Can you believe that we are just DAYS away from the beginning of the 2018 season? It’s closer than Barry Bonds is to the Hall of Fame. It’s closer than Bartolo Colon is to 250 pounds. It’s closer than MADISON FREAKIN’ BUMGARNER GOING DOWN FOR TWO MONTHS ARE YOU KIDDING ME I JUST DRAFTED HIM BLARGH!!!!
Life goes on.
Last week completed my recurring, redundant, and never-ending series of positional previews for fantasy baseball 2018. You check them all out very easily. Go to the “Writers” tab up at the top, scroll down to where it says
“Dingus” Jake Bridges, and you will find the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Two paragraphs in, and we are already getting off the rails. Let me hear it, haters! Who’s letting me write this stuff?! Anyways, although my outfielder preview is an accomplishment of digital pen to paper, analyzing just 20 of them won’t do. Unless you play in 4-team leagues. (side note: WHY?!) Instead of giving you the rigamarole of a long-drawn-out list, I figured I’d make a guide of non-top 20 outfielders broken down by skill instead. Since there’s already been too much adieu, here’s the guide…without further adieu…
NON-TOP 20 OUTFIELDER GUIDE FOR 2018
Because who doesn’t love speed…
Ender Inciarte, Atlanta Braves
I’m a big fan of high average, run scoring, speed types, and Inciarte is the poster boy for them. The Braves leadoff man had a breakout year in 2017 setting career highs in runs scored, home runs, RBI, batting average, and yes even slugging percentage! And he did all of this while hitting atop a mediocre lineup AND without Freddie Freeman to bat him in for a chunk of the season. Imagine the possibilities when Acuna comes into the mix! 160 runs scored, confirmed. Inciarte does so many things well that it’s hard not to like him. He steals, he is near elite in contact rate, and he made some interesting strides in his power game as well. He will never be challenging for 20 HR/30 SB seasons, or even 15/30 for that matter. However, the speed with a high average and the upside to score over 100 runs makes him one of my favorite non-top 20 outfielder targets.
A.J. Pollock, Arizona Diamondbacks
There’s no question about the skills present with Pollock, but we have to be concerned about the last two seasons. He’s only made just 512 big league plate appearances total. However, even with limited appearances in 2017, he still managed to rack up 20 stolen bases. And don’t forget that in his last healthy season in 2015, he swiped 1 bag shy of 40. xBA tells us the .247 batting average from last year was a bit unlucky, and full-health should see a quick turnaround. That .290 average of 2015 and before is right on the horizon. Besides that ugly 2nd half batting average, I see nothing in the profile that suggests the skills have diminished. The only thing that’s changed is health. Take the bargain price, and you could have 15 HR/25 SB/.290 by year’s end.
Delino DeShields Jr., Texas Rangers
He finally earned a regular spot in the lineup last year, and he really…ran…with it. OH GEEZ. There’s so much to like here in terms of the speed upside. However, the over 20% strikeout rate factors into his mediocre batting average, and he really won’t help you there or with power. He’s currently projected to hit atop a Rangers’ lineup that has tons of pop and should have lots of opportunities to score runs. The ADP is 193 right now, and you should be jumping all over that. He has 40 SB upside, and that’s a real steal…I’M DONE HERE.
AND IF YOU’RE REALLY DESPERATE FOR STEALS…AND JUST STEALS…
Mallex Smith, Tampa Bay Rays
This one is only recommended for the bravest of souls in either AL-only leagues or 16-teamers. If he can get consistent playing time, the talent is there for 20 SB and beyond. He did post an encouraging .270 batting average last year, but expect something closer to .250. There’s no power here and little upside in other counting stats, so it’s speed or bust.
