Fantasy Baseball

Outfield Deep League Specials

Last week we rolled out our 2015 outfield rankings naming the top 75 outfielders for the 2015 season. There were 16 players that did not receive a high enough ranking (or any ranking at all) to make our list.  Six players (Alcantara, Pagan, Prado, Aoki, Pompey and Morse) each appeared on 2-3 lists; while they did not make the cut, they did receive a high enough ranking to be considered one of those last players you might consider in the draft.  It’s those 10 players who only received a ranking on one list that I’ll discuss here today.

While most of you in standard 12 team leagues might not care about the likes of Ichiro Suzuki, Nick Markakis or *gulp* B.J. Upton; those that play in larger leagues will need a little more help filling out their roster. So today we will take a look at those players that didn’t make the cut; see what they could bring to the table, and find out who you should be looking at. The names aren’t pretty, but they are a step above the bottom of the barrel guys which will be featured soon.

Allen Craig (Red Sox): There are two issues here with Craig. First is his utter collapse last season. After 3 straight seasons of batting .300 Craig struggled to hit his weight; literally, he weighs and batted 215. A rise in strikeouts and ground balls were partly to blame along with his inability to hit fastballs which used to be his bread and butter pitch. There wasn’t much change in his plate discipline so it was either a case of bad luck or reverse Pedro Cerrano syndrome.
“Bats, they are sick. I cannot hit fastball. Curveball I hit it very much. Fastball, bats are afraid. I ask Jobu to come, take fear from bats. I offer him cigar, rum. He will come”.
Despite what we saw in 2012, Craig is no power hitter and needs the average to bounce back to be of any use in fantasy. If Craig can do that, he could be a decent source of runs and RBIs.

The second issue is where does he fit in? Rusney Castillo and Hanley Ramirez will take two outfield spots leaving Craig to fight it out with Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts and dark horse Jackie Bradley. Ortiz is not going to yield at bats and is entrenched in the DH role. He could see some time at first if Napoli doesn’t bounce back; that is his best avenue for playing time other than a trade.

Should Allen Craig be drafted? That question can’t be fully answered until we are deep into spring training. If he is traded to a team that will afford him playing time his draft value goes up, but there is still the issue of the batting average collapse. I have a hard time believing a player can go that bad so quickly so I’m banking on a bounce back from Craig. As a fourth or backup outfielder in a deep league, he’s worth a gamble with one of your final picks as long as he has guaranteed playing time.  Without a regular place to play he moves to the bottom of the list.

Juan Lagares (Mets): His glove got him to the majors, now it’s up to the speed and batting average to keep him there. Lagares made improvements in both from 2013 doubling his stolen base total and adding 40 points of average along with decreasing his strikeout percentage and increasing his stolen base success rate. He slumped in June but overall was fairly consistent from month to month and ended the year on a high note. Given that fact he batted .300 from A+ through AAA (covering 1,200 at bats); another small step forward could be in the cards.

So why wasn’t Lagares considered for a spot in the top 75? Part of the reason is he has no power. Another reason is he hits near the top of the lineup so RBI opportunities will be limited. Finally, not many are sold on the fact that he will hit better than the .281 he put up in 2014 (Streamer has him down for a .249 average). Worst case scenario in my opinion would be a repeat of 2014 which would be 50 or so in the run and RBI categories with 13 steals and a .280 average. That would be his floor, but runs and steals could improve if the Mets put him at or near the top of the order. In the 38 games the Mets had him leadoff; Lagares stole 9 bases and scored 17 runs. We could be looking at 70+ runs and 25+ steals in the right situation; remember he did steal 21 bases in 2012 in AA covering 499 at bats.

If you’re looking for a deep league special with speed then look no further. Granted Lagares’ value is tied to his spot in the batting order, but the upside makes for a nice gamble. At the very least you’ll have an outfielder that will not sink your batting average while you wait for something better to come along.

Michael Broun (Indians): He has been a disappointment since arriving in Cleveland. After 5 seasons of stealing at least 40 bases; 3 of which were 50+, Broun hit a wall in 2013. Things didn’t get much better in 2014, partly due to injuries. Bourn seems intent on stealing more in 2015, but will he be able to accomplish this feat? Before we look at Bourns’ main asset, there are several other concerns.

First is the batting average. Bourn hit .294 in 2011 between his time with the Astros and Braves. In 2012 that average went down to .274 and sunk even further in 2013 to .263. In 2014 things continued on a downward spiral as he finished the season with a .253. Coincidently in this time his contact rate went down slightly while his swing percentage went up, more specifically his O-Swing. Bourn needs to cut down on the number of balls he chases outside the zone. Next is the strikeout percentage. It was always higher than average at 20% but the last few years we’ve seen 22-23% which is unacceptable from a guy who hits mostly singles. Higher strikeouts and mediocre averages are fine for power hitters; Adam Dunn made a career out of it, but for a 32-year-old stolen base guy they are an anchor.

