Year to Date (5/9/15): Fantasy Outfielders

There are a lot of familiar names atop the outfielders rankings list, but there are some surprises as well.  Let’s see these surprise players and which ones can stay afloat.  We will also see what outfielders have been busts and what to expect of them going forward, and we will examine some injuries and who to keep an eye on.

OUTFIELDERS

Surprises:  Wil Myers, Joc Pederson, Stephen Vogt, Lorenzo Cain, Josh Reddick, Jake Marisnick

Wil Myers came over to the Padres in the off-season and he is not exactly the prototypical center fielder or leadoff man, but he has been playing the role nicely and for fantasy purposes he is filling up the stat sheet as he is hitting .288 with 5 HR, 19 RBI, 26 R, and 3 SB.  The former top prospect put up a real stinker of a season last year in what was supposed to be a breakout sophomore campaign, but it appears that 2015 could be the season for him to make his lasting mark on the fantasy world.  Myers’ walk rate is down from 9.4% last year to 6.0% this year, which is not exactly what a team would want from its leadoff hitter, but when that comes with an even bigger decrease in his strikeout rate from 24.9% to 18.7%, then it is acceptable.  It will be interesting to see how Myers’ power will play out the rest of the season at Petco Park, but this is a guy who hit 37 HR between AA and AAA in 2012 so 20 HR is perfectly reasonable to expect, with the upside for more.  Myers is just looking pretty comfortable in his new digs, and I do think that his production is sustainable.  He appears to be looking at a end of season line resembling a .275 AVG, 20 HR, 70 RBI, 90 R, 10 SB — with the upside for more.

Most of the fantasy baseball community knew that Joc Pederson possessed some great skills, which is why the Dodgers were not afraid to trade Matt Kemp away in the off-season.  And ever since Yasiel Puig and subsequently Carl Crawford went down with injuries and Pederson was thrusted into the leadoff role for the Dodgers with Jimmy Rollins sliding down to the 2-hole, Pederson has been proving his worth.  On the season, Joc is hitting .264 with 9 HR, 19 RBI, 21 R, and 2 SB.  He appears to be a three outcome type of hitter in the sense that he either hits a home run, walks, or strikes out as an incredible 62.3% of his plate appearances have ended with one of those results.  Pederson should stick as the leadoff hitter given what he has accomplished since the promotion up the lineup, and he has the talent to be a 30 HR/30 SB player while scoring a ton of runs.  All those pretty stats may come with a .250 AVG and a 30% strikeout rate, but it’s worth it.

Stephen Vogt is a catcher by trade, where he is the most valuable for fantasy purposes, but he does have outfielder eligibility.  I went over him in my catchers update post.

Lorenzo Cain became more of a household name last October when he dazzled with the glove and the bat in the Royals amazing post-season run.  That type of performance on the biggest stage was sure to make him overvalued a bit coming into the 2015 fantasy season, but so far he is surpassing what anyone could have hoped for from him.  Cain is currently hitting .337 with 3 HR, 13 RBI, 21 R, and 6 SB.  His high AVG is being aided by a .390 BABIP, but he does profile as a hitter who can maintain a higher than average BABIP.  So if he can maintain the improvement in his strikeout rate (21.5% last year to 17.2% this year) then he could be a near lock for a .300 AVG.  What is actually a surprisingly low stat for Cain is his RBI total of 13 through 26 games played.  Cain is acting as the primary #3 hitter for the Royals this season, and with the way that he is hitting and the way that the whole Royals offense is producing, I would expect that total to be closer to 20 so far.  Nonetheless, Cain could be looking at a full season line of .300 AVG, 10 HR, 65 RBI, 85 R, 30 SB.

Josh Reddick is currently hitting .345 with 5 HR, 22 RBI, 15 R, and 2 SB through 24 games played, but the most impressive part of his season is how locked in he is with his plate approach.  His 11.2% walk rate is on pace for a career best, and his strikeout rate is at a incredibly low 7.1% which is more than half of what his career best is (15.9%).  It is a rarity where a player decreases his strikeout rate by that amount, and it surely has to be taken into account when deciding whether or not his early season performance is sustainable.  Clearly he is taking an improved approach, but I do think he is playing over his head.  I don’t think that he will be able to continue to walk more than he strikes out, and he has never hit lefties all that well, which is a trend that is continuing this year.  I would exercise caution with Reddick, but there’s certainly no harm in rostering him and do realize that there are legit reasons for his hot start.

