How to Prepare for Your 2019 Fantasy Baseball Draft
Many of us are aware of how baseball’s landscape has changed over the last decade or so. Home runs dipped at the conclusion of the Steroid Era, as did overall offensive production. We were seeing pitchers with better ratios and more aggression from teams and players on the bases. Then as pitching continued to evolve with the increase in breaking balls, strikeouts went up across the board. This seemed to be combated with hitters adjusting their launch angles and the “juiced ball era,” which was essentially the second half of 2015 through 2017. Believe it or not, we actually saw a dip in home-run production in 2018 from 6,105 to 5,585 while stolen bases continued to steadily decline. Fortunately for pitchers, strikeouts remained on the rise.
For fantasy purposes, we need to be aware of these changes and look at what we can expect going into 2019. This article will focus on standard 12-team, 5×5 roto leagues, so please be aware of your settings and rules before moving forward using this strategy. Guessing whether or not the juiced ball reappears in 2019 is a fool’s errand. We have to move forward assuming the ball remains unchanged from 2018.
That being said, I predict we see another slight dip in home runs, a continued increase in strikeouts, and an increase in stolen bases. Let me explain. As the home runs continue to decrease (2018 was the lowest total since 2015), run production will be more difficult to come by. In addition, walk rates have also increased over the last five years. Last year’s 8.5% league-wide average went up 0.9% since 2014. Teams and players will start being more aggressive on the bases as the likelihood of a home run decreases. Knowing all this, here are some universal rules to live by:
- Don’t punt any categories: You’ll start the season at a disadvantage and will be left playing catch-up.
- Don’t grab closers too early: They are too volatile.
- Don’t get too many power-only or speed-only players early in the draft.
- Draft players with high-end skills. Worry about playing time later.
I’ll start with hitters. I don’t expect to see any 50-home run hitters in 2019 (there weren’t any in 2018 either), but even the number of 40-homer hitters decreased from five in 2017 to three in 2018. What this means, is that the 30-home run hitter, who in the past couple of seasons was a dime-a-dozen, may now have more value. I still expect about a two-to-one ratio in terms of home runs to stolen bases, so it’s more important than ever to grab a power/speed hitter early in the draft. As of now, the top-four hitters off the board for 2019 are unsurprisingly Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez, and Francisco Lindor. All of them hit at least 30 homers and stole at least 20 bases on 2018. Other power/speed hitters like Christian Yelich and, in some cases, Ronald Acuna Jr. are being taken in the first round as well.
For me, it’s imperative to grab a power/speed hitter in the first two rounds. If you end up with Max Scherzer or J.D. Martinez in the first, I’m jumping at players like Trevor Story, Alex Bregman, or even Javier Baez (whom I don’t love) in the second. My ideal first two picks would be something like Yelich-Story or Acuna-Bregman. A start like that really opens up your options for the rest of the draft. You aren’t pigeonholed into grabbing speed or power later in the draft with this start.
In some cases, the cookie crumbles differently and you may be unable to obtain two power/speed hitters. In these situations, I would be willing to get a top-tier starting pitcher in the second round. While Scherzer is likely gone in the first round, I like Chris Sale and Jacob deGrom around pick 15 and Justin Verlander towards the back end of the second round. If your draft heads in this direction, you’ll need to come back with another high-end bat in round three. I love Xander Bogaerts, who looks a lot like a Bregman clone at a lower cost and should contribute in all categories. Other hitters I like between picks 25 through 36 include Andrew Benintendi, Whit Merrifield, and Anthony Rendon.
Let’s circle back to round three in the scenario where we were able to grab two five-category hitting studs. Typically I stay away from pitchers early, but things have changed in 2019. I love a ton of pitchers as my ace going off the board between the fifth and 13th pitcher. In some cases, I’d look to grab two backend aces. I love Trevor Bauer, who would have been the AL Cy Young Award winner had he not suffered a leg fracture on a comebacker in August. He’s going far too late for me; I have him fifth off the board for starting pitchers. I would pair him with Walker Buehler or teammate Carlos Carrasco to shore up two staff aces. Under this “two-ace” strategy, I’m able to get two top-12 starters while shoring up two elite first-round bats. I love this start and would go heavy on bats for the next several rounds.
At this point in the draft, your offense consists of a great balance of power, speed, and likely batting average. In rounds five through seven, I’m looking for mostly power with some potential 25-homer, 10-steal type of players mixed in. If you’re wondering about closers, I am avoiding them until after round seven, I’ll explain why in the next section. Some hitters I love in this area in the draft include Eugenio Suarez, George Springer, Tommy Pham, Lorenzo Cain, Marcell Ozuna, Joey Votto, Mitch Haniger, Jose Abreu, and Jesus Aguilar. While first base is shallow in 2019, this is a spot where there is value with some bounce-back candidates or 2018 breakouts. There’s clearly an emphasis on power for most of these players, Cain excluded. Due to the aforementioned decline in home runs, I anticipate that the number of late 30-homer hitters will not be as plentiful late in the draft as in the previous two seasons.
At this point, I’m fine with getting your first closer in either round eight or nine. For a 12-team league, that’s around picks 85 through 108. Closers I like include Felipe Vazquez, Roberto Osuna, Brad Hand, Raisel Iglesias, and Sean Doolittle. Due to the position’s volatility, any one of these guys could end the season as a top-three closer. It’s also time to get my third starting pitcher now that I have a strong power/speed base offensively with an emphasis on power. Based on the current NFBC average draft position, I’m looking at Zack Wheeler, German Marquez, Jose Berrios, David Price, and Miles Mikolas. If one of my two aces has some risk, I’m getting a solid floor pitcher like Mikolas or Price. If I feel great about both aces, I’m loving the other three in this group and am shooting for the moon with upside.
How your draft unfolds to this point will determine what categories or positions you need to close it out. Make sure you have a projection system you trust to keep track of your team’s projected statistics throughout the draft. That way you’re able to identify strengths and weaknesses in every category. Drafts are unpredictable, but hopefully, if things break your way, you should harbor a balanced team going into the double-digit rounds.
With a balanced roster, owners should target value picks that have slipped through the cracks. Keep an eye on top-tier prospects late in drafts. Prospects I think will be up by May, or at least by the start of June, include Nick Senzel (CIN – 3B), Keston Hiura (MIL – 2B), and Peter Alonso (NYM – 1B). Don’t forget about the boring old veterans, who tend to have the best value late in drafts. Double-check RosterResource.com for projected lineup and starters. As we approach the start of fantasy baseball draft season, I wish you all luck, and make sure you hit up the FantasyPros mock draft simulator.