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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
Astros GM seeking to bolster fifth spot in rotation
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:19 pm ET) The surprising start of the Astros has general manager Jeff Luhnow considering moves he wouldn't have thought prudent otherwise.

"(The early success) makes it more likely that we're going to be making moves to have an immediate payback and potentially even moves that come at a cost long-term," he told the Houston Chronicle. "The more we feel like we've got a chance to be relevant all summer and potentially relevant in October, the more we can be focused on what we can do to bolster this team."

It certainly needs bolstering in the starting staff.

"Really, the only area that's obvious is in the rotation," Luhnow added. "We probably will explore rotation adds that make sense for our team, because we've had a lot of rotating doors so far in the fifth spot."

Among those that have tried to lock down that fifth spot are Brad Peacock (disabled list), Asher Wojciechowski (demoted) and Brett Oberholtzer (injured). Samuel Deduno is the current fifth starter. The veteran right-hander performed well in his lone start, though he was lifted after four innings.


Farrell: Red Sox 1B Mike Napoli 'taking some good swings'
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:04 pm ET) Scuffling Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli has received encouragement from John Farrell, who claims those struggles are not a result of a poor approach at the plate.

"He's taking some good swings, just missing some pitches," Farrell told MLB Network Radio. "When he's in the mix our lineup takes a completely different look."

Napoli has just two hits in his last 22 at-bats. It appeared he might be coming out of his slump when he slugged a three-run homer Sunday, but he took the collar Monday.


McClendon on James Paxton: 'I feel good about where he is right now'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:57 pm ET) Mariners starting pitcher James Paxton heads into Tuesday's start against the Angels coming off a very promising start against the Astros.

Paxton had a few rough outings after a strong performance in his first start April 7 against the Angels, but manager Lloyd McClendon feels Paxton is on the right track after missing time during the spring due to a forearm injury.

"I feel like he's been building since the injury in spring training. I feel real good about where he is right now," McClendon said, per MLB Network Radio.

The lefty pitcher is 2-2 with a 2.67 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in five career starts against the Angels.


Marlins announce release of C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:36 pm ET) The Marlins have released veteran catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. A trade that had been rumored never materialized.

Saltalamacchia, who turned 30 on Saturday, might not be out of a job long. Several teams are reportedly interested in him, including the Diamondbacks, Rays and Royals.

His slow start at the plate cost him his spot. Saltalamacchia, whose production dipped dramatically last year, owns a disturbing slash line of .069/.182/.207.


Rockies 3B Nolan Arenado no longer flying under the radar
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:26 pm ET) There's no question that Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado has been developing into something truly special over his first two-plus seasons in the big leagues. He's already won two Gold Gloves and he's being mentioned in early MVP talks this season.

And, although he just turned 24 years old a couple of weeks ago, his name is also being mentioned along the likes of Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki in regards to Rockies' cornerstones. But to his credit, Arenado wants to make his own name for the Colorado franchise. 

"I'm a huge fan of Tulo. I would love to be like Tulo, or Todd (Helton)," Arenado said Monday, per the Denver Post. "I would love to play like them. But those are their roads. I want to build my own road."

Arenado's stellar defense is even getting the respect from the competition in his own divsion. 

"His defense is maybe the best in the league," Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. "It stinks when you're hitting and you know if you hit anything even close to him, he's going to rob you of a hit. He's a stud. He's an unbelievable player. Has some power, good strike zone judgment. He's aggressive but can be patient too. He really does everything really well."

Arenado is seeing the ball well over his last 10 games, as he enters play Tuesday batting .317 with three home runs and seven RBI in that stretch.


Nationals' Zimmermann feels good despite reduced velocity
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:24 pm ET) Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann didn't see his average fastball velocity dip below 93.8 mph in any of his starts last season, but he's had to deal with a reduction in velocity this season, with his fastball averaging at least 93 mph just once in his six starts, per Brooks Baseball.

Despite the dip in velocity, Zimmermann doesn't seem concerned, the Washington Post reports.