Jake Marisnick has been a great find for the Astros this year after acquiring him from the Marlins in the middle of last season.  He struggled in his time in the Majors last year as a rookie, but the 24-year old is really blossoming into an impact player.  On the season, Marisnick is hitting .325 with 3 HR, 13 RBI, 14 R, and 9 SB in 27 games played.  Marisnick is a big guy listed at 6’4″ 225 lbs., so he is not the prototypical looking speed guy on the bases.  However, he has eclipsed 35 SB in a single season on a couple occasions in his professional career, so this is a big part of his game and something that we can expect going forward from him.  I also think that in time, not necessarily this year though, he will develop into a 20 HR threat.  However, I am not completely buying into his high AVG as I don’t think that he can maintain the 15.4% strikeout rate with his current 10.7% swinging strike rate.  His BABIP is also sitting pretty at .358 and I would expect that to come down a bit.  Also working against Marisnick is the fact that he bats toward the bottom of the lineup for the Astros and unless there’s an injury to someone, he may not get a chance to hit higher than 7th on a regular basis due to the Astros need to split up their righty/lefty bats and keeping their all or nothing hitters (Evan Gattis and Chris Carter) in the middle of their order.  I do like Marisnick’s skills though and the potential he can bring to a fantasy team, and his speed alone is going to be a good asset.

Disappointments:  Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez, Adam Eaton

There have been quite a few disappointments in the outfield this season, but I will only touch on a few of them with the number one disappointment by far being Andrew McCutchen.  McCutchen is hitting a measly .219 with 2 HR, 14 RBI, 15 R, and 1 SB — not exactly the type of production you would expect out of a top 5 draft pick.  McCutchen has been battling knee soreness for most of the season, which can be seen as the driving factor to his ugly start.  It could be affecting his hitting as maybe he can’t get the same drive on the ball, and it is most definitely affecting his running game.  There are some positive signs though in the past few days as he stole his first base of the year on May 7 and then the following day he logged an infield single where he just showed pure hustle down the first base line.  Coinciding with that, he had 5 hits in 10 AB (2 doubles) in those games as well.  So it looks like his knee might be gaining more strength and I would expect his production to keep going up.  However, that does not necessarily mean he will revert to his MVP caliber performance.  McCutchen already saw a dip in his SB last year at a career low of 18, so with this knee injury it could prevent him from even getting to 15 SB.  As a McCutchen owner myself, I am interested in seeing what comes of the good signs that McCutchen has given us the last couple of days.  But if he doesn’t give us much else in the next week, then it may not be a terrible idea to shop McCutchen around if you own him and even settle for a 90 cents on the dollar type of deal.

So many folks in the fantasy baseball community were calling for a big bounce back season from Carlos Gonzalez, but I was not one of them and he is disappointing to a vast degree.  CarGo is htiting .198 with 2 HR, 6 RBI, 10 R, and 0 SB in 26 games.  I am not going to advocate acquiring CarGo because I just think he is way too injury prone and a headache to own.  CarGo just isn’t hitting the ball that hard, as only 26.1% of the time he makes contact can be considered as hard hit, which is well below his career mark of 34.8%.  The knee surgery that he had last year could surely be playing a role in this, and it could be just a matter of time before he starts to feel better in that knee.  But I think that it is clear that his best days are behind him, especially because I do not see him doing much running at all due to that knee.  If you own him then you can pray for a turnaround, but I think he will still continue to be a bust in most regards.