NOW BACK TO THE ACTUAL FANTASY ASSETS…
Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays
Similar to Pollock, here’s a guy whose production has been capped because of injuries. When he’s healthy, he’s got the talent to put up a 20/20 season no sweat. “When he’s healthy” being the key phrase there, obviously. Take heed of the .306/.352/.517 triple slash with 8 HR and 6 SB in just 147 at-bats in the 2nd half last year. That’s the kind of production we know is lurking with a healthy Kiermaier. And just like everyone else in the majors, he experienced upticks in HR/FB, hard contact, and flyball rate last year, especially in the aforementioned 2nd half. I’m not saying he’ll finish inside the top 20, but 20/20 upside with a .260 average at his price should have you buying.
Manuel Margot, San Diego Padres
Behold! The post-hype prospect. Margot nearly produced a 15 HR/15 SB line right out of the chute, but because of injuries, no one really talked about it. He’s now got an ADP of 140 according to NFBC’s most recent data, and that puts him around guys like Ian Happ, Gregory Polanco, Adam Jones, and Trey Mancini. Those guys are fine, and I’m actually a fan of Happ’s heading into this year, but I believe Margot has a higher upside than all of them. Yeah, I said it!
A calf strain really limited him in the 1st half, but without that, I think he would have crossed the 25 SB plateau with ease. What’s got my interest further piqued is the power growth in the 2nd half last year. In that time frame, his hard contact rate went up, he went from 28% to 42% in flyball percentage, and he banged out 9 homers to boot. All signs have me thinking 15 HR/25 SB with something around a .265 average. It won’t be a great lineup in San Diego, but they are improving. There’s lots of upside here that’s going under the radar.
Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates
And speaking of Gregory Polanco, let’s talk about him! Injuries sent him to the DL a total of 3 times last year where he racked up 45 days on the shelf. Sensing a trend here with these guys? Despite the injuries, though, Polanco was right on track to come close to his 2016 line of 79 R/22 HR/86 RBI/17 SB. Like Kiermaier, health means he could most definitely challenge for a 20/20 season. Last year’s jump in contact percentage to 84% and his 2nd half improvement in hard contact rate have me believing that’s possible. If you believe the strikeout rate can live closer to the 14% from last year than the 20% in 2016, then there’s even more reason to buy in. It’s not a very good lineup in Pittsburgh this year, but 20/20 with something around a .260 is valuable. See: Kevin Kiermaier.
Bradley Zimmer, Cleveland Indians
He’s got the upside of 20 HR/25 SB if he can just lock down playing time. And preferably move higher in that lineup. Right now, he’s slotted to hit 9th for the Tribe, but I could see him moving past names like Lonnie Chisenhall and Tyler Naquin as the season progresses. The average will probably hurt you as projections say it’s around .240, but the power-speed combo at such a young age is intriguing. He’s got an ADP of 195 right now, which makes him almost lottery-ticket status, but there could be a big payoff waiting for you.
POWER, POWER, POWER
These guys swing big bats.
Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs
There’s elite power here, but it comes with a cost. The cost of batting average, that is. An injury had him out for all of 2016, but he came back last year with a vengeance! 30 HR! And a .211 batting average. Womp Womp. The 1st half saw him bash 15 HR, but he did it with an unsightly .188/.301/.411 triple slash. The 2nd half saw him crush 18 more dongs, AND we got an improved line of .252/.333/.553. That’s better! He does walk a lot, which gives him slightly more intrigue in OBP leagues, but we paid for DONGS NOT WALKS HERE! Be encouraged that Schwarber matched his 2015 numbers in hard contact rate and HR/FB last year post-2016 injury. 30 HR could be a floor with 40 as the upside.
Jay Bruce, New York Mets
He’s aging gracefully as a consistent, 25-30 HR threat with something in the neighborhood of a .250 average. He’s got a 161 ADP right now, and that feels about right. He’s hit at least 22 HR in 9 of his 10 big league seasons, and in this era of juiced balls, why predict less now?! But seriously, he’s had over 30 HR each of the last two seasons, his slugging has stayed over .500 in that time frame, and he’s maintained league average contact rate. He made modest gains in flyball and hard contact rate as well in 2017, and this should be another 25-30 HR season for the consistent slugger. I’m not high on the Mets, but Bruce is an excellent OF #3 or #4.
