numbers.
  24. Corey Hart, MIL - An obligue strain prevented Hart from topping 30 HR for the second straight year, but he's a .280/30/100/100 candidate when right. That's seriously valuable.
  25. Desmond Jennings, TB - Be careful not to overrate him based on his hot start last year, but Jennings has legitimate 20-40 potential and should score a ton of runs atop Tampa's lineup.
  26. Carlos Beltran, STL - He's not going to steal 20+ bases again, but Beltran provides big value if he can stay on the field. He did play 140+ games for the first time in three years in 2012, but still managed one DL trip.
  27. Nick Swisher, NYY - Swisher is a consistent 20+ HR, 80+ RBI, 80+ runs guy that could do more in a stack lineup and friendly ballpark. Plus it's a contract year.
  28. Brett Gardner, NYY - It's a shame they don't count UZR in fantasy, though the 40+ steals and 90+ runs will have to suffice. Gardner could slap his way to .280+, but hasn't yet.
  29. Jayson Werth, WAS - Werth's disappointing first year in Washington was nearly his third 20-20 season in the last four years. His batted ball profile and BABIP doesn't jive, so expect something better than .232 in 2012.
  30. Drew Stubbs, CIN - Stubbs does everything but make consistent contact, so he'll never provide much average. Twenty homers and 30+ steals sure sounds good though.
  31. Chris Young, ARI - The 30-30 candidate barely cracked 20-20 last season, and his average dipped into the low-.200s to boot. I think a step forward is more likely than another step back for the 28-year-old.
  32. Cameron Maybin, SD - Petco Park won't help him any, but Maybin is a 40+ steal guy and can pop double-digit homers with a decent average going forward.
  33. Matt Joyce, RF - A hot start and a slow finished averaged out to a fine season, and Joyce could turn into a 20-15 player in 2012 as he takes another step forward.
  34. Carl Crawford, BOS - Crawford was so bad last year tha he can't help but be better in 2012, right? He's going to miss the first few weeks with a wrist problem, but I have to think the .300/15/40 guy is still in there.
  35. Logan Morrison, FLA - LoMo's undeserved demotion likely cost him a shot at 30 HR last season, but he'll get the chance to play all year under Ozzie Guillen and has serious breakout potential.
  36. Nick Markakis, BAL - Unlike his teammate Jones, Markakis has completely plateaued in recent years and now is a .280/15/70/70/10 type. Solid, but not what we expected a few years ago.
  37. Jason Heyward, ATL - A shoulder problem had Heyward all fouled up last year, though he's still an extreme ground ball hitter than needs to get the ball in the air if he wants to hit for more power.
  38. Josh Willingham, MIN -Moving to Target Field won't hurt Willingham's numbers much coming from Oakland, assuming he stays on the field. He could push 30 HR if he avoids the DL for the first time in three years.
  39. Howie Kendrick, LAA - Kendrick spent enough time in left last year to qualify as an outfielder, though his .280+ average and 15-15 production is more valuable at second base.
  40. Michael Cuddyer, COL - Moving from Target Field to Coors Field will help his numbers, but I wouldn't expect a return to the 30 HR level. Cuddyer's a solid producer, nothing more.
  41. Ichiro Suzuki, SEA - Ichiro is showing all the tell-tale signs of age-related decline, namely struggling to hit the ball in the air consistently. He'll still swipe a ton of bases, but don't count on those elite batting averages coming back.
  42. Carlos Lee, HOU - Lee saw his batting average rebound last year, though his power has been in a steady decline and only figures to get worse. His teammates won't help him in the run production categories either.
