NL Outfield Tiered Rankings: March

Every year, we here at RotoGraphs publish tiered rankings for every position and update them throughout the year. What you will read below are, more or less, my end-of-season projections for National League outfielders, since the season hasn’t started yet. However, these rankings will change as the year progresses, and I would be a fool to tell you the tiers below will look the same in September.

No doubt, this is a contentious matter, and you can tell me how much of a moron I am in the comments.

Without further ado, here is the 2015 season’s first installment of tiered rankings for NL outfielders.

TIER ONE: First-Rounders
Andrew McCutchen
Carlos Gomez

Might as well confront the controversy sooner rather than later. McCutchen is a bona-fide five-category stud, although I’ve expressed concerns about pitchers’ reluctance to throw him meaty pitches. Gomez, just a notch below, makes up for his batting average deficit in speed: he’s one of two players with 10 homers and 30 steals in each of the last two seasons.

So I guess that means Stanton’s not the No. 1, or even a “top-tier,” NL outfielder for me. He simply hasn’t stayed healthy lately and he plays his fair share of BABIP roulette. Yes, I know a fastball to the jaw is not his fault, but let’s not take liberties and blame Mike Fiers for Stanton’s knee surgery in 2012 or grade-2 hamstring injury in 2013. If — when — he makes it through May unscathed, I’ll very likely change my tune. But I’m not drafting him as a top-5 overall talent in standard leagues.

TIER TWO: Elite
Yasiel Puig
Ryan Braun
Giancarlo Stanton
Corey Dickerson

Braun seems a bit high here, and my projections are seeing the player he used to be two years ago. A silver lining for Braun’s very un-Braun 2014: he underwent offseason surgery to repair whatever nerve issues he had in his thumb that affected his swing and power last year. His floor is probably last season’s performance, which is still a pretty darn good outfielder. If he returns to form, he’ll be a bargain in light of his average draft position (ADP).

As long as Puig stops reading the Bryce Harper Book of Playing Way Too Hard™, he should put up stupid-good numbers in the Dodgers’ stacked lineup. Last year’s power outage was tough to stomach; 20 homers would be nice, and not an unreasonable request, either.

TIER THREE: Better than Not-Elite
Matt Holliday
Charlie Blackmon
Christian Yelich
Jorge Soler
Justin Upton
Starling Marte
Kris Bryant??????????

Yelich, Upton and Marte are as good of bets as any to replicate their preseason projections to a T and are among the safest picks of the lot. Holliday, despite his remarkable consistency, carries an age-related red flag — one I choose to ignore, but I’ll refrain from rehashing and feed you these two links here and here.

It’s hard to say how Blackmon will fare. Pitchers figured him out after his outrageous April, but he still hit line drive after line drive. He should be a threat for 20-plus steals, but his one-month power spike could be reminiscent of Domonic Brown — a tragic tale we all know too well.

Soler may not flash the same raw power as other Cubs prospects, but he is ridiculously strong, he has ridiculous bat speed, and he has a ridiculously good eye. He’s my preseason pick for NL Rookie of the Year — yes, despite Kris Bryant’s 847 spring training home runs.

Speaking of Bryant… he’s getting outfield reps this spring. Oh my. Real talk, though: I think he’ll be a third base version of Chris Carter (to start). I just don’t see a scenario in which his strikeouts don’t inhibit his batting average once pitchers have the book on him.

TIER FOUR: Young Guns and “Old” Injury-Prone Sledgehammers
Jayson Werth
Michael Cuddyer
Carlos Gonzalez
Matt Kemp
Gregory Polanco
Joc Pederson
Jason Heyward
Khris Davis
Bryce Harper

All injury-prone guys and upside plays here. Werth, Cuddyer, Gonzalez, Kemp — all as good of bets as any to miss significant time in 2015. Polanco and Pederson are upside plays for their prospect pedigrees — for Polanco, especially so, in light of his depressed batting average on balls in play (BABIP) last year.

And then there’s Harper, who is the perfect embodiment of “upside” and “injury-prone.” He’s still only 22, but he hasn’t been a fan of staying healthy thus far. Maybe this is his year. Maybe! Good for you if you draft him and it is. He’s really not selling for a price at which you can exploit his upside, though; you’re essentially paying for production he hasn’t yet delivered. Also, am I the only person concerned about the 7.4-percentage point jump in his strikeout rate? I guess so, because I don’t know who else has ranked him this low.

I’ll divide the next tier into two parts:

TIER FIVE, PT. I: One-Trick Ponies
Denard Span
Jay Bruce
Billy Hamilton
Mark Trumbo
Marcell Ozuna
Ben Revere
Nori Aoki
Marlon Byrd
Curtis Granderson
Carl Crawford
Eric Young Jr.

You have your power hitters and your speedsters. Ozuna is a trendy sleeper, and Bruce is a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. This is Granderson’s make-or-break season: he either reinvents himself or disappears into fantasy obscurity forever. Young is generously included here because he has, yet again, somehow been gift-wrapped a starting role for a team that won’t contend.

