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Reality Check: Early look at outfielders

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Now's probably a good time to remind you that the purpose of this series looking ahead to the 2014 rankings is not to give a thorough overview at each position but to offer just enough to get the juices flowing.

Why? Because at this position, I can only scratch the surface. It's friggin' huge.

That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Every real-life team starts three times as many outfielders as shortstops or first basemen. And every Fantasy team starts at least that many. Standard Rotisserie teams start five.

Going 30 deep here won't reveal as many of my sleepers at the position as going 20 deep around the infield did, but it's a start. And judging by how much I wrestled with these rankings, it's more than enough to get the juices flowing.

Top 10 outfielders for 2014:
1. Mike Trout, OF, Angels
2. Andrew McCutcheon, OF, Pirates
3. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies
4. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox
5. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers
6. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
7. Adam Jones, OF, Orioles
8. Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays
9. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins
10. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Reds

I settled on my top eight way back in early September, when I projected them to go in the first two rounds of 2014 drafts. Granted, I've made some changes to my overall rankings since then -- most notably at first base -- but I'm still happy with the way the outfielders line up. I don't know that there's even room for debate until Carlos Gonzalez at No. 3, and obviously, Braun and Harper will raise eyebrows just because of who they are. But upside sets those three apart.

Gonzalez, who'll still be in the thick of his prime at age 28, is a five-category player when healthy and just put together a 20-20 campaign in only two-thirds of a season. Granted, playing two-thirds of a season is nothing new for him. His career high in games played is only 145. But players that produce at his level, with his consistency, have become so rare that -- particularly in standard mixed leagues, where fallback options are always available on waivers -- you kind of just have to draft him and hope for the best. Maybe you get what you can out of him in the first half and then trade him at the All-Star break. His injuries always seem to come late.

"Hoping for the best" isn't entirely necessary with Braun and Harper. The reward far outweighs the risk for both. The chance to spend just a second-round pick on Braun -- a first round-caliber player from the moment he entered the league in 2007 -- is too good to pass up, regardless of how you feel about him personally. Not every player handed a PED suspension turns out like Melky Cabrera. The Harper pick is a bit more speculative, but obviously, his potential is through the roof. To do what he did at age 20 with a bad knee most of the year should only make you feel better about his future. He averaged 3.15 Head-to-Head points per game compared to Jones' 3.25, so even if he doesn't improve, no harm done.

Jones, after all, doesn't have anywhere near Harper's plate discipline, which means he has probably peaked as the .285-hitting, 30-homer guy he's been the last two years. Clearly, there's nothing wrong with that, but it puts him a step back from some of the multi-dimensional hitters at the position. You may wonder why a one-dimensional hitter like him ranks three spots behind a one-dimensional hitter like Ellsbury, especially since Ellsbury's one dimension (speed) is more common than Jones' (power), but it all comes down to Head-to-Head scoring. Ellsbury averaged 3.71 Fantasy points per game 2013, putting him about as far ahead of Jones as Trout is ahead of McCutchen -- not especially close, in other words.

Choo offers a stable alternative to risk-reward picks Bautista and Stanton, and maybe in Head-to-Head leagues, where walks count for something in their own right, he edges them out. But in Rotisserie leagues or any format shallow enough to justify the gamble, I'll take the guys capable of doubling him up in homers. Yeah, injuries have ended each of Bautista's last two seasons in August, and he won't be any more durable at age 33. But the CarGo argument also applies to him. For the promise of elite production at a position of considerable depth, I'm willing to get what I can from him and deal with the injuries later.