  43. Peter Bourjos, LAA - Bourjos has shown surprising pop so far in the big leagues, and the speed is there for him to steal 30+ bases. There's some sneaky high upside here.
  44. Austin Jackson, DET - A big spike in fly balls resulted in a 56-point BABIP drop but also 2.5 times as many homers as he'd hit the year before. Jackson could steal 30 bases, but he strikes out too much to hit for average.
  45. Melky Cabrera, SF - The Melkman delivered the best season of his career in 2011, and was rewarded with a trade to one of the game's worst hitter's parks. Don't count on him repeating 2011, he won't in AT&T Park.
  46. Coco Crisp, OAK - Crisp's stolen base totals have increased with age, and he's still young enough (32) to have at least one more 40 steal season in those legs.
  47. Torii Hunter, LAA - Hunter's production is starting to wane with age, but having Pujols in the lineup should boost his run production numbers. Don't be surprised if he fails to crack 20 HR for the first time in seven years.
  48. Andre Ethier, LAD - Ethier's power disappeared last year, though his knee trouble is at least partially to blame. He could have a big contract year in him, but I'll settle for his old .290/20/90 production.
  49. Brennan Boesch, DET - One of my breakout picks, Boesch had a shot at 25 HR last year if thumb problem didn't end his season in late-August. Now he'll be batting in front of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
  50. Angel Pagan, SF - I'd count on Pagan for nothing but steals, and he should give you 35+ if he stays healthy. His ballpark will limit his power production, and there's not enough of a BABIP correction coming to get excited.
  51. Martin Prado, ATL - Prado should see a BABIP rebound next year since his batted ball profile didn't change much from 2010-2011, but he's not going to hit for average or steal bases.
  52. Emilio Bonifacio, FLA - Appearing in our rankings at his third different position, Bonifacio's story hasn't changed: he'll steal a ton of bases but won't hit for any power, and there are reasons to expect his average to come back to Earth.
  53. Carlos Quentin, SD - Quentin has the kind of right-handed power needed to conquer Petco, but health remains the real issue. He always leaves you wanting more.
  54. Colby Rasmus, TOR - A wrist problem sabotaged his first half-season in Toronto, but Rasmus has 20-20 potential and could score a ton of runs if he bats ahead of Bautista in the lineup.
  55. Lucas Duda, NYM - One of fantasy's better sleeper candidates, Duda has serious left-handed pop and should push 20 HR and 80 RBI with regular playing time.
  56. Dexter Fowler, COL - After stealing 27 bases in 2009, Fowler has stolen just 25 bases since. He has to get back to being that guy, otherwise he offers very little beyond runs scored.
  57. Jeff Francoeur, KC - Frenchy was the game's most unheralded 20-20 player last year, but the track record of mediocrity is so long that I can't be anything but skeptical going forward.
  58. Delmon Young, MIN - Cut from the same cloth as Francoeur, Young was fantastic with the Tigers but won't be hitting in front of Cabrera now. Lineup protection is general overstated, but not in the case of elite hitters.
  59. Mike Trout, LAA - The talent is world class, but will the Angels find enough playing time for Trout this year? If so, he could swipe 30 bags and offer a whole lot more.
  60. Yoenis Cespedes, OAK - Your guess is as good as mine. Everything indicates 25+ HR potential, but it's been a long time since he's faced live pitching and he's never faced MLB caliber pitching before. Roster him at your own risk.

