Wednesday, February 29, 2012

(Updated) 2012 Fantasy Baseball Preseason Rankings: Top 50 Outfielders

With his 50-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs overturned, one thing is clear: it's a positive (no pun intended) to his fantasy value.

Milwaukee left fielder Ryan Braun, last year's N.L. MVP, set career highs in batting average (.332) and stolen bases (33) and came close to career highs in runs scored (109), runs batted in (111) and home runs (33) last year.

While Braun had a career-best season, he's been as consistent as any other player over the past five years since being called up late-May 2007.

Despite playing in only 113 games in his rookie season, here are his career lows: 91 runs scored, 25 home runs, 97 runs batted in and 14 stolen bases. As a career .312 hitter, Braun has hit above .300 in four of five seasons and .320 or better three times.

Based on his first five seasons, here are his average stats per 162 games: 112 runs scored, 36 home runs, 118 runs batted in and 21 stolen bases.

Two reasons for a potential drop-off in production are: (1) the free-agent departure of Prince Fielder and (2) the possible constant questioning by reporters and taunting by fans, especially on the road, about the PED issue wearing thin on Braun.

Going into 2012, Braun is my No. 3 ranked outfielder behind L.A.'s Matt Kemp and Toronto's Jose Bautista, who still has third base eligibility. If Bautista was only outfield eligible, I would rank Braun second among outfielders behind Kemp.

Here are some notes on outfielders:

- Speaking of Kemp, he had a legitimate shot to win the triple crown last year. He finished first in the National League in home runs (39) and runs batted in (126) and third in average (.324). Kemp finished with career highs in home runs, runs batted in, runs scored (115), and stolen bases (40). Only one homer shy of his first 40-40 season, it was the second 30-30 season of Kemp's career.

- Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman, who had his best season since 2008, finished seventh in N.L. MVP voting last year. In 145 games, Berkman hit .301 with 31 homers and 94 runs batted in. Although he hit for a higher average after the All-Star Break (.315 vs. .290), Berkman hit 24 of his 31 home runs and drove in 63 of his 94 runs before the break.

- Washington's Michael Morse, who has eligibility at first base and outfield, was fantasy bargain in 2011. Not only did he have a great season (.303 with 31 home runs and 95 runs batted in), he was consistent before and after the All-Star game: .306-15-49 (before split) and .299-16-46 (after break). That said, his two worst months were his first (April) and last (September) of the season.

- Last year, Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton was one homer and one RBI shy of the career highs he set in 2007. While Upton had a four-year low in steals (36) to go along with his 23 homers and 81 runs batted in, he has hit .243 or less in each of the past three seasons.

- Cleveland's Shin-Soo Choo, who missed half of last season due to his thumb injury, is healthy heading into 2012 and is looking to bounce back after a down season. Before last year, Choo had back-to-back seasons with .300 average, 20-plus homers and 20-plus steals. Choo provides plenty of upside as a bounce-back candidate.

- Atlanta's Jason Heyward has the potential to deliver a big return for fantasy owners in 2012. Heyward, who turns only 23 in August, had a shoulder injury that slowed him down last year, but he should be healthy to start the season. Heyward saw his average drop from .277 to .227 and his RBIs drop from 72 to 42 last year.

- Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki has seen his batting average decline from .352 in 2009 to .315 in 2010 to a career-low .272 in 2011. In fact, it was the first time in Ichiro's career that he hit below .300. Suzuki has stolen 40-plus bases in back-to-back seasons, but he's now 37 years old (i.e., eventually he will slow down) and he will hit third in the batting order, which will reduce his base-stealing opportunities some.

- As a former second-overall pick, Kansas City's Alex Gordon was a bit of disappointment based on his potential. In his first four seasons, Gordon hit .260 or lower, 16 homers or less and drove in 60 runs or less every season. Last year, Gordon had a breakout season setting career highs across the board: .303 average, 101 runs scored, 23 homers, 87 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases.

Here are our top 50 outfielders for the 2012 season:

1. Matt Kemp, Dodgers
2. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
3. Ryan Braun, Brewers
4. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
5. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
6. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
7. Curtis Granderson, Yankees
8. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
9. Josh Hamilton, Rangers
10. Nelson Cruz, Rangers
11. Mike Stanton, Marlins
12. Desmond Jennings, Rays
13. Matt Holliday, Cardinals
14. Hunter Pence, Phillies
15. Jay Bruce, Reds
16. Alex Gordon, Royals
17. Michael Morse, Nationals
18. Shin-Soo Choo, Indians
19. Carl Crawford, Red Sox
20. Ben Zobrist, Rays
21. Shane Victorino, Phillies
22. B.J. Upton, Rays
23. Michael Bourn, Braves
24. Drew Stubbs, Reds
25. Jason Heyward, Braves
26. Corey Hart, Brewers
27. Adam Jones, Orioles
28. Lance Berkman, Cardinals
29. Brett Gardner, Yankees
30. Howard Kendrick, Angels
31. Nick Markakis, Orioles
32. Andre Ethier, Dodgers
33. Jayson Werth, Nationals
34. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
35. Chris Young, Diamondbacks
36. Carlos Beltran, Cardinals
37. Michael Cuddyer, Rockies
38. Logan Morrison, Marlins
39. Melky Cabrera, Giants
40. Delmon Young, Tigers
41. Nick Swisher, Yankees
42. Peter Bourjos, Angels
43. Cameron Maybin, Padres
44. Jeff Franceour, Royals
45. Torii Hunter, Angels
46. Martin Prado, Braves
47. Matt Joyce, Rays
48. Emilio Bonifacio, Marlins
49. Alex Rios, White Sox
50. Jose Tabata, Pirates

Other Positions: C - 1B - 2B - 3B - SS - OF - SP - RP

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