The outfield is the deepest offensive position for fantasy baseball and also one of the deepest bands of the 80s (in my mind anyways). Since the position is just so darned deep, I thought I should go darned deep. I mean, I feel like I would be doing a disservice to you, my loyal readers, if I didn’t. Now, I’m not talking “Bottom of the Barrel” deep, here, but rather maybe a layer or two from the bottom. We’re talking about a couple of guys who are outside our top 50 outfielders who just might be able to provide some top 50 value.
Adam Eaton, White Sox – It seems like we’ve been waiting for the Adam Eaton breakout for quite some time now. At least it feels that way to me. The reality is Eaton came with a side of prospect hype just a couple of years ago, but many don’t think we’ve received what we were promised in regards to said hype. At face value I would tend to agree a bit here, but mainly because I was not entirely familiar with Eaton as a prospect and thus, was unaware of what his breakout numbers might look like. In other words, I was not entirely familiar with his skill set. You see, I get drawn in by home run and RBI numbers when defining “breakouts” but neither of those things are really in Eaton’s makeup, apparently. This is not a bad thing, but getting on base a ton and scoring runs doesn’t necessarily jump off the stat sheet at first glance, especially without a Vince Coleman-esque number of steals. Well, guess what, Adam Eaton had one, yes one, home run in 2014, paired with 15 stolen bases and that was good enough to be a top 50 outfielder, at least by the ol’ ESPN Player Rater, in 2014.
Yep, you read that correctly, Eaton was in the top 50 among all outfielders in 2014 despite one measly dinger and 15 stolen bases. Now, 15 swipes are not bad, in fact they are quite useful, but clearly that is not what propelled Eaton into the top 50 of all outfielders in Major League Baseball last season. So what else did he do? Well, first off he hit .300. That’s good, but how good? Well, only 15 hitters, outfield or otherwise (six actually were outfielders), had a better batting average last season. Okay, while, yes that is good and probably helped raise his final standing in the outfield ranks there was the fact that he had a .359 BABIP, which kind of makes you think that a .300 average is not a repeatable feat for young Mr. Eaton. As we know, BABIP cannot always tell us the complete batting average story. Just because Eaton had a pretty high BABIP in 2014, does not necessarily mean he was extremely lucky in 2014. That being said, yeah, he was probably a bit lucky in 2014. Eaton has decent speed, but even so, we are almost sure to see a significant decline in BABIP and with that, batting average. You are more than likely not going to see Eaton hit around .300 again. .260-.270 is a bit more likely, in my “expert” opinion. Obviously that drives down Eaton’s value in your standard scoring league, but Eaton will still get on base a bunch – leading off for the Chicago White Sox.
Last season, the first one in which Eaton accumulated over 500 plate appearances, he scored 76 runs. Even with the drop in batting average Eaton still projects to be on base a little over a third of the time he comes to the plate which ain’t too shabby, especially considering he is now expected to hit in front of the likes of Melky Cabrera, Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche. Melky has hit below .279 only once in the past four seasons and in three of those seasons he hit over .300. Everyone is pretty familiar with Abreu’s work last season and as far as Adam LaRoche is concerned, well Mr. LaRoche has hit 25 or more homers in five of the past seven seasons. In one of the seasons where he didn’t hit 25, he was injured and in that other he hit 20 homers.
Needless to say, Eaton should be good for at least 80 runs with a chance at 90, to go along with decent average and a modestly good amount of steals. Plus, even though Eaton is not a “slugger”, I think he should be able to get more than one ball out of the park in 2015. Now, are the numbers eye-popping? For the most part, no, no they are not, but remember, they didn’t seem it in 2014 and he was the 44th best outfielder. I am not saying that Eaton will be in the upper echelon of outfielders in 2015, but I think he has a good shot at outperforming his current ranks (including mine) and ADP (234), albeit by a small margin. For a guy going around the 20th round (as about the 60th outfielder taken) he is a perfectly good OF4, with OF3 upside.
Michael Saunders, Blue Jays – While Adam Eaton may not be worth a great deal more than his current ranking/ADP, Michael Saunders is a completely different story. Saunders currently has an ADP of 324, meaning in most 12 team, 25 man roster, redraft leagues, he is not even being drafted. That is not super surprising to me, since he didn’t even crack the top 80 in my most recent outfielder rankings. “So, what is he doing here,” you may ask. Well, that is a very valid query and one in which I will happily address. I guess what I am really writing about today is potential. Upside, if you will.
Saunders landed at the number 73 slot in the Fantasy Assembly outfield rankings, with three of us – including myself – not having him anywhere in our top 75 at the position. That’s based partly on projections and partly on where we would realistically draft Saunders. This doesn’t mean we don’t think he can’t or won’t crack the top 50, it just means we don’t see such an occurrence as highly probable at this juncture. In fact, the more I look at Saunders and his situation for 2015, the less far-fetched it seems for him to grab a spot in that top 50.
I think one of the obvious reasons for that chance at being a top 50 outfielder is change of scenery. Saunders goes from playing his home games in pitcher friendly Safeco Field to playing his home games in hitter friendly SkyDome. Fine, Rogers Centre. Anyways, according to park factors, Saunders is moving from the 26th best park for run scoring, to the 6th best park for run scoring. That’ll add at least some fantasy value to pretty much any hitter. The value increase for Saunders from the home park switch may not be quite as big as you may think though. The left-handed home run factor at the Rogers Centre is only 12th best in the league, but still better than the low 20s ranking for Seattle. Saunders hit all of his 2014 home runs to right field and the ISO on balls hit to right field in Seattle is actually above average and not too far behind Toronto. So really, the home park may not play a huge role in increased home run production, but you know what might? The American League East. The A.L. East is a division that features only one park (Fenway) with a below average right field ISO rating. Oh and by the way, Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards are first and third in right field ISO respectively. So, the home run rate may indeed see a nice little uptick and remember, Saunders is only two years removed from a 19 homer, 21 steal season. Seems like, given a full season’s worth of at-bats with the Jays that Saunders has an outside shot at a 20-20 season, right? But, as the bard says, “there’s the rub” – the at-bats.
The number of times Saunders gets up to the plate in 2015 may have been in the back of my mind, when neglecting to place Saunders in my top 75 outfielders. You see, Saunders has only topped 500 plate appearances once in six seasons and played in only 78 games last year due to a myriad of injuries (myriad of= three). So, for that top 50 upside to be realized, you’re going to need more or less a full season from Saunders. Personally, I like a 20 homer upside I can get that late in any draft. Plus, when he plays he could have OF3 or OF4 value for you and where he is being drafted it is not as a guy you assume will be in your lineup every day, anyways. The projections I have seen are guessing Saunders gets between 400-500 plate appearances, which seem reasonable, given his history, but if he gets 550 or more plate appearances, he becomes a sneaky top 50 outfielder. Nevertheless, a lot of things still need to break right for that to happen, but at the price he is going for at the moment, there is very little risk. Low risk-high reward? Yes please.