Honorable Mention: Ben Revere, MIN; Nyjer Morgan, MIL; Alfonso Soriano, CHC; Jose Tabata, PIT; Rajai Davis, TOR; Brandon Belt, SF; Seth Smith, OAK; Chris Heisey, CIN; John Mayberry Jr., PHI; Jason Bay, NYM

Other Positions: Catcher, First Base, Second Base, Shortstop, Third Base

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Outfielder Rankings

The outfield is next, as we've ranked catchers, first basemen, second basemen, shortstops, and third basemen already.  These dollar values apply to 5x5 12-team mixed leagues with standard categories.  Average draft position from Mock Draft Central is in parentheses.  Warning: these are not similar to the rankings you'll find in a standard-issue fantasy magazine at the grocery store.  Also, they are subject to change at my whim!

  1. Ryan Braun (1) - $29.25
  2. Carl Crawford (2) - $27.87
  3. Nelson Cruz (3) - $26.68
  4. Carlos Gonzalez (1) - $26.15
  5. Matt Holliday (2) - $24.01
  6. Josh Hamilton (2) - $20.80
  7. Matt Kemp (2) - $19.95
  8. Mike Stanton (13) - $19.94
  9. Shin-Soo Choo (3) - $19.75
  10. Rajai Davis (25) - $16.40
  11. Jayson Werth (5) - $15.63
  12. Juan Pierre (12) - $15.00
  13. Jay Bruce (7) - $14.88
  14. Andrew McCutchen (4) - $14.82
  15. Justin Upton (4) - $14.48
  16. Corey Hart (9) - $13.66
  17. Jason Heyward (5) - $13.57
  18. Hunter Pence (8) - $13.31
  19. Jose Bautista (5) - $13.31
  20. Alex Rios (6) - $13.26
  21. Ichiro Suzuki (3) - $12.99
  22. Ryan Raburn (29) - $12.63
  23. Jacoby Ellsbury (6) - $12.41
  24. Shane Victorino (13) - $12.22
  25. Andre Ethier (4) - $11.70
  26. B.J. Upton (6) - $11.52
  27. Carlos Beltran (24) - $11.24
  28. Chris Young (9) - $11.20
  29. Brett Gardner (17) - $11.10
  30. Curtis Granderson (7) - $11.05
  31. Delmon Young (10) - $10.22
  32. Torii Hunter (8) - $10.19
  33. Coco Crisp (29) - $9.61
  34. Michael Bourn (10) - $9.51
  35. Andres Torres (25) - $9.50
  36. Bobby Abreu (11) - $9.45
  37. Nick Markakis (10) - $9.41
  38. Jose Tabata (23) - $9.07
  39. Drew Stubbs (14) - $8.96
  40. Sean Rodriguez (30) - $8.27
  41. Colby Rasmus (8) - $8.26
  42. Ryan Ludwick (11) - $7.89
  43. Denard Span (15) - $7.82
  44. Chris Coghlan (33) - $7.74
  45. Carlos Quentin (19) - $7.60
  46. Vernon Wells (9) - $7.41
  47. Carlos Lee (12) - $7.18
  48. Adam Jones (16) - $7.07
  49. Nick Swisher (11) - $6.69
  50. Jason Bay (13) - $6.63
  51. Ben Zobrist (11) - $6.62
  52. Travis Snider (26) - $6.32
  53. Austin Jackson (28) - $6.17
  54. Angel Pagan (26) - $6.11
  55. Aubrey Huff (10) - $5.99
  56. Nate McLouth (33) - $5.35
  57. Manny Ramirez (15) - $5.25
  58. Michael Cuddyer (24) - $5.17
  59. Grady Sizemore (9) - $4.96
  60. Logan Morrison (25) - $4.32
  61. Julio Borbon (30) - $4.10
  62. Magglio Ordonez (20) - $4.01
  63. Dexter Fowler (24) - $3.67
  64. Cameron Maybin (Not drafted) - $3.38
  65. Josh Willingham (31) - $2.98
  66. Johnny Damon (22) - $2.73
  67. Michael Brantley (Not drafted) - $2.62
  68. Alfonso Soriano (9) - $2.62
  69. Alex Gordon (34) - $2.18
  70. Jason Kubel (12) - $1.32
  71. Omar Infante (25) - $1.09
  72. Marlon Byrd (31) - $1.00
  73. J.D. Drew (30) - $0.95
  74. Nyjer Morgan (31) - $0.50
  75. Domonic Brown (29) - $0.24
  76. Cody Ross (33) - $0.01

Let's begin with more disclaimers.  I am not saying you should draft Stanton in the first or second round, nor am I saying that I think he's a better bet than Choo.  Choo has done his thing for two and a half big league seasons, Stanton just a half.  The point is more that with 570 ABs I can see Stanton hitting 40 home runs and driving in 110 - and I don't think I'm going out on a limb with that.  He's just unproven, and that's why he comes at a discount.  Rightfully so.