Next 10 outfielders for 2014:
11. Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers
12. Carlos Gomez, OF, Brewers
13. Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers
14. Justin Upton, OF, Braves
15. Matt Holliday, OF, Cardinals
16. Jay Bruce, OF, Reds
17. Allen Craig, 1B/OF, Cardinals
18. Hunter Pence, OF, Giants
19. Wil Myers, OF, Rays
20. Jason Heyward, OF, Braves

So why not Kemp? After all, his best is even better than Bautista's or Stanton's and certainly better than Choo's. Look, in a 12-team league, they're all No. 1 outfielders, so understand that anything I say against any of them is basically just nitpicking. But because I have to justify these rankings somehow, here goes: I feel like Kemp's concerns are ... more concerning, if you follow me. It's not just the one injury that could sideline him for six weeks. It's the stream of injuries that crippled him throughout 2013 -- the shoulder, the hamstring, the ankle, etc. -- and the lingering worry that he won't be the same player even when healthy.

After needing most of the year to recover from offseason shoulder surgery, he had only a week in mid-July when he hit for power before getting creamed by injuries again, and he hasn't had double-digit steals since setting a career high with 40 in 2011. I understand if he stays healthy and gets back to producing at a first-round level, he's the steal of the draft, but owning him was pure torture in 2013. And because his propensity for injury is likely to keep him from running so much going forward, those who value speed as much as power might be better off with Gomez, who was in line for first-round numbers himself before playing with a banged-up shoulder and knee in the second half.

You follow me so far? Believe it or not, I think the first 12 are pretty straightforward. Even if you don't agree on the order, you can't really argue the players. The next 18, though? Oh boy ...

Holliday is probably the linchpin. The approach you take with him says a lot about the approach you'll take with the rest of the position. It comes down to trusting the seen vs. trusting the unseen. Based on what we've seen, he's as productive as ever, ranking 10th among outfielders in Head-to-Head leagues and eighth in Rotisserie, but if the regression finally comes in his age-34 season, he could get lapped by some of the up-and-comers at the position.

Clearly, I'm banking more on the seen since the only two up-and-comers I rank ahead of Holliday are the ones who've shown me the most, at least in terms of ceiling. Bruce has been steadier than Upton, but that's precisely the problem. Upton's fluctuations in batting average give me reason to think his peak first-round caliber. Bruce has most likely peaked as a .260-hitting, 30-homer type. Puig probably isn't as far ahead of Myers as these rankings would have you believe, but he's predisposed to a higher batting average and should also steal more bases. Plus, let's not downplay the role of perception here. Hype alone will keep Myers on the board three rounds longer than Puig.

Why reach for him if you don't have to? The sophomore jinx was plenty real for Anthony Rizzo in 2013, so no need to force the issue, especially with players as reliable as Craig and Pence still on the board. Pence may seem a little low to some, but understand he's coming off a dream season. He might have the slight edge on Craig in terms of power, but I trust Craig to hit .300 more than I trust Pence to steal 20 bases.

Next 10 outfielders for 2014:
21. Domonic Brown, OF, Phillies
22. Starling Marte, OF, Pirates
23. Martin Prado, 2B/3B/OF, Diamondbacks
24. Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF, Rays
25. Jayson Werth, OF, Nationals
26. Alex Rios, OF, Rangers
27. Shane Victorino, OF, Red Sox
28. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Athletics
29. Alex Gordon, OF, Royals
30. Mark Trumbo, 1B/OF, Angels

Notice I skipped Heyward in that last group? That's because I think he has more in common with Brown. The two would be studs by now if not for all their health and consistency issues. Brown might seem like the safer bet of the two coming off a breakout year in which he hit 27 homers, but Heyward himself hit 27 homers in 2012. And he was the more productive of the two over the final two-thirds of 2013, performing about like Craig in terms of Head-to-Head points per game from June 1 on.

Marte also broke out in 2013 -- and without all the speed bumps Heyward and Brown have encountered in their careers -- but what Heyward and Brown offer in terms of power is rarer than what Marte offers in terms of speed. Plus, I'm always wary of players who break out with plate discipline as bad as Marte's. It's something opposing pitchers may learn to exploit.