Now for the steals. Broun stole 23 bases in 2013 but was also caught 12 times. In comparison, he was caught just 13 times in 55 attempts in 2012. Last year he totaled 10 steals in 16 attempts. While injuries did play a part in the lower totals; those 10 steals were over the course of 106 games. If the average continues to shrink and the success rate does not improve, Bourn could find himself moving down in the lineup with Kipnis taking over the leadoff spot. The Indians will give him every chance to improve, but it is a realistic possibility owners should keep in the back of their minds.

A good player to compare Bourn to would be Adam Eaton, the difference being Eaton has upside, age and a healthy body on his side. For larger and deeper leagues Bourn could be worth a late gamble, but only as a late round pick and last resort for teams in need of some cheap speed. Hope that he can come close to his 2013 numbers and consider anything else you get beyond that a bonus.

Nick Markakis (Braves): *Yawn* Excuse me, had to get that out of the way, and that yawn best describes what you get with Markakis. The past two seasons he has averaged 12 home runs, 85 runs, 55 RBIs and a .274 batting average. The average isn’t bad, the run totals are nice, but the home run and RBI totals are those of a lower level second baseman. Markakis is the Howie Kendrick of outfielders, mediocre numbers but safe totals you can count on. In a larger league that kind of boring stability can go a long way. Fantasy Pros currently has Markakis ranked number 65 among outfielders with a majority of the rankings falling between 59 and 70. Of all the players mentioned so far, this one is the safest pick for overall production.

Josh Reddick (A’s): Since his 32 home run breakout season in 2012, Reddick has been *Mehh*. His 2013 and 2014 seasons are basic carbon copies of each other, with the exception of the improved batting average and strikeout rate and lower walk totals. He improved against righties in 2014 to the tune of .280; that is a step in the right direction, but he is not far off from being a platoon player with a career .229 line against south paws. You’re not drafting Reddick to win you a batting title though; you’re drafting him for his power. His ISO in 2014 was .182 and the FB% has been 44% or higher for 3 years running. The bad news is his average fly ball distance last year was 267.8 feet, good enough to rank 231st in the league and a few places behind Nick Markakis. Now the wrist injury could be partly to blame, if Reddick can get back to where he was in 2013 you’re looking at a fly ball distance of 278 – which is in line with his 2012 distance when he launched 32 over the wall.

Was 2012 a fluke? His major and minor league numbers suggest it was, but his ISO and FB% say he could be good for at least 20 homers. The risk is, if he doesn’t reach 20, all you have is a below average hitter that will need to continue to improve against right-handed pitchers to have any value at all. For leagues with 14-16 teams I would leave this one for someone else. Those in larger leagues might consider him as a 5th outfielder or bench player, but make sure to have another outfielder to pair with him for those days he faces lefties. There is more risk here than rewards, but in larger leagues sometimes you have to take what you can get.

Ichiro Suzuki (Marlins): If Ichiro were still in the American League I would be a little higher on him, but in the National League there is going to be playing time issues. His biggest asset to the Marlins is his ability to hit lefties where Marcel Ozuna finds himself lacking. Also Ozuna and Christian Yelich each have only a year and a half under their belts so there will still be growing pains and slumps which Suzuki can take advantage of. There are also those 10 games at American League parks in June/July that he will sneak into due to the DH. Finally he is their strongest bat off the bench and still has some speed left in his legs.

This is a tricky one since it is up in the air when and how much Ichiro Suzuki will play. There is also the issue of his age, at 41 years old the bottom could fall out at any time. In 2014 at age 40 Ichiro hit .284, this was 20 points higher than the previous 2 seasons. He also stole 15 bags and scored 42 runs in 359 at bats. As for home runs and RBIs, they are a non issue here so don’t look to Ichiro for either. Those 359 at bats were spread out over 143 games. 143 games is great for a full-time player, but as a part timer it means pinch hits and late inning defensive changes so there will be days he gets only one trip to the plate. If you play with weekly lineup changes I wouldn’t touch Ichiro. Those with daily lineup changes that have the time to check and see if/when Ichiro will be in the lineup; this is a decent late round gamble, especially for those Ozuna owners.

Alejandro De Aza (Orioles): OK, maybe we jumped the gun a little last year in anticipating a 20/20 season after De Aza belted 17 in 2013. While we might only see 7-9 homers, there is still speed here an enough to steal 20 or more in the right situation. Short of a Travis Snider breakout and Delmon Young comeback world tour, De Aza should be guaranteed full-time at bats. He is also the best one suited for the leadoff spot, something the O’s need to fill with the departure of Nick Markakis. The steals and potential to score 80 or more runs makes De Aza a 2 category player and worthy target. He could be a 3 category player if the batting average climbs above the career .268 mark but at the very least he will be someone who won’t drag down your team batting average.