Others come at a discount because of injury history.  Barring a Chipper Jones situation where the guy simply cannot get 550-600 ABs this year, I typically project players for full seasons.  So guys like Cruz and Hamilton are getting 550 right now, and you can see that Cruz would be one of the game's top fantasy outfielders if he avoids the DL.

Also, my valuations consistently show that fantasy leaguers undervalue steals.  I'm not sure exactly why, but a one steal in a vacuum is worth just as much as one home run (of course, the homer has more residual benefits).  Take Davis' projected line of a .281 AVG, 7 HR,  57 RBI, 82 R, and 52 SB.  His value would be almost the same if he had a .281 AVG, 52 HR, 82 RBI, 57 R, and 7 SB.  Putting aside the rarity of a line like that, if he projected as a 50 HR guy you'd sure as hell draft him earlier than the 25th round.  The burners don't have the same aesthetic appeal as the sluggers in fantasy leagues, but they often have similar value.  Of course, the value of an SB goes down if you get a ridiculous amount of them, so don't stock up on Davis, Pierre, and Gardner just because of the nice dollar values.

Another important point on my valuations: they are not linear.  As a player gets further away from being a $1 guy, his value increases exponentially.  A 20% increase in ABs increases value by much more than 20%.  For example, if Manny Ramirez gets 600 ABs instead of my projected 500, he goes from $5.25 to $13.74.  Players such as Ellsbury, Quentin, Sizemore, Willingham, Soriano, Kubel, and Brown are projected for fewer than 530 ABs right now.  If you like them for 575-600 you should draft them earlier.

Overall I've got some aggressive AB projections; I usually prefer to see what a guy can do if he maintains his standing as a regular.  So I'm showing you that Raburn can do .273-25-90-86-8 with 575 ABs, but it's up to you on draft day to guess as to whether he'll really get that many ABs.  Guys like Crisp, Tabata, Coghlan - they're projected as regulars and I'm not putting them down for DL time right now.

Right now my projections aren't giving huge counting stats to someone like Justin Upton, but the kid is certainly capable of 30 homers, 100 RBIs, and 20 SBs.  Don't get boxed in my dollar values and ignore obvious potential.

I always aim for balance, and outfield offers about 13 true five-category guys: Braun, Cruz, CarGo, Holliday, Kemp, Choo, Werth, Justin Upton, Hart, Heyward, Pence, Beltran, and Hunter.  That's the group if you limit it to a .280 average, double digit homers and steals, and 80+ RBIs and runs.  Guys like Hamilton, Rios, and Jones can creep into that mix too.

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The Potential Of Jay Bruce

Heading into the season Reds right fielder Jay Bruce was being drafted in the 11th round on average.  We had him down for .269-32-91-85-8 in 560 ABs.  His actual line: .281-25-70-80-5 in 509 ABs.  He missed some time in September with an abdomen injury, and also was benched against tough lefties earlier in the season.  Projected to 560 ABs he would've hit .281-28-77-88-6, pretty close to our projection aside from RBIs.

Bruce fell a bit short of the breakout some fantasy touts predicted or hoped for, but his age 23 season was definitely his best yet.  He provided excellent 11th-round value.  In 2011 I think people will be salivating on draft day, given Bruce's obvious talent.  He could be drafted as early as the fifth round.  Will he be worth that level of speculation?

The first thing to note is that Bruce probably won't be benched much next year, having proven his ability to hit lefties.  Hit AB totals in May, June, and July suggest he'd be around 590 in a healthy, full season.  Right there you're looking at 30 home runs without any growth.

Bruce's .281 batting average may not be sustainable; Baseball HQ's xBA stat had him at .260.  His 26.7% strikeout rate was on the high side, 25th in baseball among those with 400+ PAs.

We mentioned the 30 home run potential.  This year 15 of Bruce's home runs came in his final 133 ABs.  That's a ridiculous rate, but it was only two months.  It's enough to hint that Bruce could be a 40 home run player in 2011 though.

