A quick glance around the outfields of MLB teams shows a truly amazing and diverse crop of talented young players. Mike Trout of the Anaheim Angels burst onto the scene and has made his way to the front of line in terms of top overall fantasy player. Yasiel Puig electrified the Dodgers lineup last season. Bryce Harper continues to impress with his power and hustle attitude. Even players who have seemingly been around the league for many years are just entering their prime: Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp.
Fantasy owners need to keep their finger on the pulse of OF prospects because in a typical 12-team league, the top 50-60 OF will not only be owned but may be played on a daily basis (4 OF slots, maybe 1 or 2 UTIL slots, not to mention duel position eligibility players). The next crop of OF is filled with potential fantasy stars. The adventurous owner might take a shot at grabbing one or two of these guys as early as this year in standard leagues, certainly in keeper leagues, and I bet many are already owned in Dynasty leagues.
1. Byron Buxton, MIN: The Minnesota Twins future CF played at 3 levels in 2013, hitting 15 HR and stealing 57 bases.
2. George Springer, HOU: The Houston Astros found a 5-tool stud out of UConn in Springer. In 2013, at AA and AAA, he finished 3 HR short of a 40/40 season (37 HR, 45 steals). Springer impressed last spring and could earn a spot in the majors in 2014.
3. Oscar Taveras, StL: Taveras could be ready to man the OF in St. Louis if Carlos Beltran departs in free agency. In an injury-shortened 2013 he hit 5 HR and had 5 steals, to go with a 0.306 average in 46 games at AAA. Make no mistake, a power-speed combo is there and ready to produce for years to come.
4. Billy Hamilton, CIN: 2013 was the slowest professional season for Hamilton who stole only 88 bases between AAA and a September call-up. Hamilton was 13 for 14 in steals in the majors, Juan Centeno the lone catcher to throw him out. Expect plenty of steals, and plenty of runs a top a powerful Cincinnati lineup.
5. David Dahl, COL: The Rockies top prospect offers a blend of speed and power, to go with a plus-arm in the OF. He projects as a 5-tool player, and I expect his power should get a little boost from the thin Colorado air.
6. Clint Frazier, CLE: The 19-year old came as advertised in 2013, hitting 5 HR, stealing 3 bases and batting 0.297 in Rookie Ball. Frazier packs tremendous power and projects as a middle of the lineup corner outfielder.
7. Jackie Bradley Jr, BOS: Don’t let his disappointing early returns push him off your radar screen. The Red Sox CF job is Bradley’s for the taking in 2014, and while he won’t run as much as Jacoby Ellsbury, Bradley is a double-digit homer and steal player who plays in a high scoring lineup.
8. Gregory Polanco, PIT: Talk about an embarrassment of riches, let’s look at the Pittsburgh outfield that already has Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte. Add to the mix Polanco for 2014, and you have another burner, with 40 steals in 2012 and 37 at 2 levels in 2013. Polanco also enough pop to threaten 20 homers.
9. Delino Deshields Jr, HOU: Junior is cut from the same cloth as his father, and while a move to the OF may depress his fantasy value, it may bring him to the majors sooner where his speed can be on display. 58 steals between 2 levels in 2013 show his potential (he stole 101 in 2012), and he scored 106 runs while holding down an average near 0.300. Currently racing at 7 for 9 in steals during the AFL season.
10. Jorge Soler, CHC: The Cuban OF is still a few years away from Wrigley, but in a brief stop at A+ in 2013, he hit 8 homers, drove in 35 runs and even added 5 steals on 6 attempts.
11. Nick Castellanos, DET: The former 3B is now a full-time OF (his progress being blocked in Detroit by some guy named Miggy), so he loses a little value there.
12. Bubba Starling, KC: Before we write off Starling as a draft bust, let’s not forget that he just turned 21 this year. In just over a full season of baseball between 2012 and 2013 (178 games) he has hit 23 homers, stolen 31 bases, scored 86 runs and driven in 96 runs. Those are all numbers that would make him a perennial all-star.
13. Christopher Tyler Austin, NYY: Austin played at 4 levels in 2012, and had an impressive showing in AA in 2013 as a 21-year old. He has good patience at the plate and should continue to rise rapidly up through the Yankee system.
