Mike Harmon reveals Part I of his outfielder preview for the 2012 MLB season.
By Michael HarmonFoxSports
Note: updated April 3
Do you still marvel at prodigious fly balls and the gleeful calls of hometown announcers?
Or, do you prefer small ball and stolen bases?
I know that the specter of PEDs has made home run hitters the subject of rampant speculation. Each 450-foot blast raises an eyebrow in a newsroom somewhere.
Fantasy owners are afforded the opportunity to mix-and-match styles to fill the multiple slots in their respective lineups. Few outfield options posses the “five tools” in the fantasy sense. Most players fall into the power or speed/batting average camps, but it’s truly a beautiful thing when those worlds converge.
The following segment of my outfield rankings demonstrates that divide in player specialties, with a third power/speed/low batting average element mixed therein. Along the way, I’ll identify rebound candidates and breakthrough performers.
Let’s start with a speed merchant working in the veritable conga line that is the New York lineup.
31. Brett Gardner, NYY: 2011 Stats: .259, 7 HR, 36 RBI, 87 Runs, 49 SB Analysis: Speed kills. Gardner isn’t going to produce anything in the power categories. He’s generated 12 home runs and 83 RBI in 987 at-bats during the past two seasons as an everyday player and owns a weak .264 career batting average.
Owners buying into Garner do so for two categories. He’s going to score a ton of runs in the New York lineup (averaged 92 in the past two years) and pile up stolen bases (average of 48).
32. Emilio Bonifacio, MIA: 2011 Stats: .296, 5 HR, 36 RBI, 78 Runs, 40 SB Analysis: Bonifacio is another of the three-tool speed merchants on the outfield grid. He shan’t offer much in the power department, although he did rip 26 balls into the gap (26 doubles). Bonifacio’s game is speed. He produced three 40-stolen base seasons in the minor league in advance of last year’s total of 40 (51 attempts) at the major league level. He hit .274 or better at every level of the minor league prior to producing a .296 batting average for the Marlins.
33. Chris Young, ARI 2011 Stats: .236, 20 HR, 71 RBI, 89 Runs, 22 SB Analysis: Young has developed into a fantastic four-category player for fantasy owners in the past two seasons. His high strikeout rate will hold his batting average down, but he has become better at taking pitches (80 walks in 2011).
In the past two years, Young has averaged 23.5 home runs, 35.5 doubles, 81 RBI and 25 stolen bases. He’s not going to offer anything in the batting average category (his .257 in 2010 marked a career best), and his struggles of the 2009 season haven’t been erased altogether.
34. Michael Cuddyer, COL 2011 Stats: .284, 20 HR, 70 RBI, 70 Runs, 11 SB Analysis: Cuddyer generated 51 extra-base hits (29 doubles) with 70 RBI in his final season for the Twins. In his final three years in Minnesota, Cuddyer averaged 60 extra-base hits (22 home runs) and 81.7 RBI. I can’t wait to see him hit alongside CarGo and Tulowitzki in Colorado.
35. Delmon Young, DET 2011 Stats: .268, 12 HR, 64 RBI, 54 Runs, 1 SB Analysis: Young regressed from his 2010 highs in a season split between Minnesota and Detroit last year. His numbers fell in line with his first three major league seasons, though myriad injuries in the Minnesota lineup obviously didn’t help the first half of his season.
I’m slapping the bounce-back, “ninja,” or whatever other tag you want on Young this season. At 26 years old (that’s all), he’s now entering his prime and will fit nicely into a loaded lineup. In 2010, Young generated 68 extra-base hits with 112 RBI and a .298 batting average (he’s a career .288 batter). I’ll boldly pronounce that he slams his way back to those totals alongside Prince Fielder.
36. Ichiro Suzuki, SEA 2011 Stats: .272, 5 HR, 47 RBI, 80 Runs, 40 SB Analysis: Suzuki batted a career-low .272 last season, thereby eliminating the main reason to thrust him up draft boards. That total placed Suzuki 28th in the category among outfielders. Without the dominance in the batter’s box, owners buying in on Suzuki need him to bank another big stolen base total. He’s stolen 40 or more bases in three of the past four seasons. In fact, Suzuki’s last dominant season at the plate (2009) was the year that he stole a career-low 26 bases.
He’s still worthy of a look-see at the OF3 position with hope of a boost in his batting average. Suzuki’s contact rate didn’t change in 2011. He just didn’t place the ball as well as he had in years past.
