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Who's #1? Early Look at Picking First Overall

Fernando Tatis Jr. - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, MLB Injury News, DFS Lineup Picks

With the off-season fully underway and early drafts already taking place, it’s time to start looking at those players being selected first in drafts. This year offers a very different set of players than we’ve seen in recent memory.

Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Ronald Acuna Jr. have all fallen out of contention for first selection overall, and Fernando Tatis is now accompanied by the likes of Trea Turner, Juan Soto, and Shohei Ohtani at the first slot on the draft board.

Rk Player Team Position(s) ADP / AAV Min Max
1  Fernando Tatis Jr. SD SS, OF 1.83 1 6
2  Trea Turner LAD 2B, SS 1.87 1 5
3  Juan Soto WAS OF 3.65 1 8
4  Jose Ramirez CLE 3B 4.87 1 9
5  Bo Bichette TOR SS 5.05 2 9
6  Vladimir Guerrero Jr. TOR 1B 5.78 3 12
7  Shohei Ohtani LAA P, UT 7.92 1 20
8  Gerrit Cole NYY P 9.06 3 18
9  Corbin Burnes MLW P 9.87 4 17
10  Bryce Harper PHI OF 11.08 7 18
11  Ronald Acuna Jr. ATL OF 12.03 4 27
12  Kyle Tucker HOU OF 12.65 6 21
13  Mookie Betts LAD OF 13.48 7 22
14  Walker Buehler LAD P 14.67 3 27
15  Mike Trout LAA OF 15.43 8 29

Despite the turnover, that list offers three high-confidence players and the unanimous AL MVP. Noticeably absent from the players from that list is last year’s 5x5 fantasy MVP: Vlad Guerrero Jr. That’s particularly confounding given that he is the second most valuable player based on Steamer’s initial projections. Let’s look at those five players and the arguments for and against taking each one first.

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Fernando Tatis Jr. – Padres (SS, OF)

With all due respect to Ronald Acuna Jr., Tatis is the most dynamic player in the game, and it’s easy to see why he sits at the top of the current ADP charts. Tatis’ value per game was higher than any other player.

PlayerName Total Val Games $/G
Fernando Tatis Jr. $34.50 130 $0.27
Trea Turner $38.20 148 $0.26
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. $38.90 161 $0.24
Bo Bichette $38.40 159 $0.24
Starling Marte $27.90 120 $0.23
Jose Ramirez $34.60 152 $0.23
Shohei Ohtani $34.30 158 $0.22
Teoscar Hernandez $30.50 143 $0.21
Bryce Harper $29.50 141 $0.21
Marcus Semien $33.40 162 $0.21
Juan Soto $30.30 151 $0.20

Tatis offers power, average, and speed. Despite being one of the most potent offensive players in 2019 and 2020, Tatis set career highs in power (.328 ISO), OPS (.975), and wOBA (.403). Those numbers were beautifully complemented by personal bests in a variety of Statcast categories as well, including maxEV (116.6 MPH), Barrel/PA (12.8), and xwOBA (.419). Simply put, Tatis is awesome, has been awesome, and shows every sign of continuing to be awesome.

Unfortunately, the injury risk is real with Tatis. He suffered a subluxated shoulder three times last season, but rather than opting for surgery to correct the injury, he’s chosen to rehab it this off-season. The obvious concern is that the injury worsens and forces him to get surgery in the middle of the season. The more likely situation is that he misses time, suffers reduced effectiveness, and gets held back by his team as they attempt to keep him healthy.

It’s worth noting that Tatis has suffered a stress fracture in his back during his rookie season after he had already dealt with a hamstring strain that derailed the start of his rookie season in 2019 and a thumb injury that ended his 2018 season. That is a lot of injuries for a young player.

Worse, Tatis stole only two bases in his final 42 games. Compare that to 23 steals in his previous 87 games. The reality is that steals offer so little value to most teams that it’s easy to imagine the Padres protecting Tatis’ health by limiting his stolen base attempts.

If that happens, Tatis’ value per game becomes much closer to the other names going in the first round. In fact, if we split the difference in the steals, Tatis’ projected value falls to Juan Soto levels, even though Steamer predicts him for 150 games. Maybe it’s just me, but that estimate seems bullish given Tatis’ injury history.