You’re basically looking at Ichiro Suzuki like production (41-year-old Ichiro) from a player that will receive full-time at bats, only with a tad more speed and a lower batting average. I would probably consider De Aza over players like Reddick and Suzuki and more than Allen Craig if he does not get traded, but I would gamble on the other 3 before placing my money here. You can do better in a larger league, but you could do much worse.

B.J. Upton (Braves): Before coming to Atlanta in 2013, Upton was that bad average 4 category player fantasy owners loved to hate. After 2 years the love is gone and most just hate Melvin (Didn’t know his real name was Melvin Emmanuel Upton, did you?). Was it the move to Atlanta, the pressure of his new contract, the pressure of playing with his brother? For whatever reason things fell apart for the elder Upton, but there are a few positives. He did manage to steal 20 bases last season so the legs are still there. Melvin also maintained his walk percentage which is just a tick under 10%.

In order for either of those two things to have meaning he will have to bring his strikeout percentage below 30%. While it was in the neighborhood of 25% his final years in Tampa, he made it work so baby steps to get back there would be a plus. Without a reduction in strikeouts, there is little chance of the batting average climbing much above .200. At 30 years old and only 2 years removed from a productive season there is reason for optimism, but the odds are not in his favor. Still, your final picks in a draft are supposed to be about upside and there is potential 20/20 upside here. At a minimum you’ll get 10 home runs and 20 steals, but the batting average will either drag down the category or complete obliterate it. Feeling Froggy?

Dustin Ackley (Mariners): After several years and failed attempts, we started to see a glimpse of what the former first round pick could bring to the table. Ackley finished the year with 14 home runs, 8 steals and 60+ runs and RBIs, good enough to finish #55 on ESPN’s player rater. The batting average still leaves something to be desired at .245, but he did cut down on the strikeouts leading to optimism that the average could take a tick up in 2015. After trending downward for the first 3 months Ackley hit .365 in July and then .280 in August. Lefties are still an issue, but he did hit .259 against them in 2013.

With Cano on board there is little chance of Ackley moving back to his natural position (where his numbers are a better fit). As an outfielder he is a bottom option, but at age 27 (the magical age for players) he could turn into a late round steal. Fantasy Pros has him ranked at 91 but a number of experts place him slightly higher than that. If the M’s stick with Ackley batting second between Austin Jackson and Robinson Cano, a repeat of last year’s numbers can be expected (at a minimum).  If the batting average slips again, Ackley could find himself batting 7th or 8th again (where he was for 70 games last year). That would lower the expected run and RBI totals. Best case scenario you get Nick Markakis type production here with a handful of steals; worst case is you get a repeat of 2012 and he finds himself on the bench by mid-season. He has more upside than most of the players listed here, but his floor is also lower than many of these same players. Risk/Reward.

Colby Rasmus (Astros): This is the most interesting pick of all. In Rasmus you have a player that will hit 20 home runs if given 400 at bats. You can also count on at least 60 RBIs with those 400 at bats. The problems are, he now joins a crowded Houston outfield so he will again have to fight for playing time. Next is the batting average which has only been above .251 twice since coming into the league and has been .225 or lower twice. Finally there is a consistency issue when it comes to his numbers. Look at his month to month averages for 2014 – .200, .286, .238, .197, .247, .231. Now that is somewhat unfair since 2014 was a bad average year so let’s look at 2013. He had 3 months of hitting .231 or lower, one with a .263 average and then one .300 plus month.

The home runs and RBIs are there regardless of the average, so if you plan on gambling on Rasmus you’re getting a potential BA risk. You’re also getting an inconsistent player that you may need a substitute for depending on the month. There is also the issue of his inability to hit lefties, at least in most years as there were a few in which he held his own. The good news here is there are a number of Houston players who can’t hit lefties so he should gain more exposure to them in 2015 – It’s sink or swim time for the 28-year-old. From a risk/reward standpoint, Rasmus is the best player on this list when it comes to power. The rewards are obvious, the risks are batting average and strikeouts (and Rasmus likes to strikeout). Still, when you get late into the draft in a 14-16+ team league, power is hard to come by so sometimes you have to roll the dice. This is a good place to gamble; the odds are high and the payout is good, just don’t pay too much.

And there you go, the best of the rest of our top 75.  There are still a number of outfielders out there that could be candidates for your final outfield spot.  Just because we didn’t rank them (or even consider them) doesn’t mean they can’t be of use.  Who are these bottom feeders you may ask?  Find out in a few days as I dig deeper and scrape the bottom of the barrel.

By Jim Finch

The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.