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Outfield prospects for 2014

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Prospect Reports: Cs | 1Bs | 2Bs | 3Bs | SSs | OFs | Ps

If you've followed baseball for any length of time, you're probably aware that three times as many players start in the outfield as at any other position, which means a list highlighting the top prospects at the position should run a bit longer.

Twenty is good and plenty -- like the candy, only easier to consume.

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Among them, you'll find the two most draftable rookies in Fantasy as well as the most talented player in the minor leagues right now. You'll find speedsters, sluggers and a tantalizing number of players who excel at both. You'll even find a former college quarterback.

What you won't find is Jake Marisnick. I just can't get behind that guy, no matter how many Jose Reyeses the Marlins gave up for him.

Note: This list has been adjusted for Fantasy purposes. Though long-term potential is a factor, it's arguably less important than the player's expected role in 2014. These prospects don't all profile as superstars, but they're the names most worth knowing in Fantasy now.

1. Billy Hamilton, 23, Reds
Where played in 2013: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .256 BA, 6 HR, 75 SB, .343 SLG, .651 OPS, 38 BB, 102 K
Major-league stats: .368 BA (19 at-bats), 0 HR, 13 SB, .902 OPS, 2 BB, 4 K

Prospect hounds would tell you that Hamilton lost some of his luster in 2013. One year after setting a minor-league record with 155 stolen bases, he finished second to the White Sox's Micah Johnson with "only" 75. Worse yet, he went all Willy Taveras at the plate with a .256 batting average and .651 OPS. But if you were paying attention in September, you got a glimpse of just what kind of impact he can make in Fantasy. He swiped four bases in the first game he ever started and one in each of the six he entered as a pinch-runner. No one can say for sure whether his struggles at Triple-A Louisville were the result of him being promoted too fast, struggling to pick up switch-hitting or getting bored waiting around for a promotion, but he reached base at a .406 clip in nearly half a season at Double-A Pensacola in 2012, hitting .311 between two stops that year. With the kind of speed that has made him a candidate to advance on infield flies and score from second base on ground outs -- both feats he has accomplished already -- Hamilton is going to be a big deal in Fantasy whether he hits .250 or .290. Leading off for the Reds, he's worth a middle-round pick in both Rotisserie and Head-to-Head formats.

2. George Springer, 24, Astros
Where played in 2013: Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .303 BA, 37 HR, 108 RBI, 45 SB, 1.010 OPS, 83 BB, 161 K

Sure, he strikes out every third at-bat, but the minor leagues haven't been able to contain Springer since the Astros selected him 11th overall in the 2011 draft. It culminated last year in what was nearly the minors' first 40-40 season since 1956. That was between Double- and Triple-A -- the two levels most likely to expose a player's flaws. So what makes you think it'll be any different in the majors? Matt Kemp, who so many scouts have said Springer resembles, kept hitting in spite of his poor plate discipline once he reached the majors, and Springer has shown more of a willingness to walk than he did. Even if Kemp is more the exception than the rule and Springer's one shortcoming condemns him to a .240-.260 batting average in the majors, his combination of power and speed gives him early-round potential regardless. Of course, he's not an early-rounder just yet. The Astros delayed his arrival last September and could use their offseason acquisition of Dexter Fowler as an excuse to do so again this spring. But that should only make Springer more affordable on Draft Day. The guy has already mastered Triple-A and, at age 24, is overdue for a promotion. He's a lottery ticket in the late rounds of Rotisserie drafts and should probably be drafted in Head-to-Head leagues as well.

3. Oscar Taveras, 21, Cardinals
Where played in 2013: Rookie, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .310 BA (174 at-bats), 5 HR, 5 SB, .819 OPS, 10 BB, 22 K

Taveras' 2013 didn't go according to plan. Coming into the season, he was supposed to be the Cardinals' first line of defense if something happened to Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday or Allen Craig, but between the high ankle sprain he suffered about a week into the season and the emergence of Matt Adams, he never even sniffed the majors. He also took a step back statistically, but considering the ankle plagued him all year, knocking him out of the lineup on three separate occasions before he finally gave in to surgery in August, he gets a pass for that. In terms of pure hitting ability, few prospects come close to Taveras. He makes contact at an exceptionally high rate for a player with his power, and he has only begun to tap into his potential at age 21. The Cardinals ultimately want him in center field now that they're committed to playing Craig in right, so unless he blows them away with the bat and the glove this spring, he'll probably have to begin the season at Triple-A Memphis. With only placeholder types like Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay blocking him, though, he'll arrive as soon as he proves ready. Don't hesitate to invest a late-round pick in him even if he burned you last time.