Final Thought: Does the injury risk even matter? If SS is so deep and you can get 110 games of a healthy Tatis, another 50 games of replacement-level SS work might still make Tatis a better selection than any other play here.

 

Trea Turner – Dodgers (2B, SS)

Since 2019, only one player has provided at least 30 steals and a .200 ISO. I’m prorating 2020, of course, but Turner’s consistency speaks for itself. For years, he has been the most stable and compelling source of steals in fantasy baseball. What’s more, he was just below Tatis’ value per game last season.

If you’re drafting Trea Turner, you should be drafting him as a second baseman so you can take advantage of the extraordinary depth at SS. That would give fantasy managers a distinct middle-infield advantage. Granted there is still depth and value at second base. It’s not the wasteland that we sometimes see. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Ozzie Albies, Brandon Lowe, or even Jonathan India take the next step and launch themselves into the top-10 hitters. However, Turner’s Steamer projection of $32 is $12 higher than the next second basemen, Ozzie Albies at $20.

Where Tatis figures to steal fewer bases, Turner should offer more bankable steals. If owners are focused on prioritizing speed at the top of their draft board and want to take advantage of the comparative advantage of having a superstar at the second shallowest position. Turner makes a compelling case. Dodger Stadium might suppress his power a bit, but runs and RBI should improve compared to his time with Washington last season, and owners can reasonably expect a return of 60 HR+SB, a batting average near .300 and 180 R+RBI from their second-base position.

The downside to Turner is that he does have his own injury history, spent a good deal of last season not stealing bags, and is probably the least likely player on this list to finish as the most valuable player of 2022.

Final Thought: Even as a shortstop, Trea Turner is a five-category contributor who will boost his RBI numbers in the Dodgers’ lineup. He gives owners far more draft flexibility by covering three of the scarcest parts of the game: steals, batting average, and second base.

 

Juan Soto – Nationals (OF)

The argument for Juan Soto as the number one overall pick is that he provides the absolute highest floor of any player on this list. Soto will be 23 years old, has never hit below .282, has never had an ISO below .221, has never dealt with a major injury, and sports an absurd 1.54 BB/K ratio over the last two years. Yes, that’s right, he’s garnered 1.5 walks for every strikeout over the last two seasons. He’s even shown he can steal a few bases.

Here are Juan Soto’s 650-PA career average and career floor:

Juan Soto R HR RBI SB AVG OBP ISO wRC+
Career Average 109.4 31.8 101.2 10.4 .301 .432 .249 156
Floor 101.3 28.8 92.1 6.6 .282 .401 .221 .143

If we calculate out the value of those numbers, Soto’s career worsts would have made him the 33rd most valuable player in fantasy baseball last season. His career average would put him exactly where he finished this season: the 10th best hitter and 12th overall.

Final Thought: Many managers will see that and point out that the first overall pick should be the player who has the best chance to finish the season as the most valuable player in fantasy. However, there are plenty of others who prioritize getting first-round value from their first pick. For those owners, Juan Soto is the play. Short of catastrophic injury, he represents the safest bet to return top-20 value.

 

Jose Ramirez – Guardians (3B)

If we’re talking about Soto as safe, there stands Jose Ramirez. If you absolutely have to get a value floor and want steals, Jose Ramirez has been a top-five offensive player for three of the last four seasons, and a top-10 offensive player for the last five seasons.

Ramirez provides top-tier power and speed. Last year was another quintessential campaign, showcasing a 111 R, 36 HR, 103 RBI, 27 SB, and .266 average.

Ramirez’s only “down” season came in 2019 because he of a broken hand that required surgery to heal. Otherwise, he has been as durable a player as they come, and despite some hot-and-cold streaks over the last three years, the numbers are always there at the end of the season.

Moreover, Ramirez's offensive profile means that despite those streaks, he's not likely to collapse. Most of Ramirez's reputation focuses on his power-speed combination, but the Cleveland third baseman owns elite plate discipline that further cements his floor. Since 2018, his .92 BB/K rate is fourth-best in baseball.

