My biggest elevator-conversation tidbit of Fantasy Sports advice is always, “You cannot win your league in Round One of the draft, but you can lose it.” I have already stressed the importance of bust-avoidance in Fantasy Football, but now I wanted to look at the early-round strategy in Fantasy Baseball.
I know, it seems a little early for early round draft strategy discussion. I mean there’s still the biggest game of NFL action to be played and we are weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting.
However, these early round players will (more or less) stay the same from now until your draft in March, barring a catastrophic injury in Spring Training. We know which guys will be picked in the first 30 or so Fantasy Players for redraft formats. It is just a matter of figuring out which way you want to go with your early-round draft strategy.
Obviously, your draft slot will have a huge impact since you won’t be getting Mike Trout at the turn and the first pick overall is a little high for Joey Votto. With that said, the early-round strategy of Fantasy Baseball has more variance than its Football counterpart.
There is a trend in Fantasy Baseball of everyone wanting to be ahead of the curve on the next breakout player. In all of my leagues, redraft and dynasty, there is always a premium put on a potential ceiling rather than a higher floor for production.
Early-Round Draft Strategy
Instead of trying to do a mock draft of the first couple of rounds or even just ranking the guys, I am going to break them into tiers. Not tiers of rankings or production; I want to find the tiers of safety. Which players will provide you the safest return on the high investment it costs to obtain them.
The “D’uh” No –Brainer
Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels
There is really not much to be said here. Some people might get trendy with a different top player overall, but as far as safety in production goes, Trout is the GOAT. While he missed some time last year, we are talking about an Adonis that averaged 158 games per year the four years prior.
Safety and Ceiling
These guys are about as safe as you can get production and health-wise while also providing you a Top-5 overall player ceiling of production.
Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros
Fun fact: no player in the history of Major League Baseball history has ever been the sole leader in hits in his league in four consecutive seasons… until Jose Altuve completed that feat last year. Ya know, to go with his World Series title. After showing that his power uptick was no outlier (back-to-back 24-home run seasons) Altuve brings the most well-rounded skill set to Fantasy Baseball. When you combine that with the fact that he has never really missed time due to injury, and he is probably closer to 1B with Mike Trout.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
There have been four individual 130-RBI seasons since 2013. Nolan Arenado has three of them in the past three years. While the Rockie does not give you any speed component like Altuve, he provides elite power numbers. Arenado has also increased his batting average in each of his professional seasons reaching an apex of .309 last year.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Goldschmidt may be the least-talked about and boring of the elite Fantasy Baseball players but that does not change his status in this tier. He has 30/30 potential with a batting average always around .300 and scores over 100 runs every year. With only one major DL stint in his career, he has played 472 games over the past three seasons.
Max Scherzer, SP, Washington Nationals
Scherzer is probably not the sole pitcher that most would expect in the highest tiers, but he is definitely the safest. There just are not many starting pitchers that can give you 30+ starts for a decade. Not only does he have the health-safety, his production is pretty astonishing. Over the past five seasons, he has at least 240 strikeouts with a sub-3.00 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP in all but one of those years (it was a 3.15 and 1.175 in the outlier).
Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
If Goldschmidt can be described as being “boring” as a Fantasy Baseball product, then Joey Votto has hit a Doldrums-valley of hype. I bought an abandoned Dynasty team before last season and there was a mini-draft between the other two owners and me for the players deserted. Votto had a very high price-tag, but I was still able to snag him in Round 3. What did he go and do for me after? Only be the seventh highest ranked player in Fantasy Baseball.
Top Talent, Injury Concern
All the talent in the world cannot overcome health issues.
Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kershaw is still the best pitcher on the planet and arguably one of the most talented ever to play the game. However, he has missed significant time in each of the past two seasons, making just 48 total starts (compared to the 65 starts made by Scherzer). When you combine the injury risk with the extra work he’s had in the postseason (6 games last year, 11 over the past two) and there is a little too much mileage to consider Kershaw one of the “safest” options available in Round 1.
Bryce Harper, RF, Washington Nationals
Harper might have the most physical baseball talent of any player in the world. With that said, he has not fully translated that talent into consistent production. The National missed 51 games last year and the year before he managed a player rater ranking of just 93rd while playing in 147 games. The upside is worth the risk, but at the same time in a redraft format, Harper does bring the utmost risk for the price tag it will almost assuredly take to get him.
Safe, But I’m Not Sold
Now let me be clear, these guys are all really good and provide solid safety. I am just not sold that they can produce continuously like the elite guys previously mentioned.
Mookie Betts, RF, Boston Red Sox
Charlie Blackmon, CF, Colorado Rockies
Both of these guys have been the top overall hitter in the past two seasons, yet, I’m not completely sold. Blackmon has seen a crazy surge in power, but a massive decrease in speed. Betts saw an extreme dip in his numbers last year, with an alarming .264 batting average. While I would take these guys on my team, they are not worth a Round 1 pick in my opinion and will not be involved in my early-round strategy.
