Editor’s Note: Fantasy Baseball Focus is a breakdown of each league, position by position. Each team receives a fantasy analysis on the starter, backup and future prospect if there is one. In case you’re wondering, is there a schedule? Why, yes! Thanks for asking. On the right hand side of the page (your other right), look for the Fantasy Baseball Focus headline. Jamie Shoemaker will analyze the National League, while Dan Kirby handles the American League. Good luck in your fantasy leagues!
Outfield is always the deepest of all positions. It’s where you find most of the top run producers, as well as the power/speed guys. If you can land a player who can get you 30 HR/30 SB, it takes a lot of pressure off your later-round picks and gives your team balance. Of course, there are also many 20 HR/10 SB guys who can be just as valuable if you get enough of them. Whatever your strategy is, here is a breakdown of the position in the American League, along with a handy guide to help you during your draft.
For-sure pick – It means you’ll get consistency, nothing less, nothing more.
Sleeper – Underrated in drafts; can get in later rounds but might produce above-average stats.
Overrated – Might not produce at the hype he’s supposed to produce at.
Long-term value – Might not be the best bet for this year but excellent for keeper leagues.
Top 10 American League outfielders
1. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays — 2011 stats: 105 R, 43 HR, 103 RBI, 9 SB, .302/.447/.608
2. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox — 2011 stats: 119 R, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 39 SB, .321/.376/.552
3. Curtis Granderson, Yankees — 2011 stats: 136 R, 41 HR, 119 RBI, 25 SB, .262/.364/.552
4. Josh Hamilton, Rangers — 2011 stats: 80 R, 25 HR, 94 RBI, 8 SB, .298/.346/.536
5. Alex Gordon, Royals — 2011 stats: 101 R, 23 HR, 87 RBI, 17 SB, .303/.376/.502
6. B.J. Upton, Rays — 2011 stats: 82 R, 23 HR, 81 RBI, 36 SB, .243/.331/.429
7. Nelson Cruz, Rangers — 2011 stats: 64 R, 29 HR, 87 RBI, 9 SB, .263/.312/.509
8. Shin-Soo Choo, Indians — 2011 stats: 37 R, 8 HR, 36 RBI, 12 SB, .259/.344/.390
9. Desmond Jennings, Rays — 2011 stats: 44 R, 10 HR, 25 RBI, 20 SB, .259/.356/.449
10. Brett Gardner, Yankees — 2011 stats: 87 R, 7 HR, 36 RBI, 49 SB, .259/.345/.369
Starters: Markakis is as safe a pick as there is. While he won’t put you over the top in any category, he is durable and consistent year in, year out. He has averaged 160 games played over the last five seasons with a .296 average. He has also averaged 90 runs, 18 home runs, 87 RBI and 11 stolen bases over that span. Grab him in the middle rounds without worries. Jones had a career year last season, hitting .280 with 25 home runs, 83 RBI and 12 stolen bases. His 113 strikeouts to 29 walks scares me off a little as that kind of plate discipline will catch up to his batting average sooner or later. Don’t expect last year’s numbers in 2012, expect more like .260, 20 HR, 75 RBI and 8 SB. Reimold hit .247 with 13 home runs, 45 RBI and seven stolen bases over 87 games last season. At age 28, the 6’-4”, 215 lb righty can produce 25+ home runs if given enough playing time. A nice late-round pick due to his potential for a breakout season.
Backup: At age 34, Chavez is nearing the end of his career and should only be considered in deeper leagues. He can still hit for a good average and steal about 10 bases, but other than that, not a good option in standard leagues.
Starters: Will Ellsbury hit 30 home runs again? Probably not, but even if he puts up a .300 average with 110 runs, 20 home runs, 80 RBI and 30 stolen bases, he is still among the elite at his position. He fills the stat sheet and will be gone by the second round. A for-sure-pick even if his 2011 season came out of nowhere. Crawford had a very disappointing 2011 with career lows in almost every category. The huge contract, coupled with playing out of his comfort zone clearly took its toll on him. Having offseason wrist surgery, which will cause him to miss most of April, only adds to his struggles. He is a high-risk/high-reward pick, but be prepared for more disappointment in 2012. Crawford will be overrated because everyone will think he will bounce back this season. Sweeney doesn’t offer much fantasy value. He hits for a good average, but doesn’t hit for power or steal any bases. Only should be considered in deep leagues.
Backups: Kalish hit .252 with four home runs, 24 RBI and 10 stolen bases over 53 games in 2011. The 23-year-old could see his playing time increase with Crawford being out and can offer good stolen bases numbers along with a solid batting average. However, over the course of the season, he won’t get enough playing time to warrant a spot in standard leagues. In deeper leagues, he can provide great value, especially early on. Ross is a good source of power in deeper leagues, and he will also get more playing time with the Crawford injury. Use him early, then spot start him in deeper leagues.
