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Reality Check: Making the most of outfield depth

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Outfielders: You start more of them than any other hitter.

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It's an elementary concept, but it's worth noting for the drastic effect it can have on your approach to Draft Day. Usually, the number of outfield spots to fill is three in Head-to-Head leagues and five in Rotisserie leagues. And that applies for every single team.

So yes, outfield is always going to offer a longer list of Fantasy-relevant talent than first base, third base or certainly shortstop. It's the way the game is designed.

But does a longer list make for a deeper position? Sure, the 30th outfielder is better than the 30th third baseman, but in most Fantasy leagues, the 30th third baseman wouldn't even sniff the lineup. No, the more pertinent comparison is the 36th outfielder vs. the 12th third baseman. Would you be just as happy with the former as the latter?

Judging by these latest rankings in our position-by-position look ahead to 2013, the answer is yes. Yes, you would.

How do I know? Because the 32nd player here, Martin Prado, was my ninth-ranked player at third base, which I also labeled a "deep position." That pretty much says it all.

Outfield hasn't always been this way. In fact, at this point last year, I would have said just the opposite was true. But as luck would have it, more outfielders rose from obscurity than sank into oblivion in 2012. Or, to put it more accurately, most of the players that sank into oblivion -- such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Michael Morse and, yes, Melky Cabrera -- have enough redeeming qualities that they still deserve to rank relatively high.

With that many names at our disposal, I'm switching up the format of this piece. Instead of sticking with the two lists of 10 that I used at every other position, I'm giving you three lists of 12. That's barely enough to meet the minimum roster requirements in a standard 12-team league.

And yet I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Top 12 outfielders for 2013:
1. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers
2. Mike Trout, OF, Angels
3. Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers
4. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates
5. Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays
6. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins
7. Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers
8. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies
9. Matt Holliday, OF, Cardinals
10. Adam Jones, OF, Orioles
11. Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks
12. Jason Heyward, OF, Braves

Within this group, I detect two distinct drop-offs. The first is after the top two. The second is after the top seven.

The order of the top two I'm sure will be debated in countless other pieces throughout the offseason and into spring training, so I'll keep it short in this one. Braun does it every year. Trout has done it once. Pretty simple, I think. Of greater interest to me is the order of the next five, which I like as is but which clearly has some room for negotiation.

Kemp, McCutchen and Bautista are all part of my ideal first round, but I would still expect Stanton and Hamilton to be among the first 16 picks in any draft. Of the five, Kemp, Bautista and Stanton all missed significant time with injuries in 2012, but history suggests Hamilton is still the most injury-prone of the bunch. I expect big numbers when he plays, but I wouldn't count on him for more than 130 games or so, especially now that he's nearing his mid-30s.

McCutchen's relatively slow second half is why I give the edge to the more-proven Kemp, who was something of a dud in the second half himself. Both are potential five-category studs. Bautista's pure OPS potential is still arguably the best in the game, but with the kind of power numbers Stanton has been putting up prior to his 23rd birthday, I could see why someone would choose him instead -- particularly in Rotisserie leagues, where Bautista's walks are worthless in and of themselves. Plus, I'm not exactly counting on an improved batting average for the Blue Jays' slugger.

Notice I place Gonzalez outside the second drop-off, which may seem like an omission since he's perfectly capable of putting up first-round numbers. But his injuries are frustrating. His home-away splits are frustrating. His prolonged slumps, like during this past August and September, are frustrating. I can do better than frustrating at this stage of the draft. He's a second-round headache, as far as I'm concerned.

In Jones, Upton and Heyward, you have three up-and-comers preceded by the elder statesman Holliday, who is about as reliable as they come even at age 32. Again, those three could conceivably go in any order. Right now, I think Jones' power is the most advanced of the bunch, and I like the way Upton's September went. But Heyward might be the most unappreciated of the group. He had 27 homers and 21 steals in 2012. Upton's career highs in those categories are 31 and 21.