Domingo Santana, Milwaukee Brewers
In case you were living under a rock the last few months, let me break you this news. The Brewers got Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. Suddenly, no one knew which way was up, who Ryan Braun even was, or if Milwaukee had been burned to the ground. When the dust settled, the Brewers calmly announced Braun would give 1st base a shot, and order was restored. Now, Domingo Santana is slotted to hit 5th in a suddenly powerful Brewers lineup. Santana absolutely broke out last year with a line of 88 R/30 HR/85 RBI/15 SB/.278. He’s just barely out of the top 20 for me, and here’s why: the 31% HR/FB rate feels CRAZY high, and for a guy known for line drives, it could be tough to repeat 30 HR. His career-best 66% contact rate also has me thinking the .278 batting average might be a little ambitious. I do like the fact that he doubled his stolen base success rate from the previous season, however. He’s on the brink of being a lock for the top 20 annually, but be careful of regression.
Marcell Ozuna, St. Louis Cardinals
He exploded with a career year in 2017 posting a line of 93 R/37 HR/124 RBI/.312. And that all happened while playing half his games in Marlins Park. However, there’s outlier year alert written all over last year. xBA says he’s closer to a .260 hitter than .300, he rode an extremely inflated BABIP all year, and he doubled the previous year’s HR/FB rate. And all of those were outliers from his previous 4 big league seasons. There will most certainly be regression, but the landing spot will still be worth investing in. Just don’t pay for last year’s monster stats.
Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers
I went over him in my 1st base rankings. Check that out for some further analysis!
Yeonis Cespedes, New York Mets
Injuries got the best of him last year as he only recorded 291 at-bats. However, he was still able to flash the Cespedes power with 17 HR and a good triple slash of .292/.353/.540. His contact percentage and BB/K mark stayed consistent plus he posted improvements in hard contact and flyball rate. When he was on the field. He’s slated to hit 2nd in a less-than-stellar lineup this season. He’s risky because of health, but my goodness is he valuable when he’s out there.
Michael Conforto, New York Mets
The talent is so real! We got a taste of what he can do in a full season last year, but a shoulder injury has him questionable until maybe May of this season. Late April if the Mets pull a Mets and rush him back. Last year saw him produce a line of 72 R/27 HR/68 RBI/.279, and oh man why can’t we have nice things in fantasy baseball?! He made big strides against lefties last year in the 1st half, but went back to struggling in the 2nd. Who is the real you, Mike?! Perhaps the shoulder was bothering him, but like…only when facing southpaws? IDK. I’m loving the 13% walk rate, and if he can build on the 70% contact rate, we’ve got something to really get excited about. Like his teammate Cespedes, health will be directly tied to his value in 2018.
Nomar Mazara, Texas Rangers
Slated to hit 3rd in that same lineup that I marked as a boon for DeShields (psst…scroll up). His ADP is currently 152, which puts him around the likes of Trey Mancini, Kevin Kiermaier, and Adam Eaton. Can I be real with you for a second? I want Mazara over any of them. I know the upside for 20/20 is there for Kiermaier, but Mazara provides 25 HR upside, doesn’t have an injury history, and projects for a better average than many of the guys around him. And he has a seemingly higher floor on the counting stats to boot. He showed decent plate discipline in his first full season with an almost 10% walk rate, and although I don’t anticipate 101 (!!!) RBI again, it should be a fine season for the youngster.
A little bit of everything!
Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
The boisterous outfielder put up his best stats since 2013 last year, and I’m jumping on board after a 28 HR/15 SB campaign put him right back on my fantasy map. He doubled his walk rate to 11% last year, he’s always had an above league average contact rate, and he saw upticks in every category of his triple slash. He’s still hitting over 50% groundballs, which could limit the HR upside, but the hard contact and HR/FB improvements negate that in my book. Take note that 15 SB is a career-high, and it’s tough to predict that again. Think 25 HR/10 SB with a .270 average.
