Draft Mike Trout at all costs.
Oh. You wanted more than that? Its business as usual at the top of the outfielder ranks. The top is crowded with high end power/speed combinations like Ryan Braun, Carlos Gonzalez and Carlos Gomez. You also have some guys who offer a light version of these skill sets like Shin-Soo Choo, Alex Rios and Bryce Harper. There will be 10-12 of these guys who go off the board in the first three rounds but that doesn't mean you won't be able to grab a great player. Although outfield doesn't seem to be as deep as in years past, there are plenty of players to like.
I have no problem jumping on a top guy if he's the top player available on my board - I always go with the best player available in the first several rounds. But if I miss out on one of the top guys in the first few rounds, I'm fine with taking Jose Bautista, Matt Holliday or Alex Gordon as my number one outfielder. These players fly just under the "superstar" radar for different reasons such as health issues, age and a lack of what we'll call pizzazz. They will help to bring some stability to a group of players that can end up being a lot of upside plays and targeted categories.
Before we move on, a few guys that I think get overrated and often over-drafted include Justin Upton and Giancarlo Stanton and I think Wil Myers and Yasiel Puig will fall into that category this season. These players have tremendous potential and if I had to pick a guy, it would be Stanton. I don't know that he is the 50 home run player we were all hoping for but he's played only 239 games the past two years and I think he probably comes in somewhere around 30. With a poor lineup and instability, I can't see taking him over a guy like Bautista. I don't believe in Justin Upton nearly as much as most people. His K% increased dramatically last year and he won't hit for a high average. Add that to the fact that he stole only 8 bases last year and the way the Braves lineup is constructed and I think owners taking him in the top 50 picks will be disappointed. Myers and Puig are amazing young players but they both had their struggles at times last year and I can't see the gap between Matt Holliday and Hunter Pence being enough to compensate for the risk.
Back to that "upside plays and targeted categories" comment. There are a lot of outfielders with a lot of potential but, as was the case at other positions, the position is not immune to the increased level of risk as you move down the rankings. Yoenis Cespedes, Domonic Brown and Will Venable all have huge upside but I wouldn't want them to be my top outfielder and with the number of high performing players at the position, they shouldn't have to be. If you do wait to take your first outfielder and end up with a Jason Heyward or Matt Kemp, I'd be looking to mitigate that risk with a player like Jayson Werth.
Outside of the upper echelon and aside from the risk/reward players, there is a group of outfielders that specialize in one or even a few categories. Alfonso Soriano, Brett Gardner and Norichika Aoki are players that you can round out your outfield with once you start to see your roster take shape. Outfield is a nice spot to leave some availability during the draft because there are so many players with so many skill sets. I'm not saying you shouldn't draft a player at a spot that you think has value but it's much easier to find a useful outfielder in the 18th round than it is to find a middle infielder. To that point, you're more likely to have options to fill out category needs if you are drafting an outfielder rather than needing stolen bases from a corner infield spot.
It's tough to really nail down an outfield draft strategy so I will sum up what I try and do as a general approach:
1. Get a top guy - It doesn't have to be Adam Jones or Jay Bruce but you'll want someone who you can count on to put up numbers a la Shin-Soo Choo or Alex Rios.
2. Grab an "upside" player or two - there are plenty of players who have a chance to provide a lot of value. Players like Khris Davis and Desmond Jennings would fit in these spots along with the players listed above.
3. Determine categories you need to fill and target outfielders who can fill them - Peter Bourjos and Ryan Ludwick have 20+ potential in stolen bases and home runs, respectively, but fall outside the top 100 in ESPN's rankings.
You can follow Zack on Twitter at @FantasyNinja8.