Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
We're almost there fantasy baseball fans. The trucks with equipment have already left for the warmth of Arizona and Florida and the players will begin arriving for spring training next week. We are just seven weeks away from Opening Day.
So it's time to evaluate talent for the draft which is just around the corner.
We will start in the outfield and then work our way around the infield over the coming weeks, ending on the mound with starters and relievers.
In leagues where you start three outfielders, you still must have a solid bench to cover injuries and off days. Which means the top-50 outfielders will start in most 12-team leagues and the best 75 outfielders will see playing time.
Below we will evaluate the position.
1) Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado - He's jumped all the way to No.1 with his rare combination of speed and power. He's Ryan Braun with an additional 10-15 stolen bases. He won't even be 26-years-old until October which means his peak is still a few years down the road.
2) Ryan Braun, Milwaukee - Braun's home run total has been heading in the wrong direction over the past two years - from 37 in 2008 to 32 in 2009 to just 25 last season, but he's still productive, scoring 100 runs and knocking in 100 for the second consecutive year. Beware, if the Brewers fall out of the pennant race, the team could trade Prince Fielder and that would have a huge downward effect on Braun's statistics.
3) Josh Hamilton, Texas - With Hamilton it's all about his ability to stay healthy. If he plays 130 or more games, he's an MVP candidate, but he's played in 90 games or less in two of the last four years. Since he'll cost you a late first or early-second round pick...Do you feel lucky?
4) Carl Crawford, Boston - Crawford's 2010 season was his best since joining the Tampa Bay Rays in 2002. After becoming a free agent, he signed a huge deal to play in Boston and he'll be in the middle of the talented Red Sox lineup. He should be able to top all the 2010 numbers given the quality lineup as long as he's still dedicated and not relaxing now that he's got the big dollars.
5) Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland - If Choo played in New York or Los Angeles, he'd be a budding superstar. But he plays in Cleveland and in a sub-par offensive lineup. The 28-year-old batted .300 or better for the third consecutive season and hit 22 home runs while knocking in 90 and scoring 81 runs. If catcher Carlos Santana and outfielder Grady Sizemore are healthy, Choo could be a 100-100 guy and a bargain selection in the third round (ADP 35)
6) Matt Holliday, St. Louis - Holliday has been everything the Cardinals have asked of him, scoring 90+ runs a season, knocking in 100+ and protecting Albert Pujols in the lineup. While reliable, his numbers (runs, HR, RBI, SB) are down 15-20% from his days in Colorado. Which is why he's still available at the end of the second round (ADP 19). There are players with better upside, but Holliday is very predictable and dependable.
7) Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers - Kemp was the second outfielder off the board in 2010 following a "monster" 2009 season (.297, 26 HR, 101 RBI, 34 SB) and disappointed fantasy owners despite hitting 28 homers and knocking in 89 runs. The reason was an ugly .249 batting average and just 19 stolen bases while getting caught an obscene 15 times. Many fantasy owners have turned away from Kemp, which could make him a "steal" in 2011 if he can rebound.
8) Nelson Cruz, Texas - If healthy, Cruz can be a 30-30 guy. Unfortunately he hasn't played more than 128 games in a season since coming to the big leagues. In 2010 he improved his batting average to .318 and his power didn't suffer much. He's definitely worth the gamble of a late third-round pick (ADP 37) and has a huge upside if he can play 140+ games.
9) Justin Upton, Arizona - Upton has the potential to be a fantasy superstar, but untapped potential has gotten many a coach fired and left fantasy owners frustrated. After a solid 2009 season that promised an even better 2010, he fell short. He batted .273 with 17 HR, 69 RBI and 73 runs scored, all less than the previous season. The Red Sox tried to trade for the 23-year-old before signing Crawford and he would have had even more potential in that loaded lineup. However, the 2011 Arizona lineup might struggle for runs and Upton will be a high-risk, high reward, fourth-round selection (ADP 42).
10) Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh - McCutchen is the only reason anyone comes to a Pirates game these days because he's another one of those speed-power guys. If only he were in a better lineup, he'd be a top-five outfield selection. Despite little support, McCutchen scored 94 runs, hit 16 home runs, and stole 33 bases. Unfortunately, until the Pirates surround him with a lot more talent, this is as far up the ladder as he can go.
11) Jayson Werth, Washington - It's a new venue and a new lineup for Werth who protected Ryan Howard for the past three years. The Nationals scored 115 runs less than the Phillies so it will be interesting to see what Werth can produce. He'll take over the cleanup role for Adam Dunn. However, there is a difference between knocking in Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Howard versus Nyjer Morgan, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman.
12) Jose Bautista, Toronto - I can't find anyone who thinks Bautista can repeat his 54-HR performance. And given that his previous career high was 16 in 2006, there is every reason to believe that 2010 was a "career-year." Still, even if he hits 20 homers less than last season, he'll still have 30+ long balls.
13) Jason Heyward, Atlanta - Heyward was all the rage during spring training and was a solid performer in his rookie season with a .277 batting average, 18 HR and 72 RBI. With a year under his belt he should be even better. Heyward's numbers will only be limited by the Braves offense and batting second in the lineup.
14) Chris Young, Arizona - When Young actually puts bat to ball, good things happen. It's just they don't happen often enough. His .257 batting average last season was the best of his career and he's struck out at least 141 times over the past four years. Yet he still scored 94 runs, hit 27 homers, knocked in 91 runs and stole 28 bases. Imagine the numbers if he can hit .275?
15) Alex Rios, Chicago White Sox - Rios had his best season since 2007 and given his low fantasy value heading into 2010 was a huge bargain for owners who took a flier on him. Now if he can just repeat the performance in 2011.
16) Jay Bruce, Cincinnati - Bruce came up to the Reds in 2008 with a lot of fanfare, but he struggled during his first two seasons. He finally started to turn it around last year, posting career highs in runs, home runs, runs batted in, steals, batting average and OPS. Bruce signed a big six-year deal which should take all the pressure off the youngster and allow him to "simply play ball." He's a bargain in the sixth round (ADP 67).
17) Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers - Ethier was a star in April and May, he had 11 HR and 38 RBI through the teams first 34 games, but then struggled in the heat of the summer. Except for batting average, his numbers were down across the board from a solid 2009 campaign.
18) Hunter Pence, Houston - Pence gets very little coverage from the media, but he's a solid contributor. Last season he hit 25 HR with 91 RBI, 93 runs scored and 18 steals. He's very consistent and a solid value as a sixth-round selection (ADP 64).
19) Drew Stubbs, Cincinnati - Stubbs was a major surprise in 2010, producing 22 HR, 77 RBI, 91 runs and stealing 30 bases. His numbers were similar to what Kemp and Upton produced in 2010, yet he will likely be available after those guys are long gone. With an ADP of 104, he could be a huge bargain if he continues to improve. Don't let him slide past the seventh round before putting him on your roster.
20) B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay - With Crawford and Carlos Pena gone, the Rays will ask Upton to do more. He has struggled with his batting average and strikeouts, but once on base he can steal and score with anyone. If he can bat .275 he could become a huge force for the Rays and his fantasy owners.
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