When you sit down to draft in your AL-only leagues this year, you must have a plan for how you are going to approach the outfield position. Whether you are in a straight draft or an auction you need to have a good idea of who you want to target and how much it will cost you in picks or dollars to execute. While some like to spend big here, I prefer to do my shopping a little further down the list. I always try to come away with one stud if I can, and then hopefully put myself in a position to get at least three, and if I play it right four players from the middle tiers of my rankings. Of course, in an auction that’s easier said than done, because often there will be multiple owners competing for a smaller group of talent. You’ll also want to have some players that you are willing to take a chance on in the endgame and/or reserve rounds, because this is a position that you are going to want to have some depth at coming out of the draft, as the pickings on waivers will be pretty meager. Unlike mixed leagues, I am usually much more wary of taking a chance on injury-prone players. However, I am not afraid to take a swing on a player I feel is ready to take the next big step in his development or I believe can bounce back from a down year. With that in mind, I’ve highlighted some of my favorite OF targets in the American League for this year. At the bottom of the page you will also find my overall rankings for the entire American League OF class. I’ve broken these rankings into Tiers to help illustrate how I value similar groups of players.
Nelson Cruz, TEX – Of all the players in my top two tiers, Cruz has the ability to give you the most bang for your buck. The only thing holding him back is an inability to stay healthy as he seems to battle leg injuries each and every year. I’m not saying you should necessarily reach for Cruz over safer options, but there is a 40 home run season waiting to happen if he can avoid the trainer’s table for a change. He won't cost you as much as the guys at the very top, but he could easily out earn them all.
Desmond Jennings, TB – Jennings hit the ground running once the Rays called him up at the end of July. He stole 20 bases in 63 games and added 10 home runs for good measure. I am a believer in Jennings' ability to produce a 20/40 season as soon as this year and have been aggressive in going after him when the draft I am in dictates it. Still, he’s likely to be even more sought after in AL-only leagues, meaning the price may actually outweigh the potential risks involved with any young player.
Ichiro Suzuki, SEA – While Ichiro’s stock in mixed leagues has dropped significantly this draft season, AL-only drafters are going to want to take advantage of any discount that comes their way when bidding on the future Hall of Famer. He still has the ability to produce a .300/40 steal season, and you will very likely be able to get him long after guys like Crawford or Jennings.
Shin-Soo Choo, CLE – Choo had a season to forget last year. It started with a DUI that was an embarrassment, especially back home in Korea, and something that clearly affected the proud OF. Then he fractured his thumb in June, missed 6 weeks and got shut down for the year after straining an oblique in September. The Indians missed his bat in the middle of their lineup and he should return healthy and motivated to put last year behind him. There is no reason to think he can’t return to 20/20 levels.
Coco Crisp, OAK – Oakland decided to bring Crisp back as a free agent after a solid 2011 season that saw him swipe an impressive 49 bases. The surprise signing of Yoenis Cespedes further clutters and already crowded A’s outfield, but Crisp should emerge as a starter again for a young team that will need his veteran bat near the top of their lineup.
Alex Rios, CHW- After a great 2010, the bottom fell out from under Rios last year. Righties owned him last year (.204) and his power and speed dipped to their lowest levels since 2005. As bad as he was, he was also was unlucky and it’s not hard for me to see that he is a good bet to rebound and deliver closer to his career norms. I think .275 with 17 home runs and 20 steals is a reasonable expectation.
Brennan Boesch, DET – Boesch was putting together a very nice sophomore campaign before a thumb injury cost him the last 6 weeks of the season. He smacked 16 home runs in 115 games and made adjustments at the plate that helped him finish with a respectable .283 average. He is slated to start the year in the second spot in the Tigers lineup, right ahead of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. That’s about as good as it gets and puts him in prime position for a true breakout this year. The “sleeper” talk is starting to swirl around Boesch and I hope the hype doesn’t get so big as to drive his price too high.
Delmon Young, DET - While I would much rather get Boesch in my lineup, Young will likely come cheaper that just about anyone in his tier. He is still just 26 years old, and I am very intrigued by what he can do with a full season in Detroit. He's going to have plenty of opportunites to drive in runs hitting behind the big bats in the Tigers lineup. Remember, he drove in 112 runs in 2010. He could do it again this year, easily I believe.
Colby Rasmus, TOR – Rasmus came to the Blue Jays in a much ballyhooed trade that sent Edwin Jackson and others to St. Louis. He was terrible down the stretch, hitting .173 after the trade and comes into the year with his career at a crossroads. There are questions about his maturity and work ethic and he has been labeled by some as “un-coachable”. But, the talent is still there and at 25, he is still young enough to deliver on the promise he showed in 2010. Perhaps the sight of his old team winning a World Series after dumping him was a reality check.