But again, I'm nitpicking. If I drafted Marte, I'd still trust him to start for me every week. I'm using the versatile Prado and Zobrist as the cutoff for that distinction. Most likely, you'll draft them at one of the many of the other positions they're eligible to play, so their versatility rightfully influences their ranking here. You could argue I'm even undervaluing Prado a bit considering he ranked eight among outfielders in Head-to-Head leagues and 13th in Rotisserie after the All-Star break, but the home run hitters and base stealers are sure to get more love on Draft Day.

As for who to trust with those last few spots, it depends what you mean by "trust." All the remaining players have noticeable flaws, but some are more related to age (Werth, Rios, Victorino, Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Beltran) and others to production (Cespedes, Gordon and Desmond Jennings). When in doubt, I usually go the upside route, but in this case, I'm not sure upside is synonymous with youth.

Werth and Victorino were so good to close 2013, with Werth compiling an MVP-caliber .990 OPS after returning from a hamstring injury in early June and Victorino reverting to his Phillies form after an injury forced him to abandon switch-hitting in August, that I feel like they're most deserving of an early-to-mid-round pick. I don't trust them completely, but at that stage, the price is right.

I suppose you could argue Cuddyer was right up there with them in terms of productivity, but 2013 was such an outlier for him that I don't have much hope of him repeating it at age 35. And Beltran had another subpar second half, hitting .277 with a .758 OPS. At age 36, he's at the edge of the cliff.

If I pushed this list to 36, Cuddyer and Beltran would make the cut, as well as Coco Crisp, Alfonso Soriano, Josh Hamilton and probably Curtis Granderson over Jennings and Austin Jackson. And if they win jobs out of spring training, rookies George Springer and Billy Hamilton won't be far behind. I'm also high on Christian Yelich. He put together a .370 on-base percentage as a 21-year-old rookie, stole 10 bases in 240 at-bats and will most assuredly hit for power once he adds muscle to his scrawny build.

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
Dodgers' Chad Gaudin shut down, will be examined
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:45 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Chad Gaudin (biceps) felt a tingling in his fingers Thursday and was shut down, MLB.com reports.

The pitcher will be examined, and it's possible he's sent for an MRI Friday. Gaudin was pulled from last Friday's outing due to a "tweak" in his biceps. He's surrendered two earned runs in six spring innings.


Twins' Molitor likes what he has in OF Shane Robinson
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:43 pm ET) Twins manager Paul Molitor is impressed with what the team has in outfielder Shane Robinson , according to twincities.com.

"Robinson's been great for me," the Twins' manager said Thursday. "He's very much into the game, whether he's playing or not. He's always watching, making observations. He does the fundamental things very well: base running, defense, takes a good at-bat."

Robinson is currently tied for the team-lead in doubles this spring with four. He has been batting second and playing center. 

Molitor also points out that Robinson has been better against left-handed pitchers as opposed to right-handers.

"I think he takes good at-bats against right-handers," Molitor said, "but obviously the left-hand thing is probably a little better thing for him."

After spending nine years with the Cardinals, the 30-year-old is batting .276 with four doubles on nine hits this spring.


Indians' Francona on Salazar: We wanted him to pitch better Thursday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:42 pm ET) Indians rotation hopeful Danny Salazar was knocked around during Thursday's Cactus League, allowing a pair of home runs in a 13-2 defeat to Cincinnati. He allowed seven runs -- six earned -- on six hits and no walks while striking out six over 3 1/3 innings of work.

Manager Terry Francona was not pleased by Salazar's outing when he spoke to reporters after the game, per MLB.com.

"He started out, solo homer in the first and then another solo. And then, it kind of got away from him a little bit," Francona said. "I don't know. The stuff is definitely there. It's not there yet consistently, whether he's locating or following a pitch up with two pitches in a row. Again, we'll keep working at it -- that's for darn sure -- but the results weren't the kind of what we're looking for."

When asked, Francona said he will not let Salazar's rough outing impact his roster decision.

"I don't think we would ever make a decision on one start," Francona said. "I think that's where you set yourself up to make a mistake. Obviously, we wanted him to pitch better. I just don't think you can make decisions based on four innings in March. I don't think that's correct."


