Thursday, December 7, 2023

2022 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Outfield ADP review shows everything you need at any price

Whether you intend to or not, outfielders are going to make up a significant part of your Fantasy Baseball team’s core. You can load up on them early or wait for values, but given the depth of the position, they’re going to be incredibly important to your chances of winning no matter what.

Which is to say, if you want to take a position-focused approach to your draft prep, outfield is probably where you can relax a little bit. That’s not the same thing as saying, “ignore outfield,” mind you. It just means that, whether you’re looking for power or speed or average or anything else at any point in the draft, you’ll probably find it in the outfield. If you’re worried about the lack of depth at third base or the lack of high-end difference makers at first base or the lack of both at catcher, it makes sense to craft your approach to those and let outfielders come to you as it does.

ADP Reviews: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

Here’s my breakdown of the outfielders currently being drafted inside of the top-150 in NFBC drafts, where I think the best and worst values are, and who I’m drafting most for 2022 drafts:

Tier 1

As with shortstop, we need the obvious caveat here that Tatis’ price is going to come crashing down now that we know he needs surgery on his fractured wrist. That will likely keep him out three months, putting his hoped-for return sometime in late June, most likely. He could still be quite valuable on that timeline, of course, but the risk of setback plus performance risks as a result of the injury have to knock him outside of the top-100 – lower in leagues without IL spots.

That puts Soto in a category of his own at outfield, and he just might be in one as a hitter, period. He’s hit .322/.471/.572 since the start of 2020, and I think at this point, a healthy Mike Trout is the only player who rivals Soto as a hitter. The problem, in as much as one exists, is that Soto’s greatness isn’t necessarily finely tuned for Fantasy dominance in a 5×5 Roto context because he’s not elite in power or speed. Of course, that just means that he’s not the obvious No. 1 overall pick – if Soto were to turn into a 40-homer or 15-steal guy, he’d be going at the top of pretty much every draft. 

Tier 2

Acuña is another player whose price is very fluid given that he is unlikely to be ready for opening day. Braves GM Alex Anthopolous told reporters Thursday the plan is to have Acuña on the field by April 21, which would be just two weeks after Opening Day, and if that’s the case, he can still very much be a first-round caliber player. Acuña is going to return as a DH at first with the hope that he’ll begin playing the outfield a month later, but whether that means there will be any other limitations isn’t clear yet. If Acuña is back by April 21 and playing like himself, he’ll be a steal at this current price, but there is obviously risk of both a setback in his return and then limitations when he returns that could make this price go sideways. Still, a pick at the beginning of the second round seems like the right balance between risk and reward given that timeline. 

Harper’s .309 average in 2021 was a bit of an outlier from where he’d been in previous years; he hadn’t hit better than .268 since 2017. If that was real – and the underlying numbers like his .301 expected batting average suggest it was – then he’s well worth his current price. The nice thing is, even if he doesn’t hit .300, he’s a safe bet for 35 homers and double-digit steals in a lineup that figures to be even better in 2022. He’s as safe as a late first-round pick comes, and he isn’t lacking for upside, either.

Tucker’s overall numbers look good enough; he hit .294/.359/.557 in 2021, but it’s not unreasonable to think there’s more where that came from. We pointed to him as someone who was hitting the ball better than his surface numbers during the early part of the season, and then he went out and hit .327/.398/.631 with a 40-homer, 20-steal pace in the second half of the season. I’m not saying Tucker will do that, but it’s within the higher range of his potential outcomes. He’s perfectly fine as a late-round pick, though I do wonder how safe the steals are – he was just 60th percentile in sprint speed and had an unsustainable 93% success rate on steals. It’s not unreasonable to think he could fall back to single-digits in steals. 