4. Byron Buxton, 20, Twins
Where played in 2013: low Class A, high Class A
Minor-league stats: .334 BA, 12 HR, 19 2B, 18 3B, 55 SB, .944 OPS, 76 BB, 105 K

On normal prospect lists -- the kinds that don't fixate on right now -- Buxton has a strong case for the top spot across all positions, but because he's coming off his age-19 season and has yet to reach even Double-A, he's probably a waste of a draft pick in single-season leagues. Let's not sell him short, though. The guy is uber-talented, earning comparisons ranging from Andrew McCutchen to Mike Trout. Those are two players coming off back-to-back top-three MVP finishes, if you're keeping score at home. Buxton's tools were apparent from the time the Twins took him second overall in the 2012 draft, but he blew everyone away with his polish in his first full professional season, which was most evident in his disciplined approach. Assuming Double-A doesn't slow him down, it's not so far-fetched that he could reach the majors this year. But unlike Billy Hamilton and potentially George Springer, it won't happen on opening day. Playing for the Twins doesn't help Buxton's case, but if last year proved anything, it's that you shouldn't underestimate him. In leagues with ample bench space, he's worth a late-round flier just in case.

5. Nick Castellanos, 22, Tigers
Where played in 2013: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .276 BA (533 at-bats), 18 HR, 37 2B, .793 OPS, 54 BB, 100 K
Major-league stats: .278 BA (18 at-bats), 0 HR, 0 BB, 1 K

The Tigers spent a year and a half of Castellanos' minor-league development transitioning him to the outfield just so they could free up third base for him as soon as he's projected to win a job out of spring training. OK, so that wasn't exactly the plan, but that's the way it turned out with the Tigers' decision to trade Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler this offseason, shifting back-to-back AL MVP Miguel Cabrera back to first base and returning Castellanos to his natural position. Not that Fantasy owners are complaining. Third base is fairly weak this year, so the eligibility there will only improve Castellanos' value whenever he regains it. Of course, his bat will have the most say as far as that goes. Yes, his minor-league numbers have been inconsistent, but he was young at every level. In his age-21 season, he took a notable step forward. His walk rate went from scary to decent, and he nearly doubled his home run total from the year before. Plus, scouts still envision him hitting for a high average with his ability to drive the ball the other way. He'll have some growing pains at age 22, but he's a definite sleeper in AL-only formats and may even get drafted in some mixed leagues.

6. Jackie Bradley, 23, Red Sox
Where played in 2013: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .275 BA (320 at-bats), 10 HR, 26 2B, 7 SB, .842 OPS, 41 BB, 75 K
Major-league stats: .189 BA (95 at-bats), 3 HR, 5 2B, 2 SB, .617 OPS, 10 BB, 31 K

If you assessed Bradley solely by what he did in the majors last year, you would conclude he's a bust of a prospect. But of course, assessing a player solely by a small sample of sporadic at-bats between trips to the minors in his first go around the league is a flawed way of thinking. The Red Sox clearly weren't deterred by what they saw, letting star center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury sign with the rival Yankees this offseason knowing Bradley was next in line. His base-stealing ability is still in question after he took a step back in that area at Triple-A Pawtucket, but he can run a little, has the kind of pop that should translate to 15-20 homers in his prime and knows how to take a walk. A slower version of Shane Victorino is one way to think of him, though that may not do his batting eye justice. A more powerful Norichika Aoki might be closer. Of course, that's thinking in terms of upside, which he may not be ready to meet, if last year is any indication. You wouldn't want invest too much in him, but in leagues that require the use of five outfielders, Bradley is a worthy late-round pick.

7. Gregory Polanco, 22, Pirates
Where played in 2013: high Class A, Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .285 BA, 12 HR, 30 2B, 38 SB, .791 OPS, 52 BB, 73 K

In terms of pure ability, Polanco is the complete package, but he hasn't maximized all his tools yet. He has had no shortage of stolen bases during his minor-league career, and his plate discipline has remained exemplary even with his ascension to the upper levels of the minors. But as a power hitter, he's a work in progress, his slugging percentage dropping by 100 points from his breakthrough season at low Class A West Virginia last year. In the grand scheme, it doesn't change his Fantasy value too much, but it may slow his climb to the big leagues, particularly if Jose Tabata or Andrew Lambo take a step forward this year. As a future 20-homer, 30-steal guy (if not better) with no glaring weaknesses, Polanco is one of the best prospects you could own in long-term keeper leagues, but if he makes a Fantasy impact in 2014, it might not be until late in the year. He's a OK stash in NL-only leagues, but mixed-league owners should look elsewhere on Draft Day.

