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Draft Strategy: Focus on Hitters Early (2020 Fantasy Baseball)

Feb 26, 2020

Matt Chapman is a great option for drafters look to load up on hitting early

There are countless different strategies for drafting a winning fantasy baseball team. Here at FantasyPros, we provide the tools and insight to figure out which draft strategy works best for you. This article will discuss how to approach a draft when concentrating on hitters early.

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Why Go Hitters Early?

Generally, hitters are a safer investment compared to pitchers for the following reasons:

  1. The production of hitters is more stable year over year, particularly among the league’s premier hitters.
  2. Hitters are more likely to avoid injury.
  3. There is less variance in the production of hitters because they have a larger sample size of games.
  4. A few bad days on the mound can ruin a pitcher’s season stats. A few bad days at the plate have a negligible impact on a hitter’s season batting line.
  5. Churning the bottom of your roster by streaming pitchers based on matchups is a viable way to rack up fantasy production. This cannot be mimicked with hitters.
  6. There are always sleeper pitchers available in your free agent pool, regardless of league size.

There is a widespread notion that you can’t win your league in the first few rounds, but you can lose it. This emphasizes the idea of limiting downside in the early portion of the draft – which is precisely why I favor the approach of drafting hitters early, relying on their safety and predictability.

If executed correctly, a roster that focuses on hitters early should be near the top of the leaderboard in every batting category. An example approach is to only select hitters with the first eight picks in a draft. These eight hitters would ideally be established veterans with reliable production across every fantasy category – average, power, and speed should be solidified with each of these eight picks.

Here are a few stud hitters to target early when employing this strategy:

Francisco Lindor (SS – CLE) 
Lindor has been a consistent .275/30/80 hitter with 15+ steals since 2017. Not even a nagging calf injury could prevent Lindor from being a top-tier fantasy contributor in 2019. He positively impacts every category with locked-in production.

Freddie Freeman (1B – ATL) 
Coming off a career-high 38 HRs and 121 RBIs, Freeman is a shoo-in for a .300/30/100 line.

J.D. Martinez (OF – BOS) 
There are few MLB hitters as powerful as Martinez. Even in a relatively down 2019 (by his lofty standards), he still whacked 36 HRs and 105 RBIs with a .304 average.

Whit Merrifield (2B/OF – KC) 
Merrifield is a five-category contributor that should hit .300 with decent power numbers, while chipping in with around 20 steals.

Matt Chapman (3B – OAK) 
An ascending player with huge power potential, Chapman is a fantastic option for the early hitter approach. Chapman smacked 36 HRs last season, but his value is depressed because of his .249 batting average and minimal speed. If Chapman can continue to lower his strikeout rate, his average and counting stats will only climb higher.

Tommy Pham (OF – SD) 
It is important to grab a few five-category contributors early and Pham fits the bill as a 20/20 threat that hits for a decent average. The Padres should be much improved this season which should boost Pham’s counting stats.

Nelson Cruz (DH – MIN) 
Since 2014, Nelson Cruz has not hit fewer than 37 HRs or 93 RBIs. Cruz may be 39 years old, but he does not appear to be slowing down just yet.

Michael Brantley (OF – HOU) 
With two straight seasons of at least 140 games played, Brantley seems to have put his injury woes behind him. He will rack up counting stats on Houston’s powerful offense while hitting for an excellent average.

What an offensive squad! And perfectly attainable in a 12-team league according to FantasyPros’ ADP rankings.

Pitching Is All About Upside

The next step of this early hitting strategy is equally important and requires using middle- and late-round picks on high-risk/high-reward pitchers. The idea is to target undervalued pitchers that have a chance to beat preseason expectations. Pitchers are an extremely volatile fantasy asset and we want to capture unrealized upside.

Here are a few examples of what to look for in undervalued pitchers:

  1. Prospective breakout starting pitchers that have shown signs, but have yet to fully take that next step
  2. Bounce-back candidates
  3. Pitchers returning from injury
  4. Talented pitchers on bad teams
  5. Top pitching prospects that seem further away from the majors than they actually are. A pitcher could debut over the summer and still have a big impact
  6. Less-heralded pitching prospects that have earned a starting role in spring training
  7. Relief pitchers with high strikeout ability, regardless of bullpen situation
  8. Relief pitchers in bullpens with shaky closers

It is critical to supplement this pitching strategy by constantly churning the bottom of your roster. Utilize the free agent pool as a personal minor league system and grab any pitcher showing even a glimpse of a breakout. Make sure that you are first! It doesn’t matter if you guess wrong, that pitcher can always be dropped for the next potential breakout candidate. Every season there are numerous pitchers that arrive from the clouds to emerge as fantasy stalwarts. Find them before anyone else does.

Embrace risk and chase upside. Do not be afraid to swing and miss on a pitcher – the free agent pool will be filled with viable pickups all season.

Here are a few high-upside pitchers to target when employing this strategy:

Griffin Canning (SP – LAA); Sean Manaea (SP – OAK); Marcus Stroman (SP – NYM); Mike Foltynewicz (SP – ATL); Yonny Chirinos (SP/RP – TB); Ryan Yarbrough (SP/RP – TB); Jose Urquidy (SP – HOU); Michael Kopech (SP – CWS); Dylan Cease (SP – CWS); Dustin May (SP – LAD); Matt Manning (SP – DET); Frankie Montas (SP – OAK); Emmanuel Clase (RP – CLE); James Karinchak (RP – CLE); Aaron Bummer (RP – CWS); Blake Treinen (RP – LAD)

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Jarad Evans is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jarad, follow him on Twitter @jarad_evans.