In the RBI department keep in mind he spent 48% of his plate appearances in the #6 spot in the lineup and 40% in the #5 spot.  Assuming the Reds don't bring in a big name to play left field, I could see Bruce find more of a permanent home at #5 behind Joey Votto and Scott Rolen.  That means more RBIs.

Bruce attempted nine steals and found success on only five.  Compared to how many times he was on first base, he really didn't attempt many steals.  He may get a few extra swipes by improving his success rate, but he's not a 10 steal guy unless something changes.  Sometimes a player just decides to run more, but don't count on steals from Bruce.

Entirely using gut feel, I'd put Bruce down for something like .270-35-100-90-5 next year.  Not too many players hit 35 homers these days, and the steals help.  Even without a massive breakout type campaign, Bruce's power numbers should make him a top 10 fantasy outfielder in the vein of Vladimir Guerrero or Corey Hart this year.  I'm intrigued enough to say a fifth or sixth round selection is justified.

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Peter Bourjos Examined

The Angels called up center fielder Peter Bourjos on August 3rd, with Torii Hunter moving to right field to accommodate the rookie.  Serving as the Angels' ninth-place hitter, Bourjos has started all seven Angels games since his promotion.

28 big league plate appearances isn't much of a sample, though Bourjos has scored four runs and swiped two bags in that brief time.  At Triple A this year he hit .314/.364/.498 in 455 PAs (102 games).  He hit 13 home runs with 12 triples and 27 stolen bases in 32 attempts.

Bourjos' game is all about speed.  His wheels enable him to play plus center field defense, so that should keep him in the lineup even if his offensive numbers don't sparkle.  Playing time is not an issue, but can fantasy leaguers expect tons of steals?  In the minors Bourjos attempted to steal 27.6% of the time when he singled or walked (a rate that drops if we include Bourjos' ten HBPs).  I'd like to see more - the game's top thieves typically attempt to steal around 40% of the time.

Using the MLE calculator at MinorLeagueSplits.com, here's how Bourjos profiles over 550 ABs: .256-12-47-78-29.  It's a line worth about $6, similar to the value provided by Alex Rios or Vernon Wells last year.  It's nothing to write home about; you might do just as well grabbing Corey Patterson, Will Venable, or Coco Crisp off a mixed league waiver wire if you're desperate for steals.  We don't know if Bourjos' 12 home run type power will translate to the Majors, especially over the next two months as a rookie.

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Outfielder Rankings

Time for our outfield rankings for 12-team 5x5 mixed leagues with 14 hitters and 9 pitchers.  Average draft round is in parentheses.