8. Joc Pederson, 21, Dodgers
Where played in 2013: Double-A
Minor-league stats: .278 BA (439 at-bats), 22 HR, 31 SB, .381 OBP, .878 OPS, 70 BB, 114 K

Right now, Pederson's claim to fame is that he was mentioned alongside Yasiel Puig as a possible replacement when the Dodgers were down a couple outfielders midway through last season. He didn't get the call while Puig obviously did, but it wasn't a question of ability. Pederson only validated his 2012 breakthrough with his 2013 performance, proving it wasn't just a product of the heavy-hitting California League with similar numbers in the Southern League. So now he has the look of a top prospect with his combination of power, speed and a good batting eye, and having already spent a full season at Double-A, he's at the big leagues' doorstep. The only problem is the Dodgers are already a man deep in the outfield with the emergence of Puig. Because Pederson is only 21, there's no need to rush him, so he'll likely spend most of 2014 at Triple-A Albuquerque, hoping an injury or two opens the door for him, as happened for Puig. Given the history Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp, it's not too much of a stretch. Pederson is worth stashing in NL-only leagues for when that day comes.

9. Jorge Soler, 22, Cubs
Where played in 2013: high Class A
Minor-league stats: .281 BA (210 at-bats), 8 HR, 5 SB, .810 OPS, 21 BB, 38 K

The good news is Soler was considered a better prospect than fellow Cuban defector Yasiel Puig at this time last year. The bad news is he didn't do anything to improve his stock in 2013. Not only was his production lacking, but he was suspended five games for charging the opposing dugout with bat in hand and benched for one game for repeatedly failing to run out ground balls. And that was just in April. Any maturing he did would have come off the field -- he suffered a stress fracture in his shin in late June, ending his season. So basically, everything the scouts feared with Puig was realized with Soler, resulting in an interesting role reversal that has dynasty league owners thinking they picked the wrong guy. But again, the good news: The potential is still there. Despite what he's delivered so far, Soler's power is arguably the best of any minor-leaguer, and he seems to be in control at the plate, posting a workable strikeout-to-walk ratio. He just needs to get his head right. The maturity issues would all be forgotten with a big performance at Double-A, which could potentially earn him a big-league promotion this year. Still, Soler is too speculative of a pick outside of long-term keeper leagues right now.

10. Albert Almora, 19, Cubs
Where played in 2013: low Class A
Minor-league stats: .329 BA (249 at-bats), 3 HR, 17 2B, 4 SB, .842 OPS, 17 BB, 30 K

Even though he's only 19 and has yet to advance past low Class A, the scouts consider Almora one of the safest prospects at any level. He's simply too good with the bat to fail, projecting as a legitimate .300 hitter in the majors. His ceiling isn't the highest. He most likely won't be going in the first or second round of Fantasy drafts someday. But he has decent pop, projecting to hit 15-20 homers per season, and should deliver the peripherals to stand out in Head-to-Head points leagues. He profiles as something like another Shin-Soo Choo, though whether or not he can contribute in stolen bases remains to be seen. Despite his young age, Almora's polish and instincts make him a candidate to reach the majors as early as 2015. Owners in single-season leagues don't have much use for him, but if you're thinking long-term, again, he's too safe not to own.

11. Austin Meadows, 18, Pirates
Where played in 2013: Rookie, short-season Class A
Minor-league stats: .316 BA (177 at-bats), 7 HR, .554 SLG, .977 OPS, 29 BB, 46 K

At 18, Meadows is years from reaching the big leagues, but the ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft made a good first impression in the short-season levels of the minors, showing off the power that has earned him comparisons to Jay Bruce. That's even higher praise than some Fantasy owners may realize given that Bruce was considered the best prospect in all of baseball once upon a time. Bruce never did figure out how to hit for average in the majors, but of course, Meadows' book is still being written. The range of possible outcomes for him at this early stage of his career is so wide that attempting to rank him for the long haul is probably wasted effort. In long-term keeper leagues, your biggest takeaways should be that he's going to be good, but not particularly soon. Oh, and power. He'll hit for power.

