It’s March and Opening Day is quickly approaching. Fantasy baseball managers all over the world are getting ready for those ever-crucial drafts in order to stock their fantasy rosters with the talent that they hope will end up with a championship.
They say that practice makes perfect — and you can certainly practice your drafting skills in our Mock Draft Lobby — but that saying begs the question: What would a “perfect” draft even look like?
Our very own Tristan H. Cockcroft and Eric Karabell weighed in on each of their ideal picks from each of the 10 draft positions in a standard league in both of our primary fantasy baseball formats (points-based scoring and rotisserie). Additionally, Tristan and Eric have offered up the perfect complements to these first-round selections to be grabbed in Round 2.
Draft slot No. 1
Tristan H. Cockcroft (points-based leagues): Round 1 – Shohei Ohtani, Round 2 – Alex Bregman
Ohtani provides a massive advantage over the field in ESPN standard points leagues. If you used him as a pitcher in each of his starts, and as a hitter on every day he didn’t pitch, you’d have squeezed 222 more fantasy points out of him than you could have any other player in 2021, and 297 more than anyone else in 2022. It makes his partner pick in Round 2 somewhat irrelevant considering how strong your start to the draft, although my preferred method is to take one hitter (Bregman? Pete Alonso? Marcus Semien? Rafael Devers?) and one pitcher (Kevin Gausman would be next outside of this column’s included names) with picks 20-21.
Eric Karabell (roto/category-based leagues): Round 1 – Trea Turner, Round 2 – Fernando Tatis Jr.
Turner, now leading off for the Phillies, remains the safest, five-category option for roto leagues, offering upside in stolen bases, runs and batting average, and modest power. Tatis, if we could ensure a full season of games (we cannot), would be right with Turner. Investing in him late in Round 2 seems well worth the risk.
Draft slot No. 2
Cockcroft: Round 1 – Juan Soto, Round 2 – Shane Bieber
Soto was the 14th-best hitter last season despite playing for a terrible team for four months and he might be the best bet for 500-plus points among hitters in his (relatively) new surroundings. There’s a pretty good chance you can get a Gausman or Shane McClanahan in Round 3 if you pass on pitching in Round 2, so there’s no shame in going for Bregman, Alonso, Semien or Devers if you feel more strongly about one of them than any of the available starting pitchers.
Karabell: Round 1 – Jose Ramirez, Round 2 – Pete Alonso
Ramirez does not steal as many bases as Turner does, but he boasts four consecutive full seasons with 20 or more of each. It is hard to find that level of consistency. Alonso, meanwhile, has hit at least 37 home runs in each of his three full seasons and he is hardly a batting average drain.
Draft slot No. 3
Cockcroft: Round 1 – Gerrit Cole, Round 2 – Yordan Alvarez
Pitching is the name of the game in points leagues and you can’t get a much more consistently productive starter than Cole. It’s not an outrageous thought to go pitcher-pitcher from this slot, especially if your league goes hitter-heavy, but Alvarez’s combination of power and plate discipline is too appealing to let slip past this spot, even with his spring injury questions.
Karabell: Round 1 – Aaron Judge, Round 2 – Gerrit Cole
Yankees teammates reunited early in roto drafts! Judge hit the most home runs, while Cole piles on the innings and strikeouts. It’s a dynamic duo!
Draft slot No. 4
Cockcroft: Round 1 – Jose Ramirez, Round 2 – Jacob deGrom
Ramirez is a legitimate points-league (and roto) star, but he’s simply not the three names ranked ahead of him. DeGrom is a per-game dynamo, but if you prefer someone safer, Bieber could fit in nicely here.
Karabell: Round 1 – Julio Rodriguez, Round 2 – Corbin Burnes
Rodriguez burst on the scene with five-category goodness in his age-21 season, and perhaps he reaches 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases this season. Burnes gets the nod as top pitcher in these rankings after two fantastic seasons of strikeouts and excellent run prevention.