Next 12 outfielders for 2013:
13. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox
14. Allen Craig, 1B/OF, Cardinals
15. Curtis Granderson, OF, Yankees
16. Jay Bruce, OF, Reds
17. Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF, Rays
18. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
19. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Athletics
20. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Indians
21. Alex Gordon, OF, Royals
22. Alex Rios, OF, White Sox
23. B.J. Upton, OF, Rays
24. Corey Hart, 1B/OF, Brewers

Ellsbury is a tricky player to rank for 2013. Heck, so is Craig. Heck, so is Granderson. Heck, so are Harper, Cespedes, Choo, Rios and Upton. So much talent, so many different ways to assess it.

But getting back to Ellsbury. Who knows what to make of this guy anymore? He added power to his game in 2011, which wasn't totally unexpected given his pedigree and 27 years of age, but then it completely evaporated on him over 303 at-bats in 2012. Granted, he was never completely healthy, but do injuries adequately explain that much of a decline? No one can say for sure if he's capable of first-round production again, but if nothing else, I trust Ellsbury for an elite number of stolen bases. If that's all he does, I don't think drafting him here is a total waste.

The usual mainstays precede the hype-tastic duo of Harper and Cespedes, who averaged about as many Head-to-Head points per game as rookies as Adam Jones did during what most consider to be his breakout season. So why rank them this low? Well, Cespedes has injury concerns (which is why I'm forced to cite his per-game production), and Harper is still just 20 years old. We all know what happened to Heyward and Eric Hosmer during their sophomore seasons. Besides, with 40-homer guys getting to be harder and harder to find, you can't pass up your shot at Granderson and Bruce, regardless of their shortcomings. Zobrist ranks as high as he does because of his eligibility at second base and shortstop.

What follows is a group I'm calling "the players everybody could use but nobody really wants." It's pretty self-explanatory, but I'll elaborate.

Did you know B.J. Upton nearly had a 30-30 season in 2012? No lie. He was just two home runs short. Of course, he also produced a career-worst walk rate to go along with his typically low batting average, leading to an on-base percentage below .300. I don't know. Something about Choo and Gordon just seems ... safer, even if they're no threat to go 30-30. The three all averaged about the same number of Head-to-Head points on a per-game basis, so it's not a baseless gut reaction.

And Gordon, you may be surprised to learn, showed significantly improved pop over the final two months of the season, homering nine times in 231 at-bats. Another 20-homer season should be the expectation for him. And if he managed to rank 12th in Head-to-Head leagues with only 14 homers ... well, you can imagine the impact of six more home runs.

Of course, Rios ranked sixth in Head-to-Head leagues in 2012, but who knows what to make of it? He's been so up and down over the years that investing an early-round pick in him is the closest thing I can think of to Fantasy roulette.

Next 12 outfielders for 2013:
25. Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays
26. Austin Jackson, OF, Tigers
27. Shane Victorino, OF, Dodgers
28. Michael Bourn, OF, Braves
29. Hunter Pence, OF, Giants
30. Carlos Beltran, OF, Cardinals
31. Josh Willingham, OF, Twins
32. Martin Prado, 3B/OF, Braves
33. Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers
34. Nick Markakis, OF, Orioles
35. Michael Morse, OF, Nationals
36. Melky Cabrera, OF, Giants

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Here you'll find the speedsters of the position -- the high-end ones, anyway -- in Jennings, Victorino and Bourn. The key difference is that while Jennings is just entering his mid-20s, both Victorino and Bourn are on the wrong side of 30 -- and, judging by their second-half numbers, it shows. Really, Victorino's affliction was season-long, but I give him the edge over Bourn since he has the greater power potential and is more likely to see a boost in value with his expected change in venue this offseason.

What about Jackson? He's further along than Jennings as a hitter, but the two have similar upside. The reason I prefer Jennings is because he might triple or quadruple Jackson's steals total in 2013. Like Granderson before him, Jackson isn't quite the base-stealer so many people make him about to be. Heck, why would he run with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder behind him?

Old fogies Beltran and Willingham add some clutter to the position. The number of at-bats they got in 2012 was borderline miraculous, so I'm not expecting a repeat. Still, with the stats they put up, I can only drop them so far. Have at 'em, folks. Better you than me.