Starters: Rios has all the talent in the world but can’t put it together consistently. After an outstanding 2010, in which he hit .284 with 21 home runs, 88 RBI and 34 stolen bases, he hit just .227 with 13 home runs, 44 RBI and 11 stolen bases in 2011. Too risky for my taste, but if you get him late, he could pay off nicely. Viciedo is a tank at 5’-11” and 230 lbs. He hit .296 with 20 home runs, 78 RBI and a .856 OPD over 505 plate appearances for triple-A Charlotte in 2011. He also shows a good approach at the plate with 85 K/45 BB over that span. Still just 22 years old, the power potential is great, and he could see some significant time at DH this season if Dunn’s woes continue. Not going to steal bases, but should hit for a good average with enough power for a deeper league roster spot. De Aza is a very good hitter. Over 53 games in 2011, he hit .329 with four home runs, 23 RBI, 12 stolen bases and a .920 OPS. At age 28, he is entering his prime, and could put up a line of .290 with 10 HR, 55 RBI and 25 SB over a full season. Could be a nice late-round steal in deeper leagues.
Backups: Lillibridge provided nice value in 2011 as he hit .258 with 13 home runs, 29 RBI and 10 stolen bases in just 216 plate appearances. Whether or not he can do it again in limited time remains to be seen. Still, he is a good option in deeper leagues. Fukudome was just signed by the White Sox. As a Cubs fan, I can say, without bias, stay away from him.
Starters: Sizemore, the one-time fantasy stud, has battled serious injuries over the last three seasons missing 276 games. At age 29, it remains to be seen if he can get anywhere close to the type of player he was. Until he can put together another full season, look somewhere else in standard leagues. In deeper leagues, he is worth a late-round gamble. After putting up nearly identical numbers in 2009 (.300/ 20 HR/ 86 RBI/ 21 SB) and 2010 (.300/ 22 HR/ 90 RBI/ 22 SB), a broken thumb and an oblique injury caused Choo to miss almost half of the season. Fully healthy, and ready to go, count on Choo to post numbers similar to 2010. Brantley hit .266 with seven home runs, 46 RBI and 13 stolen bases over 114 games in 2011. He has a ton of speed, can hit for a good average and can get you 10 home runs. A very solid option in deeper leagues.
Backup: Duncan is a good pickup in deeper leagues as he will qualify at both first base and the outfield depending on your league’s rules. He hit .260 with 11 home runs and 47 RBI over 247 plate appearances in 2011. He might end up getting more playing time at first this season than the outfield but could put up 25 home runs given enough playing time.
Starters: After coming over from the Twins last season, Young hit .274 with eight home runs and 32 RBI over 40 games for the Tigers. The former first-overall pick of the 2003 draft is still just 26 years old and hasn’t entered his prime yet. Hitting behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder will give him plenty of RBI opportunities this season and I can see a line if .290, 20 HR and 100 RBI with room for more. A sleeper pick for 2012. Jackson strikes out a ton (351 over 304 career games) but he does steal bases and plays everyday. If your league counts triples, he has 21 over his first two seasons. His average will hurt you though, and he doesn’t steal enough bases to make him a top-tier guy. A solid option in standard leagues, but don’t grab him until the later rounds. Boesch is fully recovered from thumb surgery and could have a monster year if he hits behind Cabrera and Fielder. The 6’-4”, 230 lb lefty has enormous power while also hitting for a good average due to his solid approach at the plate. He hit .306 with 12 home runs and 44 RBI before the break last season before struggling to end the season. I could see a line of .280, 25 HR and 90 RBI in 2012.
Backup: Dirks hit .251 with seven home runs, 28 RBI and five stolen bases over 78 games last season. The 26-year-old should only be considered in deeper leagues as he doesn’t offer much value.
Starters: After a disappointing start to his career, Gordon, the second overall pick in the 2005 draft, finally put it all together in 2011. He hit .303 with 101 runs, 23 home runs, 87 RBI and 17 stolen bases. He also added 45 doubles, a sign that more home runs are to come. At age 28, and hitting in the middle of a loaded offense, I expect him to improve on his numbers from last year and possibly join the fantasy elite. I usually want to see a player do it twice, but Gordon has been expected to do this since day one. A for-sure-pick entering his prime. Francoeur enjoyed his best season in 2011 as far as fantasy numbers go. He hit .285 with 20 home runs, 87 RBI and 22 stolen bases. The swipes may be an anomaly as he had 23 career stolen bases over 845 games coming into last season. He also added 47 doubles, a huge bonus if your league counts them. The power numbers and average should stay on par, just don’t buy in on the stolen base totals. Cain has the potential to be a 20 HR/20 SB guy with a good batting average. However, the 26-year-old has yet to show it, so only draft him in deeper leagues until he does.