  1. Ryan Braun (1) - $31.37
  2. Matt Kemp (1) - $26.52
  3. Carl Crawford (2) - $25.14
  4. Jacoby Ellsbury (2) - $23.34
  5. Matt Holliday (2) - $21.67
  6. Nelson Cruz (6) - $19.97
  7. Grady Sizemore (3) - $18.89
  8. Jayson Werth (3) - $16.56
  9. Justin Upton (3) - $16.06
  10. Carlos Lee (6) - $15.23
  11. Nick Markakis (5) - $14.36
  12. Andrew McCutchen (8) - $14.20
  13. B.J. Upton (5) - $13.59
  14. Rajai Davis (14) - $13.28
  15. Curtis Granderson (5) - $13.19
  16. Michael Bourn (8) - $13.09 
  17. Jay Bruce (11) - $13.06
  18. Juan Pierre (20) - $12.76
  19. Jason Bay (3) - $12.53
  20. Shin-Soo Choo (6) - $12.38
  21. Adam Lind (4) - $12.19
  22. Ben Zobrist (5) - $12.07
  23. Bobby Abreu (7) - $11.89
  24. Shane Victorino (6) - $11.62
  25. Julio Borbon (17) - $11.62
  26. Hunter Pence (8) - $11.28
  27. Adam Jones (8) - $10.94
  28. Chris Coghlan (20) - $10.67
  29. Manny Ramirez (6) - $10.66
  30. Ichiro Suzuki (4) - $10.40
  31. Andre Ethier (6) - $10.17
  32. Torii Hunter (9) - $10.01
  33. Denard Span (11) - $9.95
  34. Josh Hamilton (5) - $9.76
  35. Nate McLouth (8) - $8.91
  36. Adam Dunn (5) - $8.84
  37. Nyjer Morgan (11) - $8.56
  38. Carlos Quentin (9) - $8.21
  39. Johnny Damon (11) - $7.85
  40. Garrett Jones (13) - $7.30
  41. Alex Rios (10) - $6.99
  42. Alfonso Soriano (7) - $6.88
  43. Carlos Gonzalez (11) - $6.34
  44. Franklin Gutierrez (22) - $6.21
  45. Corey Hart (17) - $6.04
  46. Carlos Beltran (8) - $5.68
  47. Cody Ross (26) - $5.63
  48. Michael Cuddyer (10) - $5.54
  49. Nolan Reimold (17) - $5.40
  50. Ryan Ludwick (16) - $5.33
  51. Kyle Blanks (27) - $5.10
  52. Jason Kubel (10) - $4.65
  53. Travis Snider (21) - $4.49
  54. Magglio Ordonez (25) - $3.96
  55. Brad Hawpe (10) - $3.67
  56. Raul Ibanez (8) - $3.66
  57. Cameron Maybin (25) - $3.65
  58. Vernon Wells (17) - $3.46
  59. Jermaine Dye (16) - $3.44
  60. Coco Crisp (28) - $3.34
  61. Carlos Gomez (20) - $3.16
  62. Conor Jackson (27) - $2.86
  63. Jake Fox (28) - $2.45
  64. Juan Rivera (15) - $2.30
  65. Mark DeRosa (21) - $2.25
  66. Matt Diaz (N/A) - $1.95
  67. Marlon Byrd (26) - $1.93
  68. Jeff Francoeur (28) - $1.65
  69. Josh Willingham (22) - $1.63
  70. Scott Podsednik (28) - $1.57
  71. Drew Stubbs (27) - $1.41
  72. Mike Cameron (21) - $1.14
  73. Nick Swisher (21) - $1.00
  74. Ryan Raburn (28) - $0.91
  75. Brett Gardner (28) - $0.54

Is it possible that Cruz is being undervalued again, following a 33 HR, 20 SB season in 462 ABs?  I think so.  I also feel that Carlos Lee has slipped too far.  McCutchen is a nice upside pick - I have him at .279-16-67-97-32 in 625 ABs, but I could see more.

Davis would need 550 ABs to get my projected 81 runs and 54 SBs.  Similarly, Pierre's ranking comes with a 625 AB projection, Borbon's 575 ABs.  Keep an eye on Bruce as a breakout candidate.  Coghlan, Garrett Jones, Hart, Gutierrez, and Ross all appear undervalued.  It's important to pay attention to those who are expected to steal double-digit bags and those who aren't.

On the overvalued side, Bay scares me in the 3rd round.  Ichiro in the 4th is also worrisome, if he stays below 30 SB.  Ibanez looks questionable as well.

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Outfield Rankings

Next up, our outfielder rankings.  These dollar values apply to 5x5 mixed leagues with the standard categories and roster size.  I used 20 games for eligibility.  These rankings are extra-tentative since tweaks in playing time could change things quite a bit.