They lead into what is probably the most fascinating group at the position, which I'll label Rocky and Bullwinkle style: "guys who could easily rank in the top 25 come season's end" or "the reason I chose to go to 36 instead of 30." Of them, the one that no doubt attracts the most attention is Cabrera. Look, it's not a stunt. He's not a token choice for the last spot just so you'll know I didn't forget about him. I genuinely believe he deserves to go before Josh Reddick, Nelson Cruz, Jayson Werth, Norichika Aoki or anyone else I might have considered for No. 36.

How much Cabrera's PED use contributed to his big numbers the last two years is anybody's guess, but if you assume he's nothing without it -- meaning he'll go back to being the player he was with the Yankees and Braves -- you're robbing yourself of what could be a serious buy-low opportunity. You may ultimately be right, but by drafting him this deep into the position, you wouldn't be significantly handicapping yourself if that ends up being the case. And if you're even halfway wrong, meaning age and unrealized potential were partially responsible to Cabrera's breakthrough in 2011, he's, what, a top 15 or top 20 outfielder? Pretty good deal, I think. Per game, he was about as productive as Andrew McCutchen prior to his suspension in 2012.

The last player I want to highlight is Markakis, who outperformed Heyward, both Uptons, Granderson, Bruce and Harper, among others, on a per-game basis in 2012. Of course, he was injured off and on, but his returning power following an offseason procedure that revealed a hidden abdominal injury suggests he may be back to being a 20-homer-per-year guy. Honestly, he's as safe a source of power as the two players ahead of him.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Red Sox closer Koji Uehara not utilizing fastball this season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:02 am ET) Red Sox closer Koji Uehara has been throwing an unusual amount of offspeed pitches to start the season. Uehara has thrown fastballs on just 15 percent of his pitches this season, compared to 50 percent over the last three years, according to the Boston Herald.

Manager John Farrell isn't reading too much into it.

"He's going to go with what he feels," Farrell said. "Every 3 mph is about a foot distance in traveling to home plate. So there's a little bit different reaction time. But regardless of velocity there still needs to be the use of (the fastball) just to create separation between his fastball and his split."

Uehara is 1-1 so far this season with a 4.15 ERA and three saves in 4 1/3 innings.


White Sox send reliever Daniel Webb back to Triple-A
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) White Sox reliever Daniel Webb , who was called up Sunday as the 26th man for the team's doubleheader against the Royals, was sent back down to Triple-A Charlotte after the game. 

Webb pitched in 57 games last season for the White Sox but was one of the team's final cuts in spring training. 


Diamondbacks struggling to fill in void at third base
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale knew his team wasn't going to go the entire season without an injury. But the skipper was hoping to avoid the issue he currently has at third base, according to AZCentral.com.

With Jake Lamb on the disabled list with a foot injury, Aaron Hill and Yasmany Tomas have struggled to put it together, combining for a .559 OPS in the last five games.

"Yeah, that's huge," Hale said. "You're going to have injuries all year. There's going to be a multitude of them for every team. If you can't make the adjustment — if guys can't come in and fill the void — then you're going to be in trouble as a club."

Tomas is hitting .286 in 14 at-bats this season while Hill is scuffling along at .156 in 45 at-bats.


Phillies pitcher Chad Billingsley allows seven runs in rehab start
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Phillies pitcher Chad Billingsley allowed seven runs in five innings of work in his third rehab start in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, according to Philly.com.

Billingsley, who is currently on the 15-day DL with an elbow injury, added three strikeouts and two walks in the appearance. He has yet to appear in a major league game since 2013 while dealing with multiple elbow injuries.


Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez still working out of funk
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez has yet to put things together at the plate so far this season. Gonzalez is hitting just .197 with two home runs in 66 at-bats and it's wearing on him a bit, according to the Denver Post.

"I'm not in a good place. I'm still hitting (.197)," he said. "But I'm happy that I'm healthy, and that I'm playing, and that we are winning. I think we are having a good month so far as a team."