Angels' Kole Calhoun (shoulder) removed from game Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:41 pm ET) Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun came out of Thursday's spring matchup in the Cubs in the second inning due to an apparent shoulder injury, MLB.com reports.

Calhoun was hit in his right shoulder while leading off the game and slid hard into second base on a double play in the first inning. He played the bottom of the first inning in right field but did not return to the field for the second inning. Calhoun is 12 for 41 with one double and three walks this spring.


Jeremy Guthrie gives Royals five-plus scoreless innings on Thursday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:30 pm ET) Royals starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, the team's No. 5 starter, turned in a solid outing, outdueling Felix Hernandez Thursday afternoon for his first Cactus League win of the year. 

Guthrie tossed four innings of no-hit ball until Nelson Cruz recorded leadoff single off the right-hander in the fifth. He allowed two hits and no walks while striking out two in 5 2/3 scoreless innings. He has a 3.52 ERA this spring.

"I was able to throw all my pitches for strikes," Guthrie said, per the Kansas City Star. "Felt healthy and strong, which obviously is the most important thing for everybody, to feel like you're getting your strength up. We're getting toward the end of spring."


Mariners' Hernandez after Thursday's start: 'My fastball was good'
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:20 pm ET) Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez turned in a dominant outing, but it went to waste due to no run support in Seattle's 3-0 Cactus League defeat to Kansas City.

The right-hander yielded one run on two hits and no walks while striking out four over six innings of work -- his longest outing of the spring. He owns a 5.91 ERA through three Cactus League starts (10 2/3 innings).

"My fastball was good," Hernandez said, per the Tacoma News Tribune. "When my fastball is good, everything is better."


Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw to have stitches removed before next start
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7:05 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw said Thursday that his jaw still feels sore from the line drive that hit him during Friday's game.

Kershaw had two teeth damaged during the incident. He had one tooth extracted and another one repaired last week, and is expected to have his stitches removed before his next start.

"I can't eat any jaw breakers," Kershaw said, jokingly, per the Orange County Register.

Astros P Brady Aiken says he had Tommy John surgery
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:04 pm ET) Astros pitcher Brady Aiken took to Twitter to announce that he had Tommy John surgery on Wednesday. 

Aiken talked about the surgery and what he'll have to overcome in a piece on theplayerstribune.com. 

"Yesterday, I had Tommy John surgery to fix my left arm. I’m obviously extremely disappointed. I wanted to let my pitching speak for itself, but now there are going to be new distractions. For that reason, I wanted to be the one to tell people what’s happened and make this a fresh start.

"When I visited the doctor’s office and got the news I had torn my UCL, I can’t even begin to express how I felt. I was — and still am — overwhelmed with a lot of different feelings, but mostly it’s disappointment. I won’t be able to pitch this season, and this is going to keep me from doing what I love most of all — competing. It’s going to be frustrating, and not just from a baseball perspective. When it’s 90 degrees at home in Cardiff and the waves are perfect and I can’t surf, that’ll be tough, too. I know the road ahead will be full of patience and hard work, and I’m ready for that challenge."

Aiken was the first overall pick by the Astros in 2014.


Rangers P Derek Holland on track for home opener
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(6:44 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Derek Holland is on track to pitch in the team's home opener, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Holland had been dealing with some shoulder soreness earlier in spring training. The lefty will be held out until the home opener, which is the fifth game of the season.

Manager Jeff Banister seems content with holding him out to help avoid a setback.

"There are two opening days," Banister said.

Holland has only pitched three innings this spring, giving up two hits and a walk.


Athletics OF Coco Crisp could return as early as Saturday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(6:41 pm ET) Athletics outfielder Coco Crisp (elbow) was supposed to take the day, but surprised manager Bob Melvin by taking part in Thursday's workout, a day after receiving a cortisone shot, per the Bay Area News Group. Melvin told reporters that he's feeling better, but won't play Friday against the Rangers, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. He could be back as early as Saturday against the White Sox.

 
 
 
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