Welcome to the outfield, sometimes known as the Alice’s Restaurant of the Fantasy Baseball world. If you don’t get the reference, ask a nearby worldly elder. Be prepared, though, because if you ask them what it means, they just might sing you a verse – or six. Serves you right for not keeping up with pop culture. All right, grab your shovels and rakes and implements of destruction and pile into the red microbus, it’s time to get this show on the road.
Scattered among the kaleidoscopic smorgasbord of Fantasy talent that are several rookie outfielders that could make an impact on the game in 2015.
As is befitting a buffet, their skill sets are widely varied: from pure boppers to pure burners and all points in between, some of baseball’s most exciting youngsters call the outfield home.
Some of these players have received a great deal of media exposure, but others are still flying below the radar.
The ability to spot good up-and-coming rookie outfielders before they actually arrive, and to parlay that knowledge into a Draft Day bargain, is one of the marks of an astute Fantasy player — and that would be you, wouldn’t it? Thought so.
Top 2015 Fantasy Baseball Rookie Outfielders
Let’s take a look a few rookie outfielders that could provide a big boost to your Fantasy Baseball cause in 2015.
Jorge Soler, Chicago Cubs
The 23-year-old Soler displayed plus power and a keen batting eye during his rise through the Cubs’ minor league system, logging a career slash line of .305/.384/.548/.931 with 28 homers, 118 RBIs, 43 doubles and 17 steals in 163 career games. He batted .340-15-57 in 62 games across three levels last season before being called up to the majors in late August, and then proceeded to launch a long home run to center field in his first major league at-bat. He finished the season with a solid .292/.330/.573/.903 slash line, with 5 homers and 20 RBIs in 24 games at the major-league level.
If that wasn’t enough to get you cranked up about Soler’s potential for this season, consider that the 6-foot-4 slugger added 20-plus pounds of muscle this offseason, and reportedly showed up to camp at a chiseled 242 pounds. Unlike some other young power hitters, (looking in your direction, Javier Baez) Soler maintains a serviceable contact rate, and he fanned just 20.5 percent of the time at Triple-A last season. Not surprisingly, that number swelled to 24.7 percent during his cup of coffee in the majors, but he figures to put the ball often enough to where his batting average won’t be a major Fantasy liability. There are still some lingering injury concerns with Soler, primarily with his hamstrings, but his raw power and decent batting eye should make him a Fantasy staple for years to come.
Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers
For a while there, it seemed like half the people in California were either actors, waiters/waitresses or Dodgers outfielders. The trade of Matt Kemp has cleared the logjam a bit, though, and 22-year-old uber-prospect Joc Pederson is hoping to step into the void. Pederson lit up Triple-A to the tune of .303-33-78 with 30 steals last season, though he piled up those impressive numbers in the hitters’ paradise known as the Pacific Coast League. Still, this is the same guy that smacked 22 homers and stole 31 bases at Double-A in 2013, and who owns a .302/.405/.524 career slash line over five minor-league campaigns, so those numbers are probably not a mirage.
Fantasy owners would love to see Pederson in center field from Opening Day onward, and it’s looking more and more like that will happen – despite the presence of high-priced veteran Andre Ethier. Pederson has boosted his case for a roster spot by batting .400 with four homers and nine RBIs through his first 19 spring games, but it’s noteworthy that he has fanned a dozen times in 45 at-bats. Strikeouts have been Pederson’s bane throughout his career: he whiffed 149 times in 553 plate appearances at Triple-A last season, and struck out 11 times in 38 plate appearances (28.9 percent) during his 19 games in the majors in 2014. Pederson’s combination of power and speed makes him an intriguing addition to your Fantasy roster, but beware of his aforementioned high strikeout rate, as it could serve to keep a lid on his batting average potential.
Steven Souza, Tampa Bay Rays
Souza, the Rays’ top prize in the three-team deal that sent Wil Myers to San Diego, has endured plenty of adversity in his career, but he looks to have turned things around for good after slashing .350/.432/.590 with 18 homers, 75 RBIs and 26 steals at Triple-A last season – a performance which earned him the International League MVP honors. He struggled with the bat during his brief time in the majors, but he turned in a web gem to end all web gems on the last day of the season to preserve a no-hitter for Jordan Zimmermann. Souza figures to start in the outfield and bat in the middle of the Rays’ order, so the potential for some big Fantasy numbers is certainly there.
Souza stands 6-foot-4 and weighs in at around 225 pounds, so his power potential should be readily apparent. He’s much more than just a home run threat, though, as evidenced by his 158 stolen bases in 722 minor league games – which works out to 33 swipes per 150 games. On the downside, his batting average at Triple-A was buoyed by an absurd .398 BABIP, so don’t look for a batting average north of .300 in his rookie season. What to expect? I’m looking for an average in the neighborhood of .255 to .260, with 15-18 homers and 18-20 steals for Souza in 2015 – and I think that he carries some batting average upside as he learns the major league game. Bump his value up a bit in OBP leagues, as he has shown an outstanding batting eye during his career.
Dalton Pompey, Toronto Blue Jays
Pompey made a meteoric rise through three levels of the Blue Jays’ farm system last season, compiling a final season’s line of .317-9-51 with nine triples, a .392 OBP and 43 stolen bases. He batted .358 with six steals in 12 games at Triple-A, earning a call-up to the majors in early September. The Jays sent the then-21-year-old speedster to the Arizona Fall League last winter, where he slashed .257/.358/.371 with nine steals in 19 games. He arrived at Spring Training with a chance to win the everyday job in center field, but an injury to Michael Saunders has all but assured Pompey of a place in the Opening Day starting lineup.
Not that Pompey hasn’t built a strong case for a roster spot on his own: he was slashing .318/.362/.477 with three stolen bases through his first 15 Spring Training Games, thus serving notice that he indeed belongs in the major leagues. Pompey has shown a decent batting eye during his minor league career, and the Blue Jays (and Fantasy owners) would love to see him continue that trend in the big leagues, as both parties are anxious to see the fleet-footed youngster work his magic on the basepaths. Pompey’s potential for 30-plus steals is undeniable, but if he can add some pop to his game, he could become a true Fantasy beast: think in terms of Starling Marte with better OBP skills and you get the idea. Can he do it? Well, when he flashes this kind of power – against Felix Hernandez, no less – it’s easy to start dreaming of what might someday be.
Rusney Castillo, Boston Red Sox
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Mookie Betts has grabbed the Spring Training headlines with his stellar play, but don’t forget that Castillo put on a show of his own last September, batting .333-2-6 with three stolen bases in a 10-game cup of coffee in the majors. The 27-year-old owns a .315/.380/.501 career slash line in five seasons in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, and he hit 40 homers and stole 66 bases over his final three campaigns. Castillo has been nagged by injuries during his career, and has likely lost his shot at a starting job in Boston – for the time being, anyway.
Still, the Bosox are loaded with their share of fragile, aging veterans, so Castillo should still see some meaningful playing time even as a fourth outfielder. His combination of speed and a fair amount of pop makes him a potential across-the-board Fantasy contributor, and he should be especially useful in daily lineup leagues. Keep a close eye on the outfield hierarchy in Boston, and bump Castillo up your board if he wins a starting gig.
That’s our look at a few rookie outfielders you should have on your Fantasy Baseball radar screen for the 2015 season and beyond. Good luck with your league drafts!
Joc Pederson Photo credit: Dustin Nosler
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