TIER FIVE, PT. II: Other Kinds of Ponies
Nick Markakis
A.J. Pollock
Ender Inciarte
Josh Harrison
Dexter Fowler
Hunter Pence
Ryan Zimmerman
Martin Prado
Yasmany Tomas

I’m a big Pollock fan — which, as an Angels fan who grew up on (Mike) Trout and (Tim) Salmon, is unsurprising. I’m also kind of bullish on Inciarte, his Diamondbacks outfield counterpart, as well; if you need someone to convince you to like him, talk to the Birchwood Brothers. Or, if you’re an owner who appreciates plate discipline: it took him 40 at-bats to record his first strikeout this spring. He may provide not only steals but also a solid batting average.

I don’t have a lot of faith in a Harrison repeat, but he wouldn’t be the first hitter to break out in his age-26 season. Pence is normally a third-tier outfielder when uninjured, so he’ll take a big leap in value when he returns from the DL. Zimmerman ought to see his power resurface, but his right shoulder freaks me out, man. He’s more valuable at third base anyway.

Tomas is my preseason pick for 2015’s Biggest Bust.

TIER SIX: Will Myers
Wil Myers

Myers is my No. 149 hitter, thus rendering him below replacement value in a standard 10-team league. Like Stanton, it’s easy to mistake cause and correlation with Myers. He struggled mightily after coming back from a broken wrist, but he also struggled mightily before the injury, too: his isolated power (ISO) stood at .126 in May, a drop that can’t be explained entirely by the recession in his HR/FB rate. That is, while he hit half as many homers (a 1.8 percentage-point decrease), he also hit almost half as many extra-base hits, too (an additional 2.4 percentage-point decrease). For those looking for a silver lining, his plate approach reflected career-best strikeout and walk rates prior to the injury, and he has struck out in only 12.8 percent of spring training plate appearances — both positive developments for one of 2015’s more enigmatic draft picks.

I’ll also split the final tier into two parts.

TIER SEVEN, PT. I: Warm Bodies
B.J. Upton
Domonic Brown
Juan Lagares
Grady Sizemore
Chris Coghlan

The least useful of the full-timers.

TIER SEVEN, PT. II: Playing-Time Considerations
Arismendy Alcantara
Michael Morse
Drew Stubbs
Michael Taylor
David Peralta*
Andrew Lambo
Brennan Boesch
Odubel Herrera
Ichiro Suzuki
Peter Bourjos / Jon Jay / Randal Grichuk (STL)
Angel Pagan / Gregor Blanco (SFG)
Scott Van Slyke / Alex Guerrero / Andre Ethier (LAD)
Carlos Quentin / Will Venable / Cameron Maybin (SDP)

Alcantara is yet another touted Cubs propect with quite a bit of pop for a 2B-eligible hitter, so the chance of him earning a super-utility role is intriguing. But if he doesn’t plug some of the holes in his swing, he could be spending some time near the Mendoza Line. Taylor is another prospect with a similar problem — big-time strikeouts — and another completely dissimilar problem: he has nowhere to play (after Span comes back in May). Taylor put up eye-popping numbers in Double-A last year but is probably not ready offensively to take full control of center field just yet.

Stubbs is a legitimate 15-15 candidate on part-time duty, albeit with a similarly Mendozian batting average. Morse, when healthy, drops bombs at little expense to his batting average, making him an enticing deep-league play. Emphasis on “when healthy.”

Lambo and Boesch are ex-prospects who put up impressive numbers at Triple-A last year. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, really, but they are still among the better outfield bench pieces in the National League. Herrera, meanwhile, is turning heads at spring training. I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about the kid other than he’s fast, but he can’t be any worse than Brown or Sizemore, can he?

Jay and Bourjos will probably resume their center field timeshare, cutting into each other’s values. Grichuk is a top prospect but isn’t ready yet; stash him at your own peril. Van Slyke makes for a sexy platoon, and Guerrero will find playing time somehow, somewhere, whether it’s with the Dodgers or elsewhere. I swear it! (No I don’t.)

And then there’s the borderline depressing logjam of outfielders in San Diego that have put Quentin, Venable and Maybin out of starting jobs. They’re not flashy plays to begin with, but they still deserve a sympathetic mention.

*Edit, 3/27/15, 12:54 pm EST: I forgot Peralta and heard about it from a few people in the comments. His ranking will probably be a disappointment after all this, but it’s less a reflection of his skill as it is his playing time, for which I am referencing FanGraphs’ expectations for him. Given a full season’s plate appearances, he’s a good bet for double-digit homers and steals with a solid average to boot — reminiscent of his outfield counterpart, Pollock, who I ranked in the fifth tier. A good upside draft pick in NL-only or deep mixed leagues and a midseason waiver wire add elsewhere.

* * *

OK, that’s it. Whew. A lot to go over there. I put on my comfy pants, so I’m ready to debate, be ripped apart, what have you. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed a crucial player or two, or there’s a guy above who’s in the American League — wouldn’t be the first time I’ve goofed on that front. Corrections in this regard will be appreciated.

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Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant. Reigning FSWA Baseball Writer of the Year and 5-time award finalist. Featured in Lindy's Sports' Fantasy Baseball magazine (2018, 2019). Now a Tout Wars competitor.

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Manny Ramirez
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Manny Ramirez

I love the aggressive Corey Dickerson ranking in the second tier. I think he will be the next Matt Holliday.