John Benson, my first fantasy boss and the first fantasy mentor for many of us, made a big impression on me when I played against him. No question John is one smart guy, but he always seemed to pick teams that exploited saves, WHIP, and steals more than other slots. Yet, he always was among the top teams the half dozen years I played with and against him.
John's success was largely rooted in the WHIP helping his ERA, wins and even strikeouts, while the swipes worked in concert with average. I still remember this 20 years later as I draft.
Another thing John really taught me was that position battles were good. What he meant by this was that players in position battles were often a little undervalued due to that uncertainty. But, I also learned that even a utility player or fourth outfielder gets close to 300 at-bats, and often more than that baseline. That means in a deep format, either in AL or NL-only, or leagues with 20 or more teams, a good fourth outfielder can be golden.
So, this time I want to look at teams with questions about their outfield and playing time, starting with the team I see the most, the Oakland Athletics:
Well, it is easy enough to figure Seth Smith, based upon his defensive skills, won't spend a lot of time chasing flies, so the reasonable expectations for stats are among Chris Young, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, and Coco Crisp. Truth is I think they will all log 400-plus at-bats, with Reddick leading the pack and Young following. Since Crisp and Cespedes are injury-prone, that is why I give the edge to Reddick and Young, and I expect Cespedes to get some DH time in addition to left. But, of all the outfields I looked at, this has the best possibilities for all involved. By the way, Young could do 15/15 or better.
Pirates: Obviously, Andrew McCutchen plays as many innings as possible, and I think Starling Marte will similarly be given every chance to duplicate the 56 extra base hits over his total of 111 hits at Indianapolis before being promoted last year. That leaves erratic prodigies Jose Tabata and Travis Snider to work out right field, with occasional help from Garrett Jones (depending upon how Gaby Sanchez works out also at first). With both right fielders logging career sub-.700 OPS totals, and since both are left-handed hitters, the hot hand will probably earn the prize. I am betting on Tabata, partially because he has had greater success so far in the Majors, because he has better speed, and because though last year was rugged, Tabata's "down" 2012 numbers were not that far off from his fine rookie performance.
Mets: Is there a real player out there anywhere in the Citi Field outfield? Seriously, if Marlon Byrd is leading the charge to earn the starting center field slot, then that says more than I can. But certainly, I would pay very little attention to that. Durability has never been a strength of Byrd, who has not played full-time since 2010. Lucas Duda does seem to have a lock on playing time, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis might get at-bats, though I don't see him as a long-term answer. Same with Mike Baxter. I do see Collin Cowgill, whom I saw improving day-by-day during his substitute span with Oakland last summer, emerging as a solid 500 at-bat guy, giving .280-15-70 totals, swiping 20 bags and scoring 70 or so runs. I like the .371 OBP he posted in the Minors, along with the .840 OPS. Meaning I give him props over Nieuwenhius, Baxter, and Byrd.
Phillies: Talk about iffy, even though the options seem pretty good. There is brittle Delmon Young, who will be given every chance to fulfill his promise of 2010, and Ben Revere (hmm, two ex-Twins that Minnesota maybe could use?) who can get on and swipe, though he hits for no power, nor does he walk much. That leaves John Mayberry (who just looks like a ballplayer) and Domonic Brown (who is tearing it up this spring) to duke it out, and like Oakland, I suspect both will do alright, be able to platoon some, and pending Ryan Howard's health and productivity, give Mayberry time at first. The odd man out is the talented Ruf, but an injury or trade deadline move could open the door for him to play in Philadelphia sometime this summer. So, reserve him or whatever, but don't write Ruf off.
Mariners: I have had Crohns Disease since 1962, just like Franklin Gutierrez, and I would not simply suggest he is all better and this won't bother the centerfielder again. I like Michael Saunders, who was almost a 20/20 guy last year, though I am not sure there is room for improvement. Mike Morse will clearly get a chance too, but his Seattle history does not bode well for Morse health-wise, in fact neither did all his Washington time. Among the immediate suspects, I like Casper Wells, then Eric Thames. I don't see much outfield time for Raul Ibanez, though I do see some DH-ing and maybe ten homers. I do see Thames as expendable among the cluster, but I would keep an eye on the trade deadline, and also follow the line of Leon Landry, a flychaser Seattle got for Brandon League. I think he is the next big thing in the Seattle outfield. For now, I would look at Morse, Saunders, and Wells getting the bulk of at-bats with Gutierrez having his struggles, and Thames riding the Tacoma taxi.
Red Sox: OK, welcome back Jacoby Ellsbury and have fun Shane Victorino. That leaves Jonny Gomes in left, but truth is I don't see him as a full-timer and neither do I see Daniel Nava playing full-time. But, if he can get healthy, I do see Ryan Sweeney playing the lefty side of a nice platoon with Gomes. And, I see both pulling 350-plus at-bats, health willing on the Sweeney side.
D-Backs: I think Cody Ross and Jason Kubel have to get 400-at-bats each, and every chance will be afforded to Adam Eaton. However, Eaton will have to prove he is worth it. But I would certainly not dismiss Gerardo Parra, who despite always seeming to have a part-time role, has only received less that 400 at-bats once over the past four years (391 in 2010). Parra has a career .280-23-172 line with 81 doubles and 36 swipes, and I would log him as outfielder #4 and tie him to Eaton if you can. Martin Prado also gets some time in the outfield. But, I think Parra is the sleeper guy to watch here.
Yankees: Wow. OK, Ichiro Suzuki has such great bat control it is hard to rule him out of anything, and Brett Gardner should play full-time. And, when Curtis Granderson is back, he will be among the chosen troika. The questions are durability for Ichiro and also Gardner, and return to form for Granderson, who whiffed almost 200 times last year. That means Juan Rivera, who will also play some first while Mark Teixeira is out, will get some time. I also like Brennan Boesch a lot based upon his power and well, that good old Yankee right field porch. Sorry Ben Francisco, but Boesch and Rivera will do most of the heavy work until Tex and Granderson are back.
Padres: I kind of liken the Mariners in the AL West to the Padres in the NL West, as both are doing some nice rebuilding. I want Carlos Quentin, who is an extra base hit machine when healthy, to get his 450 at-bats, and it looks like Cameron Maybin is also in the outfield in-crowd. Jesus Guzman can hit right handers but he cannot hit lefties and his fielding is worse than his ability to hit southpaws. That leaves a bunch of iffy guys in Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, and Kyle Blanks. I think Denorfia is the best hitter, and Blanks is the most fragile, but that Venable will get most of the at-bats. Denorfia makes a decent fifth outfielder in an NL-only format, and Blanks is an afterthought, despite his talent and power. I would keep James Darnell in my sights, too, although he will likely start the year at Tuscon.