Adam Eaton is the last outfield disappointment that I will write about and while he has never been a fantasy superstar, there have been some high expectations for him and he just might be the player whose performance has had the single most negative impact for his Major League team.  Eaton is hitting just .200 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 9 R, and 1 SB as the White Sox leadoff hitter.  When a team has a leadoff hitter who is not hitting well, not getting on base a lot, and not making things happen whenever on base, that team is not going to be scoring many runs at all.  And that is exactly what is going on with the White Sox as they are dead last in the Majors in runs scored when they were supposed to be an improved offense with the additions of Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche to surround star Jose Abreu.  Eaton clearly has better days ahead of him, but as I have alluded to before, he could ultimately be flip flopped with Micah Johnson in the lineup, moving from leadoff to 9th which would destroy much of any fantasy value that he has remaining.  I would give Eaton another week, but then it should be time to cut bait if he doesn’t improve.

Injuries:  George Springer, Yasiel Puig, Christian Yelich, Hunter Pence

George Springer has been playing out of his mind on defense in right field, which makes up for his poor performance at the plate for the Astros, but unfortunately, there are no fantasy points for web gem plays.  The out of his mind defense also led to Springer getting his mind knocked out as he suffered a concussion running into the wall on a tremendous catch. So he has landed on the 7-day concussion DL with a current line of .192 AVG, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 14 R, and 10 SB.  The SB total is a great sign to see after he had just 5 SB in 78 games last year, but he’s not making a whole lot happen at the plate.  However, expect him to get things going once he returns from the DL as his 25.8% line drive rate does not match up with his poor .242 BABIP.

Yasiel Puig has been on the DL with a hamstring injury and he reaggravated the injury yesterday in a rehab game, so it appears he will be shelved for a little while longer.  The Dodgers and fantasy lineups alike are missing his bat and can only hope that he does not suffer another setback.  With 15 SB potential, we will have to monitor how/if the hamstring injury affects his aggression on the base paths.

Christian Yelich made his way back into the Marlins lineup last night after spending a couple of weeks on the DL with a herniated disc in his back.  Big things are expected from the rising star, but he has yet to contribute much at all.  I liked him coming into the season, but I do fear that I may have been too optimistic with my projections on him.  Nevertheless, he still has a chance to be a 10 HR/20 SB player if he can avoid the DL again.

Hunter Pence is nearing his return from a broken bone in his forearm that he suffered on an HBP in Spring Training.  Once he is back, I would expect the same type of production that we have come to expect from him as he has been one of the most consistent players in the game.

Keep an eye on:  Alex Guerrero, Ender Inciarte/David Peralta, Billy Burns 

To begin the season, Alex Guerrero was nothing more than bench depth for the Dodgers as they had a crowded outfield situation already and manager Don Mattingly preferred Juan Uribe’s glove at third base.  However, when he has been given a chance to spot start for a day or pinch hit, Guerrero delivers big.  The Dodgers then suffered some injuries in their outfield, which opened up some additional playing time for Guerrero, but still not on an everyday basis.  To this date, Guerrero has hit .350 with 6 HR, 14 RBI, and 8 R in just 40 AB.  He’s not going to keep up that type of pace, but if he finds himself with a starting job somehow his bat will be an immediate impact.  The power is no joke as he hit 15 HR in 65 games at AAA last year.  He makes for a good fantasy stash, or even someone to start in leagues that allow daily lineup changes.

Ender Inciarte and David Peralta are a part of a crowded outfield that also includes A.J. Pollock, Mark Trumbo, and possibly Yasmany Tomas when Jake Lamb returns from the DL to try and reclaim his role as the third baseman for the Diamondbacks.  Those are all some quality players that do deserve to be everyday Major League players.  But if there is ever an injury to open up more a full-time role for Inciarte or Peralta then they are going to be solid players to have.  Inciarte is more of an AVG/SB guy while Peralta has some pop and can also chip in decently in AVG and SB.  However, a caution with Peralta is that he is susceptible to poor numbers versus left-handed pitching.

Billy Burns was recently recalled by the A’s and he has stuck on the roster despite the return of Coco Crisp from the DL.  Burns has plus speed with a tremendous eye at the plate.  Do you know what a speedy guy who walks a lot can do?  Burns stole as many as 74 bases in one season in the Minors and only needs an opportunity to at an everyday job to become fantasy relevant.  He has no power whatsoever, but neither does Dee Gordon and he seems to be doing just fine.

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