The case for Christian Yelich as the No. 1 pick in fantasy baseball drafts

Yahoo Sports
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/teams/milwaukee/" data-ylk="slk:Milwaukee Brewers">Milwaukee Brewers</a> star <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9320/" data-ylk="slk:Christian Yelich">Christian Yelich</a> has a great case to be the top pick in 2020 fantasy drafts. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Milwaukee Brewers star Christian Yelich has a great case to be the top pick in 2020 fantasy drafts. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

By Thomas Harrigan, MLB.com

Special to Yahoo Sports

It's fantasy draft day, and you've drawn pick No. 1. Easy call? Think again.

Christian Yelich, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mike Trout all have a strong case to go first overall, as you'll see below. But there's one player who stands above the others.

The case for Christian Yelich first overall

In 2018, his first season with the Brewers, Yelich hit .326/.402/.598 with 36 homers, 110 RBIs, 118 runs and 22 steals, earning National League MVP honors. Somehow, he managed to top himself last season, recording a .329/.429/.671 slash line while posting the 12th 40 homer/30 stolen base effort in MLB history. (Acuña later notched the 13th.) And if he didn't miss Milwaukee's final 18 games after fracturing his right kneecap on a foul ball, Yelich might have become the first 50/30 man ever. He's expected to have no injury-related limitations during Spring Training as he heads into his age-28 campaign.

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The case for making Ronald Acuña the No. 1 pick

After bursting onto the scene with an NL Rookie of the Year Award-winning season in 2018, Acuña became a bona fide fantasy superstar as a 21-year-old last year, hitting .280 with 41 homers, 101 RBIs and league-leading totals in runs (127) and steals (37). He could have even bigger things in store in 2020 … like, say, becoming the fifth member of the 40/40 club. He nearly got there last year, despite a relatively conservative first half on the bases (13 steals). In a fantasy world where stolen bases are becoming more and more difficult to come by, having a power-speed option like Acuña is an incredible advantage.

The case for going Mike Trout at the top of drafts

Anyone who has played fantasy baseball knows what Trout brings to the table. Trout has been the safest top 3 fantasy pick for years, offering not only excellence but also consistency while producing across the board. In the past eight years, Trout has averaged 35 homers, 92 RBIs, 110 runs, 99 walks and 24 steals per season, hitting a collective .308/.422/.587 in that span. Like Yelich, Trout is also expected to be 100 percent healthy during Spring Training after undergoing surgery last September to remove a neuroma from his right foot.

Why Yelich is the pick

We're splitting hairs here, as all three are outstanding building blocks for fantasy teams. Trout, though, hasn't played more than 140 games in a season since 2016, and he stole only 11 bases in '19. He could run more now that his foot is healthy, but expecting 30-plus steals is unrealistic. Yelich, meanwhile, has increased his stolen-base total in three straight years, and Acuña is a 40-steal threat. As a result, Trout places third in MLB.com's 2020 fantasy player rankings, while he’s second in Yahoo’s ranks. Granted, Trout has a stronger case for the No. 1 spot in leagues that use on-base percentage instead of batting average. But in standard-scoring leagues, he's a bit behind Yelich and Acuña.

Between those two, we'll give a slight edge to Yelich because he's more likely to chip in a lofty batting average alongside his stellar counting stats. There's a bit more risk with Acuña in that department because he struck out in 26.3 percent of his plate appearances last season and notched a .279 Expected Batting Average, compared to 20.2 percent and .314 for Yelich. Now, Acuña may very well cut down on his strikeouts as he continues to refine his skills at age 22. But Yelich is the better bet to hit over .300 in 2020.

[Yahoo Rankings: OverallC | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP ]

If you’re feeling like going another way...

For those who are feeling particularly bold on draft day, there is another option for the No. 1 overall pick, and it's not reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger. It's not Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman or Mookie Betts either. In fact, it's not a hitter at all. It's new Yankees ace Gerrit Cole.

The thinking behind this draft strategy is that, given today's landscape, having a pitcher who could potentially record a sub-3.00 ERA with 20-plus wins and 300-plus strikeouts over 200-plus innings gives you a greater advantage than any particular hitter can. It's certainly riskier, as pitchers are inherently more likely to get injured. But it's a pick that could pay off in a big way.

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