Previewing 2019 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 30 outfielders show Ronald Acuna, Juan Soto verging on stud status
Before you come banging down my door, let’s make one thing clear upfront: Khris Davis won’t be outfield eligible at the start of 2019. He spent too much of 2018 at DH.
But you know what? We don’t need him. As always, there’s more than enough Fantasy assets at the position.
It kind of goes without saying, right? Nearly 40 percent of all hitters are outfielders, and while you have to start more of them than shortstops or first basemen, the sheer volume of available options allows plenty of usable ones to slip through the cracks. Even when the position seems weak going into the season, there’s no shortage of newcomers looking to break through.
We got a glimpse of that in 2018 with Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto, who both rank plenty high here. And while Eloy Jimenez is an easy inclusion looking ahead to 2019, I would like to have room for Victor Robles and Kyle Tucker as well.
Mike Trout wasn’t as good as Mookie Betts in 2018, but that’s mostly a testament to how ridiculous Betts’ season was. Trout put up arguably the best numbers of what’s already a Hall of Fame career through age 27, so no need to get cute here.
If you had come to believe Mookie Betts’ near-MVP 2016 was his best-case scenario, boy did he show you. He may have surpassed Jose Altuve as Fantasy’s safest bet for batting average, and given that he’s also coming off a 30-30 campaign, he’s not just No. 2 at this position but No. 2 overall.
Turns out the second breakthrough J.D. Martinez experienced between Detroit and Arizona last year was indeed legit, not that anyone was doubting his offensive prowess if he could only stay on the field. Splitting his time at DH — a first for his career — seemed to help with that.
All that talk about the shift destroying Bryce Harper early on was put to rest in the second half, when he put together a more typical batting average. So really, it was bad BABIP luck that held him back early, and seeing as he still led the majors in walks, his points-league owners hardly had reason to notice. He’d still be No. 2 among outfielders if not for Betts and Martinez doing ridiculous things.
Christian Yelich‘s move from pitcher-friendly Miami to hitter-friendly Milwaukee played out about the best it possibly could, which isn’t all good news. We know now he has the upside of a first round-caliber bat, but that’s the full extent of his upside, and it depended on him having far and away the best home run-to-fly ball rate in baseball. Can we trust him to be that sort of outlier year after year?
Yeah, his season was derailed by a chip fracture in his wrist, but Aaron Judge nonetheless relieved whatever concerns anyone might have had about his breakthrough 2017, which hinged on an outlier BABIP and home run-to-fly ball rate. Turns out the guy’s just a freak who hits the ball super duper hard and draws a bunch of free passes in between.
After three consecutive years of us thinking he couldn’t possibly top last year’s numbers, Charlie Blackmon finally took a step back in 2018. But it’s the cliff dive his defensive metrics took that really makes you wonder if he’s getting long in the tooth at age 32. The batted-ball profile was more or less the same as in 2017, though, and since he’ll still be playing half his games at Coors Field, I don’t hold him in any lower regard, really.
Giancarlo Stanton is a tough one for me. His MVP 2017 campaign seemed legitimately transformative in that he realized he could rein in the swing a little and still have plenty of power to deposit the ball in the seats. But there he was striking out more than ever in his first year with the Yankees, and it didn’t improve as the season went on. The times we’ve doubted him are the times he has bounced back the most forcefully, though, and he’s still the gold standard as far as power hitters go.
Ronald Acuna’s 2018 is a fine example of how just a couple months’ production can change a player’s entire outlook, because before August, his rookie year had been defined mostly by a couple major injury scares. But the way he turned it on over those final two months was reminiscent of the way things played out at his every stop up the minor-league ladder. Once he got settled in, there was no stopping him.
So Acuna had certainly surpassed him by season’s end, but let’s not forget Juan Soto was the toast of baseball for an even longer stretch and still has the advantage in terms of strikeout-to-walk rate. It’s why you could at least make the case to take him ahead in a points league, where Acuna’s steals wouldn’t be as missed. But it’s not like the 19-year-old is entirely worry-free, judging by his curiously high ground-ball rate.
I’m betraying Andrew Benintendi down this far, but he couldn’t have ended 2018 on a more disastrous note, completely undermining whatever power gains he made in the first half while also stopping running almost completely. He still does an awful lot right for a 24-year-old and contributes at least a little something of everything, but how much room for improvement is there?from just a couple weeks ago by moving
Kris Bryant has a lot to prove after two straight disappointing power seasons. Obviously, his 2018 was marred by a shoulder injury that first flared up in mid-May, but given the vague diagnosis and ongoing discomfort, you can’t assume it’ll be a non-issue next year. On a positive note, he has greatly improved as a contact hitter since his MVP 2016 season, so if he starts popping homers like we know he can …
Ranking George Springer 13th should indicate I’m not all that concerned about what was clearly a disappointing 2018, but the line wasn’t at all a head-scratcher when you look at the batted-ball profile. He didn’t hit the ball as hard and probably deserved to have a lower BABIP given his poor line-drive rate. He was banged up much of the year, though, and is still only 29. A bounce-back campaign seems like a safer bet than not.
Whit Merrifield, as you may have seen, , which contributes to his ranking here. That’s one position where there may not be enough to go around, which means he deserves to be drafted ahead of players who may be more productive overall but are purely just outfielders. He’s pretty darn good himself, though, proving to be an elite base stealer twice over with a batted-ball profile that frankly isn’t too unlike that of Trea Turner.
It seems like we’re always looking for reason to believe there’s something more to Startling Marte, like his red-hot July this year that put him well ahead of his usual pace in home runs and stolen bases. But it ultimately normalized, and besides, he’s 29 now. It’s not getting better from here, and in fact may be worse now that he’s a couple years removed from having the sort of line-drive rate that lends itself to a high BABIP. Still, you won’t find a reliable 30-steal guy with decent pop just anywhere.
