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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
Nick Ahmed played hero role in extra-inning win versus Cubs
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:10 am ET) Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed was the unlikely hero on Friday night. But unlikely or not, Ahmed's single in the 13th inning gave the Diamondbacks a 5-4 win over the Cubs.

Ahmed, who entered the game batting .194, went 3 for 6 with a home run and two RBI.

''I made some improvements, made some adjustments,'' Ahmed said. ''I'm starting to put the bat on the ball, starting to see it a lot better. The coaches here have been awesome - (hitting coach) Turner Ward and (assistant hitting coach) Mark Grace, and even my teammates here, they just stick with me, stay behind me, keep instilling confidence in me even though I'm struggling. That helped a lot.''

Ahmed is hitting .212/.281/.260 with a home run and eight RBI in 104 at-bats this season.


Royals' Chris Young making strong case to remain in rotation
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:10 am ET) Royals veteran pitcher Chris Young turned in another outstanding performance Friday against the Cardinals, improving to 3-0 with a 0.40 ERA in four starts this season.

Young still could head back to the bullpen once Jason Vargas returns from an elbow injury, but manager Ned Yost said it's too early to make any decisions or assumptions

"I'm not even going there," Yost said, per MLB.com. "Nice try, though. When we get to the point where we have to make a decision, we'll do it like we always do. We'll sit down with the coaches, with [general manager] Dayton [Moore] and do what's right."

Young seems fine with whatever role the Royals ask of him.

"It doesn't matter to me," he said. "One thing the bullpen taught me is to make one good pitch at a time, take care of one batter at a time. The numbers all even out through time. I'm not worried or concerned about that. I just like the element of competition of being out there."


Diamondbacks' Pollock hits safely four times in win
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:03 am ET) Diamondbacks centerfielder A.J. Pollock could not be stopped in his team's 5-4 win against the Cubs on Friday.

Pollock went 4 of 6 with a double and a triple. Pollock's double came in the 10th inning with the Diamondbacks trailing the Cubs. Teammate Paul Goldschmidt followed up the double with a game-tying two-run homer.

Pollock is hitting .625/.647/1.063 with a home run and three RBI in his last four games.


Tigers' Ausmus using RP Alex Wilson in a variety of situations
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:57 am ET) Since his recall from the minors in late April, Tigers reliever Alex Wilson has quietly put together a nice string of outings. He is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in 10 appearances.

"I can't really give you his role because I use him all over the place," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Thursday, per MLive.com. "He can pitch -- he was going to go back out for the next inning [Thursday against the Astros] if we don't score, so he would have been out for a third -- long like that, he can get a couple of righties out if we need it in the seventh or eighth. He doesn't seem to be bothered by the tight game, so he's got a lot of versatility."

Wilson's two-inning outing Thursday was the sixth time this season he has pitched longer than an inning and the fourth time he's gone at least two frames.

"Ya know, I'm just doing what I can," Wilson said. "I'm a grinder -- that's what I've always done. I feel like there is a little bit of a role, I am kind of the long guy, but the kind of guy you can throw in and try and get a couple of ground ball or couple quick outs if need be. I'm OK with being the swingman of the bullpen, I could you could call it. But I'm happy with it."


Starlin Castro knocks two hits against Diamondbacks
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(9:55 am ET) Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro recorded two hits in his team's 5-4 loss to the Diamondbacks on Friday.

Castro went 2 for 6 with a double and an RBI. He is hitting .274/.305/.351 for the season with three home runs and 24 RBI in 168 at-bats.


Cubs' Lester goes seven innings in no-decision
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(9:50 am ET) Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester tossed seven innings and allowed two earned runs in a no-decision on Friday against the Diamondbacks.

The outing was Lester's first no-decision since April 24, he had produced four consecutive wins May before Friday. Lester recorded four strikeouts while allowing five hits and walking two batters.

Lester has posted a 3.56 ERA this season in 55.2 innings.


A's place OF Coco Crisp (neck) on 15-day DL
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:50 am ET) The Athletics placed outfielder Coco Crisp on the 15-day disabled list Saturday due to a neck injury. Starting pitcher Kendall Graveman was recalled from Triple-A Nashville to take Crisp's spot on the roster.

Crisp, who has not played since May 19, will not have surgery because the operation could potentially end his career. The veteran outfielder has struggled in 2015, batting just .044 (2 for 45) in 13 games.


Diamondbacks' Collmenter allows two earned runs against Cubs
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(9:43 am ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Josh Collmenter allowed two earned runs during Friday night's extra-inning game against the Cubs.

Collmenter struck out four batters and walked one during the five innings of work he put in. He gave up six hits, which matched the total he allowed in his previous start on May 17. Collmenter's performance Friday night was his best since an April 29 outing against the Rockies, when he went through eight innings without allowing a run. After Friday's game against the Cubs, he now has an ERA of 5.19.

After giving up 18 earned runs in his previous three games, Collmenter's game against the Cubs was a nice turnaround for the 29-year-old right-hander.

Collmenter's next start is scheduled for May 27 against the Cardinals.


Rangers' Tolleson was unavailable Friday after back-to-back saves
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:39 am ET) Rangers reliever Ross Ohlendorf recorded his first career save Friday against the Yankees after reliever Shawn Tolleson picked up saves Wednesday and Thursday against the Red Sox. Tolleson needed 38 pitches to get through his two save chances against Boston, which is why he was unavailable Friday.

"More than anything else, Tolleson was down because he had pitched back-to-back games and we didn't want to use him a third game," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said, per MLB.com.

Tolleson and Ohlendorf have closed out games for the Rangers since Neftali Feliz was removed as closer following his third blown save last Saturday against the Indians.


Diamondbacks 1B Goldschmidt homers against Cubs
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(9:37 am ET) Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt made good use of the extra rest he got on Thursday. The slugger, who sat out Thursday's game due to rest, went 3 for 5 with a home run and three RBI in his team's 5-4 win against the Cubs on Friday.

Goldschmidt tied the game with a two-run home run in the 10th inning off Cubs' closer Hector Rondon.

In 41 games, Goldschmidt is hitting .331/.429/.623 with 11 home runs and 35 RBI in 151 at-bats.


 
 
 
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