Baseball season is almost upon us which means that fantasy baseball season is already in full swing. It has definitely crept up on us more than usual (thanks lockout) and it doesn’t feel like the regular season is starting in a week, but it is. If your fantasy baseball league is anything like mine, that means you too are probably scrambling to get a draft done before opening day. If you do find yourself in that position then you are in luck because I am going to share with you some of my tips to succeed in your fantasy baseball drafts this season. My number one piece of advice would be to draft Shohei Ohtani with the 90th pick like I did last year on way to winning the league. But since that probably won’t be applicable this year here are five more tips that might actually help you do well.
Avoid Injury Question Marks
This one is always relevant but especially so this season. Each year there are tons of players that have questions surrounding their health for the upcoming season. And usually, there isn’t a 99-day lockout right before Spring Training to complicate matters even more. Teams could not communicate with players during that lockout, meaning any player rehabbing and recovering from an injury was not able to access team resources. That makes players much more susceptible to missing extra time due to an existent injury. A shortened Spring Training could also lead to more injuries for players when the actual season starts. That rings true, especially for pitchers, which is why I plan on targeting position players early in my draft since they are less likely to miss significant time.
I know the possibility of getting a player like Ronald Acuña or Fernando Tatis in the later rounds is salivating but it is very dangerous if it goes wrong. I have been on the bad end of taking an injured player before and having to stare at them on your bench or IL every week can get depressing. And then you start to weigh whether or not it is worth it to drop them as you watch the players taken around them in the draft go off for the other members of your league. Draft with your brain and not with your heart and pick the players that will actually be on the field this season.
Lean Toward Proven Veterans Over Upside Potential
I’m not gonna lie, this one is a little hard for me. Every year in the draft I see these star prospects or potential breakout players that I want to pick way too early. It burned me with Vladimir Guerrero in his rookie season (although I did draft him last year so that made up for it) and it has burned me with Victor Robles because I somehow manage to draft him every year. I think we tend to forget that we are just drafting for this one season (unless you do dynasty which is a completely different case). It doesn’t matter if Wander Franco goes off at the end of the season if he sits on your bench for a few months while in Triple-A.
A good example of this strategy (and one where I actually listened to my own advice) involves some players from the Mariners in my draft last year. I am a Mariners fan and a lot of my other league-mates are Mariners fans too so those players tend to go a bit earlier. The young outfielders from the team (Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, and even Taylor Trammell) went in rounds 17 through 19. I avoided the hype and instead drafted Mitch Haniger and Ty France in rounds 24 and 28, respectively. If you paid attention to the Mariners or baseball at all last year then you know how well that worked out for me. Haniger raked and France was quietly a very good hitter while Lewis battled injuries, Kelenic took a while to get called up and struggled, and Trammell spent most of the season in Triple-A.
That was a very extreme example but the message holds true. Even if the younger guy goes on to have a much better career, you are only drafting for a singular season right now. So draft the guy that has played a bunch of games before. Draft the guy that you can trust will bounce back from a slump. Draft the guy that doesn’t have to win his starting spot before the season starts. Take Joey Votto over Seiya Suzuki. Take Josh Donaldson over Bobby Witt Jr. And take Charlie Blackmon (who for some reason I always associate with this idea) over Keibert Ruiz.
Go High Reward With Later Picks
But don’t always go with the safe option in your drafts. There is a time to gamble on some players and that is near the end of the draft. Once you have your star players and your starters, then you can start to roll the dice on some players that could blow up. I drafted Pete Alonso with my last pick before his rookie year in 2019 and he proceeded to hit 53 home runs and win Rookie of the Year. I also drafted AJ Puk with my final selection last year. These types of picks don’t always pan out but the risk is virtually zero. If the guy you took a chance on doesn’t do much in the first couple of weeks or looks like he is going to stay in the minors longer than expected, you can just drop him and pick up somebody who is off to a hot start.
This tip also applies to some of the earlier late picks as well, not just your last selection. If you are trying to decide between two pitchers in the middle rounds, opt for the guy the has the chance to end up higher in the rotation and get more starts. There is no need to draft the fourth-best pitcher on a great team if you can snag the second-best pitcher on a decent team. The more innings a guy pitches the more chances he has to get you points. The same idea works for batters as well. One of the main reasons I went with Haniger and France in the late rounds of my draft last year is because I figured they would be hitting near the top of a bad Mariners lineup. Even if the team wasn’t doing too well, those extra at-bats from being in the two or three spot could really add up. Even on the worst teams, someone has to drive in the runs. So guy with the guys that have a clearer path to playing time because that makes them more likely to become a breakout star and reward you for your investment.
Wait On Relievers
Every year I get sucked into drafting a reliever pretty early. Last year it was Liam Hendriks, who is one of the best closers in the game and ended up having a really good season. In 2019 it was Edwin Diaz, who was coming off a fantastic year with the Mariners and was a new member of the Mets and he stunk that year. Closers are the position you can count on the most to have plenty of options on the waiver wire throughout the season. Mark Melancon went undrafted in my league last year (and probably plenty of others) and he ended up with just as many saves as Hendriks (luckily for me I had both of them on my team).
Saves are also such a fluky stat and can be hard to truly predict outside of a few known commodities. There can be a great closer but if he is stuck on a team without save opportunities he won’t have nearly as much fantasy value for you. We are also most likely going to see much more closer-by-committee approaches from teams this season due to the shortened Spring Training. Letting Hendriks, Josh Hader, and Emmanuel Clase go to other teams this season will be in your best interest. Play the waiting game and pounce on some high upside closers later in the draft and then watch the waiver wire and pick up guys that take advantage of save opportunities that come their way.
Value Positional Versatility
This final one is pretty simple and doesn’t need much explanation. If you have ever played fantasy baseball before you are aware that there are a lot of positions that need to be filled on your starting lineup. There are the actual on-field positions, then some 1B/3B and 2B/SS hybrid positions, and also some utility spots. Every league is different so you may find yourself in another situation but I bet positional versatility will help you out too. Having a player on your roster that has eligibility at multiple positions can be a huge advantage. Being able to slide Alex Bregman to shortstop when I also had Jose Ramirez in 2019 was huge for me because I could play both my top picks without taking up a utility position. Being able to move a player like Whit Merrifield to the outfield on a day when some of your regular outfielders are off or not starting is very helpful. Drafting players such as Jake Cronenworth and DJ LeMahieu (who have eligibility at three different positions) afford you a ton of flexibility as you fill out the rest of your roster. This doesn’t mean you should only take players that you can move around but it does mean that you can use that as a tie-breaker if you are deciding between two players.