Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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2011 NL Outfield Overview

Monday, March 14, 2011


I have to get right to the meat of the column this week. With the NL outfielders, I'm concluding the hitting overviews. I'll be back to speculate on AL pitchers and then NL pitchers over the next couple of weeks.

NL Outfield Overview

Underrated


Matt Kemp (Dodgers) - A first-round pick in many mixed leagues a year ago, Kemp has slipped to the third round after losing nearly 50 points off his average and 15 steals. His defense dropped off even more than his offense, suggesting that he just didn't work as hard as he should have. Kemp, though, is in better shape this spring, and he seems poised to rebound at age 26. Kemp was a career .299 hitter before fading to .249 last season. He should make up most of that, and he's due for his first 30-homer campaign. I rate him fourth in the outfield.

Hunter Pence (Astros) - After a slow start last season, Pence hit .302 with 13 homers and 51 RBI in 71 games in the second half. Now that he's a full-time No. 3 hitter, even in a poor lineup, he should continue to post fine totals in runs and RBI, categories that held him back during his first two full seasons in Houston. Last year, he topped 90 in both, and he also improved as a basestealer, going 18-for-27 on the basepaths after years of 11-for-21 and 14-for-25. With his strikeout rate tumbling, I see his average itching above .290 and a new career-high in homers in store for 2011.

Jason Bay (Mets) - Unlike Justin Morneau, Bay entered spring training having been free of concussion symptoms for months. With Citi Field playing tough for right-handed power hitters, Bay probably isn't going to bounce all of the way back and record his fifth 30-homer season as a major leaguer. However, he's a good bet to post solid all-around numbers, say 25-28 homers and right around 90 RBI. He'll also swipe some bases -- he was 10-for-10 in 95 games before going down last year. I rate him 11th among NL outfielders and 24th overall.

Dexter Fowler (Rockies) - The Rockies say they're committed to keeping Carlos Gonzalez in left field this season, meaning Fowler will be an everyday player if he can keep his average up. The switch-hitter was a big disappointment on the basepaths last year, finishing with just 13 steals after coming in with 27 as a rookie. The Rockies, though, are working with him on that, and as the regular leadoff man, he'll have plenty of chances to run. With his 100-run, 40-steal upside, he's a great late-round pick in mixed leagues.

Overrated

Jayson Werth (Nationals) - Werth has a lot to live up to after signing a seven-year, $126 million contract. I don't see the pressure getting to him, but odds are that his numbers will slip some. He's going from a ballpark that favors right-handed power hitters to one that plays a little shy of neutral. Also, he's trading 19 games against Nationals pitchers for 19 games versus Phillies aces. He's been the 13th outfielder off the board in recent ESPN drafts, but I have him ranked 23rd with a projection that calls for a .263 average, 25 homers, 87 RBI and 17 steals.

Andre Ethier (Dodgers) - Ethier was his usual stellar self last year, but his run and RBI numbers took a beating as the Dodgers struggled. Since the team didn't get much help over the winter, I'm skeptical that Ethier will bounce back to 90 runs or 100 RBI. He's a rock solid player, but since he doesn't excel in any category and he's pretty much a zero in steals, he doesn't place as a top-20 fantasy outfielder on my board.

Cody Ross (Giants) - Because of his October performance, Ross will head into 2011 as an everyday right fielder for the Giants. However, he came in at just .269-14-65 in 525 at-bats in the regular season last year, and most of the damage he did came against lefties (he hit .263/.315/.271 against righties). If he slumps early on, he could be reduced to a platoon role (perhaps in tandem with a Brandon Belt promotion). I rank him 70th in the outfield.

Sleepers

Ben Francisco (Phillies) - Obviously, Francisco isn't so much of a sleeper these days, not with Domonic Brown set to open the season on the DL because of a broken hamate bone. That guaranteed Francisco a starting job he seemed poised to win anyway. Francisco hasn't played much the last year and a half, but he offers nice speed and power. In the equivalent of two years of regular playing time (1,093 at-bats), he has 39 homers and 26 steals. It's entirely possible he'll be the Phillies' right fielder all season long and finish with 20 homers and 75 RBI.

Mike Morse (Nationals) - Again, not as much of a sleeper as he was a couple of weeks ago. Morse, who was competing with Roger Bernadina and Rick Ankiel for playing time in left field, already seems to have won the job with five early homers this spring. I don't expect him to bust through with 25 homers, but I do like his chances of hitting for a solid average and he might drive in 80 runs while batting behind Ryan Zimmerman and Werth.

Fred Lewis (Reds) - Don't underestimate Dusty Baker's desire to have a more natural leadoff hitter; Drew Stubbs will have the job initially, but his strikeout total could get him pushed back down in the order if he fails to get off to a fast start. Lewis is nothing special, but he is quick and he has a little pop. It'd be no surprise to see him overtake Jonny Gomes and become the Reds' left fielder versus right-handers. Gomes only really deserves to play against lefties anyway.

Other thoughts

Andrew McCutchen is a definite top-10 outfielder as the Pirates' likely No. 3 hitter. That shouldn't slow him down too much on the basepaths, and it'll probably lead to him driving in 80 runs or so. … I'd like Jason Heyward better if it didn't appear that he's going to open the season batting sixth. It probably won't last, but it will cost him at-bats and runs scored for as long as it lasts. I still have him ranked 14th. … I was pretty surprised to see Mike Stanton going 18th among outfielders in ESPN drafts. I like his chances of finishing in the top three in the NL in homers, but I don't think he'll hit for a strong enough average to justify going before guys like Jay Bruce and Colby Rasmus. … I have Carlos Beltran 41st in the outfield. I'm not sure he's still a 20-20 threat, though I expect pretty good power numbers when he's healthy.


Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
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