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Tier 3 

There is so much upside in this range of the draft, as all three of these guys could reasonably end up the No. 1 player in Fantasy in 2022. In my estimation, Trout is still the best hitter in baseball, and if you could guarantee me the same number of games, I’d take him over Soto – his 162-game pace over the past two seasons is .301-116-45-116-5, with the underlying metrics to back it up. A calf injury cost him most of last season, and injuries have been an ongoing issue for Trout as he has reached his late-20s. However, if he’s healthy, he’s still arguably the best player in baseball, and with a 96th percentile sprint speed in 2021, it’s not a foregone conclusion that he won’t run a bit more than he has of late, either. I’ll take him in the first round in any format, but especially in a points league. 

Betts is another player whose price is being driven down by injury concerns, though in his case it was an injury he was able to play through and ultimately impacted his numbers. There’s reason to be concerned that Betts’ hip will remain an issue, but it wasn’t some kind of structural issue that befell Betts – he had bone spurs in the hip that were causing irritation and inflammation. It’s possible those will remain an issue, but he’s healthy right now and has about as good a track as anyone in Fantasy, having ranked no worse than 19th in Roto scoring every season from 2016 through 2020. Even in 2021, his 162-game pace was 124 runs, 31 HR, 77 RBI, and 13 steals. He’s a first-rounder for me.

Injuries have also been an issue for Robert, both in limiting him to 68 games last season and dating back to his minor-league career. However, he played like a superstar when he was healthy in 2021, hitting .338/.378/.567 with a 162-game pace of 31 homers, 14 steals, and 203 runs-plus-RBI. There’s probably room for even more steals from him, too, and his underlying numbers largely backed up what he did with the bat. We’re still dealing with small samples and an inherently volatile skill set since Robert’s plate discipline remains a big concern, but he cut a lot of the swing and miss out of his game last season despite a more aggressive approach at the plate overall. There’s a chance he struggles similar to how he did in 2020, but Robert also has clear top-10 potential. I rarely draft him at this price, but this is where I rank him. 

Tier 4 

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to the prices of Marte and Judge in particular. Marte is already dealing with an oblique injury, after missing time last season with the same injury. That’s obviously a concern right at the top of spring training, and it makes a player who already carries some injury risk even riskier. Marte is a big plus in runs, average, and steals, and should be so as long as he is healthy, but it’s hard to buy into a guy when he is not presently healthy. We’ll see how the rest of his spring goes, but I would pass at this price, probably. 

Judge’s concern isn’t injury, at least not right now – it’s obviously been an ever-present risk throughout his career. But the pressing concern right now is that he may not be allowed to play home games. Judge was evasive when asked if he is vaccinated against COVID-19, which is a relevant question given New York City’s ongoing vaccine mandate for employees of private businesses. Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets has not played in a home game all season, and unless the mandate is lifted, Judge would not be able to play in New York City if he is, in fact, not vaccinated. That would obviously apply to all players on the Mets and Yankees, though we don’t know yet who falls into that category. Considering Canada still has a vaccine mandate for entry into the country, any unvaccinated player for the Mets or Yankees is presently at risk of missing nearly 60% of their schedule. I think you have to downgrade Judge in particular at this point, though that could obviously change. 

As for the rest of this tier: I like them! These are good values for pretty much everyone involved, though I’m most likely to draft Merrifield of this group. He’s an iron man and a standout in stolen bases at the very least, and likely runs and batting average, too. And he isn’t typically a total zero in home runs or RBI, which you can’t say about most stolen base threats. I think he’s probably undervalued, and I’ll take him here for either second base or outfield. 

Tier 5

There’s a ton of upside in this group and a ton of risk, too. With Buxton and Springer, the concerns are primarily injury related, and given my reaction to the other players with injury concerns here, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn I like both. In fact, I rank both as top-30 players. I acknowledge the risk with both, but I also think both have top-10 upside, and I don’t think you can say that about anyone else in this tier – and likely only a few players after them. Buxton was arguably the best player in baseball on a per-game basis in 2021, and I’m not going to blame him for getting hit by a pitch or suffering a hip injury that he’s never had trouble with before. Buxton’s per-162 pace over the past three seasons is .277-101-36-91-22, so we’re not talking about just a one-year wonder here, either. If he plays 130 games, he’s likely to be a significant value at this price. 

