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Player Debates: Ronald Acuna, Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts

Mar 30, 2020

One of us has to give the argument against Acuna, but let’s set it straight – you’re taking him if you have a top-three pick.

Welcome to a brand new post series as we here at FantasyPros do our best to keep you all entertained in these baseball-less spring days ahead.

In this series, we will be going deeper than usual on every single player, five or 10 players at a time. We will present the positive argument and the negative argument for each player, and also talk about how you should approach them in general terms in drafts. The order of the players referenced is based on our Expert Consensus Rankings, which you can find here. And be sure to bookmark this page to follow along for our complete player debate series.

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1) Ronald Acuna Jr. (OF – ATL)

Case For
“Acuna’s upside is untouched, especially in categories leagues. In his first full season in the big leagues, he hit 41 homers and stole 37 bases while posting a strong .280 batting average. Oh yeah, and he scored 127 runs and drove in 101. This is an uber-elite player with room to improve if he can cut down on the 26% strikeout rate from last year. There is no other player that can flirt with 50/50 upside; Acuna could legitimately post some of the greatest fantasy seasons in MLB history during his career.” Jon Anderson

Case Against
“Look, one of us has to give the argument against Acuna, but let’s set it straight – you’re taking him if you have a top-three pick. What’s the knock on him? Well, there’s not much, as he’s only 22 and he offers the highest ceiling and best power-speed upside in fantasy. The risk with him, though, is that compared to Mike Trout and Christian Yelich, he strikes out more and walks less than them, leading to a higher range of outcomes with batting average and numbers across the board.” Michael Waterloo

Draft Approach
“Any of the first three draft slots in 2020 is primed for an outstanding player, and landing on Acuna Jr. is a metaphorical home run. The young phenom had been highly touted as one of the game’s best prospects before debuting in 2018, and he has not disappointed since his call-up, piggybacking off a Rookie-of-the-Year 2018 with an even more impressive 2019 campaign. Acuna is arguably the most likely player to deliver a 30-30 season, but he does lose some value in points leagues from relatively lower on-base percentage compared to his other contributions. Regardless, it’s hard to pass on Acuna in any format, and you would be landing one of the premier hitters in the league immediately upon selecting him.Mario Mergola

2) Mike Trout (OF – LAA)

Case For
“We can essentially make any case imaginable for Mike Trout. If we want a historically great player, we want Mike Trout. If we want one of the top-three hitters in baseball, right now, we want Mike Trout. If we want one of the most consistent fantasy performs since he entered Major League Baseball, we want Mike Trout. The third point is arguably the most important, as Trout provides unparalleled consistency. Over Trout’s full eight seasons, he has hit at least 30 home runs six times, scored at least 100 runs seven times, and stolen double-digit bases in all eight years. To top it all off, his lowest batting average over that span was .287.”Mario Mergola

Case Against
“It feels almost blasphemous to say anything negative about Mike Trout, given his career-low in OPS is .939 and his career number sits at 1.000. However, nobody is perfect. Trout’s ridiculous walk rate can actually be a bit of a detriment in a league where you don’t get credit for walks (categories leagues that don’t use OBP). His steals also bottomed out in 2019, as he stole just 11 bases in 13 attempts. He is really only a three category super-stud in a standard 5×5 league, and it makes a ton of sense to prioritize Acuna and even maybe Yelich over him in those situations.” Jon Anderson

Draft Approach
“Your job as a fantasy manager is to leave the draft with the best value for each designated draft pick. In the first few rounds, your only job is to not mess it up. If you want the safest pick – and by safe, we are talking about arguably the best player in baseball history with a huge ceiling – then you’re taking Trout. If it’s an OBP league, Trout goes ahead of Acuna, of course, but even with his decrease in skills, no one can hold it against you for taking Trout No. 1 again in 2020.” Michael Waterloo

3) Christian Yelich (OF – MIL)

