Fantasy Baseball: Safety levels of every first-round draft pick

Admittedly, I obsess over the first round of fantasy baseball drafts more than I should. After all, these are the most exciting players in baseball. And the ultimate frustration for a fantasy baseball manager is knowing they correctly chose a handful of mid-round gems only to be undone by the failures of a player who was supposed to be a sure-fire star.

The article is mostly centered on the safest first-round options, but I’m also going to add in some commentary about which players I have been targeting with the premier picks in my own drafts. In total, 14 players have a Yahoo! ADP that rounds off to pick-12 or better.

Let’s separate these folks into their safety categories.

The “safe and satisfying” tier

Ideally, I would like all my roto teams to pick somewhere in the top six this year and come away with one of the following four players.

Juan Soto (OF, WSH)

Soto is just 23 years old, has already amassed over 2,000 plate appearances and owns a remarkable career .981 OPS. Only Mike Trout has produced a higher OPS since the date of Soto’s 2018 Major League debut. The youngster is the safest first-round pick in my eyes, with his mediocre supporting cast and lack of game-changing speed being minor blemishes on an otherwise flawless profile.

Jose Ramirez (3B, CLE)

Ramirez is still on the right side of age 30 and offers a power-speed combination that few players can match (36 HR, 27 SB in 2021). He also has enhanced appeal as one of the few desirable options at a weak third base position. Ramirez does hit too many fly balls to produce an elite batting average but is otherwise remarkable.

Trea Turner (2B/SS LAD)

Because of his outstanding combination of contact skills, power and speed, Turner is my No. 1 overall player for 2022 roto drafts. He will be a monster in four categories and should produce a career-high RBI total thanks to the addition of the NL DH.

Los Angeles Dodgers' Trea Turner is once again a top fantasy baseball draft pick
Trea Turner is Fred Zinkie's No. 1 fantasy baseball draft pick. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Bo Bichette (SS, TOR)

Bichette is the worst pure hitter in the foursome but just as likely as the others to produce impactful roto stats. Just 23 years old and coming off a year in which he hit .298 with 29 homers and 25 steals, Bichette is a five-category star who will continue to benefit from his hitter-friendly home park and stacked lineup.

The “safe but no thank you” tier

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B, TOR)

Vlad Jr. rivals Soto and Trout as baseball’s best hitter, but the Blue Jays youngster won’t be part of my 2022 roto teams. Guerrero lacks the base-stealing ability that fantasy managers need from their early round picks in deeper formats, even though he should be a four-category gem. That said, I won’t argue with anyone who makes a plan to build around the 21-year-old.

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Freddie Freeman (1B, FA)

The argument against Freeman is the same as that against Guerrero: Roto managers need speed in the early rounds. Additionally, first base is very deep this year. Still, you won’t find me laughing at those who want to tab Freeman near the Rd. 1-2 turn.

Editor's Note: Freddie Freeman signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The “not safe but maybe take the plunge anyway” tier

Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS/OF, SD)

A healthy Tatis Jr. is the most likely position player to finish No. 1 overall on the 2022 Yahoo Player Rater. But his recurring left shoulder woes are well-documented, and there is little reason to believe that the problem is behind him. Tatis Jr. served two IL stints for his shoulder last year and could sink the seasons of those who draft him at his current 1.1 ADP.

Editor's Note: Fernando Tatis Jr. has fractured his wrist and will reportedly be out up to three months during his recovery.

Gerrit Cole (SP, NYY)

Of the three starters who went in the first round of 2021 drafts, Cole was the only one to log 100 innings. Cole has recently dodged the injury bug and therefore kept his first-round status, but he could leave managers wanting more because of the inherent risk of the pitching position. I’m fine with taking a pitcher in Rd. 1, but I also need to acknowledge the downside.

Mookie Betts (OF, LAD)

Betts is coming off a down year in which he posted disappointing numbers in all five standard fantasy categories. The 29-year-old has had a great career thus far and should bounce back in 2022, but anyone who hitches their wagon to Betts must be aware that they could get a repeat of last year.

Bryce Harper (OF, PHI)

Given the fanfare that accompanied Harper's 2012 debut, it’s surprising that his outstanding career has been somewhat underappreciated. The 29-year-old owns a lofty lifetime .916 OPS and is coming off an MVP season. That being said, Harper’s career thus far includes more injuries than first-round-caliber seasons.

[Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP]

Corbin Burnes (SP, MIL)

Everything that I wrote about Cole applies to Corbin Burnes with the additional caveat that Burnes has a much more limited sample of elite performance. I don’t see any signs that Burnes is due for significant regression, and I’m comfortable taking him late in the first round despite the obvious risks.

The “too risky for consideration” tier

Ronald Acuna Jr. (OF, ATL)

I would rank a healthy Acuna Jr. No. 1 overall. Unfortunately, the joy of ranking a healthy Acuna will have to wait until 2023, as the Braves superstar is on the mend from a torn right ACL. Acuna is likely to start the season on the IL and may not immediately regain his base-stealing prowess.

Shohei Ohtani (UT, LAA)

Ohtani is the most unique player of our lifetime and definitely deserves a first-round valuation on his hitting prowess alone. But the multi-skilled superstar is at enhanced risk for injury because of his heavy workload as a position player and pitcher. I would hate to draft Ohtani for his hitting prowess only to have a pitching-related injury keep him out of the lineup.

Mike Trout (OF, LAA)

The best player of his generation, Mike Trout presents no risk from a skills perspective. But the 30-year-old is now a major injury risk who last logged more than 140 games way back in 2016. No longer a notable base stealer, Trout lacks the ceiling to make him worth the trouble in Rd. 1 of roto leagues.