Manager Walt Weiss thinks he's really close to seeing Gonzalez get all the pieces together and go on a run.

"I saw real good signs from CarGo, hitting the ball hard the opposite way," Weiss said. "It wasn't just the couple of hits he got. It was the way he got them. Those are things that he had been working on. Then, to get results like that, is always encouraging."

Report: Josh Hamilton trade expected to be completed Monday
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) The trade of outfielder Josh Hamilton from the Angels to the Rangers is expected to be completed Monday, with Hamilton then reporting to Texas' spring training site in Arizona to continue his rehab from offseason surgery, per MLB.com. 

The trade was rumored to have been completed Sunday, but complications arose in finalizing the deal. The Rangers are expected to hold a press conference announcing the trade on Monday. Hamilton is expected to play several games in Triple-A before being called up to the Rangers. 


Dodgers' Jimmy Rollins not concerned with early slump at the plate
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Dodgers shortstop Jimmy Rollins isn't worrying just yet about his struggles at the plate, according to the Orange County Register.

"Well, some people like to panic. That has never been my MO," he said. "I have, what, 50, 60 at-bats, I'm not sure. So if these are my worst 50 at-bats this year – I'm glad they're happening now. (If they are his worst at-bats) it’s going to be a very good year."

Rollins is hitting just .186 in 70 at-bats so far this season. He believes he's still been taking good swings at the plate, just not finding the gaps in the defense.

"It's hard to compute if you just look at numbers," he said. "I'm getting myself in good counts, just not finishing it off. I know it's coming. I'm hitting some off the end, some are getting in just a little bit. But the swing path is right. It's just a click here, a click there.

"The process is good. You have to continue to trust in the process and believe in the process. You get oriented in just results – especially at times like this – then you're trying to make all these technical changes and that's when you go from one to two to 100. So the process is right. Executing it is about fine-tuning."


Angels OF Matt Joyce hopes hit signals end of slump
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) Angels outfielder Matt Joyce saw his eight-game hitless streak come to an end Sunday with an eighth-inning single that ended an 0-for-26 skid. The right fielder, who figures to be a fixture in Los Angeles' lineup with the expected departure of Josh Hamilton, said he hopes the small start will lead to bigger things, according to the Los Angeles Times

"Sometimes it's a tough game," Joyce said. "It seems like you try everything, and you put in so much time and effort and work, it gets to be frustrating. It gets to be hard to swallow and accept it, and hard to keep showing up and grinding it out."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he will continue to stick with Joyce, who is hitting just .140 on the season. 


Mets starter Jonathon Niese struggles vs. Yankees
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) Mets starter Jonathon Niese was not sharp Sunday in the finale of the Subway Series against the Yankees, lasting just five innings while allowing six runs and eight hits. Niese was betrayed somewhat by his defense, which committed four errors behind him, leading to two unearned runs. 

Niese was spotted a 2-0 first-inning lead, but he quickly gave it back, allowing a first-inning homer to Alex Rodriguez and then giving up four second-inning runs as the Yankees broke the game open. 

"You can't look into it too deeply," Niese said to MLB.com. "It's a loss. It's a tough loss. Obviously we want to win, but we've just got to get through it, learn from it, move on and play better."

Niese, who threw 86 pitches, saw his ERA rise to 2.74 in absorbing his first loss of the season. 

"I just wish I could have a couple pitches back," Niese said. "But I threw them. The results were what they were. I've just got to move on."

Niese will look to get back on track Saturday against the Nationals.


Nationals considering keeping Yunel Escobar at third base
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Nationals manager Matt Williams will have a decision to make when his regular third baseman Anthony Rendon comes back from injury. With Rendon on the shelf, Yunel Escobar has shifted to third and Williams is considering leaving him there even after Rendon returns, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

The team is unsure yet what will happen when Rendon returns, but one theory has Escobar staying at third and Rendon shifting to second base, according to Heyman.

Escobar is hitting .292 with five RBI in 65 at-bats while slotted at third base.


 
 
 
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