Eddie Rosario, Minnesota Twins
Another breakout guy with a line of 79 R/27 HR/78 RBI/9 SB/.290 a year ago. His 1st half was solid, but he took off in the 2nd half with 49 R/17 HR/53 RBI. He made big improvements in plate discipline in the 2nd half of last year especially, and that helped guide him to his career-best BB/K mark. The hit percentage stayed consistent, and his contact percentage crossed the 80% threshold for the first time. And I sound like a broken record, BUT he did experience gains in hard contact and flyball percentage. #JuicedBalls. He’s slated to hit 4th in a good Twins lineup, and I love him as a slightly under-the-radar 3rd or 4th OF option.
Adam Eaton, Washington Nationals
And speaking of under the radar, Adam Eaton should be a thing this year. Expectations were sky-high as he arrived in the nation’s capital last year, but a knee injury cost him the whole campaign. Before last year, he had been a remarkably consistent producer of unspectacular yet very solid stats across the board. Lots of runs scored, modest power, modest speed, high average. He fills a lot of holes without doing one thing elite. I LOVE IT! He’s an even better OBP option as he usually checks in around the .360 range, and his BB/K was on track to grow for the second year in a row when he went down. Don’t sleep on him on draft day.
Odubel Herrera, Philadelphia Phillies
He surprisingly dropped off in the steals department going from 25 in 2016 to just 8 last year, but don’t let that keep you from drafting him. His HR stayed consistent, and he’s still good to hit in the .280s, so there’s value to be had here. I’m especially encouraged by his improvement in the 2nd half of last year where he gained about 80 points in batting average, almost 100 on OBP, and 200 on slugging. The power surge in the 2nd half of last year was fueled by the usual suspects: gains in HR/FB rate, contact rate, and hard contact. He’d be even sexier with 25 SB, but a 15/15 season with a .280 average and 80 runs scored seems more likely.
Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves
DO NOT DRAFT! Just kidding. The hype train left the station long ago, and unless you’re willing to bite in Round 7 or 8 right now, you’re probably going to miss out. He’s heading back to the minors so the Braves can save a year of service time, but projections have him around 15 HR/20 SB and a good average when he comes up. Although he’s filled to the brim with talent and has this Braves’ fan giddy with excitement, I cannot justify taking him over other proven options around his ADP.
Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles
There’s something to be said about the stalwarts of draft day. Adam Jones is one of those rock solid, unsexy types that can win you leagues. You may scoff at that statement, but the floor has been about as steady as they come even with the regression baked in. Sure, there are arrows pointing down across the board, but the floor looks like 25 HR/75 R/75 RBI/.280. That’s not bad for a 32-year-old with an ADP of 147. Baltimore could be straight trash this season, and while his stats are on the steady decline, don’t count out Adam Jones on draft day.
Brett Gardner, New York Yankees
Look who gets to hit in front of all that power in the Yankee lineup! It’s Brett Gardner, the ageless wonder! Ok, so maybe he’s not a superhero, but boy if I don’t love Gardner in the mid-to-late rounds of my drafts this year. He once again crossed the 20 SB threshold last year with 23, but keep in mind that 15 came in the 1st half. Seems like his bones may have slowed him down a bit. Regardless, he’s always had pretty good plate discipline, and so many of his metrics stayed consistent last year. He’s another who’s aging gracefully, and with the talent around him, I believe he is a rock-solid option to fill out your outfield depth.
And there you have it. A thorough, yet incomplete guide of non-top 20 outfielders you should be targeting on draft day. Feel like I missed someone? Comment below or tweet at me (@jakebridges03), and we can talk about it. Or your hopes and dreams and fears. Whatever. I’m game. As always, thanks for reading!