37. Alex Rios, CWS 2011 Stats: .227, 13 HR, 44 RBI, 64 Runs, 11 SB Analysis: Is Rios a comeback candidate for 2012? Or, will his regression continue in post-Ozzie Chicago? Remember, Rios generated a fantastic .284 batting average with 53 extra-base hits, 88 RBI and 34 stolen bases in 48 attempts in 2010, his first full season with the White Sox.
Rios’ strikeout rate actually improved in 2011, but he joined the parade of underachieving Chicago sluggers in the dysfunctional clubhouse (only Paul Konerko was immune). I believe he’s worth a look as a high-end OF4 with great upside.
38. Howie Kendrick, LAA 2011 Stats: .285, 18 HR, 63 RBI, 86 Runs, 14 SB Analysis: Kendrick hasn’t challenged for that batting title that everyone projected several years ago, but he’s become a five-category contributor for Mike Scoiscia’s squad. His 18 home runs and 86 runs scored established new career marks, and his 14 stolen bases matched his best effort. The arrival of Albert Pujols will afford him ample pitches to hit, and we can reasonably expect him to improve on last year’s heroics.
* Kendrick can also be inserted as an outfielder and first baseman (23 and 17 games played at each, respectively).
39. Peter Bourjos, LAA 2011 Stats: .271, 12 HR, 43 RBI, 72 Runs, 22 SB Analysis: Following a rough 51-game introduction to Los Angeles in 2010, Bourjos found his mark last season. He contributed to all five standard categories, though his batting average still has room for improvement. Just look at the dismal strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.9-to-1 in 2011) for the obvious area to boost his game alongside Albert Pujols and company. He produced a .360 BABIP last season. Bourjos generated 49 extra-base hits and 22 stolen bases in 31 attempts.
40. Cameron Maybin, SD 2011 Stats: .264, 9 HR, 40 RBI, 82 Runs, 40 SB Analysis: The first-round pick from the 2005 MLB Draft finally broke through in 2011 for the Padres. It’s frightening to think that Maybin won’t turn 25 until after Opening Day.
Maybin produced 41 extra-base hits, including 24 doubles, and swiped 40 bases in 48 attempts. His strikeout rate is somewhat troubling, but he did produce a robust .348 BABIP. The spacious outfield at Petco Park will hold his home run total down. However, Maybin hasn’t yet hit his power prime and that five-tool potential is coming into focus.
41. Mark Trumbo, LAA 2011 Stats: .254, 29 HR, 87 RBI, 65 Runs, 9 SB Analysis: First, it should be noted that Trumbo has been cleared to resume baseball work and will be ready for opening day after sustaining a foot injury in his huge rookie season. That’s great news for owners anticipating a huge follow-up effort from Trumbo in the heart of the Los Angeles lineup alongside new arrival Albert Pujols.
Trumbo posted a strong .327 BABIP with 61 extra-base hits (31 doubles) as a rookie, offering a bonus of nine stolen bases. He’ll certainly have ample RBI opportunities with Pujols hitting ahead of him.
* Trumbo will add third base eligibility as the season progresses.
42. Carlos Lee, HOU 2011 Stats: .275, 18 HR, 94 RBI, 66 Runs, 4 SB Analysis: “El Caballo” isn’t an exciting player in the fantasy realm. He doesn’t run anymore, but he remains a solid, productive hitter. He rebounded from a sub-par 2010 when he batted .246 to hit .275 in 2011, more in line with his .286 career mark.
With little support in the lineup, Lee still rapped out 60 extra-base hits (18 home runs) and drove in 94 runs. In fact, Lee had hit at least 24 home runs with 80 RBI in 11 consecutive seasons before experiencing a minor power downturn in 2011. Take the consistency at a value price point.
43. Logan Morrison, MIA 2011 Stats: .247, 23 HR, 72 RBI, 54 Runs, 2 SB Analysis: Forget about his Twitter account and the fallout of previous years, the man can flat-out mash. Morrison produced 52 extra-base hits (25 doubles), though his BABIP dropped 44 points. I’m excited to see him hit in this new-look lineup and push toward 30 home runs and a triple-digit RBI total.
44. Carlos Beltran, STL 2011 Stats: .300, 22 HR, 84 RBI, 78 Runs, 4 SB Analysis: Beltran posted a fantastic rebound season between New York and San Francisco last season. He’d been limited to 145 games in the previous two seasons combined, so his appearance in 142 games last season was a surprise. He proved that he can still hit for power, producing 67 extra-base hits and 84 RBI.
Beltran remains a solid four-category contributor if healthy, though the former top-5 fantasy hero doesn’t run any longer to separate himself from the pack.