Backup: Dyson hit just .205, but stole 11 bases in just 26 games last season. He was 38 for 40 in stolen base attempts over 83 games at triple-A Omaha last season. The 26-year-old can flat out fly on the base paths but will mostly be used as a pinch runner with some spot starts. Deeper league only, but a good source of steals.
Starters: Maybe it was the burden of making $26MM in 2011 that lead to Wells’ worst season of his career. Over 131 games, he hit just .218 with 25 home runs, 66 RBI and nine stolen bases. I expect him to bounce back from those numbers, but at age 33, don’t expect All-Star numbers. If he can get back to .280 with 25 home runs, 90 RBI and 10 stolen bases, he will be well worth a mid-round pick. Torii Hunter’s speed may be gone, but he will still get you .270 with 20-25 home runs and 80+ RBI. Like Wells, a solid mid-round pick that will give you consistent production. Bourjos opened eyes in 2011, hitting .271 with 72 runs, 12 home runs, 43 RBI and 22 stolen bases over 147 games. He also added 11 triples, but had 124 strikeouts to just 32 walks. He gives you production in every category but could split his playing time with one of the game’s top prospects.
Backup: At age 37, Abreu is no longer a top fantasy player. He can, however, still get you around 20 stolen bases, while hitting around 15 home runs. The only problem is playing time. With a crowded outfield, and now DH, he may be the odd man out this season.
Prospect: Trout is widely regarded as the best prospect in baseball. At age 20, there isn’t much he can’t do on a baseball field. His best fantasy tool is his speed. He may be the fastest player in baseball, but with Albert Pujols in the lineup, he may not get a chance to run all that much. He is a high-average hitter who is capable of hitting 20+ home runs. He will most likely be a platoon player in 2012, however, so go hard in keeper leagues, but lay off in yearly leagues until later in the draft. Long-term-potential.
Starters: Span missed more than half of 2011 with various injuries, including a concussion caused by a home plate collision. When healthy, and he is now, he can get you 25-30 stolen bases with a good average. He is also a triples machine, so if your league counts those, he is a guy to target. Willingham had a career year for the A’s in 2011, belting 29 home runs and driving in 98 runs. Don’t count on those numbers again, but he should get 500+ at bats playing for the Twins this year so count on 20 HR, 70 RBI and a .265 average. Revere is a lightning-quick lefty who stole 34 bases in 2011 in just 117 games. At just 23 years old, he already shows great plate discipline as he only had 41 strikeouts over 481 plate appearances. He didn’t hit a home run, but he could steal 50 bases this season with a .300 batting average. Sleeper.
Backup: Plouffe is a nice option in deeper leagues as he offers some power. Over 81 games last season, he hit eight home runs while also smacking 18 doubles. He is still just 25, and a former first-round pick, so the talent is there even if the playing time may not be.
Starters: No one saw Granderson’s 2011 season coming. Many thought he was going to breakout one year, but not quite like he did. He lead the league in runs with 136, hit 41 home runs, stole 25 bases and drove in 119 runs. The home runs and RBI will come back down to earth this season, but the runs and stolen base totals will stay the same. Expect a line of 120 R, 25 HR, 85 RBI and 30 SB from him in 2012. Gardner lead the league in stolen bases in 2011 with 49. He has 96 over the last two seasons and you can expect another 40+ from him in 2012. Not going to provide you with much else, but take him in the middle rounds if you lack speed. You can always count on 25 home runs and 85 RBI from Swisher. You just can’t count on his batting average. He can hit anywhere from .220 to .290, so be forewarned.
Backup: Andruw Jones should only be considered in deeper leagues at this point in his career. He can still get you 15 home runs, but not much else.
Starters: Crisp tied for the league lead with Brett Gardner in stolen bases last season with 49. He is basically the same player as Gardner, a guy who gets a bunch of steals and not much else. He falls into the later-round, need-steals category. Gomes should only be considered in deeper leagues as he doesn’t help a whole lot in any one category. He can hit 10-15 home runs, not much else. With regular playing time, Reddick is a guy who could hit for a high average with about 15-20 home runs a year. Still, only an option in deeper leagues until he proves otherwise. Smith is a decent option late in the draft as he hits for a good average, can steal some bases and has some pop. A line of .280 with 15 HR and 10 SB is expected.
Backups/ Prospects: Cowgill came over from the Angels in the Trevor Cahill trade. The 25-year-old is a high-average hitter with speed and nice pop in his bat. He hit .354 with 13 home runs, 70 RBI and 30 stolen bases over 93 games at triple-A last season. It was the PCL, however, a league known for inflated offensive stats. Still, a guy to keep an eye on in keeper leagues. Taylor is a 6’-5”, 255 lb, monster who has 25+ home runs potential as well as the ability to steal 10-15 bases. He hasn’t proven anything yet so don’t expect much in 2012.