Springer doesn’t provide the five-category contributions Buxton does, but his per-162 numbers over the past three seasons are similarly impressive: .278-124-48-115-7. Hitting near the top of this Blue Jays lineup, Springer could lead the majors in runs-plus-RBI if healthy. The counting stats will just be massive if he’s healthy. 

Castellanos and Jimenez figure to provide strong production in homers and RBI, and potentially batting average too. I have concerns about Jimenez’s run potential, given his low on-base percentage and poor baserunning; he’s averaged 82 runs per-162 for his career so far. Castellanos is the safer pick between the two, and I’m not sure his upside is any lower. We’ll see where he signs.

O’Neill and Arozarena are the two big risks of this group from a performance standpoint. Arozarena provides that all-important power-speed combination, but his underlying metrics from last season are terrifying; he had a .222 expected batting average and has shown very little ability to hit anything but fastballs in his career to date. He’s a talented player with a profile that should be conducive for Fantasy, but Arozarena’s approach terrifies me, and I’m not willing to bet on him at this price. 

O’Neill underlying metrics back up what he did in 2021 a lot more than they do for Arozarena, and he’s always had this kind of potential on the strength of a ridiculously toolsy skill set. The problem is just his approach at the plate, as he had a 31.3% strikeout rate and one of the worst whiff rates of any player in baseball. There’s so much swing-and-miss in his game, and that’s always going to leave him vulnerable to slumps. Of course, he could also go for 40 homers and 20 steals, which is impossible to overlook. 

Tier 6

I love Marte. He’s one of my favorite picks at any position, as I already said at second base. There is skepticism among some Fantasy players about the improvements he’s made as a hitter, but he’s one of the best bets for batting average in the entire league and also sports well above-average quality-of-contact data, which means there is serious potential for him to win the batting title while also contributing 30-plus homers. I love getting him in this spot, especially if he ends up getting traded.

Edman, I don’t like so much. I think he’s a pretty fringe-y hitter whose status as a top-100 pick is almost entirely reliant on stolen bases. He very well could steal 30 bases again, but it’s worth noting that he had just 17 in his first 147 games between 2019 and 2020, so it’s no guarantee. If he’s more like a 20-steal guy, Edman probably doesn’t stand out anywhere else – average and runs are the only places he might be above-average. That’s an awful lot riding on steals. 

Martinez bounced back nicely in 2021, though it’s worth remembering that his production was pretty top-heavy; he hit .351/.430/.745 in April and .273/.333/.473 the rest of the season. He should be a strong contributor in every non-SB category, but at 34 there are enough red flags that I’m not necessarily inclined to buy him at this price. 

Tier 7

We have to start with Bryant, who is going to rise significantly from here, and I think you can make a very good case for him as a top-50 pick now that he’s with the Rockies. We don’t have a ton of examples of hitters going to Colorado at or near their peak, but Michael Cuddyer seems like a pretty good comp as their last big free agent hitter signing. Cuddyer was older than Bryant, but the numbers are quite encouraging: 

The other headliners here are obviously Yelich and Bellinger, who were contenders for the No. 1 pick as recently as the 2020 preseason. Things have been tough for them over the past two seasons, but I’m a little more optimistic about Yelich, who at least still hit the ball very hard consistently last season. A back injury limited him and he reverted to hitting too many ground balls, but a lot of the skills that made him such an incredible hitter were still there. I’m betting on a bounce back, if not to the 50-homer pace he had in 2019, but perhaps to the 30-homer, .300 average range if things go right.

Bellinger is tougher to trust because his swing was just a mess. He couldn’t catch up to high heat and wasn’t hitting the ball hard at all, in addition to his injury concerns. How much of that was related to offseason shoulder surgery and then the fractured leg he suffered early in the season? Impossible to say, but he’s a fine bet here given the upside; I just prefer to make that bet on Yelich, personally. 

