Giancarlo Stanton NYY
The trade of Stanton, the 2017 NL MVP and Major League home run champ, was the story of the offseason, and for good reason. The potential of Stanton in a lineup with Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez in a home run happy park like Yankee Stadium is unbounded. For these reasons, Stanton has been ranked as a top-5 fantasy outfielder across the board going into the season. He could easily top 60 homers and 120 RBIs playing in Yankee Stadium (a much more hitter friendly park than what he played in in Miami), but don’t be so quick to forget about Stanton’s injury history, which plagued him as recently as 2016 and had many wondering if he was worth the massive $300+ million contract he signed with the Marlins before his massive 2017 season.
His 3 year average of just 117 games played and a .265/.352/.583 slash line should make fantasy players and Yankee fans alike a little more nervous. The upside and expectations for Stanton and the Yankees are well documented, but don’t let that overshadow the fact that he’s still probably the biggest boom or bust option player in fantasy heading into 2018.
A.J. Pollock ARI
Pollock has been a top-end fantasy asset in his career when healthy, but that has been his big issue the past 2 years. In 2015, Pollock slashed .315/.367/.497 while hitting 20 homers, stealing 39 bases and scoring 111 runs while playing in 157 games. He then missed nearly all of 2016 due to a torn ligament in his elbow, and then was limited to 112 games last season due to groin and quad issues. The lower body injuries last year really cost him on the base paths, as he only swiped 20 bags, which limited his value. If he can regain his 2015 form as a part of a really good offense in a great hitters park in Arizona, Pollock could become a top flight fantasy option once again. However, Pollock, a High Injury Risk according to Inside Injuries, could also battle injuries all season yet again. The potential payoff is there, but are you willing to accept the risk?
Yoenis Cespedes NYM
Seemingly every important player on the Mets’ roster could qualify as high risk, high reward going into this season, and Cespedes is no exception. The mercurial outfielder played just 81 games last season due to a recurring hamstring strain, and he’s now dealing with a shoulder sprain in Spring Training, which has him once again listed as a High Injury Risk on Inside Injuries. The one encouraging thing about Cespedes’ 2017 season was that he hit well when he was in the lineup, posting what would have been career highs in batting average and OPS, as well as a 30+ home run pace. If he stays healthy (which might seem like a stretch given his injury history and age) and irons out some consistency issues, he could have a monster season. He has the ability to carry a team when he’s hot, which is always something you want in fantasy. Drafting Cespedes isn’t for the weak of heart, but the upside is there.
Adam Eaton WAS
“Mighty Mouse” was off to a great start in his first season in Washington before tearing his ACL, hitting .296 and scoring a ridiculous 24 runs in 23 games. He is expected to be ready for Opening Day, but he has yet to play in a Spring Training game and is being treated with great caution, which makes sense given that he’s still an Elevated Injury Risk at this point in his comeback, according to Inside Injuries. Given the organizational depth that Washington has in the outfield (barring any trades), they can take it easy with Eaton early in the season, which wouldn’t be great for his fantasy prospects, at least early on. However, once Eaton does get back into the lineup and into a rhythm, he could be one of the more underrated fantasy outfielders in baseball, hitting either lead off or 2nd most likely for a loaded offense. If he gets back to full strength relatively quickly, Eaton should be a shoe-in for double digit steals and 100+ runs scored this season. So long as you have other stable options for early in the year, that’s worth the risk.
Michael Conforto NYM
As I mentioned earlier, the Mets are chalk full of boom or bust players. Conforto was one of the breakout players of 2017, swatting 27 homers in just 109 games. However, because the Mets seemingly can’t have nice things, Conforto tore the posterior capsule in his left shoulder in August, ending his season and putting the first month or so of this season in jeopardy. Conforto remains a High Injury Risk according to Inside Injuries and isn’t expected to return before May. Given the injury situation and Conforto’s limited track record of Major League success (he hit just .220 in 109 games in 2016 before his 2017 breakout), he should give you pause. However, if he can return fully healthy and prove that 2017 was the launching point of his career, all while cutting back on the strikeouts, Conforto could be a really solid 2nd outfielder in fantasy.
Andrew McCutchen SF
Cutch had a nice bounce back in 2017, even if he wasn’t back to his MVP form of a couple years ago. His OPS rebounded by 84 points and he logged the second highest home run total of his career with 28. While missing time to injury has never been an issue with McCutchen, the questions about whether or not he’s lost something in his legs from patrolling center field for so many years do remain. Also, at what point does a 31 year old body breakdown from 9 consecutive seasons of 146+ games in the outfield? His new team, the San Francisco Giants, are betting that it’s not for a little while longer and that 2017 was an inflection point that begins a late career bounce back. It’s probably just as likely (if not more) that McCutchen falls back off to his 2016 level than he puts up MVP type numbers ever again, which makes him a big gamble, both for the Giants and fantasy owners.
Ryan Braun MIL
Braun has broken down some with age, as injuries have limited him to less than 140 games 4 out of the last 5 years. Braun is a High Injury Risk coming into the season according to Inside Injuries and should definitely be approached with caution as he heads into his 12th big league season. However, it’s not as if there isn’t upside there. He’ll hit 3rd in a lineup that should score plenty of runs, especially with new outfield additions Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain in the mix. Braun is also going to get some time at first with the outfield more crowded in Milwaukee, which will keep him in more games while also allowing him to keep the stress off of his legs. It might be tough to see, but there’s a way Braun plays 140+ games and puts up really solid numbers. It’s a gamble, but it’s one worth taking late enough in your draft.
Kevin Kiermaier TB
If it weren’t for injuries over the past two seasons, we might be talking about Kevin Kiermaier as one of the premier young outfielders in all of baseball. He’s played in just about 100 games a season the last two years, but if the numbers he put up after returning late in 2017 are indicative of a 2018 breakout, then he is worth the gamble. He slashed .306/.352/.517 with eight home runs and six steals over his final 36 games, which would put him among the elite if extrapolated out over the full season. While it’s probably not a fully sustainable pace, it’s enough to warrant a gamble on a player that could swing your season should he stay in the lineup.
#Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier makes a snag at the wall against the #Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco during second inning #SpringRays action at the Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte #MLB #baseball pic.twitter.com/r0joABF0Zn
— Dirk Shadd (@DirkShadd) March 2, 2018
Ian Desmond COL
Shortstop turned outfielder turned part time first baseman, Desmond has been a little all over the place since he left Washington in 2016. His 2017 was done in by two things: injuries and a high ground ball rate. When he wasn’t dealing with a fractured hand or sprained calf last season, he struggled because he couldn’t get the ball in the air, which really mitigated the advantages of playing in Coors Field. His OPS dropped 81 points and he hit just 7 homers in 95 games. However, we have seen plenty of players change their approach and get the ball in the air more often over the past few seasons. If Desmond can do so, and stay in the lineup, he has the power to hit 25+ homers, and the speed to go with it for a nice 20/20 season. Given that he will get some time at first, he should play everyday and have dual eligibility. It’s tough to overlook the disaster of a 2017 season, but if you’re willing to roll the dice, Desmond could pay off.
Mitch Haniger SEA
In his second year in the big leagues (technically his rookie season due to low number of ABs in 2016), Haniger showed a lot of promise. He posted an .842 OPS and put up a 30 homer pace. However, his season was shortened due to a variety of injuries, and he played in just 96 games. Haniger is currently a High Injury Risk according to Inside Injuries due to a hand injury, but he is expected to return to the field soon and looks on target for Opening Day. He’s a young player who has produced at the Major League level. It’s a risk given the injuries, but he could be a big breakout candidate for 2018.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky