Maybe it’s just because I’ve been keeping such close watch on my AL outfielders beat, but it seems that no position in fantasy baseball has seen more fluctuation in the first month of the season than this one. There are former studs still hitting sub-.200 (here’s to you, Carl Crawford, Alex Rios and Vernon Wells) while lesser-thought of has-beens are piling up RBIs (hello, Jeff Francoeur, Alex Gordon and Johnny Damon). And that’s to say nothing of a fella named Sam Fuld who’s gone from complete after-thought to straight up legen — wait for it — dary.
How do we make sense of such who-could’ve-seen-this-coming-ness? Why, by updating the RotoGraphs AL outfielders rankings, of course!
Before we get to the new stuff, here’s a look back at our preseason ranks, if you feel the need for a refresher.
Now for Version 2.0.
That’s right, folks. Joey Bats has this tier all to his lonesome. Obviously the injury to Josh Hamilton and Carl Crawford’s killer (as in bad) start are part of the reason for that, but that doesn’t mean Bautista hasn’t continued to be insanely good — he leads the AL in average (.357), runs (25) and jacks (9), while pacing all of his sport in walks (30) and OBP (.530) — thus putting to rest any worries about 2010’s breakout being a fluke. If anything, he’s a whole lot better all-around. Oh yeah, he’s also actually ahead of his homer pace from a year ago, so a second consecutive 50-home run season from this dude actually seems reasonable. Really.
I kept Crawford over Hamilton if only because the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. By that I mean, I’ll take the healthy, non-injury prone player going forward, even if he’s OPSing .482. … Cruz got off to that crazy start (4 HRs in his first 4 games) but has since cooled, and you have to wonder how much he misses Josh. … Granderson is not only not failing against lefthanders this year, he’s actually thriving (.962 OPS compared to .942 vs. righties). Doubtful that keeps up (8:0 K:BB), but if he can maintain an ability to at least put bat on ball against southpaws, he’s looking like a legit top 10 AL OF. … Choo hasn’t started to really hit yet, which makes the Indians hot start all the more befuddling, but there’s no need to worry: He’s still offering value with 4 homers and 6 steals. … Quentin has been stinging the ball (MLB-high 13 doubles), so he just needs to 1) stay healthy and 2) avoid whatever it is that other White Sox hitters are drinking.
This is the most dichotomic tier. I’m still holding onto the possibility of good seasons for Upton, Hunter, Jones and Rios as they (hopefully) work through their slumps. But owning them at this point is frustrating in every sense of the word. And if they don’t pick it up in May, things will get ugly and people will get hurt. … Sizemore is surprising even those who were in his corner before the season started. Admittedly, I was not, having been burned too many times previously, but I can’t argue with a guy who looks healthy and has mashed 12 extra-base hits in his first 50 at-bats. … Gordon is right there with Quentin on doubles (13), and he’s hitting a robust .339, so maybe — just maybe — he is having that long-awaited arrival.
Kubel is really enjoying the opportunity to play everyday (.354/.406/.510), and with all the problems the Twins are having keeping players healthy, the regular run will continue and the solid stats should, too. … Crisp has gone cuckoo for stealing bases ever since he got to Oakland (32 in 290 ABs last year, and 8 in 96 so far in ’11), but he’s a guarantee to get hurt at some point, and he only has AHHH walk, let alone many walks that would necessitate an entire walk rack, so I’m selling high while he’s healthy and hitting .290+. … Cuddyer has, um, 4 RBIs, but that could make his owner an easy trade target, especially in leagues where he’s already gained eligibility at 2B (7 games played) … Ah, Sam Fuld. Who better to be our first newcomer to the ranks? With his AL-high 10 SBs, I’m starting to think this could last for the first half before the pixie dust wears off. Still, from what I’ve heard, Sam Fuld can eat just one Lay’s potato chip. … This tier is loaded with speed guys (Bourjos, Span, Gardner and Pierre, in addition to the aforementioned Crisp and Fuld), which goes to show you just how much less valuable the stolen base category becomes once your draft is over and the numbers often don’t equate to the price.
Ho hum here. Nothing really exciting, which is why Drew — the definition of boring baseball player — heads this crop. Sure, Francoeur’s sssssmokin’ now (.308, 6, 21), but he doesn’t need sssssomebody to stop him*; he’ll take care of that all by himself. We’ve seen this movie before. … One of my perennial faves, Murphy’s been just sorta eh (.763 OPS) while getting more play in place of Hamilton. More than likely, the Rangers won’t push Hamilton when he returns in a few weeks, so Murph should still be fine for those who need him. … Boesch has put 2010’s killer (again, as in bad) second half (.163/.237/.222) behind him. And he’s certainly going to have a long leash with the way Magglio Ordonez is (not) hitting, as you’ll see below. … I panned Melky Cabrera a month ago, so I felt bad and included him in the rankings and gave him one of those green up arrows to mend fences. Hopefully, he’ll stop making me look silly soon.
*That’s right. Two, count ’em, two references to The Mask in one sentence.
Jackson is just not good (his 35.7% K rate is absolutely atrocious). For those of you who didn’t see this (.188 average) coming, well, you should have. … One of the bigger disappointments is Snider, who just can’t seem to cut it in the bigs despite a bat that can be dangerous. I would not be surprised to see him stuck in Triple-A for a while (again), especially with the Blue Jays outfield depth. … Welcome to the ranks, Lillibridge, Jackson (comma Conor), Bradley, Patterson, Cameron and Dyson. … Back to Magglio. Maybe it’s just that he’s inhabited 2010-second-half Boesch’s body and is continuing from there? I mean, how else do you explain a “professional hitter” with the following stats: .151 batting average, .380 OPS (THREE-EIGHT-ZERO!!!), 2 runs and 1 extra-base hit in 73 at-bats? Like, Zoinks.
Again, this list contains players who have played fewer than 20 games in the outfield but do/will/could qualify, depending on your league’s eligibility specifications. Lind is having himself a nice season coming off a dreadful year. I’m not ready to fully count on him, but his K rate (19.1%) is back down to his 2009 levels following a jump in 2010 (25.3%). … Moreland makes his first appearance here, and he’s probably OF-eligible in many leagues. For leagues in which he’s not yet, you’ll want to keep tabs: He’s at 14 outfield games and counting. And his .874 OPS will help whether at 1B or OF.
Toodles, Manny. Enjoy retirement. … Kalish didn’t make the Red Sox out of camp, and now he’s got a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder. Not good.
This last tier is as much for fun as it is for utility in deep AL-only leagues. As you may know, I handle the weekly Mining the Minors column that highlights prospects and other minor leaguers who may factor into the 2011 season at some point, thus making them worthy of your fantasy consideration on the principle of opportunity. I figured it would help to have an American League outfielders-only version of this to give folks an idea of which players are most likely to impact this season. I tried to rank ’em starting with the most-ready to contribute, while also taking talent into account.
So which AL outfielder’s ranking is just plain too high? Who do you think belongs to be moved up a tier or two? And most importantly, is anyone missing? Hit the comments to give your take.
Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11