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Outfield: The elite, the middle and the bargain

Three outfield targets for three fantasy tiers.

Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The outfield position is my favorite to draft each year. Unlike first base and third base, there isn’t a preconceived notion of what the ideal outfielder should be. You have your speedsters like Billy Hamilton, your power-only guys like Khris Davis and my favorite, the power/speed bats. I try to have at least two outfielders inside the top 100 overall and then read the draft room from there. But you certainly don’t want to wait too long either.

The Elite

George Springer (NFBC ADP: 30)

World Series - Houston Astros v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Seven Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Despite the elite first-round names, I like to highlight players you should have a chance to draft in any league. I think Springer is finally being a little undervalued in 2018. Remember the days when we’d worry about his strikeouts? Springer recorded a career-best 17.6 K% in 2017 while maintaining a 10 BB%. His .283/.367/.522 slash all set high water marks too. What changed? He made massive gains hitting balls inside of the zone (contact increased from 80% to 86%) while swinging less overall. In essence, he knew what he was looking for and when it came, he capitalized. Unfortunately the speed never truly manifested, but he’s still good for 5-8 bags a year.

It’s worth pointing out that his first and second halves were drastically different. He had a .993 OPS in the first half and a .722 OPS in the second, but he walked more than he struck out in the second half. The loss of power is enough to make me go “Hmmm” but I’m betting he’ll still return a 30-HR, 120-run season hitting atop that lineup.

The Middle

Yasiel Puig (NFBC ADP: 111)

World Series - Houston Astros v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Six Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

After hitting 28 home runs and stealing 15 bases with a .833 OPS, Puig had his most fantasy relevant season since 2014. His 11 BB% and 17.5 K% were both career highs and they’re supported by a three-point drop in SwStr% to 10 percent and a four-point increase in zone percentage contact (up to 86%). Like Springer, Puig began to punish the pitches he liked and lay off the ones he didn’t.

The only thing to keep in mind is his 19 HR/FB%, which was much higher than the 12 percent mark from 2014-16. But if he can hone his base stealing instincts a little bit (six caught stealing in 21 attempts) and reach a 23-25 home run mark, he’s a great buy at his current price. Given his changes in his swing profile, I like his chances of repeating close to last year’s numbers.

The Bargain

Bradley Zimmer (NFBC ADP: 199)

Baltimore Orioles v Cleveland Indians Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

If you’ve been doing research in the offseason, by now you should be aware how key speed is in today’s fantasy game. Bradley Zimmer strikes me as someone who can outperform his ADP simply by accruing more than 500 PA. Remember that in 2015-16 he had back-to-back seasons in the minors of 15 home runs and at least 38 stolen bases with a .369 OBP between the two. Between Triple-A and MLB last year he had 13 HR/27 SB. Of course the caveat with him as been his long swing that exposes him to breaking stuff and sends his strikeout rate soaring and caps his average. His final 150 at bats in the majors last season were brutal as he hit just .196 (but he still chipped in nine steals). But he hits the ball hard, is a strong defensive outfielder which will guarantee playing time and has always been someone to perform better in the second go around.

I predict 15 home runs and 30 stolen bases with an outside chance of 40 and a .245/.330/.420 line. This late in the draft that’s great and if you’re in an OBP league, it’s a certified steal.