OF Position Depth and Strategical Implications

I have never really been a huge believer in position scarcity. My personal approach in drafts has always been to take best available player in the first few rounds and then to plug-in the holes later on. I do have one general exception when it comes to position scarcity however. You will almost never see me draft more than two outfielders in the early rounds of a draft because I believe it is relatively easy to find OF producers in the late rounds and off the waiver wire. I always want to position myself to take advantage of that.

Obviously, there are some big bats available in the outfield. While I would not hesitate to draft Trout at number one or to take Stanton in the top five, I think owners who invest too heavily in their outfield on draft day are making a rather large mistake. If you fill out your entire starting outfield by the eighth or ninth round, the holes you are creating elsewhere are probably going to be more difficult to fill.

First off, we must consider how a baseball player ends up getting assigned to the outfield. At lower levels of youth baseball, the best athletes generally get positioned up the middle. They are generally found at catcher, shortstop and center field. As these players advance through various levels, only the best of the best defensively will stick at those three spots. The shortstop who lacks a big arm gets moved to second. The player who has strong glove skills and a big arm, but lacks the range ends up playing third.

What about all the players who have big bats but lack the defensive chops to stick at those demanding IF positions? You guessed it, they either end up playing first base or a corner outfield position. This is why first base and OF generally end up being loaded with fantasy relevant bats.

Every season, there are players not even on March draft boards who emerge as reliable fantasy starters. Because of the sheer volume of outfielders available in fantasy draft and the general offensive superiority of those outfielders, there are plenty of bargains to find. Here is a list of a few 2014 draft day irrelevants who emerged as reliable starters:

Player  2014 Rank  Overall Rank  Y! Preseason Rank 
Michael Brantley 2 6 176
Charlie Blackmon 26  301 
Corey Dickerson 13  38  289 
Denard Span 18  55  302 
Melky Cabrera 19  61  293 
Josh Harrison 20  62  318 
JD Martinez 24  69  315 
Lucas Duda 25  74  313 
Marcell Ozuna 30  94  322 

Now, I am not suggesting that the OF is the only place where this phenomenon occurs. There are breakout performers at every position who end up producing fantasy relevant stat lines. Outfielders are just easier to find because of the sheer volume of them. You may not beat your league mates to that breakout second baseman, but your odds of landing one of the many outfielders are much, much better.

How to Apply OF Depth Knowledge to Formulate Draft and Keeper Strategies

I encourage you to take the most valuable player available in the first five rounds, regardless of position. The best stat line does not necessarily equate to being the most valuable, however, and those player values absolutely will fluctuate based on the starting requirements for your league. For example, Buster Posey’s relative value in a 14 team, two C league will be much higher than it would in a 10 team, one C league.

We know that in most formats we can find quality OF bats on the free agent list. That does not mean that you should blindly draft infielders during the early rounds of your draft. If Hunter Pence is available and the top SS on the board is Jose Reyes, then it would usually be a bad idea to pass on Pence just to fill that hole.

When I am making draft day decisions, I use position depth as a tie-breaker. I am not going to take an inferior IF option merely to fill a hole, but if I have two players valued similarly, I will opt to go with the infielder every time. If I am choosing between Pence and Josh Donaldson, Donaldson would get the nod. I will use the same type of positional depth strategy when evaluating keeper options.

Because it is more difficult (not impossible) to find useful options at those infield positions, it is wise to lean toward drafting infielders early in the draft. Leaving one or two OF spots open for the draft end game is a sound strategy. When I leave the draft room, there is no place I would rather be weak  than OF given the odds that I can find strong free agent producers.

Look Ahead at Possible 2015 Values

All of the players highlighted here are currently ranked outside of the top 50 OF for 2015 by ESPN’s Tristan Cockroft. These players could be late game draft targets or possible free agent pickups.

A.J. Pollock, Arizona Diamondbacks – Pollock lost large portions of 2014 due to a broken hamate bone, but he still managed to post strong all around numbers. Pollock will turn 27 this off-season, he plays in a great hitters park and he has the type of versatile fantasy game that is ideal for a third or 4th OF. Pollock has good contact skills, has the power to hit around 15 HRs and the speed to steal 25 bases. Don’t let him fall too far in 2015 drafts.

Rusney Castillo, Boston Red Sox – Castillo is the next Cuban sensation and his stock is likely to rise between now and draft season. In 40 ABs with the Sox this fall, Castillo managed to bat .333 with 2 HRs and 3 SBs. He does not have quite as much upside as some of his Cuban counterparts, but at age 27 he is MLB ready and has an intriguing combination of speed and power. He is highly unlikely to hit anywhere near .300, but he is capable of doing a lot of damage in Fenway Park.

Melky Cabrera, Free Agent – Melky does not get enough respect from the fantasy community. He is controversial because of his PED use, but in three of the past four seasons, he has been a top 20 OF. He got a little lucky with a high HR/FB% this year, but he is a line drive hitter capable of hitting .300. He has double-digit power and will also contribute a handful of SBs. If he re-signs in Toronto (or another strong offensive club), he will be a terrific value pick in the later rounds.

Adam Eaton, Chicago White Sox – Eaton is locked into the lead off spot in an up and coming White Sox offense. He does not have much power, but he could eventually have double-digit power. Eaton’s success rate on the base paths was a disappointing 15/24, but at 25 years old he still has his best seasons ahead of him.

Denard Span, Free Agent – Span’s value will certainly depend on where he signs. He is a 30-year-old speed guy who is not going to deliver anything in the power categories. Span’s excellent plate discipline makes him a strong bet to produce in three categories and he should be available at an affordable price.

Dexter Fowler, Houston Astros – Fowler strikes out a lot, but he walks enough to make up for it. He does not run as much as he could, but he has elite speed, double-digit power and good on base skills. The 28-year-old could make an excellent value in an emerging Astros lineup.

Carl Crawford, Los Angeles Dodgers – the 33-year-old Crawford may need a trade in order to get the ABs he needs, but he still offers elite speed along with double-digit power when healthy. Crawford was successful on 23 of 29 SB attempts in 2014 and his contact rates along with his line drive rates make him a safe bet to assist in the BA category.

Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers – Pederson is an elite, MLB ready prospect coming off a 30/30 AAA season. Expect the Dodgers to figure out a way to make Pederson an every-day player in 2015. He has monster upside.

Arismendy Alcantara, Chicago Cubs – Alcantara struggled to make contact during his rookie season, but the category juice was on full display. In 70 games, 22-year-old Alcantara delivered 10 HRs and 8 SBs. Since he was a .300 hitter in AAA, expect Alcantara to make some improvement in the batting average category moving forward.

Tommy Landseadel

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Tommy is also known as tlance on the CBS and Sports Hoopla message boards. He has been playing fantasy baseball for 16 years in many different format types and looks forward to helping you with your fantasy baseball questions! You can now follow me on Twitter @tlandseadel