Steve Gardner, USA TODAY Sports
- Ryan Braun is still the top overall choice for his talent and consistency
- Any one of the top 13 outfielders could conceivably become fantasy's No. 1 overall player
- Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes is one of the most popular breakout picks this spring
The most impressive collection of fantasy talent, by far, can be found in the outfield.
There's always been plenty of depth, but it wouldn't be a stretch to think that any of the top-tier outfielders could finish the season as the No. 1 overall fantasy performer. (The Angels' Mike Trout made that jump last season and he even spent the first month in the minors.)
What's not to like? There's the power/speed combination fantasy owners crave in Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gonzalez.
There's the tremendous raw power Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Bautista, Josh Hamilton and Jay Bruce can provide.
There's the tantalizing upside that makes one wonder just how good Mike Trout, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton or Bryce Harper will ultimately be.
And don't forget the consistency of Matt Holliday.
But looking closer at the baker's dozen at the top of our outfield rankings, we find that only three of them play in the American League. For all the depth the pool of outfielders can be counted on to provide, the elite talent is actually rather scarce in the AL.
And there are even reasons to be concerned about the Junior Circuit's top three. For Trout, it's regression after such a fantastic rookie season. For Bautista, it's the wrist surgery that limited him to 27 home runs in 92 games - after he had hit a total of 97 over the previous two seasons. For Hamilton, it's moving from one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks to one of the best for pitchers.
The National League gained a several additional weapons in the offseason with the acquisitions of Shin-Soo Choo, Denard Span and Ben Revere - along with the free-agent signing of B.J. Upton.
The AL didn't come up completely empty; Melky Cabrera signed with Toronto, Shane Victorino latched on with Boston and Chris Young was traded to Oakland. But still, AL-only owners will likely find it a bit more difficult to fill their rosters with proven talent, especially in leagues that start five outfielders.
Are there still some intriguing picks left? Most definitely.
Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes showed impressive raw physical skills as he arrived from Cuba, but the question was how well - and how quickly - those skills would translate in the majors. After putting up decent first-half numbers Cespedes hit his stride after the All-Star break - posting a .311/.376/.533 slash line with 14 homers and 46 RBI in helping lead the A's to a stunning division title. He's been rocketing up draft boards over the past few weeks.
Several of the middle-tier outfielders can be excellent speed sources. Eight of last season's top 10 in steals are outfielders - including three-time NL stolen-base king Michael Bourn, who was anything but speedy in finally signing with the Indians.
It's not a bad idea to save a final outfield spot for one of the other potential 40-steal threats such as Rajai Davis, Coco Crisp, Desmond Jennings Juan Pierre, Cameron Maybin, Emilio Bonifacio or Drew Stubbs. They may not give you a whole lot in some of the other categories, but speed never slumps
USA TODAY Sports preseason fantasy OF rankings
1. Ryan Braun, Brewers
2. Matt Kemp, Dodgers
3. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
4. Mike Trout, Angels
5. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
6. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
7. Jason Heyward, Braves
8. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
9. Justin Upton, Braves
10. Josh Hamilton, Angels
11. Bryce Harper, Nationals
12. Jay Bruce, Reds
13. Matt Holliday, Cardinals
14. Adam Jones, Orioles
15. Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics
16. Ben Zobrist (2B/SS), Rays
17. B.J. Upton, Braves
18. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
19. Alex Gordon, Royals
20. Michael Bourn, Indians
21. Shin-Soo Choo, Reds
22. Allen Craig (1B), Cardinals
23. Martin Prado (3B), Diamondbacks
24. Melky Cabrera, Blue Jays
25. Carlos Beltran, Cardinals
26. Hunter Pence, Giants
27. Josh Willingham, Twins
28. Alex Rios, White Sox
29. Austin Jackson, Tigers
30. Mark Trumbo (1B), Angels