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Fantasy baseball draft season is a wild time.
I could probably find positive and negative spins on every player in baseball scattered throughout the industry, which is enough to send anyone’s mind spinning. And I have to admit that I have covered so many value picks, sleepers, busts, and rookies by now that I can hardly keep track of them all.
But with Opening Day fast approaching, it’s time to simplify things, take a deep breath, and tell you who I really want on my teams this year. These are the players who I NEED to have. I don’t care about ADP for any of them. They are going to do better than most people expect, and I’m going to be there to reap the benefits. I may not draft them in all my leagues, but it won’t be for lack of trying.
Let’s do this.
Ronald Acuna (OF, ATL)
Not much explanation needed here. I have Acuna projected to be much more valuable than any other hitter. I’m expecting 40 homers and 30 steals and would not be surprised if the Braves superstar became the fifth player in history to log a 40-40 season. If I get the No. 1 overall pick, I’ll need all of five seconds to draft Acuna.
Jacob deGrom (SP, NYM)
Similar to Acuna, deGrom will substantially outperform his positional peers. He’s the best pitcher in baseball and is showing during Spring Training that he can hold the velocity jump he made last year. I like deGrom so much that I have already drafted him No. 2 overall when given the chance.
Trevor Story (SS, COL), Francisco Lindor (SS, NYM)
If I get a late first-round pick, Story and Lindor are my targets. I’m expecting both shortstops to compile roughly 35 homers and 25 swipes, and nearly 200 combined R+RBI. Starting a draft with balanced players such as these two studs gives me more roster flexibility to choose the best options in subsequent rounds rather than chasing areas of need.
Liam Hendriks (RP, CWS)
In an era where relievers are sharing save chances more than ever before, Hendriks is about to become a unicorn. The right-hander inked a massive contract in the offseason, and there is no doubt as to how old-school manager Tony La Russa plans to deploy his best bullpen arm. Hendriks will compile more than 40 saves, far outpacing the competition at his position, and will be more valuable than nearly every starter.
Christian Vazquez (C, BOS)
Just two catchers (J.T. Realmuto, Yasmani Grandal) have amassed more plate appearances and a higher OPS than Vazquez since the outset of 2019. The Red Sox will deploy their primary backstop regularly once again, which will give Vazquez the volume he needs to easily rank among the top-five fantasy options at his position.
Michael Brantley (OF, HOU)
Brantley is mostly here as a placeholder to state the point that boring mid-round veterans are my jam. I’ll roster the career .297 hitter in several leagues, as I love his outstanding plate skills and will take his reliable production over the boom-or-bust nature of a 22-year-old every time. To illustrate my point, in the Yahoo Friends & Family Draft last week, I grabbed Brantley, Andrew McCutchen, Didi Gregorius, and Trey Mancini in four consecutive rounds. All of those players are slightly past their prime (ages 29-34) and have little chance of breaking out, but they also have secure roles, good lineup spots, and long track records of success.
Jarred Kelenic (OF, SEA)
Kelenic is the one piece of kryptonite to my boring-veterans plan this season. With 29 homers and 35 steals in 173 career Minor League games, the youngster has the exact skill set that fantasy managers should chase after. I’m willing to spend a significant pick for the right to stash Kelenic on my bench for about three weeks until he makes his Mariners debut and instantly becomes a five-category asset.
Cristian Javier (SP, HOU)
I have banged the drum for Javier on this site a couple times during spring training and will do so one more time. This comment will attract eye rolls from those who are obsessed with statistics and scouting reports, but I believe Javier is someone who just knows how to pitch. Sure, he walked too many batters in the minors, but he also struck plenty out (career 12.2 K/9 rate) and didn’t allow many to come around to score (career 2.22 ERA). And when Javier reached the big leagues, he wisely cut down on the free passes (3.0 BB/9 rate) while continuing to post low ratios (3.48 ERA, 0.99 WHIP). Let’s assume that Javier knows what he’s doing until he shows some signs that he doesn’t.
Zack Greinke (SP, HOU)
I’m guessing that Javier knows how to pitch, but there is no guesswork involved with Greinke. The 37-year-old has had an amazing career, and he showed no signs of slowing down in 2020 when he posted his lowest FIP in five years, his best K/9 rate in three years, and the lowest walk rate of his career. I’ll let everyone else chase the exciting arms and then tab Greinke as my No. 2 starter.
Freddy Peralta (RP, MIL)
I’m not exactly sure what Peralta is, and that’s driving my excitement. He will likely work as a multi-inning reliever but could also handle high-leverage innings near the end of games or draw some starting assignments. Peralta, who has always had amazing swing-and-miss skills, is slowly improving his walk rate and recorded a 2.44 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP last season. He’s perfect for Yahoo leagues with innings caps.
Yimi Garcia (RP, MIA)
This pick is more about feel than anything else. As a Toronto resident, I lived through the Anthony Bass closer experience last season. Let’s just say that I’m glad the Blue Jays moved on to Kirby Yates, but unfortunately, it was announced Yates will need Tommy John surgery). Bass is a solid reliever, but he lacks the strikeout rate of an effective closer. Garcia (career 0.98 WHIP) should be valuable as a setup man before eventually moving into the ninth inning.