You're going to see a lot of information this week on individual outfielders, whether it's player profiles, rankings or prospect information. But before we get into those specifics, it can be very helpful to take a step back. The idea behind this State of the Position series, which will run at the beginning of each week of coverage, is to give you a sense of what to expect from the position as a whole in various types of leagues.
Whether it's anecdotal or not, the outfield position as a whole feels a lot riskier these days than it used to be. You have your usual studs at the top, including some very fresh faces, and a solid level of steady performers, but by the time you get into the 25-30 range, you start hitting lots of players with warts. This makes the position into both a land of opportunity and a game of battleship. Will Hunter Pence bounce back from his miserable second half? Will Josh Willingham have another age-defying and health-defying season? Will Carl Crawford show glimpses of his old self? Is Mark Trumbo the stud we saw in the first half or the disaster we saw in the second? So many questions, so few answers.
What is not anecdotal however, is the fact that there is more power at the position than there has been in recent years. While batting average (.263, .261, .262) and stolen bases (1758, 1888, 1846) have stayed relatively stagnant over the past three seasons, home runs jumped up in 2012 by more than 200 from either of the previous two seasons - 1881, 1894, 2109. This materialized itself both in the high-end performers and the depth. In 2012, there were more 35 HR seasons (5) than in the last two years combined (4) at the position. And if you lower the bar to 30 HR, it was 15 in 2012 and 15 in 2010/2011 combined. This is part of the reason why I made the argument to make sure to get speed at SS when everyone also is getting speed - it's much easier to find power later on in the OF than to make up speed you missed elsewhere.
The League Breakout
In the official Fake Teams consensus ranks (which will be coming out in subsequent posts), the National League leads the America League in our top-75 by a score of 38 to 37. That's about as close as you can get, and it will likely change based on where the remaining free agents sign. So while overall there's not much of a difference in the pool of talent, the brunt of that discrepancy is in the top-end. Among our top-13 OF for 2013, 10 of them are from the National League - and one is still a free agent. So if you want a premium guy in AL-only leagues, you're looking at Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton (maybe) and Adam Jones (if you consider a premium guy, which I don't). On the other hand, you could sneeze and catch a top OF in NL-only leagues.
So, for those of you in NL-only leagues, the landscape will dictate a rush to quality. If you are not carrying a top-flight OF, you're going to potentially be at a disadvantage among league mates. Fortunately, as I mentioned before, the studs run deep and there are no fewer than eight guys to consider as anchors for the position. Once you grab a top option, I'd hang back and grab less expensive players later on - as the depth of the position is still impressive. In AL-only leagues, I'd do the same thing except for the stud (since there aren't many). Let the rest of your league mates fight over Trout and Hamilton, and grab four OF for the price of their stud. The players you can grab elsewhere instead (whether it's a snake draft or an auction) are more worth your attention early on. You can always find a decent OF option later - and you can't say that about too many other positions this year.
How Deep is Your Love?
While the strategies may be different between leagues of varying overall depths, the variation of number of OF spots and/or extra DH spots will skew how you should treat this group of players going into your draft this spring. If your league only has three OF spots, you need to view the position much differently than if you have five. The more total OF who have starting jobs in your league, the more important that middle range (40-60) are going to be to you. I have talked about depth, but if you're getting to the 90th or 100th OF on the board, the depth will swing the other way when compared to other positions.
Additionally, if you play in a league that breaks out the outfield by position (LF/CF/RF), it adds another layer of complexity to your draft board. Fortunately, OF is very well spread out among the three positions, including many players who have multiple eligibility. In years past, centerfield may have been the hardest spot to fill with an offensive contributor, but the position has found an amazing resurgence. In fact, of the top 16 OF in our rankings, 8 of them will head into 2013 with CF eligibility.
The Strategy in Mixed Leagues
I've already hinted at this in the league breakout section, but in the context of other positions, outfield is one that you can wait on. Even when you get into the bottom of our consensus top-75, you get potential strong power guys like Dayan Viciedo and Carlos Quentin and potential strong speed guys like Adam Eaton and Ben Revere. Based on the make-up of your team during the early and middle stages of your draft, you can choose end-game players who fit what your needs are.
In both shallow and deep mixed leagues, my strategy will likely be similar: grab one big shot OF and wait on the rest until the value is there. If you wait too long to take your first OF, you may get stuck with your top guy being Austin Jackson or Alex Rios - not that there's anything wrong with the two of them, but you want to have one guy you can take to the bank a little more. Additionally, if I'm in a league where more than 90 OF will be starters, I will probably make sure my final guy or two are in the 60-70 range, as opposed to dipping my toes into the Justin Ruggiano/Scott Hairston pool.
The Rest of the Week
Now that we've covered the position from a macro perspective, it's time to dig into the players. Ray will be bringing you the first part of our 2013 consensus positional rankings next (in just a few short hours), so stay tuned for that - along with our outfield prospect coverage which starts tomorrow morning with Jason and Craig. The rest of the writing staff here will be working on bringing you in-depth profiles and sleeper picks. We've got a lot of information coming your way for both the rest of this week and the rest of the off-season, so empty some space in your brain and be prepared for an informational avalanche. Remember, if you haven't started your 2013 draft prep yet, you're already behind someone in your league (especially if you play in a league with me).