And, because the talent level runs so deep, it's possible for an owner to snag a blue-chipper in the infield and a top-tier starter before going to work on putting together a formidable group.
Tier 1: Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp
The most well-rounded players at the position, Braun and Kemp both hit for average and power while boasting good speed on the basepaths. Kemp may be a tick below Braun, but he's an ideal "flex" candidate for the owner who has the last pick of the first round and first of the second round.
Tier 2: Justin Upton, Carl Crawford, Matt Holliday, Jacoby Ellsbury, Grady Sizemore, Andre Ethier, Ichiro Suzuki
Speed and power are the two keys to building an elite outfield. That makes Upton and potentially Sizemore the most appealing options in this tier, as each could have a 30/30 season in him. Ellsbury is a nice alternative given his ability to swipe at least 70 bases, which allows owners to focus on other areas after acquiring him.
Tier 3: Jason Bay, Adam Lind, Nelson Cruz, Jayson Werth, Manny Ramirez, Curtis Granderson, Adam Dunn
Owners who see the players in Tiers 1 and 2 disappear from the board should probably adjust on the fly and scoop up someone from this group. Bay, Werth, Cruz and Granderson all possess the sought-after power/speed combo. The rest are established power hitters who are worthy No. 1 outfielders.
Tier 4: Josh Hamilton, Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence, B.J. Upton, Nick Markakis, Raul Ibanez, Bobby Abreu, Ben Zobrist,Andrew McCutchen,Shane Victorino
By pairing any one of these players with a guy from Tiers 1-3, owners are guaranteed to have a foundation of an excellent outfield. The caveat is that the majority of these guys figure to be off the board by the sixth or seventh round of most drafts, so pursuing one of them as a No. 2 outfielder leaves owners vulnerable to shortcomings at another position.
Tier 5: Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Beltran, Jay Bruce, Torii Hunter, Adam Jones, Chris Coghlan, Nate McLouth, Carlos Quentin
The potential for No. 2 outfielder-type production is prevalent in this group, but there are some red flags that distinguish them from the Tier 4 players. Beltran and Quentin are both coming off injury-plagued seasons; Soriano tailed off badly in '09; Bruce and Coghlan both have tremendous upside but are by no means sure things; and Jones must show he can build on last year's early success. Given the potential swing in production, it's likely the fortunes of these players will have a say in determining the fates of more than a few squads in '10.
Tier 6: Johnny Damon, Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Bourn, Nyjer Morgan, Brad Hawpe, Michael Cuddyer, Rajai Davis, Julio Borbon, Ryan Ludwick, Vladimir Guerrero
By the time these players in this group are up for consideration, most squads will probably have at least two outfield slots filled, and owners who find themselves looking to make up ground at the position will have to carefully determine what they need most. If it's speed, then Bourn, Morgan and Davis are the players to target. If it's power and run production, then Hawpe, Vlad or Ludwick will fit the bill.
Tier 7: Vernon Wells, Corey Hart, Jason Kubel, Alex Rios, Franklin Gutierrez, Denard Span, Nolan Reimold, Dexter Fowler, Kyle Blanks, Cody Ross
Ideally, owners will be seeking a fourth outfielder from this crew, which opens the door for some risk-taking. It's worth taking a chance on a breakout season from Reimold or Blanks, or a resurgence from Hart, Rios or Wells. The negative effects of those risks not working out will be somewhat muted for owners who already have three established outfielders to fall back on.
Tier 8: Nick Swisher, Jermaine Dye, Magglio Ordonez, Drew Stubbs, Juan Pierre, Mark DeRosa, J.D. Drew, Marlon Byrd, Colby Rasmus, Chris Young
Much like the Tier 7 players, the majority of those making up this group come with certain risks. Dye and Ordonez are seemingly in decline after enduring ghastly stretches last year, but both were productive in 2008. Drew has well-documented health issues, while Stubbs and Rasmus lack the body of work owners want to confidently forecast what '10 has in store. Swisher and DeRosa are probably the safest plays because they have infield eligibility and have proven consistent and durable over the years.
Tier 9: Juan Rivera, Josh Willingham, Jeff Francoeur, Garrett Jones, Coco Crisp, Scott Podsednik, Carlos Gomez, Mike Cameron, Cameron Maybin, Matt Diaz, Mark Teahen, Scott Hairston, Ryan Raburn, Matt LaPorta, Chase Headley, Kosuke Fukudome, Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge
In most standard mixed leagues, at least half of the players on this list will begin the season on the waiver wire. Owners would be wise to do a quick diagnostic of their team toward the end of their draft and make a move for one of these guys.