14. Courtney Hawkins, CHW: White Sox prospect produced 19 homers and 10 steals in 103 games at high-A in 2013, but really struggled to make contact at the plate finishing with an average under the Mendoza line.
15. Zachary Slade Heathcott, NYY: Another speedy outfielder in the Yankee system, Heathcott was able to stay healthy enough to get more than 300 at-bats in 2013. Injuries raise some concerns, but his overall skill set indicates an above average MLB player is here.
16. Lewis Brinson, TEX: Still a ways off from the majors (just finished a season in A in 2013), Brinson may have some developing to do but has already shown 20/20 skills. An improved approach at the plate could lead him to realize his 5-tool potential.
17. Austin Meadows, PIT: 18-year old held his own in his first professional season, hitting 7 HR and stealing 3 bases in 48 games between R/A-.
18. Joc Pederson, LAD: 3 very impressive statistical seasons for Pederson have moved him up in the ranks (totaling 52 HR, 86 steals). There is no room for him in the Dodger OF (Kemp, Puig, Crawford, Ethier) so another season of development on the farm is required.
19. Yorman Rodriguez, CIN: Reds prospect played at 3 levels in 2013, showing balance of power and speed. High K-rate is concerning but Rodriguez is only 20-years old, so there is plenty of time to develop and realize the tremendous upside he has. Currently batting around 0.300 with 4 homers and 2 steals in the AFL.
20. Stephen Piscotty, StL: Another 3 level participant in 2013, Piscotty shows a good balance of speed and power, patience at the plate and good batting average. In the AFL he is batting 0.338 with 6 steals in 8 attempts.
21. Michael Taylor, WAS: The Nationals prospect showed tremendous speed in 2013, swiping 51 bases in 58 attempts. He also hit 10 homers and 41 doubles, tempting us with the prospect of 20 homer seasons in his future.
22. Albert Almora, CHC: Another Chicago Cub prospect with a high ceiling, Almora needs to improve his patience at the plate.
23. Michael Choice, OAK: The power has not been the same since A+ (30 homers) but Choice showed an increased walk rate and declining K-rate in 2013 at AAA.
24. Jorge Bonifacio, KC: A broken hamate bone in May slowed his season. It will be interesting to see if his power returns in 2014.
25. Jesse Winker, CIN: Has showed a good approach at the plate (13% BB-rate/16.5% K-rate), with 21 homers and 7 steals over 2 seasons in the minors. His advanced grasp of the strike zone could propel his path through the Cincinnati system.
26. Mason Williams, NYY: Speedy Yankee prospect could be patrolling CF in Yankee Stadium in a few years, but more a threat on the bases than at the plate at this point in his development.
27. Kyle Parker, COL: His power numbers may be slightly inflated due to playing in the California League, but if Parker continues to mash homers he will find a home in the Rockie OF, perhaps as early as 2014.
28. Nick Williams, TEX: Another slugging OF in the Rangers organization, Williams does not take walks (only 31 in 577 at-bats) and strikes out a lot (160 strikeouts). When he connects though he punishes the ball with 19 homers, 28 doubles and 18 triples in about 140 minor league games.
29. Tim Wheeler, COL: Wheeler burst onto the scene in 2011 with 36 homers and 26 steals. A broken hamate bone has slowed his progress and zapped his power, with just 8 homers in nearly 930 plate appearances since then.
30. Brian Goodwin, WAS: The Nationals prospect is currently batting 0.317 with 2 homers and 3 steals in the AFL. Improved his play during a second season at AA but probably still needs some seasoning. No rush to get to DC, the OF is already full.
Billy Burns, WAS: Burns’ most valuable tools are his legs, and in 2013 he got on base to the tune of 43% of the time, leading to 74 steals with just 7 caught stealings in A+/AA.
Gary Brown, SF: Brown is rapidly falling out of these ranks after a disastrous 2013 that saw his K-rate jump to 22%, his average fall 48 points and his OBP drop 69 points. Brown has not lived up to the promise of his 2011 season, and the 25-year old may be running short on time to turn his career around.
Brett Jackson, CHC: Jackson had climbed all the way to the majors in 2012 before starting over again in 2013 at Rookie Ball. Though he made his way back to AAA, his production was not nearly as impressive as his first trip. He K’s too much and the Cubs OF is already loaded with prospects.
Check out all of our prospect rankings