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State of the Position: Outfielders in 2021

A survey of the outfield position with a fantasy baseball slant.

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

Outfield Week is in full swing (ha!) so it’s time to survey the landscape.

The Elite Four: Ronald Acuña Jr., Juan Soto, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout

There aren’t any fleas here. These are all legitimate fantasy baseball stars, and you’re splitting hairs when choosing between them in the top half of Round 1. I grudgingly admit that I rank Trout fourth due to what I perceive as a player who lacks the willingness to run. Cite the 94th percentile sprint speed all you like, but Trout attempted only two steals in the short season. He attempted just 13 steals in 2019 (134 games). That said, his success rate is elite, so I think he’s good for 10-15 over the course of a year.

After this it’s a bit murky—i.e., Cody Bellinger is coming off of the dislocated shoulder, plus I prefer him at first base anyway. And do you believe in a Christian Yelich bounce-back season? Last year’s 30.8% strikeout rate was just ghastly, and that dampens the excitement for me. If I were late in Round 1 and considering Yelich, my inclination is to pass on him and grab Bryce Harper in Round 2. Harper’s 17.6% strikeout rate from last year was the best mark of his career, and despite laboring through some back issues he still slashed .268/.420/.542 with plenty of category juice (13 HR, 8 SB). He’s a phenomenal floor pick in 2021, and selecting him allows you to have a shot an ace pitcher in the first round. Back to Yelich—I’d prefer him in any sort of “overall” format...but sans that scenario, I’m going for more of a floor with my first round pick.

The Bust: Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

Look, it’s tough finding a guy I don’t like. Calling Judge a “bust” feels heavy-handed, but he’s the first outfielder I have a tough time paying up for. His ADP is around 65, so we’re talking about an early Round 5 pick this year. No, it’s not breaking the bank, but this pick IS ahead of guys like Michael Conforto, Nicholas Castellanos, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.—all guys I’d rather have than Judge. Staying healthy is a skill, and Judge just hasn’t proven he can do so. For reference, here are his games played totals over his five-year career: 27 (rookie year), 155, 112, 102, 28 (sprint season). So if you ignore his rookie year, during his remaining four seasons he’s approached a full year just one time—and he didn’t even make it through half of the abbreviated 2020. Hard pass for me.

Two to Target: Wil Myers (SD) and Ramon Laureano (OAK)

These are two of my favorite middle men in 2021. Expect more on Myers a bit later today, but here’s a teaser that I fully agree with:

As for Laureano, I am operating under the assumption that he bats leadoff this year, which makes me giddy to acquire his services. The strikeout rates aren’t typical of the leadoff role, but Laureano has a career .343 OBP due to his foot speed (76th percentile) and healthy walk rates (career best 10.8% in 2021). Last year’s career-worst .270 BABIP (and ensuing .213 BA) should not repeat. Laureano is a career .270 hitter with a career .262 xBA. I’m willing to take 2020’s low BA mark with a grain of salt here. Laureano has increased his contact rate over the course of his career (72.8%, 73.8%, 77.3%) and set career bests in chase rate (27.0%) and swinging strike rate (8.9%) in 2020. Essentially, you get a plus defender who should play nearly every day...and he’s a likely candidate for the leadoff role. I’m firmly on the Laureano train in 2021.

Additional candidates for my fake rosters being drafted in this area are Alex Verdugo, Kyle Lewis, Dylan Carlson, Mike Yastrzemski, and Ian Happ. I love this area for outfield picks.

The Sleepers: Austin Hays (BAL) and Bryan Reynolds (PIT)

Hays is another leadoff candidate, but you can snag him 100+ picks after Laureano, sometime around pick 240. He’s got an average walk rate in the bigs (6.3%) but he doesn’t strike out much (19.9% career K-rate) and he’s got plus sprint speed (76th percentile). Steamer projects 22 homers and 10 steals, and I’ll take that as a starting point given his low ADP. As for Reynolds, he’s a batting average asset that you can draft around pick 275, which is just silly. Sure, in the truncated 2020 his numbers fell off. But in 2019 he gave us a .300 xBA (.314 true BA) and I could see .280+ happening. I know it’s a poor Pirates team, but Reynolds is a likely candidate for No. 3 duties and should have plenty of counting stats as a result. I enjoy rounding out my outfields with his services.

The Prospect to Watch: Jarred Kelenic (SEA)

Kelenic is the No. 5 MLB prospect per Fangraphs, and the top prospect for Seattle. He’s actually one slot behind fellow outfielder Randy Arozarena. Arozarena is already being drafted aggressively, however, so I figured I’d chat up Kelenic. There are other candidates, such as Cristian Pache, JJ Bleday, and Trevor Larnach...but it’s Kelenic that should be up as soon as the service time games are over—and he seems to have more offensive upside at this juncture than a guy like Pache (and I’m a Braves fan). The scoop—again, per Fangraphs—is that there isn’t one elite tool, but that Kelenic is a plus everywhere. The Mariners finished only two games behind Houston for a playoff spot last year, and GM Jerry Dipoto has already taken steps to address last year’s faulty bullpen...and brought back lefty James Paxton. I think Seattle is looking to make noise right now, and to do so they’ll need Kelenic prowling around in their outfield over the likes of Jake Fraley or Braden Bishop. Lastly, Kelenic his his first dinger of the spring yesterday, so check it out in all it’s glory...

If you’re digging past the 300s, take a look at Adam Eaton (I love him back with the White Sox) and Franchy Cordero (who should press for full-time duties in Boston). Those are two guys I’ve been rounding out my rosters with.

Who are YOU drafting in the outfield in 2021?