Rhys Hoskins has proven to be a solid big-league hitter, but boy did he have a couple stretches this year that gave reason to doubt it. He had the sort of fly-ball rate that’s probably overkill for a player with his raw power, which prevented him from getting hits on balls in play. I wouldn’t chalk up his disappointing batting average to bad luck, in other words, which is why he’s more appealing in leagues that get the most out of his high walk rate.
I’m putting some faith in Cody Bellinger by ranking him this high — and the fact he’s eligible at the surprisingly weak first base no doubt plays a part — but we’re talking about a guy who hit nearly 40 homers as a 21-year-old rookie a year ago. And it’s not clear to me what went wrong for him in 2018. The strikeouts were down. The BABIP was up. He still elevated and pulled the ball like you’d expect a slugger to do. I think the potential rewards justify us calling it a fluke.
Vladimir Guerrero is going to get so much attention next spring that it might allow Eloy Jimenez to slip through the cracks, which would be wonderful considering he himself is the caliber of prospect who we’d normally be hyping to the hills in March. The combination of power and contact ability is enrapturing, and there’s no doubt he would have already gotten his shot this past July if the White Sox didn’t have so much to gain by holding him out until mid-April.
Why behind an unproven like Jimenez? It’s a matter of ceiling, mostly. Mitch Haniger obviously did quite a bit to ingratiate himself to Fantasy owners this season, but he did so with what would seem to be his maximum sustainable BABIP and home run-to-fly ball rate. And seeing as he’ll be 28 in the offseason, there isn’t much room for growth. He’s fine, but definitively second-tier.
There’s certainly no shame in drafting Justin Upton, who’s a pretty safe bet for 30 homers with a respectable RBI and run total. He has been virtually that same player for close to a decade now. But that’s what makes it boring. You know he’ll deliver a suspect batting average and with enough fits and starts to make the experience more frustrating than enjoyable. But whatever, he’s fine.
If Michael Brantley wasn’t turning 32 early next season and hadn’t missed the better part of the previous two seasons with injuries, he might rank just outside the top 15 options here, especially in points leagues where his exceptional contact rate helps set him apart. But on the risk/reward spectrum, it just doesn’t pay to extend yourself for him.
Tommy Pham seemed like an ideal change-of-scenery candidate when the Cardinals dealt him at the trade deadline, and boy did that narrative become a reality. He was a player transformed with the Rays, looking much like the MVP candidate he was in 2017 while elevating what was already a high hard-hit rate to one of the league’s best. The exact ceiling is difficult to pinpoint given that he’s still coming into his own at 30, but don’t make the Cardinals’ mistake of selling him short.
You look at what Gregory Polanco did over the final four months of 2018, and it certainly looks like the stud turn we’ve been hoping he’d make for four seasons, delivering better than a .900 OPS with a perfectly sustainable BABIP. He has faked us out in the past, which means he doesn’t deserve to rank among the out-and-out studs yet, but there are real signs of progress.
He outperformed this ranking in 2018, but it’s just a bad time to buy into Lorenzo Cain. Not only will he turn 33 early next season, but frankly, I expected larger gains with his move from Kansas City to Milwaukee, as disparate as those environments are. Nonetheless, he remains the sort of high-contact, all-fields hitter who’s always a safe source of batting average, and between that and the steals, he’s an attractive needs-filler in the early-to-mid stages of a Rotisserie draft.
By now, it’s fair to assume A.J. Pollock isn’t the .315-hitting 20-40 man we saw in 2015, but he still hasn’t had a fully healthy season since then. So we don’t know who he is, really. He seemed to sell out for power this year, which wasn’t the best look for him, but there’s reason to believe he could still be a big base-stealer if he puts his mind to it. He had two-thirds of this season’s stolen base total by the time he fractured his thumb in mid-May. Why that particular injury would have slowed him down, who can say?
As long as the Rangers are committed to playing Joey Gallo every day, which wasn’t so clear down the stretch there’s reason to think 2019 could be his best season yet. His batted-ball profile changed substantially in the second half. He still struck out way too much, but the balls he didn’t send over the fence more often landed for hits thanks to an improved line-drive rate. There’s still hope for him being a .240 hitter.
Though it’s no stretch to say 2018 was Nicholas Castellanos‘ best season so far, you might look at the high BABIP and assume correction is coming. But that’s not necessarily true. He ranked among the elites in hard-hit rate and especially line-drive rate, which together tends to make for a high BABIP. He was sort of like Freddie Freeman, in other words, but without the high walk rate.
David Peralta had the third-highest hard-hit rate among qualifiers, behind only Matt Carpenter and Eugenio Suarez, which explains his home run total despite a low fly-ball rate. It was another Christian Yelich situation, in other words. Granted, Peralta doesn’t have Yelich’s plate discipline or base-stealing prowess, not to mention track record, so there’s some cause for skepticism. I’d expect closer to 25 homers than 30.
If you just looked at the final numbers for 2017 and 2018, you’d probably say it’s pretty clear what sort of hitter Eddie Rosario is. But he had a five-month period from last August through this June when he was so much more, like Charlie Blackmon more, which of course means he must have ended 2018 on a down note. Turns out it was way down. There’s nothing in the full-season line that suggests bad luck, but the stark contrast between the two halves makes me think there’s more at work here than pure regression. Not sure yet whether it’s reason for optimism or pessimism.
Wil Myers‘ overall production was down this season, much of which was lost to an oblique injury, but his line-drive and hard-hit rates were far and away his best, which bodes well for his long-term productivity. Mostly, though, you’re drafting him with the belief he’ll get back to being the near 30-30 man he was in 2016 and 2017. Anything better than a .250 batting average is gravy.