12. Clint Frazier, 19, Indians
Where played in 2013: Rookie
Minor-league stats: .297 BA (172 at-bats), 5 HR, 3 SB, .506 SLG, .868 OPS, 17 BB, 61 K

Bat speed. When assessing prospects for the long haul, that might be the most desirable attribute. Hanley Ramirez had it, and Gary Sheffield before him. Javier Baez has it, and the scouting world can't stop salivating. Now, you can add Frazier to the list. The fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft has already won over scouts with a quick stroke that should generate big power as he continues to fill out. He isn't a lock for greatness. He struck out in more than one-third of his at-bats in his professional debut, which he'll need to correct before he reaches the upper levels. But honestly, what 19-year-old isn't without his faults? Frazier's upside is off the charts, and he has plenty of time to realize it. Obviously, he won't do Fantasy owners much good in 2014, 2015 or probably even 2016, but in long-term keeper leagues, he's a must-have.

13. Michael Choice, 24, Rangers
Where played in 2013: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .302 BA, 14 HR, 89 RBI, .390 OBP, .835 OPS, 69 BB, 115 K
Major-league stats: .278 BA (18 at-bats), 0 HR, .649 OPS, 1 BB, 6 K

In a flurry of activity one Tuesday afternoon early in December, Choice went from being in the running for a corner outfield spot in Oakland to in the running for a corner outfield spot in Texas, getting traded for Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom. The good news is Texas -- for hitters, at least -- is a better place to be "in the running" than Oakland. The bad news is the Athletics must have had a reason for unloading Choice, particularly to a division rival. They used the 10th overall pick on him in 2010, after all, so to pull the plug on him now, just when he's to the point where he can contribute in the majors, is suspicious, to say the least. Granted, he hadn't delivered the big power numbers expected of him since hitting 30 homers in his first season of full-season ball in 2011, but he didn't exactly become a slap hitter. And he still walked at a terrific rate. In Texas, he may deliver on that power potential yet. Even as a rookie, he's a candidate for 20 homers in that park, making him well worth a flier in AL-only leagues. Of course, he'll have to win a job first, which is less than assured -- particularly after a lackluster debut late last year.

14. Andrew Lambo, 25, Pirates
Where played in 2013: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .282 BA (444 at-bats), 32 HR, 99 RBI, .922 OPS, 44 BB, 127 K
Major-league stats: .233 BA (30 at-bats), 1 HR, .703 OPS, 3 BB, 11 K

When the Pirates acquired Lambo along with James McDonald in a 2010 trade with the Dodgers, he was considered a legitimate prospect, having appeared in the Baseball America top 100 just one year earlier. But he was also a troubled one, having just completed a 50-game suspension for substance abuse (recreational drugs, not performance enhancers). Turns out that was just the beginning of his troubles. After a lackluster 2011, Lambo missed almost all of 2012 with a wrist injury, making him a forgotten man entering 2013. But that's when that long-lost potential bubbled to the surface. Healthier, stronger and more mature, Lambo exploded for 32 home runs last season, dividing them almost equally between Double- and Triple-A. Granted, he didn't excel in any other facet, but that type of performance from a player with something in the way of a pedigree should raise an eyebrow or two in Fantasy. It certainly has in Pittsburgh, where the Pirates are considering giving Lambo part-time at-bats either in right field or at first base. With power at a premium in NL-only leagues, he's worth selecting just in case they take the plunge. At age 25, it's now or never for him, and they've stuck with him for too long to opt for never.

15. Stephen Piscotty, 23, Cardinals
Where played in 2013: high Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .295 BA (427 at-bats), 15 HR, 11 SB, .819 OPS, 37 BB, 46 K

Perhaps as a makeup for Allen Craig, who was overlooked throughout his minor-league career, the scouts are all about Piscotty -- a 2012 draft pick who shows similar ability. Piscotty projects to hit .290 or better with his high-contact approach and has demonstrated enough power to hit 20-plus home runs from year to year. At age 23, he should move quickly and had no trouble adjusting to Double-A following a midseason promotion. Of course, he still has to make that final leap to the majors, and with the Cardinals already struggling to create an opening for Oscar Taveras, he may not get that chance until 2015. Whenever the door opens for him, though, he'll be ready. With a short timetable and minimal bust potential, Piscotty figures to be a popular pick in dynasty leagues even though his upside isn't quite on the same level as other prospects.

