2012 Fantasy draft tiers: Outfield
Power, speed, average -- there's something for every owner here
Power, speed or batting average -- what's your pleasure? How about a jack of all trades? Whatever a fantasy owner needs, it can be found in the outfield. But be careful, as a steep dropoff after the first few tiers of fly-catchers can leave owners who ignore the position early scrambling to keep up.
Balance is the key to building a quality outfield. Grab a couple top sluggers who can produce across the board early in your draft. Later, add depth with a pair of reliable veterans before finishing off the position with a bounce-back candidate or a high-upside youngster. Don't be afraid to take a few risks here -- waiver wire options are plentiful every season .
TIER 1: Matt Kemp, Jose Bautista, Ryan Braun
Kemp narrowly missed both a 40-40 season and the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2011. An elite power-speed combo sets the Dodgers center fielder apart, as 30-30 with a .290 average looks like a reasonable floor. Bautista has now led the Majors in homers for two consecutive seasons, and he raised his average more than 40 points in 2011. The Blue Jays slugger is a rock-solid selection within the top five picks. With the possibility of a 50-game suspension no longer looming, Braun is poised for another MVP-caliber year.
TIER 2: Justin Upton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, Carlos Gonzalez
For those who miss out on Kemp, there are several other top multi-category outfielders available between picks five and 15. Upton is already great and, at age 24, the best is likely yet to come. Ellsbury traded some speed for power last season, and his new profile is an even more valuable one. Granderson is coming off his finest year to date but will still rank among the position's elite even with a little regression across the board. A wrist injury derailed CarGo's encore to a breakout '09 season, but he's a good bet to reach 30/30 in a healthy campaign.
TIER 3: Mike Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz
Health concerns make both Rangers sluggers risky picks, as Hamilton has played more than 133 games only once and Cruz has never reached that number. McCutchen and Bruce are each safer picks as young players with upside, while the 23-year-old Stanton is a darkhorse to lead the Majors in long balls.
TIER 4: Desmond Jennings, Hunter Pence, Carl Crawford, Alex Gordon, Matt Holliday, B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino
Crawford is the biggest name in this group, but he's also the riskiest, coming off a disappointing season and January wrist surgery. Holliday will have to prove that he can excel in St. Louis without Albert Pujols by his side, while Pence and Victorino will be counted on to carry a Phillies lineup missing Ryan Howard for at least the season's first month. Gordon finally reached his potential last season, and pitchers will likely tread more carefully this time around.
TIER 5: Shin-Soo Choo, Michael Bourn, Jayson Werth, Drew Stubbs, Lance Berkman, Cameron Maybin, Jason Heyward, Adam Jones, Corey Hart, Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher, Chris Young, Ichiro Suzuki
There's plenty of diversity in this group, which will help owners compensate for skill deficiencies in their initial picks. Power (Hart, Berkman, Swisher) and speed (Bourn, Maybin, Stubbs, Suzuki, Gardner) are both plentiful, but savvy owners may want to gamble on a bounce-back season from Choo or Werth. And don't forget Heyward, who will be just 22 years old on Opening Day and still oozes potential.
TIER 6: Jeff Francoeur, Nick Markakis, Austin Jackson, Martin Prado, Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Peter Bourjos, Michael Cuddyer, Andre Ethier, Alex Rios, Delmon Young
Owners will have to put 2011 disappointments in the rear-view mirror when evaluating this tier. Jackson, Prado, Ethier, Rios, Pagan and Young all struggled to varying degrees last season and will look to rebound in '12. On the flip side, Francoeur and Cabrera are coming off surprising career years that they may not be able to repeat. Cuddyer and Markakis fit the bill of consistent outfielders who often dot championship rosters.
TIER 7: Josh Willingham, Brandon Belt, Brennan Boesch, Torii Hunter, Coco Crisp, Carlos Beltran, Jason Kubel, Colby Rasmus, Carlos Quentin, John Mayberry, Jose Tabata, Lucas Duda, Seth Smith
With nearly 50 outfielders already off the board, this is the final group of starters in most standard mixed leagues. Boesch may be the most intriguing name in the bunch, as he's slated to hit in front of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in an upgraded Tigers lineup. Those chasing power can target Duda, Willingham or Kubel, or hope that Quentin has enough power to launch 25-plus long balls at spacious Petco Park. While his initial trial with the Giants wasn't anything to write home about, Belt has the potential to end the season as a top-20 option at the position if he finds a full-time role.
TIER 8: Yonder Alonso, Carlos Lee, Jason Bay, Michael Brantley, Logan Morrison, Yoenis Cespedes, Mike Trout, Lorenzo Cain, Gerardo Parra, J.D. Martinez, Johnny Damon, Denard Span
It's time to roll the dice! Trout may be baseball's best hitting prospect, but the Angels' crowded outfield makes a 2013 breakout more likely. Getting on the field will be easier for Martinez and Alonso but it's risky to rely on any player in their first full season. Counting on aging performers like Bay, Lee and Damon is a different type of gamble, while there is no bigger boom-or-bust candidate this season than Cespedes.
TIER 9: Dexter Fowler, Vernon Wells, Matt Joyce, Alejandro De Aza, Marlon Byrd, Jon Jay, Jordan Schafer, Alfonso Soriano, Bobby Abreu, Allen Craig, Mike Carp, Grady Sizemore, Ben Revere
Most owners will be rounding out their outfield or searching for a serviceable utility player when these names come off the board. Fowler, Jay and De Aza are exciting choices, as all three had their moments in '11 and are slated for larger roles this season. Carp showed impressive power last year but has limited upside at Safeco Field. Wells, Soriano, Abreu and Sizemore were each early-round picks once upon a time, but age and injuries have taken their toll.
Fred Zinkie is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.