Alexei Ramirez would be worth $13.11 as an OF, while Felipe Lopez checks in at $3.29.  On to the rankings (draft round in parentheses):

  1. Ryan Braun - $31.62 (1)
  2. Grady Sizemore - $27.98 (1)
  3. Matt Holliday - $25.93 (2)
  4. B.J. Upton - $25.33 (2)
  5. Carlos Beltran - $24.88 (2)
  6. Alfonso Soriano - $24.69 (3)
  7. Carlos Lee - $21.25 (3)
  8. Josh Hamilton - $20.74 (1)
  9. Matt Kemp - $20.71 (4)
  10. Manny Ramirez - $20.55 (2)
  11. Vladimir Guerrero - $20.18 (4)
  12. Nick Markakis - $18.11 (3)
  13. Jay Bruce - $17.36 (9)
  14. Jacoby Ellsbury - $17.30 (5)
  15. Jayson Werth - $17.07 (12)
  16. Jason Bay - $17.04 (3)
  17. Nate McLouth - $17.01 (6)
  18. Carl Crawford - $16.60 (3)
  19. Bobby Abreu - $16.48 (6)
  20. Alex Rios - $16.34 (4)
  21. Hunter Pence - $16.16 (7)
  22. Corey Hart - $15.78 (5)
  23. Curtis Granderson - $15.62 (5)
  24. Nelson Cruz - $15.23 (12)
  25. Carlos Quentin - $15.23 (4)
  26. Ichiro Suzuki - $14.83 (3)
  27. Adam Dunn - $14.77 (6)
  28. Ryan Ludwick - $14.44 (8)
  29. Torii Hunter - $13.67 (10)
  30. Magglio Ordonez - $13.07 (6)
  31. Shane Victorino - $13.03 (5)
  32. Chris Young - $12.49 (10)
  33. Johnny Damon - $12.12 (10)
  34. Jermaine Dye - $11.91 (8)
  35. Andre Ethier - $11.83 (10)
  36. Raul Ibanez - $9.83 (10)
  37. Vernon Wells - $9.50 (9)
  38. Adam Jones - $8.86 (18)
  39. Brad Hawpe - $7.63 (12)
  40. Conor Jackson - $7.59 (18)
  41. Lastings Milledge - $6.87 (12)
  42. Ryan Spilborghs - $6.10 (27)
  43. Xavier Nady - $6.03 (13)
  44. Mike Cameron - $5.29 (27)
  45. Milton Bradley - $5.26 (12)
  46. Coco Crisp - $5.04 (27)
  47. Rick Ankiel - $4.95 (19)
  48. Delmon Young - $4.94 (22)
  49. Willy Taveras - $4.71 (13)
  50. Mark DeRosa - $4.64 (16)
  51. Justin Upton - $3.80 (20)
  52. Shin-Soo Choo - $3.69 (24)
  53. Denard Span - $3.60 (19)
  54. Michael Bourn - $3.36 (27)
  55. Adam Lind - $3.25 (23)
  56. Pat Burrell - $3.21 (13)
  57. J.D. Drew - $3.05 (24)
  58. Randy Winn - $2.87 (27)
  59. Ty Wigginton -$2.78 (18)
  60. Elijah Dukes - $2.72 (24)
  61. Carlos Gomez - $2.61 (25)
  62. David DeJesus - $2.30 (27)
  63. Jack Cust - $2.26 (28)
  64. Nick Swisher - $1.66 (17)
  65. Fred Lewis - $1.44 (23)
  66. Jody Gerut - $1.26 (ND)
  67. Jeremy Hermida - $0.97 (17)
  68. Josh Willingham - $0.54 (28)
  69. Luke Scott - $0.53 (22)
  70. Jeff Francoeur - $0.36 (24)
  71. Jason Kubel - $0.24 (28)
  72. Jose Guillen - $0.22 (27)

Just missed: Aaron Rowand, Cody Ross, Daniel Murphy, Kosuke Fukudome, Hideki Matsui, Juan Pierre, David Murphy, Chris Dickerson, Travis Snider, Chase Headley.

Guys I don't like at their current draft positions: Hamilton, Quentin, Ichiro, Nady, and Burrell.

Potential bargains: Kemp, Bruce, Werth, Pence, Cruz, Jones, Jackson, and Spilborghs.

For certain guys in their early 20s, I'd use the dollar values as a mere suggestion.  We know guys like Bruce, Upton, and Jones are capable of breakout years.

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