Final Thought: Ramirez is the oldest player on this list, but he’ll still be 29 when the season starts, and last season showed there’s no reason to bet against him. As long as the Guardians let him run, Ramirez offers steals similar Turner’s and consistency to rival Soto.

 

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – Blue Jays (1B)

As of my submission deadline, Vlad Guerrero Jr., 2021 fantasy baseball MVP, had not yet been selected first in an NFBC draft. I fully expect that to change by the time we finish draft season, and though it may not be a popular choice yet. It's definitely a viable selection.

The Blue Jays first baseman slugged 48 HR, scored 123 times, drove in 111 runs, and hit .311 over 161 games. He even chipped in four steals along the way.

Steamer looked at those results and basically said, “Yeah, that seems about right for next year too.” Currently, Guerrero’s projections peg him for 43 HR (second overall), 108 R (fourth), 120 RBI (first), a .310 AVG (T1), and three SB (not first).

The argument against Vlad is two-fold: a full season in the Rogers Centre might suppress his power output, and Juan Soto exists.

The answer is probably that Guerrero's ceiling is higher than Soto's and he doesn't have the inherent injury risk of Tatis' profile. It could be that the first base landscape is a lot less compelling than the outfield. Or maybe you’ve been a victim of the Soto Shuffle, and you just can’t handle seeing his name at the top of your draft board. There are a few reasons, I suppose.

Final Thought: Guerrero is surely going to get some first overall picks this season, and many of those will surely be the same owners that he carried to victory last year. He looks like the classic anchor to a fantasy roster: the offensive rock who offers elite power and elite average. Right now, someone is already planning to pair him with Myles Straw 

 

Shohei Ohtani – Angels (SP, UT)

If there’s a dark-horse, wildcard, surprise name on this list, it’s Shohei Ohtani. Despite winning the unanimous AL MVP, Ohtani’s injury risk and problematic value are going to drive away fantasy managers and depress his ADP, and in many situations that’s going to be the correct move. In Yahoo leagues and in most weekly leagues where managers have to submit their lineup on Monday, Ohtani should not be considered at the first overall pick because the injury should be considered at least as high as Tatis.

However, in best ball formats and daily leagues where managers can shift Ohtani from hitter to pitcher on a daily basis, Ohtani offers a higher ceiling than even Tatis. If you combine Ohtani’s hitter and pitcher projections, he scores out as a $48 value, a dollar higher than Tatis, and his versatility gives owners an extra roster spot and flexibility.

Without a doubt, Tatis’ 42 HR, 25 SB season was as gaudy as they come, but Ohtani outstripped him with 46 HR and 26 SB. Granted, Ohtani needed another 28 games to get that advantage, but he still represents a phenomenal power-speed combination. Moreover, given Ohtani’s speed, owners should expect some improvement in his BABIP and batting average.

As long as Ohtani plays on both sides of the ball, his injury risk is astronomical. There’s no avoiding that. Moreover, while Ohtani’s bat looks as poised for a repeat of 2021, his pitching projections are less rosy. Steamer likes him for a 3.69 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 192 Ks in 165 IP. I like the odds of Ohtani beating those numbers, but not by much, and if the pitching work falters, the overall value starts to decline.

Final Thought: In the right context, Ohtani projects to outearn every other player on this list. However, if league context makes it impossible to take advantage of his abilities or you are simply risk-averse, there are better players on this list.

 

Conclusion

The top of the 2022 draft board looks dramatically different than 2021. Last year, Trout, Acuna, Betts, and Tatis projected for similar values and had similar profiles. 2022’s draft board has players who look meaningfully different, offer different advantages, and carry different risks.

Trea Turner offers speed, stability, and second base eligibility. Vlad Guerrero could compete for the AL Triple Crown again, but you’ll have to find speed elsewhere. Juan Soto is an offensive rock that shuffles and hustles and won’t let you down. Shohei Ohtani is the most unique option here and opens up all kinds of strategic possibilities for managers.

However, if you want  ceiling and the player most likely to win an MVP award, abide the wisdom of the crowd and take Tatis, then say a prayer to the patron saints of shoulder health.

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