Fantasy Baseball: One analyst's key draft strategies for creating a winning team

Every fantasy baseball manager has tried-and-true strategies for draft-day success. And the best managers re-evaluate all of their strategies each season to make sure that they are appropriate for the current player pool and fantasy landscape. After all, there is nothing worse than the manager who keeps clinging to the same strategies year after year, even though they are outdated — or were never good in the first place.

I’ve already completed nearly 10 drafts this season, and none of those selection processes were mock drafts. After going through the player pool over and over again and trying a variety of different strategies, I have settled on the approach that I like the best for this season.

Here is my pathway for constructing the best Opening Day squad.

Early speed sources

This has been well-documented on most fantasy sites, but I can join the chorus in saying that stolen bases are unlikely to make a resurgence anytime soon. For this reason, I want to roster at least three players who are effective at the dish and also provide substantial steals totals. I like drafting early in the first round, where I can grab one of Trea Turner, Jose Ramirez or Bo Bichette. And when drawing a later draft slot, I set my sights on Kyle Tucker or Bryce Harper.

Toronto Blue Jays Shortstop Bo Bichette (11) is a top fantasy baseball draft option
Bo Bichette is one of the top base-stealing options of the first round of fantasy baseball drafts. (Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

There are plenty of pitchers who I like in Round 2, but somewhere in the first three rounds, I hope to add another multi-skilled player such as Luis Robert, Ozzie Albies, Whit Merrifield, Starling Marte, Cedric Mullins or Trevor Story.

Spreading out starters

Over the years, I have been more willing than most fantasy analysts to start my draft with at least one starter in the initial two rounds, and I typically walk away with two starters by the end of Rd. 4. And if the value looks good to me, I’ll make the same move this year. But I’m not going to force the issue this year, as there are starters at virtually all points of the draft who appeal to me.

[Batter up: Join or create a Yahoo Fantasy Baseball league for free today]

To be clear, I’m not waiting on pitching this year, but I’m willing to spread out my starter investments rather than loading up on early arms.

Saves anchors

The interrupted offseason and general trend away from full-time closers have combined to put so many bullpens in a state of flux. There are some teams out there, such as the Rays or Reds, who are likely to use multiple closers all season, while other teams, such as the Twins or Padres, likely just need some time before eventually settling on a stopper. The lack of secure closer options has made me insistent on getting one closer who has a firm grip on his ninth-inning gig.

Rejecting rookies

I have nothing against this season’s prospect crop, and I promise that I’m not overreacting to the massive failures of Jarred Kelenic last season. But, I have found over the years that making substantial investments in prospects is rarely worthwhile. Some of the players don’t arrive as soon as expected, and there is a significant roster squeeze when needing to hold them in a bench spot early in the season. And after waiting for a prospect for weeks or months, many times managers are rewarded with disappointing performances. I’m happy to add rookies this season when they reach the Majors, but I’m not drafting any of them.

[Try Yahoo Fantasy Plus for free to get premium baseball draft tools and more]

Hot mess at the hot corner

The 2022 group at third base is the weakest we have seen at that position since most of us started playing fantasy baseball. For this reason, I am hoping to grab an early star at the hot corner, such as Jose Ramirez, Rafael Devers or Manny Machado. And if none of those players fall into my lap, I’m willing to jump down my list a few spots at any point in the draft to grab a third baseman who I expect to be serviceable. Finally, I will be quick to pounce on waiver wire third basemen who show promise early in the season.

DH awareness

The addition of the DH to NL teams is going to have a bigger impact on that league than most managers realize. I have tried to factor the NL DH into my starting pitcher projections, and when on the clock I may solve some pitcher dilemmas by taking the American League hurler. But the biggest change from the NL DH will be the depth of available hitting options. On many of the 15 NL teams, someone who would have otherwise had part-time usage will now be a mixed-league option. I am looking for some late draft picks who fit this description from NL teams, and I will keep a close eye on their lineups in April.

Reality over fantasy

I have to give credit to Jeff Zimmerman and Tanner Bell for this philosophical change. In their excellent book, "The Process", Jeff and Tanner show that players who have mediocre overall plate skills are likely to let us down, even if they have power and/or speed skills that entice fantasy managers during draft season. For this reason, I am avoiding players who have a career or 2021 OPS that is near or below the .700 mark.

[Join the Yahoo Fantasy Tourney Pick'Em $25K Best Bracket Contest]

Ailments away

The 2022 labor dispute has led to a shorter version of Spring Training, which will especially put a strain on players who are coming back from significant injuries. It will also create a situation where fantasy managers struggle to assess these players on smaller-than-usual sample sizes during March. For these reasons, I will need a significant draft discount before grabbing someone who enters 2022 surrounded by injury concerns.

As my Yahoo! colleague Scott Pianowski says, injuries will find you without you looking for them in draft season.