"Don’t really care about velocity," Zimmermann said Monday. "As long as I make my pitch. You can throw 85 and make your pitch and get guys out up here, as long as you execute and mix it up. I’m sure it’ll come back later in the season. It’s just down a little bit right now."

The reduced velocity has led to more contact by hitters this season. However, Zimmermann feels that he's been improved in recent starts, and he expressed confidence in all three of his secondary pitches Monday night for the first time this season.

"I feel good," he said. "It was hit or miss early in the season, but I feel good now. Fastball command is there and breaking pitches are there, so I feel good."

Zimmermann saw his fastball velocity leap to its normal level against Atlanta on April 29, but it was back down Monday, when he worked seven innings of one-run ball. He's 2-2 with a 4.15 ERA and 22:6 K:BB ratio in 34 2/3 innings. He's striking out 5.7 batters per nine innings after posting an 8.2 K/9 rate in 2014.


Nationals' Fister on reduced velocity: I'm 'dialing in the mechanics'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:15 pm ET) Nationals pitcher Doug Fister has seen his average fastball velocity dip to 87.03 mph this season after his fastball sat at about 89 to 91 mph over the last four seasons, per Brooks Baseball. Fister indicated that he needs to become more consistent with his mechanics, the Washington Post reports.

"I’m really just dialing in the mechanics," Fister said. "There’s a flash or two of where I normally am during the game, but not consistently, and that’s what I’ve gotta get to. It’s a work in progress."

Fister, who has also had some issues with his sinker, was able to pitch 6 1/3 scoreless innings in his last start.

"I was staying back a little bit better, and that was a focus. Before, I was really getting out in front and my legs weren’t coming, I was just using all arm," Fister said. "That’s been a struggle all year long, and I’ve really tried to focus on, for a week or so, trying to take care of it."

Though Fister was able to avoid walking a batter for the first time this season, he didn't see an increase in velocity in the quality performance.

"(Velocity) is something I keep in the back of my head, just to gauge where I’m at, what I’m doing, but when I’m throwing my typical 86-88 sinker anyway, it’s all about location as opposed to velocity anyway," Fister said. "Yes, I’d love to make it better, but at this point I’ve got to deal with what I’ve got and it’s something I’m still trying to continue to get stronger for the year."

Fister is 2-1 with a 2.61 ERA and 14:9 K:BB ratio in 31 innings.


Report: Rays lefty Jake McGee set to rehab at Durham
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:12 pm ET) Southpaw reliever Jake McGee, who is coming off elbow surgery, will join Triple-A Durham Tuesday night, the Tampa Bay Times has reported. He has made two appearances in Class A and is expected to make three or four more before rejoining the Rays.

McGee, who hasn't pitched at the big league level since September, was lights-out in 2014 and considered a possible closer coming into this year. He recorded a 1.89 ERA with 90 strikeouts and just 48 hits allowed in 71 1/3 innings.


Black: C Austin Hedges will 'get playing time' for Padres
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:52 am ET) Bud Black confirmed Tuesday that newcomer Austin Hedges will receive a significant opporunity to play behind the plate for the Padres.

"I think he makes our roster better," Black told MLB Network Radio. "Derek Norris is our catcher but Austin is going to get playing time."

Norris has certainly not done anything at the plate to warrant a decrease in work. He owns a slash line of .323/.343/.500 with two home runs and 16 RBI. Hedges has been equally impressive in Triple-A with a .343 mark and two homers in 67 at-bats.

Black offered that Norris could be moved on occasion to first base when Hedges catches.


Angels 1B/DH C.J. Cron continues to struggle in loss on Monday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(11:39 am ET) After having the previous two games off, Angels slugger C.J. Cron was back in the lineup on Monday against the Mariners. He went 0 for 3 in the 3-2 loss as the team's first baseman. Cron, who broke out in 2014 with 11 home runs, has left the yard just once this season. 

Cron's struggles, which includes an underwhelming .229 batting average, has caused him to lose playing time. He has appeared in just 19 of the team's 26 games thus far, and with several other DH options at manager Mike Scioscia's disposal, Cron could be in danger of seeing even less time if he doesn't improve at the plate.


 
 
 
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