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What Should You Do With The First Pick In 2023 Fantasy Baseball Drafts?

Jose Ramirez - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News

Fantasy baseball is back! And with a new draft season comes the usual focus on what to do in the early rounds and then lots of mid-to-late-round sleepers, breakout candidates to draft, and busts to avoid. And if you consume any fantasy baseball – or really any fantasy sports content – you have likely heard the expression, “You can’t win your draft in the first round but you can lose it.”

The thinking there is to not get too cute and take unnecessary gambles in the first round. And if you have a top-five pick in your draft, there is really no way you could mess that up. This season, there seems to be a consensus top five made up of Trea Turner, Aaron Judge, Julio Rodriguez, Jose Ramirez, and Ronald Acuna Jr. Each is a great player that can really help you across the board. If you have the fifth pick in your draft, kick back and take whichever stud falls to you.

But what if you have to make a decision? What if you have to choose one of these five players? That is what the person with the first overall pick has to do – and while there may not be a wrong answer, it is still an extremely important decision to make.

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What To Do If You Have The First Overall Draft Pick

The first thing is to identify the players you are choosing between. As listed above, they are Turner, Judge, Ramirez, Rodriguez, and Acuna Jr. Theoretically, there really is no wrong answer. Turner provides five-category production, as does Acuna, Ramirez, and Rodriguez. Judge will not help you as much in stolen bases, but he is elite in the other four categories and he is the biggest advantage, on paper at least, when it comes to the long ball.

However, expecting Judge to duplicate his historic season would be a mistake. Prior to last year, he had never hit .290 in a season or 40 homers and only once scored or drove in over 100 runs. Plus, 16 of his 40 career stolen bases came last season. Looking at ATC, the most accurate projections in the industry, Judge is projected to hit .283 with 43 homers, 10 steals, 104 runs, and 106 RBI. Again, those are great numbers and he is in the running for the first-overall pick for a reason.

You can make arguments like that for each of the five players. Rodriguez is coming off a huge rookie season, but we have seen players struggle as the league adjusts to them. Acuna is amazing but it's been three years since we have seen him put up a full season of amazingness. Ramirez had a down second half by his standards – and it's not the first time we have seen him struggle for half of the season. Turner is headed to a new team after signing a massive contract. We have seen that from impact players as well. This may sound like splitting hairs and I mean, it is. We are talking about five great players who are all in the running for the first pick for a reason.

Here are the ATC projections for all five of them in the five roto categories:

Player Batting
Runs RBI Stolen
Trea Turner .292 22 101 81 29
Julio Rodriguez .277 29 93 81 27
Aaron Judge .283 43 104 106 10
Ronald Acuna Jr .269 29 103 77 33
Jose Ramirez .269 30 95 103 22

Looking at the numbers, you can tell why they are all bunched together. The numbers are all largely similar, outside of the power boost and speed decrease for Judge. There is a slight average edge with Turner, but an RBI bump with Ramirez and Judge. If the numbers are all so close, how can we decide?


Using Positional Scarcity To Find The First Overall Pick

Now that we have established the five and why they are so closely bunched together, we need to find a way to differentiate them. And positional scarcity might just be the best way to do so.

Turner is the first overall pick on some sites, but he plays shortstop, which provides much more depth than third base or outfield. Looking at ADP, there are five other shortstops that also go in the first 30 picks. They are Bobby Witt Jr., Bo Bichette, Fernando Tatis Jr., Marcus Semien, and Francisco Lindor. So even if you pass on Turner, there is a strong chance you can get a very good shortstop in the late second or early third round.

It's not like the shortstop position dries up after that. Corey Seager, Dansby Swanson, Oneil Cruz, and Xander Bogaerts round out the top 10 shortstops in ADP – all going within the first 80 picks. That means for nearly seven rounds in a 12-team draft, you will have the chance to nab a really good contributor. And we haven’t even named Willy Adames, Tim Anderson, Carlos Correa, Jeremy Pena, or Amed Rosario yet.

Then, there are fallback options like Nico Hoerner, Javier Baez, and Adalberto Mondesi who could all be had late – some of them outside the top 200 picks. In other words, the shortstop position is extremely deep. It is arguably the deepest position in the game. There is nothing wrong with taking Turner first, but if you can bank on getting quality production at the position later in the draft, it would be wise to take a player at a position that thins out fast over him.

Three of the five players are outfielders – showing us that there is a lot of high-end talent in the position. There are other high-end talents in the outfield such as Kyle Tucker, Juan Soto, Mookie Betts, Yordan Alvarez, and Mike Trout. The issue, though, is they all go inside the top 20 picks, meaning that if you have the first pick and pass on an outfielder, these guys aren’t making it back to you.

That is certainly a reason to consider an outfielder; however, there are very good fallback options you can get after these big names. Michael Harris, Randy Arozarena, and Kyle Schwarber are some options, to name a few. Then, there are names like George Springer, Eloy Jimenez, Starling Marte, and Corbin Carroll that you can get a couple of rounds later. Outfield certainly dries up, but to me, it dries up after the top 100 picks.

Using fantasy baseball ADPs, here are the outfielders available between pick 50 and 150 overall:

Again, there is a drop-off, but you can still find quality outfielders in that group and then there are always upside options you can gamble on in the later rounds. For what it's worth, if I was going to take an outfielder first overall, it would be Judge. While he lacks speed, he gives such a leg up in the other four categories and given the rule changes, it may be easier than in recent years to find stolen bases.

However, there is one position that thins out insanely fast – even faster than the outfield: third base. After Jose Ramirez, there are other high-end options at third base. There’s Manny Machado, Bobby Witt Jr., Austin Riley, and Rafael Devers. The issue though? All have an ADP of 23 overall or higher, meaning that if you pass on a third baseman with the first overall pick, you will not have another shot at grabbing a high-end option.

The only hope is Nolan Arenado, but that sort of feels like reaching to fill a thin position. After Arenado, there is not another third baseman with an ADP inside the top 60 picks. In fact, there are only two (Alex Bregman and Gunnar Henderson) who have an ADP inside the top 130 picks. There is clearly a huge drop-off at the third base position. If you have the first overall pick and do not take Ramirez, you are basically accepting that you will have to punt third base – the weakest position in the game.

Due to that positional scarcity, I would take Ramirez with the first overall pick. We already have determined that all five give us similar production, but it really is your only shot at getting elite production from third base. You will be able to find outfield value and certainly at shortstop. However, if you go in the other direction, you will be struggling to fill third base for the entire draft – and maybe the season.

Drafting first is about finding the biggest edge for your team, especially when deciding between five great players. Give yourself the leg up on the competition and take Ramirez.

Make sure to follow Michael on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.

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