Starters: At age 38, Ichiro should not be considered among the top outfield options in fantasy. Brett Gardner is a guy who will get you similar numbers way later in the draft. Ichiro can steal 40 bases on his instincts alone, but his legs are starting to go. A sign of that is his 20 infield hits in 2011, as opposed to 40 in 2010. Ichiro will be overrated in 2012. Gutierrez should only be considered in deeper leagues as a .250 average, with 10-12 home runs and 60 RBI aren’t very fantasy worthy. Carp is a big, 6’-2”, 210 lb lefty who has power. Over 79 games in 2011, he hit .272 with 12 home runs and 46 RBI. Could be a nice late-round steal if he plays 140+ games in 2012.
Tampa Bay Rays — Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton, Matt Joyce, Luke Scott
Starters: Jennings finally showed why the Rays let Crawford go. Tabbed the heir-apparent for years, he had a brilliant rookie campaign in 2011. Over 63 games, the 24-year-old hit .259 with 10 home runs, 25 RBI and 20 stolen bases. The power numbers were a bit of a surprise, but the speed wasn’t. I expect a line of .280, 12 HR, 60 RBI and 40 SB in 2012 with about 100 runs. Long-term-potential. Upton’s power numbers vastly change from year to year, so you never know what to expect from him in that category. His stolen bases, however, will be in the 35-45 range. His batting average will kill you, as well as his strikeouts if your league counts them, but there just aren’t many 20 HR/40 SB guys around, so he remains a top fantasy player. With a starting role, Joyce is a solid option in most formats as he can get you 15-20 home runs, 70+ RBI with a good average. He also stole 13 bases in 2011, but don’t count on that again.
Backups: If Scott gets playing time, he is a solid option in deeper leagues as he can put up power numbers in bunches. From 2008-10, he averaged 25 HR, 71 RBI and an .846 OPS as a starter. He struggled last season, hitting just .220 with 9 HR, 22 RBI and a .703 OPS over 66 games. At 33 years old, his best days are behind him. If he gets starting time, however, he will produce.
Starters: When healthy and right, Hamilton is one of the most talented baseball players I have ever seen. Of course, injuries are always a concern, as well his battles with his alcoholism. Personally, I think he is going to have a great 2012 and don’t put too much stock in his off-the-field actions. Even if he plays 140 games, I expect a line of .300, 30 HR, 100 RBI and 10 SB with about 100 runs with room for much more. Cruz is another guy who has battled his share of injuries. Yet again, a 140-game season from him is better than a full season from most. Another .285, 30 HR, 90 RBI and 15 SB season should be a starting point, but if he stays healthy, could put up monster numbers in that ballpark with that lineup. Hamstrings got the better of Borbon in 2011, causing him to play in only 32 games. He is more of a defensive center fielder, as his offense isn’t that fantasy worthy.
Backup: Murphy should only be considered in deeper leagues. He can get you 10-15 home runs with a decent average, but not much else.
Prospect: Martin is a 23-year-old Cuban with five-tool potential. In his first professional season, he hit .295 with four home runs, 42 RBI and 19 stolen bases over 73 games. He started the season at the rookie level, finished it at triple-A. He may not get a lot of playing time in 2012, but he is one to watch in keeper leagues for the future.
Starters: You have to do something twice before I will consider it legit. Bautista followed up his incredible 2010, in which he hit .260, with a league-leading 54 home runs and 124 RBI, along with nine stolen bases and a .995 OPS, with an even better 2011 season. He once again lead the league in home runs with 43, and also hit .302 with 103 RBI and nine stolen bases. His 132 walks lead the league, as well as his .608 SLG and 1.056 OPS. At age 30, he is in the prime of his career and should put up another monster year in 2012. He is now a for-sure-pick. Rasmus hit .225 with 11 home runs, 40 RBI and five stolen bases for the Cardinals and Blue Jays in 2011. He is still just 24 years of age, and with the power and speed potential he has, could bust out any year. Just wait for him to do it once before you draft him. Davis is similar to Brett Gardner in that he will get you around 40 stolen bases, not much else. Another guy to draft late if your team needs some speed.
Backups: Thames is a 6’-1”, 200 lb lefty with a ton of pop. He hit 12 home runs over 95 games in 2011, but Rasmus may steal a lot of his playing time if he gets off to a good start. Keep an eye on him though if Rasmus struggles. Like Thames, Snyder has some serious power. Also like Thames, his playing time may be blocked by Rasmus. Another one to keep an eye on.