Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
When it comes to fantasy outfield play, two teams seem to be head and shoulders above the rest in terms of production potential and depth.
The two with the head start over the rest of Major League Baseball are the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees.
For the two teams, however, health is, and will be, the primary concern. Both the Dodgers and Yankees have multiple players with poor injury histories, which could quickly drop them back to the pack.
In Chavez Ravine, the 2014 starting outfield is expected to be Carl Crawford in left field, Matt Kemp in center and Yasiel Puig in right.
Moving from left to right, we already know how fragile Crawford has been over the past few years. He's missed 177 regular-season games in the past two seasons. When on the field, he's batted .283 with a .746 OPS and 20 steals. Earlier in his career, he could steal 20 bases in a good month and his OPS was .810 from 2005-10. Still, he's only 32 years old.
There's more injury news worries for Kemp owners. He underwent shoulder and ankle surgeries in October and isn't expected to be ready for the two-game opening series in Australia. In his last "healthy" season (2011), Kemp led the National League in runs (115), home runs (39), RBI (126) and total bases (353) while batting .329 with a .986 OPS. Kemp's agent said he should be ready for their first game on American soil.
Right field will be occupied by Puig, the 2013 fantasy and real world sensation. The uber-talented, but raw, 23-year-old Cuban exploded onto the scene as few ever have.
Arriving as a call-up in June, Puig batted .436 with seven homers, 16 RBI and a 1.180 OPS in his first month. All told, he played in 104 games, batting .319 with 19 HR, 42 RBI, 66 runs and 11 steals, and finished 15th in the MVP voting. He plays with a flare and reckless abandon that excites fans and fantasy owners alike.
Behind the three is Andre Ethier, who could be a starter on most major league teams with his career .288 batting average and .832 OPS.
Strange as it may seem, the second-year Puig, with 382 major league at-bats on his resume, is probably the "surest thing" of the group, and based on early rankings will be the first Dodgers' outfielder off the board.
Meanwhile, on the other coast, the Yankees' outfield corps is even deeper than the Dodgers and maybe just as talented, but, unfortunately, more fragile.
New York's starting outfield figures to be Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran with Ichiro Suzuki or Alfonso Soriano at DH or filling in for one of the soon-to-be-injured starters.
Gardner actually started 131 games last season (played in 145) after missing more than 90 percent of the 2012 season. He scored 81 times, led the AL in triples and stole 24 bases.
The newly acquired Ellsbury will add even more speed to the Yankees lineup, having led the AL in steals last season and three times in his seven-year career. He's a solid average guy (lifetime .297) and runs producer, but fantasy owners who still dream of a repeat of 2011 (.321, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 119 runs, 39 SB, .928 OPS) will likely be disappointed. Also, beware that Ellsbury has spent an inordinate time on the disabled list over the past four season, missing almost all of 2010 season and half of 2012.
Another offseason acquisition, Beltran, will man right field. Beltran put up more than respectable numbers in his two seasons with St. Louis (56 HR, 181 RBI, .282 batting average). More importantly, he managed to stay healthy, playing 296 of a possible 324 games.
The Yankees also have an aging, but still-usable Ichiro as a fourth outfielder. He's still good for 20 stolen bases if given of full season of at- bats, but that doesn't figure to be the case in 2014.
New York dealt for Soriano just before the trade deadline last season and he produced 17 homers over his 58 games in pinstripes. He'll probably start the season as the team's DH, but should see enough outfield time to be fantasy- eligible there as well.
Among the five Yankees, there may not be a top-10 outfielder, but four of the five will be fantasy-worthy starters.
Other top outfields around the league figure to include: Washington (Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth), St.Louis (Matt Holliday, Peter Bourjos and Allen Craig) and Pittsburgh (Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Jose Tabata) in the NL and Oakland (Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick) and the Angels (Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Kole Calhoun) in the AL.
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