Peter Bourjos, LAA – I drafted Bourjos last year in some of my most important leagues last year. He was a big sleeper of mine last year, but I still cut him in a couple of leagues after a dismal May. It was a mistake as something clicked and he started to resemble the player I thought I had drafted, finishing strong down the stretch and setting the stage for more production this year. His stolen base upside is somewhat muted by the fact that he was only successful on 22 out of 31 attempts last year. He also has more pop in his bat than other speedsters, meaning than he should be able to chip in around 15 home runs as well, meaning he’s not just a one category guy. While he’s slated to bat ninth at this point, I think the Angels would love for him to make a “run” at the leadoff spot, allowing them to drop Erik Aybar down one notch.
Yoenis Cespedes, OAK – I honestly really don’t know how I feel about Cespedes at this point, but I also feel it’s hard to avoid at least mentioning him after last week’s big signing. I am throwing him in at the top of Tier 4 more as an indication of where I think he might be drafted than what I actually think he will produce this season. The hype will undoubtedly make him overpriced in auction leagues, but if he falls far enough in straight drafts I may bite. I think the power will translate quickly enough to make 20 homers a possibility.
Dayan Viciedo, CHW - I like Viciedo's chances for a mini-breakout this year as he should be given the chance to nail down a starting job, giving him the AB's needed to produce. I think he could be a potentially cheap source of power, good for 20 homers. He is still very young, and didn't really impress in his call-up last year. Hopefully that will keep his price low enough to make him a worthwhile buy.
Lorenzo Cain, KC – Cain has been one of my favorite late-round OF targets so far this year and like many names mentioned here, speed is his calling card. Melky Cabrera is gone and the Royals will give Cain every chance to take over in CF. He had a very nice growth season in AAA last year, batting .312 with 16 homers, 81 RBI and 16 stolen bases. While I don’t expect those power numbers to translate at the major league level, I do think he should be able to get on base enough to make 30 stolen bases a real possibility.
Mike Carp, SEA – The Jesus Montero trade has taken the spotlight off Carp, and that is a good thing in my opinion. This guy has real power that even Safeco can’t contain. He is going to play almost every day and serve as the likely cleanup hitter for the Mariners. This guy helped carry one of my teams down the stretch last year, so I guess I have a soft spot. But he will be one of the cheaper sources of power on draft day. His dual eligibility is just another plus. I’m going to have to move him up my own board a few notches, because I keep missing him in drafts so far.
Andy Dirks, DET – I’ll tip a cap to Todd Zola for putting Dirks on my radar. He should be the biggest beneficiary of the Victor Martinez injury. With Delmon Young likely to serve as the main DH, Dirks becomes the likely starting LF. While he won’t hit for average, he is capable of providing double-digit homers and steals at bargain rate prices.
Nolan Reimold, BAL – This could be a make –or-break year for Reimold. He will have a chance to stake a claim to playing time in the Oriole lineup and has shown the ability to hit for power in the past. He’s a post-hype candidate who could surprise if he can show he’s put some injuries in the past.
Mike Trout, LAA – Drafting prospects is always a viable strategy in an AL-only setting, and Trout is the best of the bunch. Still, he’s likely to spend a good chunk of time in the minors again this year.
Ryan Kalish, BOS – Kalish makes the ideal guy to draft and stash on your bench. He comes into the season injured, and likely won’t play until the summer. But, once healthy he should get a chance to stake is claim to a starting spot and could give you a nice boost in the second-half.
Aaron Cunningham, CLE – The Indians traded AA closer Cody Burns for Cunningham this off-season, and as he is out of options, it is very likely he will make the club as the 4th OF to start the year. Backing up Grady Sizemore means he could be an everyday player by May. If for some reason you gamble on Sizemore (and that’s much more likely in AL only), you may want to grab Cunningham when the reserve rounds are ending.
Joe Benson, MIN – Benson is more of an AL-only reserve round pick, but he is a guy I like to possibly emerge this year in Minnesota. The OF isn’t so crowded their anymore and all it will take is a couple of injuries to open up playing time and with some of the names on the Twins roster, that is a very likely scenario.
Now here is a look at my complete OF Tiers for the American League:
Tier 6: Franklin Gutierrez, David Murphy, Andy Dirks, Vernon Wells, Josh Reddick, Nolan Reimold, Grady Sizemore, Ryan Raburn (2B), Seth Smith, Eric Thames, Craig Gentry, Bobby Abreu, Travis Snider, Brent Lillibridge, Ben Francisco, Mike Trout, Ryan Sweeney, Endy Chavez
Tier 7: Rajai Davis, Ryan Kalish, Andruw Jones, Shelley Duncan, Trayvon Robinson, Sam Fuld, Kosuke Fukodome, Colin Cowgill, Leonys Martin, Jonny Gomes, Joe Benson, Mitch Maier, Casper Wells, Aaron Cunningham
Tier 8: Ryan Spilborghs, Felix Pie, Jai Miller, Michael Taylor, Brandon Guyer, Jared Dyson, Julio Borbon, Darnell McDonald, Rene Tosoni, Don Kelly (2B), Clete Thomas, Trevor Crowe, Jordan Danks, Wilkin Ramirez, Michael Saunders, Matt Angle
I f you want to learn how to properly use Tiers for your drafts, I urge you to head to the message boards and we’ll meet you there to discuss. Also, if I’ve left anyone off that you feel needs to be included, feel free to post them in the comments section.