Sometimes it’s tough keeping up with the year to year ebb and flow of fantasy baseball positional scarcity. Outfield, from season to season, can be maddeningly shallow and frustrating on one hand, and fruitfully overflowing on the other. Looking at 2013 average draft position versus final rankings of fantasy outfielders would lead one to believe the latter. The 2013 season brought fulfilled expectations with the likes of Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, and Jacoby Ellsbury. It also brought surprise breakouts by longtime disappointments, and forgotten stars of the recent past in players like Carlos Gomez, Alfonso Soriano, and Brandon Moss. But here, we’re concerned with the next breakout stars. What young, highly touted stars will step up as 2014’s Yasiel Puig or Starling Marte? Let’s find out. Here are four 2014 outfield prospects that will impact their major league teams, and your fantasy team.
OF Prospects With Potential Fantasy Value in 2014
Oscar Taveras – St. Louis Cardinals
Carlos Beltran‘s exit from St. Louis to the Yankees seems to finally be Oscar Taveras’ chance. The problem Taveras had was one not uncommon to highly touted Cardinals prospects in recent seasons – opportunity. Unfortunately the former number one prospect in baseball (still sitting at number three) just witnessed the Cardinals trade away David Freese in exchange for defensive outfielder extraordinaire, Peter Bourjos. It leads to another crowded St. Louis outfield consisting of Matt Holliday, Bourjos, Allen Craig, and Jon Jay. Despite this, the Cardinals are well known for spreading playing time around. And while Bourjos’ defensive metrics are some of the best in the majors, it’s tough to see the Cardinals keeping Taveras’s bat out of the lineup when the organization has stated he is the best offensive prospect since Albert Pujols. Injuries will happen, and opportunity will come this season. Make sure you’re the one to capitalize on Taveras potential early season call up, or potential big league spot out of spring training. He is worth a huge bid and/or saving that waiver priority.
Byron Buxton – Minnesota Twins
Could we be a bit early on this one? Not if you look at the lineup the 2014 Twins are likely trotting out there. Byron Buxton was the Minor League Player of the Year in 2013, and this season’s number one prospect in baseball. Anyone that has ever heard Buxton’s name uttered has heard the Mike Trout comparisons, and they’re sorta fair. It’s always a question of translation to the big league level. And while he’s still sitting at AA to start, he’s been invited to spring training with the big club, he has continually shown improvement at every level of promotion, and he only has the likes of Alex Presley, Josh Willingham, and Oswaldo Arcia blocking him. His combined 2013 line of .334 BA, 12, HR, and 77 RBI is quite nice. Couple that with his 19 doubles, 18 triples, 55 stolen bases, and .424 OBP, and you’ve got scouts, and prospective fantasy owners salivating. Look for the Twins to struggle in the AL Central, and for Buxton’s play to force their hand in giving him big league playing time. While you may not reap the benefits early in the season, you won’t want to miss the boat on the next big star in the majors.
Gregory Polanco – Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates finally broke through in 2013, and carried their first half success all the way to October. They did so primarily with pitching. While operating with just a serviceable regular season offense, anchored by National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, breakout Starling Marte, late season acquisition Marlon Byrd, and the now sustained and legit power of Pedro Alvarez, the Buccos turned it on in the postseason. The Pirates are now looking to take the next step offensively, and with Byrd gone, and Jose Tabata never establishing himself as an everyday player, it’s time for Gregory Polanco. Polanco is the number thirteen prospect in baseball, and number three outfielder. The one thing that might make him more intriguing to start the season than the two sitting in front of him in prospect rankings (Byron Buxton and Oscar Taveras), is the potential to play right out of spring training. His 2012 minor league line of .325 BA, 17 HR, 85 RBI, and 40 SB are stout enough to show what he’s capable of. While his 2013 weren’t quite as eye popping at .285 BA, 12 HR, 71 RBI, and 38 SB, keep in mind he did that while progressing through three minor league levels, making adjustments at each one. He is ready for his call to the big club, and even if he’s not on the Pirates roster to start the season, he should see major league action fairly early on.
Kole Calhoun – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Alright, we’ve talked prospects and potential playing time. But you want action and guaranteed playing time – and you want it now. Kole Calhoun is your man. Calhoun got his 2013 call to the Angels in late July, and if it hadn’t been for the crowded outfield of Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton B.J. Shuck, and the recently departed Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos, we wouldn’t be talking about Calhoun in the realm of trendy prospects. His throw-away 25 plate appearance, 2012 cup of coffee aside, Calhoun’s real first shot at major league action showed his ability to get on base, legit power, and the ability to drive in runs. In only 222 plate appearances, Calhoun batted .282 with 8 long balls, and 32 RBI. Give Calhoun 600 at bats with that rate of production, and you’re looking at 21 HR and 86 RBI. Those potential numbers are just the tip of the iceberg, and fall right in with his minor league peripheral averages. He’s seen major league pitching, and looks to have a spot in a potent starting lineup that appears to be healthier, and more dangerous than a year ago. Calhoun will play, and he’ll continue to get more comfortable with major league pitching, and he’s someone many won’t be looking for on draft day. You should be.
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