45. Yoenis Cespedes, OAK 2011 Stats: Cuba Analysis: Cespedes’ signing in Oakland raised some eyebrows, and he made fantasy owners sit up and take notice during spring training. He then doubled and homered in the two-game series between the A’s and Mariners in Japan. Cespedes’ draft value rose markedly in the final days of the lengthy draft season.
46. Matt Joyce, TB 2011 Stats: .277, 19 HR, 75 RBI, 69 Runs, 13 SB Analysis: Joyce gave fantasy owners a glimpse of the power numbers to come in his 77-game introduction to Tampa. He ripped off 28 extra-base hits in 216 at-bats with a great strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Joyce’s strikeout rate increased as an everyday player in 2011, but he more than made up for it across the board. He produced 53 extra-base hits with a robust .360 BABIP (38 points higher than his 2010 mark, directly in line with his batting average boost).
47. Jeff Francoeur, KC 2011 Stats: .285, 20 HR, 87 RBI, 77 Runs, 22 SB Analysis: It took a few years, but the former fantasy hero finally regained his stroke in Kansas City. Remember, Francoeur was a beast in 2006 and 2007 before things spiraled downward. His 2011 totals were in line with his 2007 output (40 doubles and 19 home runs with 105 RBI that season), though he suddenly ran wild and free on the basepaths in 2011. I suspect that’s the area of his game that regresses in 2012.
He’s now part of a mighty intriguing young lineup in Kansas City. Francoeur is the “cagey veteran” at 28 years old (he shares a birthday with Elvis, for what it’s worth).
48. Alfonso Soriano, CHC 2011 Stats: .244, 26 HR, 88 RBI, 50 Runs, 2 SB Analysis: Alas, Soriano doesn’t run anymore. He also doesn’t give fantasy owners the bonus of second base eligibility. He does, however, continue to offer tremendous power numbers on an annual basis. Soriano’s total of 88 RBIs in 2011 was his highest output since 2006. He accomplished the feat without much support in the Chicago lineup.
Soriano’s balloon-like contract is not at issue here. If he can produce power numbers comparable to 2011, he’s a bargain as a back-end OF4.
49. Nick Markakis, BAL 2011 Stats: .284, 15 HR, 73 RBI, 72 Runs, 12 SB Analysis: Markakis isn’t overwhelming, but he’s been consistent for Baltimore during his six-year career. He’s hit 15 or more home runs in five of his six seasons while averaging 39.5 doubles and 82.5 RBI. Markakis also owns a strong career .295 batting average.
There’s little upside to him at this juncture, but he’s a safe and steady high-end OF4.
50. Nick Swisher, NYY 2011 Stats: .260, 23 HR, 85 RBI, 81 Runs, 2 SB Analysis: Swisher has settled into his place in the New York lineup. He’s a pivotal cog in the always-potent lineup and routinely posts strong power numbers. In three years with the Yankees, Swisher has averaged 27 home runs, 85.3 RBI and 85.3 runs scored. His .288 batting average in 2010 was obviously out of character. He’s a career .254 batter and has never posted a batting average better than .262 in any other season.
51. Colby Rasmus, TOR 2011 Stats: .225, 14 HR, 53 RBI, 75 Runs, 5 SB Analysis: Will the power alleys of Rogers Centre allow Rasmus to rediscover his 2010 power stroke? I can’t dismiss his dismal .173 batting average in 133 at-bats for the Blue Jays. However, Rasmus did log 13 extra-base hits in his short tenure there. Of course, the red blinking light highlights his total of 39 strikeouts (one every 3.4 at-bats). He’s worthy of a look-see in the OF4 or OF5 slot as a bounce-back project.
52. Coco Crisp, OAK 2011 Stats: .264, 8 HR, 54 RBI, 69 Runs, 49 SB Analysis: Crisp avoided the injury issues that derailed his 2009 and 2010 seasons and ran wild for the A’s last season. He posted a career-best 49 stolen bases in 58 attempts with 40 extra-base hits (27 doubles) and 69 runs scored.
If healthy, Crisp has the opportunity to run to the top of the stolen base category once again. Owners will receive little support in the power columns (he hasn’t hit more than eight home runs since 2005) and there is the matter of Yoenis Cespedes to consider.
53. Melky Cabrera, SF 2011 Stats: .305. 18 HR, 87 RBI, 102 Runs, 20 SB Analysis: Fans in New York probably wonder why Cabrera never posted big numbers as a member of a loaded Yankees lineup when he started mashing in Kansas City last year. He established new career marks in every standard category before getting shipped to San Francisco.
Frankly, he’s the poster child for “regression to the mean” in 2012. Cabrera had flashed a little power with the Yankees in 2009 (42 extra-base hits, including 13 home runs), but everything clicked last season in Kansas City. In the three seasons prior to last year’s breakout, Cabrera posted a composite .260 batting average while averaging 8.3 home runs, 49 RBI and 8.7 stolen bases. Hitting in San Francisco is no small task, so keep those numbers in mind.
54. Josh Willingham, MIN 2011 Stats: .246, 29 HR, 98 RBI, 69 Runs, 4 SB Analysis: Willingham has never appeared in more than 144 games in any of his six major league seasons. He missed 26 games in 2011, but still established new career marks in home runs and RBI in Oakland. Think about that. Willingham put on a power show with 55 extra-base hits for the A’s, and the home-road splits were even.
Willingham saw his strikeout rate escalate (one per 3.25 at-bats) and posted a career-low .246 batting average despite his .355 BABIP. He conquered one terrible hitting backdrop in 2011. As such, this stadium doesn’t scare me quite as much.
55. Austin Jackson, DET 2011 Stats: .249, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 90 Runs, 22 SB Analysis: The former New York prospect is developing nicely in the Detroit outfield, though fans and fantasy owners would like to see the 25-year-old improve his contact rate. Still, it’s awfully difficult to look away from his two-year .382 BABIP (.358 in 2011) and his four-category production. Jackson’s still growing into his major league body, and a 20-20 (20-30?) season may be in the offing.
I’m still nervous that his batting average has room to dip from his .249 mark of 2011, but he should see plenty of pitches to hit.
56. Torii Hunter, LAA 2011 Stats: .262, 23 HR, 82 RBI, 80 Runs, 5 SB Analysis: Hunter no longer runs like he did at his peak (14 stolen bases in the past two seasons combined), but he continues to support his pitching staff defensively and posts solid power numbers. He has hit at least 21 home runs in 10 of the past 11 seasons (he appeared in only 98 games in 2005) with 81 or more RBI. Take the steady production in three categories for your OF4 slot.
57. Vernon Wells, LAA 2011 Stats: .218, 25 HR, 66 RBI, 60 Runs, 9 SB Analysis: The Angels bought Wells a $240 million gift this offseason by bringing Albert Pujols to southern California. Arte Moreno is hoping that his new offensive hero jumpstarts the bat of the highly-paid Wells.
Now, Wells still generated 25 home runs in 2011, the eighth 20-home run season of his career. Unfortunately for Wells and his trusting fantasy owners, his power output was offset by a truly pathetic .218 batting average. That mark was 56 points lower than his career mark. He’ll see more pitches to hit in the retooled Los Angeles lineup and represents a solid value option as an OF4.
58. Brandon Belt, SF 2011 Stats: .225, 9 HR, 18 RBI, 21 Runs, 3 SB Analysis: Belt was the hot prospect for 2011, and I led the bandwagon. Alas, the 23-year-old prospect struggled markedly at the plate and produced a dismal .225 batting average. Belt hit lefties well (.348), but was positively pathetic in the other 75% of his at-bats against right-handers.
Belt did demonstrate solid gap power as a rookie. He produced 16 extra-base hits (nine home runs) with 18 RBI and a strong .323 BABIP. Belt’s role for the Giants remains to be seen, and his swing remains a topic of discussion.
59. Angel Pagan, SF 2011 Stats: .262, 7 HR, 56 RBI, 68 Runs, 32 SB Analysis: Pagan was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise difficult season for the Mets in 2011. He earned his second straight 30-stolen base season (37 in 2010) and generated 35 extra-base hits. Pagan was a victim of some bad luck and obviously had his overall performance affected by the injuries that decimated the lineup. His BABIP dropped 49 points from 2010 to 2011. Look for a bounce-back in the batting average department (.290 in 2010) in a better San Francisco lineup.
60. Lorenzo Cain 2011 Stats: .312, 16 HR, 81 RBI, 84 Runs, 16 SB (Minors) Analysis: You can insert your “Horatio” or “Dean” quips here. His surname will be the subject of headline-writers throughout the season.
Cain has posted a fantastic spring and entered Monday’s (4/2) action with a robust .426 batting average and 10 RBI. He’s demonstrated fantastic gap power throughout his minor league career (28 doubles last season) and stands as a potential “ninja” in the rising Kansas City lineup.