16. Kyle Parker, 24, Rockies
Where played in 2013: Double-A
Minor-league stats: .288 BA, 23 HR, .492 SLG, .836 OPS, 40 BB, 99 K
Parker has had little trouble adapting to baseball full-time after quarterbacking Clemson in 2009 and 2010, hitting more than 20 homers in each of his three stops in the minors. His performance at Double-A Tulsa last year was the most impressive, though. Though his numbers were better at high Class A Modesto in 2012, any results from the heavy-hitting California League have to be taken with a grain of salt. Granted, Tulsa is a pretty favorable place to hit as well, but the transition to Double-A is no joke, regardless of the venue. Besides, Parker made strides that go beyond numbers. He began to drive the ball the opposite way, giving reason to believe he might hit for average in the majors instead of being just a pure masher. The Rockies shifted Parker to first base late last year to give him a clearer path to the big leagues, but the Justin Morneau signing means he's blocked everywhere. If he transitions to Triple-A as effortlessly as he has transitioned everywhere else, though, he could be the first up in the event of injury. With that in mind, Parker wouldn't be the worse use of a bench spot in NL-only leagues.

17. Rymer Liriano, 22, Padres
Where played in 2013: Did not play -- injured

Just a couple years ago, Liriano was a prospect on the level of Gregory Polanco, but after a lackluster 2012, he was a no-show in 2013, missing the entire season because of Tommy John surgery. It's not a huge setback for his career since he's still only 22, but it makes him something of a forgotten man on prospect lists and in long-term keeper leagues. He's still a future 20-20 man destined to break into the Padres outfield perhaps as soon as this September. His power lagged in 2012, which was especially surprising considering he spent more than half the season in the hitter-friendly California League, but the scouts project him for more as he fills out. His plate discipline could be better, but it hasn't held him back so far. For the most part, he's right on schedule. The timetable for hitters coming back from Tommy John surgery is shorter than for pitchers, but the returns are just as good. If you liked Liriano as a prospect last year, your opinion of him shouldn't be any different now.

18. David Dahl, 19, Rockies
Where played in 2013: low Class A
Minor-league stats: .275 BA (40 at-bats), 0 HR, 2 SB, .735 OPS, 2 BB, 8 K

Dahl began his professional career in 2012 about as well as an 18-year-old can, hitting .379 with nine homers, 12 steals and a 1.048 OPS in 280 at-bats to earn MVP honors in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. But a series of unfortunate events gave him no chance for a repeat in 2013. He missed most of April for disciplinary reasons -- he wasn't on the team flight out of spring training -- and when he finally returned, he played only about a week before tearing his right hamstring, an injury that cost him the rest of the season. His time on the field was so short that you can't read anything into his numbers, and it's not like his performance in Rookie ball tells us much either. So really, all we have to go on with Dahl is the scouting reports. Fortunately, they're favorable, projecting him as a five-category player down the line -- sort of like Shin-Soo Choo, only with more doubles and triples, potentially. Still short of his 20th birthday, Dahl won't reach the majors in 2014 and probably won't in 2015, but he's a worthy investment for the long haul in dynasty leagues.

19. Phillip Ervin, 21, Reds
Where played in 2013: Rookie, low Class A
Minor-league stats: .331 BA (172 at-bats), 9 HR, 14 SB, .989 OPS, 25 BB, 34 K

Ervin understandably hasn't gotten the attention of the players selected ahead of him in the 2013 draft, but the 27th overall pick had as good a debut as any of them, hitting .331 with nine homers, 14 steals and a .989 OPS in 172 at-bats between two stops. Of course, the lower levels aren't meant to be a challenge for players drafted out of college, but Ervin performed well enough that you have to assume he's on the fast track at age 21. To some scouts, his lack of a standout tool makes him more of a second-tier prospect, but already having a mastery of those tools counts for a lot. Until we see him at Double- and Triple-A, we won't know the full extent of Ervin's potential, but any player with power, speed and what appears to be a good batting eye is worth a leap of faith, especially when his age demands a shorter timetable. If you miss out on big-ticket prospects like Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier in a long-term keeper league, don't sleep on Ervin.

20. Bubba Starling, 21, Royals
Where played in 2013: low Class A
Minor-league stats: .241 BA (435 at-bats), 13 HR, 22 SB, .727 OPS, 53 BB, 128 K

Some prospect hounds have been quick to apply the bust label to Starling, the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Sure, he has had trouble making consistent contact and still hasn't advanced past low Class A, but then again, he's played only two seasons. One for each level -- that's normal, right? The bottom line is no 21-year-old is a lost cause, particularly one with tools as evident as Starling's. In between his strikeouts, he came within two homers of a 15-20 season, after all. It's been a slow and steady climb so far, and it may continue to be. But if you're already invested in Starling in a league where owning prospects is the norm, you wouldn't want to be the guy who pulled the plug on an eventual 30-30 player just because you weren't satisfied with the progress he made in his first two years. That's what the minor leagues are for. Rest assured, Starling still has plenty of time to overcome his football background and pay big dividends for Fantasy owners.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite .

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