Corey Kluber, SP, Cleveland Indians
Chris Sale, SP, Boston Red Sox
These two studs are definitely safe in that they have averaged over 30 starts a season over the past three years and have been Top-20 Fantasy players in the same time frame. However, I do not think that they can provide the massive upside that Scherzer or Kershaw give you. While these guys would be huge aces on your staff, pitching is deeper (in most league formats) than elite hitting so I just will not pass up some of the better hitters available to reach on a starting pitcher.
There are not enough data points in these players’ young careers to qualify their early-round strategy safety, but they have immense potential.
Aaron Judge, RF, New York Yankees
Cody Bellinger, 1B/LF/RF, Los Angeles Dodgers
The two rookies of the year from last year came on to the scene about as explosively as any rookies in baseball history. They combined for over 90 home runs and more than 200 RBI. However, both players are move near the middle of the road in speed and batting average numbers and there is the threat of a sophomore slump. I think the one guarantee with both of these hitters is that the power will be there and you can do worse with your early-round draft strategy than securing elite power.
Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
These two young shortstops both give you amazing power for their position and Lindor gives you speed while Correa gives you average. What keeps these players lower is the depth at their position. In most redraft leagues there will be as many as five shortstop-eligible players taken in the first 20 or so picks. These two do not separate themselves from the pack enough to warrant the cost for your early-round strategy.
These players have been keeping their lofty status in their name only.
Kris Bryant, 1B/3B/LF, Chicago Cubs
Bryant is really good in a lot of areas, but I would not say he is elite in any single spot. He did not hit 30 home runs last year in a year that 41 different players accomplished that feat. His positional flexibility is a huge plus, but I think his total upside is limited to a really great, but not elite Fantasy Baseball Player.
Manny Machado, SS/3B, Baltimore Orioles
Machado followed up a massive year with a sub-par (for his standards) 2017. He saw an 11% decrease in home runs, a 12% decrease in batting average and a 22% decrease in runs scored. He has only nine stolen bases over the past two seasons combined after stealing 20 in 2015. If his name was not Manny Machado he would be more in the Rounds 3-4 range.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B/2B, Chicago Cubs
Rizzo is what he is: 32 home runs, 95 runs scored, 105 or so RBI with a .275 average. That’s a great player to have on your team. He just does not provide the all-around upside that I want in my early-round strategy.
These two players could end up 1-2 overall at the end of the year… or they could not play 162 games between the two of them.
Trea Turner, 2B/SS/CF, Washington Nationals
Giancarlo Stanton, RF, New York Yankees
Turner was the flavor of the pre-season last year, as I saw some rank him ahead of Mike Trout. He then played less than 100 games. Don’t get me wrong, his production was massive in that time frame (extrapolates over a full year to 125R/18HR/75RBI/77SB/.284AVG). I just need to see him play a full season before using him in my early-round draft strategy.
Stanton moves to New York after one of the best non-juiced power seasons ever. But it was also the first time in his 8-year career that he played more than 150 games, and only the third time he has played more than 123. If you can promise me 150+ from the big fella then I am all-in on him. Until he proves that though, I will let others involve him in their early-draft strategy.
Safe, High Floors
Freddie Freeman, 1B/3B, Atlanta Braves
Freeman tends to miss some time every year, but he consistently gets to the Top-40 range by the end of it. If he plays every game, could he crack the Top 20? Maybe. But I would focus on his floor because it’s a short way to his ceiling from there.
Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins
Dozier is not going until Round Three in most drafts, but I would definitely take him in the second. He never misses time, always gives you a lot of power with solid speed, and has crept his batting average to an above-average level. He is just a solid Fantasy Baseball asset to use in your early-round strategy.
Dipped Last Year
These guys all took huge dips in their production last year for different reasons.
Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
The power was still there (33 bombs in just 113 games) and it was his first major DL stint. However, he is 32 years old now and power and/or health can dissipate at a moment’s notice at that age.
Madison Bumgarner, SP, San Francisco Giants
The dreaded off-the-field injury hit Bumgarner last year and has to prove his health is back to where it had been.
Starling Marte, LF/CF, Pittsburgh Pirates
A PED suspension cut his season in half last year, and I will need a full year off the juice to re-evaluate where he is at.
Spiked in 2017
These guys saw an increase in production but need to prove that they can continue it.
J.D. Martinez, RF, Free Agent
George Springer, CF/RF, Houston Astros
Jose Rarmirez, 2B/3B/LF, Cleveland Indians
At the point in which you would take these guys (end of Round 2 or later), it is just hard to find true safety in your early-round strategy. I would not reach on any of these three chasing last year’s stats, but they are fine picks at the Round 2/3 turn. We will have to see where Martinez ends up.
That’s it for my look at the early-round strategy for Fantasy Baseball redraft leagues this year. As far as safety goes, picking at the turn and snagging a Joey Votto/Max Scherzer would be my favorite early-round strategy.
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