Reynolds stands out from this group because he probably doesn’t have the high-end power potential of the Stanton/Yelich/Bellinger group, but he’s been a pretty fantastic hitter in his own right in two of the past three seasons – the COVID-shortened 2020 being the lone exception. You probably won’t get 30-plus homers or huge run production numbers, but Reynolds is a strong bet for batting average without hurting you anywhere else. He’s a fine value. 

I’m willing to bet there’s one last huge Stanton season l

In all likelihood, you’re going to use Varsho as a catcher, not an outfielder, and he wouldn’t be going anywhere near this range if he wasn’t. But he could be the No. 2 catcher and it wouldn’t be a surprise at all. 

Tier 7

Schwarber is my favorite pick in this group by a mile, and I’m thinking he’s going to start making up some ground on the pack now that he’s signed with the Phillies. That’s an excellent lineup and home park, and he’s one of the better bets in the game for 40-plus homers. Runs and RBI should be plentiful, too, and it’s pretty clear Schwarber’s .188 average in 2020 was a small-sample fluke. He crushes the ball and I’d bet on an average north of .250 for Schwarber. 

The rest of this group falls somewhere between “fine” and “I have zero interest in them at anything close to this price.” Haniger and Winker are both fine, though I think Haniger is probably going to see a decent amount of regression in home runs, and I’m not sure how valuable the profile is at a more typical 30 homer pace. Winker’s .305/.394/.556 line from 2021probably overstates how valuable he is for Fantasy, because he’s still pretty hapless against lefties, and the Reds occasionally shielded him from them. The Mariners could do the same thing, which will hurt his counting stats, and the park downgrade from Great American Ballpark to T-Mobile park is not an insignificant one. Even with a better lineup around him, the trade to Seattle was a downgrade for Winker in my eyes. 

Mountcastle is the “I have zero interest” guy. I recognize he’s young and has prospect pedigree, so there’s room for improvement, but he looked like a mostly all-or-nothing power guy in 2021, and now he has to deal with the new park dimensions at Camden Yards. The Orioles moved the left-field fences back by 30 feet across nearly the entire length that side of the outfield, and they even raised the walls to boot. Mountcastle was a decent bet if you could rely on him for 30-plus homers, but his underlying quality of contact metrics are pretty mediocre and I think we’re going to see a lot more warning track outs in Baltimore this season. 

Tier 9 

This is sort of a mish-mash of different types of players rounding out the top 150 among outfielders. Straw is pretty much just a steals specialist who you’re hoping hits .270 and scores close to 100 runs at the top of Cleveland’s lineup, and if he does that, you’ll be happy with him, even with the big hit to power you’re taking. However, if he hits .250 or worse and doesn’t stay near the top of the lineup, he’s going to hurt you. 

Kelenic is the high-upside bet here, and I just wish he was a bit cheaper. There’s a potentially very Fantasy-friendly skill set here, but he needs to take a gigantic step forward from his 28% strikeout rate in 2021 to get there. Still, as you can see, this point in the draft doesn’t really have any sure things, so betting on a very recent, very highly regarded prospect makes a lot of sense. 

Taylor and Grisham provide moderate power/speed appeal and Meadows has 30-10 upside himself, but there are pretty big flaws in Grisham and Meadow’s approaches that carry significant risk. For Grisham, it’s mostly just that he probably won’t ever provide much help in average and could hit in the lower half of the lineup; Meadows looks like a real drain on your batting average and he’s a platoon risk with the Rays, so the counting stats may disappoint, too. That being said, 27 homers and 100 RBI are 27 homers and 100 RBI. 

Gurriel is my favorite of this group, and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that his slow start was tied to a lingering knee injury. He bounced back to hit .296/.360/.529 in the second half, which is right in line with his .289/.336/.538 line from 2019 and 2020. He’s one of the last chances to get a bite of that Blue Jays offense at a relatively reasonable price. I’m willing to take him 20 or more picks ahead of his ADP if I need to. 

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