Draft slot No. 5
Cockcroft: Round 1 – Corbin Burnes, Round 2 – Trea Turner
I couldn’t feel more strongly about my top five players in points leagues, and — other than the massive gap between Ohtani and Soto — it’s after this spot where the talent drop-off is most dramatic. Burnes challenges Cole for the honor of being the best non-Ohtani pitcher-eligible selection. They’re the best bets for 20 points per game and 200-plus innings pitched. In Round 2, I wouldn’t let Turner sneak past this spot (No. 16 overall), as while his skill set is best suited to rotisserie dominance, he’s a much better player in points leagues than he’s normally given credit.
Karabell: Round 1 – Ronald Acuna Jr., Round 2 – Rafael Devers
I feel strongly that any of the top five picks in roto rankings is deserving of the top spot, including Acuna, who is only a few seasons removed from a near 40/40 campaign. He could get there again. Devers is a lot like Jose Ramirez at third base, sans the steals — and every one of his seasons is a good one.
Draft slot No. 6
Cockcroft: Round 1 – Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Round 2 – Justin Verlander
Guerrero and Verlander represent a very good start to your draft. One thing to keep in mind here is that it’s probably wisest to get yourself one hitter and one pitcher in Rounds 1-2, if none of the top five ranked players lasts to this draft slot.
Karabell: Round 1 – Shohei Ohtani, Round 2 – Bobby Witt Jr.
Know. Your. League’s. Rules. If you utilize Ohtani as both a hitter and pitcher in your league at the same time, he is the clear No. 1 pick, regardless of format. In ESPN leagues, even with having to choose which to use him as on any given day, he is still in Round 1. Witt just needs a better batting average to entrench himself into Round 1. You can get him much later in points formats.
Draft slot No. 7
Cockcroft: Round 1 – Freddie Freeman, Round 2 – Sandy Alcantara
Freeman might never be the top candidate to lead the league in fantasy points, but he’s probably the most consistent point scorer in the league on the hitting side. There’s a compelling case to be made for him as the No. 6 overall player. Alcantara, meanwhile, gives you impressive volume, which is highly valuable in points leagues.
Karabell: Round 1 – Kyle Tucker, Round 2 – Manny Machado
Offense, offense and yes, even more offense. Tucker and Machado are key cogs in top offenses and fantasy managers rarely need to worry about them.
Draft slot No. 8
Cockcroft: Round 1 – Aaron Judge, Round 2 – Manny Machado
Can Judge repeat his record-setting 2022? I think he’ll get close. Machado, meanwhile, is another consistency king, well worth a selection among the top-15 overall picks.
Karabell: Round 1 – Yordan Alvarez, Round 2 – Bo Bichette
Alvarez is dealing with a hand injury this spring, but he had it last season and it sure did not seem to hold him back. In other words, draft him with confidence. Bichette might not be a 30-SB fellow, but he is durable and well-rounded. Yeah, he’s a shortstop, but don’t spend much time worrying about positional strength (or lack thereof) early in drafts. Just get the hitters.
Draft slot No. 9
Cockcroft: Round 1 – Max Scherzer, Round 2 – Kyle Tucker
I might be more of a Scherzer fan than most but, when he’s healthy, he’s as good a player in fantasy as any starting pitcher. It would be wise, however, to pair him with a more durable hitter, like Mookie Betts, Tucker or Machado, or if you’re going with a pitcher-pitcher strategy, a 200-IP arm like Alcantara.
Karabell: Round 1 – Mookie Betts, Round 2 – Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
There is some reason to quibble about these fellows, in theory, as Betts no longer provides a high batting average and Guerrero was not as productive in 2022 as the year prior, but that is no reason to fade either of them as late-first round choices.
Draft slot No. 10
Cockcroft: Round 1 – Mookie Betts, Round 2 – Aaron Nola
Nola is one of the most specifically impactful pitchers in points leagues relative to roto, and many projection systems support his candidacy as a top-10 overall pick in the format. Here he’s going 11th overall, but why quibble? Between him and Betts, a team that draws the misfortune of the 10-slot actually starts off their draft remarkably well.
Karabell: Round 1 – Freddie Freeman, Round 2 – Juan Soto
Seeing these fantastic batsmen slip to the end of Round 1 is why no fantasy manager should sigh when they find out they have the last pick of the opening stanza. Can’t decide between Freeman and Soto? Not a problem! Take them both and enjoy!