Over the next few weeks, Baseballbabble.com writers will be going through each position and identifying two players we predict will take a step forward and improve in the 2014 season; and, three players we anticipate will take a step back and regress. Today we look at outfielders.
Two Steps Forward:
Bryce Harper OF
The greatest thing to consider when drafting Harper is that his value may never be this low again. Harper could easily step into Miguel Cabrera’s role as a top-two fantasy player for years to come. Harper has the potential to hit 35-45 home runs and steal 20-30 bases annually. It’s easy to forget he’s only 21 years old. Despite his injuries last year, Harper was still able to improve his batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage from his rookie season. At an age where most players are still in the low-minors, Harper showed zero signs of a sophomore slump. The injuries have lowered his fantasy value going into 2014, as Harper has yet to show what he can do over an entire season. You can safely assume a full season of Harper’s counting numbers will easily make him a top five fantasy player going forward. Harper needs to improve against lefties and show a little more restraint in the field to avoid future injuries. Experience and maturity should help with both.
The Marlins slugger has also seen his 2014 value dip due to an injury shortened season. Stanton should be a huge second/third round target this season (especially for keeper/dynasty owners). It doesn’t appear Stanton will be a Marlin for long, and taking his bat out of the cavernous Marlins Park should add to his future power projections. Most of Stanton’s rumored suitors like Texas, Boston, and Philadelphia, play in very hitter-friendly parks where some of those deep Miami fly-outs would now be home runs. Improved lineup protection would force pitchers to throw more strikes to the 24-year-old outfielder. Following his return from a hamstring injury in June, Stanton’s power numbers remained in line with his career norms. Over the final four months of the season Stanton hit .254/.370/.500 with 21 home runs. A full season at this pace would have put Stanton at 36 homers, which assure us his injuries have not hindered his power. Young power hitting outfielders are at a premium this year. Coming off injury shortened seasons, both players are under-valued going into 2014 drafts.
Three Steps Back:
Alex Gordon OF
Gordon is a consistent fantasy producer who is often overlooked due to lack of overwhelming numbers in one particular category. Gordon spreads the fantasy wealth and year after year gives owners solid totals in runs, steals, RBI, and batting average. Gordon spent a lot of time batting leadoff in 2013, and is expected to transition to fifth in the Royal’s lineup following the additions of Aoki and Infante. In 2014 I’m anticipating a major drop off in steals and runs due to his new spot in the batting order. Gordon will also have less stolen base opportunities with the sluggish on base machine Billy Butler hitting in front of him. Gordon is not a true power hitter which is why his fantasy value was greater at the top of the lineup. In the second half of 2013 it appears Gordon began his transition as he moved out of the lead-off spot. Gordon’s slugging percentage increased, but his average, OBP and runs scored, all decreased. Don’t fall into the trap of drafting Butler based on his recent stats. Expect an increase in RBI, but owners can no longer count on the across the board consistency.
It’s 2014 and were still waiting for Jennings to turn into Carl Crawford. After nearly 1,500 big league plate appearances, it’s safe to say Desmond is who he is. Don’t fall into the trap of drafting Desmond on upside because there are plenty of young speedy outfielders like Leonys Martin, George Springer, and Christian Yelich that will be going much later than Jennings. I play to the theory that if you’re going to draft a player with a perennial low average like Jennings, then he better have some power to supplement. Jennings 10-15 home run potential just isn’t worth the hurting he gives in yourbatting average catergory. Jennings’s speed has also suffered. In 2012 he was caught stealing twice in 33 attempts, while last year he was busted 8 times in 28 attempts. A stat-friendly team like the Rays will most likely limit Jennings’ stolen base opportunities, if he continues to show a lack of effectiveness.
Ben Zobrist 2B, SS, OF
Zobrist’s 2013 numbers declined again as he lost ground in Steals, RBI, Runs, and Homers. Health has yet to become an issue, though as age factors in, even a 15-day DL stint could legitimately affect Zobrist’s numbers. Keeper owners of Zobrist would be wise to trade him, as his multi-positional eligibility and steady counting numbers still provide him with good value going into 2014. Zobrist could lose short stop eligibility after this season, which would really hurt his value in future seasons. Zobrist’s days of double digit steals are also likely coming to an end.