Case For
“In 2018, Yelich had a HR/FB rate of 35 percent. Unsustainable, they said. Bust in 2019, they said. You can’t have that HR/FB rate with a 51.8 percent ground ball rate, they declared. In 2019 for an encore, he hit eight more home runs and still had a 32.8 percent HR/FB rate, but he did lower his ground ball rate to 43.2 percent while raising his fly ball rate to 35.9 percent. Yelich hit 44 homers with 30 steals while maintaining a 13.8 percent walk rate and a .329 average. Why isn’t he going first overall?” Michael Waterloo

Case Against
“It was far easier to make a case against Christian Yelich following his 2017 season than it will be following a second consecutive outstanding performance. Then again, is that fair? The fantasy baseball community wanted to prove whether Yelich’s breakout in 2017 was a fluke or the new normal. It appears we have our answer, but it’s also dangerous to ignore the first four full seasons of Yelich’s career. During that span, he hit fewer than 20 home runs three times — where his high watermark was 21. His stolen base totals also topped out at 21 during his time with the Marlins. Clearly, Yelich has reinvented himself and blossomed, but it would be irresponsible to take his two-year sample size at face value and ignore the prior four-year stretch.” Mario Mergola

Draft Approach
“Yelich is a top five hitter any way you slice it. He has been an absolute all-categories stud in his first two seasons with the Brewers. The plate discipline numbers (20% strikeout rate, 14% walk rate last year) make him a really safe bet for elite production, but there is a case to be made that he might come with the most risk of the tier-one hitters. He had some worrisome injuries at the end of last season, and those concerns could drain the steals attempts in 2020. The Brewers are also not a superimposing lineup after losing some key pieces from 2019, which could result in a counting stats dip for their star outfielder. I would not consider Yelich before Acuna and Trout, and I would consider putting Betts over him as well, but you are not going to be disappointed with what this guy gives you (while in the lineup, at least) in 2020.” Jon Anderson

4) Cody Bellinger (1B/OF – LAD)

Case For
“Bellinger was the best fantasy player in the game in the first half of 2019, and was still an elite producer despite his slight second-half fall off. He finished the year with a ridiculous line of 121 runs, 47 homers, 115 RBIs, and a .305 batting average. He has made walk and strikeout improvements in back-to-back years since his debut, posting an elite 14.4% walk rate with a low 16.4% strikeout rate last year. At just 24 years of age in one of the league’s best lineups, there is room for growth for Bellinger. Of the first tier of hitters, he is the low man in projected steals, but he does not kill you in that category either. It’s easy to see Bellinger posting a 2020 season that pushes him even further up draft boards in 2021.” Jon Anderson

Case Against
“Let’s play spot the outlier, shall we? Batting average: .267, .260, .305; Strikeout rate: 26.6%, 23.9%, 16.4%; BB% against lefties: 8.7%, 9.5%, 14.9%. If you bought into Bellinger after his down second year, congrats. You had a league-winning player. However, are we convinced that the player we saw in 2019 is the true Bellinger, and it’s not a blend of his three-year career (which is still a very, very good player)? What’s more, look at his first- and second-half splits in 2019. There was a huge drop in batting average, a spike in strikeout rate, a 7 percent increase in ground ball rate, and his IFFB% went from 5.7 percent to 12.9 percent. There’s a reason he’s not in the discussion to go inside the top three picks.” Michael Waterloo

Draft Approach
“Most drafts firmly define the top-three hitters — in any order — as Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Christian Yelich. Then comes Cody Bellinger. He sits just outside the clear top-three, but has every bit the potential as the rest to lead a fantasy owner to a championship. The only potential knock on Bellinger is a possible slight regression after seeing nearly every possible statistic increase from 2018 to 2019, but his production is so stellar that he warrants a top-five pick in every format. If you’re looking to get creative, Bellinger might actually be worth a top-three pick due to his first-base eligibility and the flexibility it brings.”Mario Mergola

5) Mookie Betts (OF – LAD)

Case For
Mookie Betts never hid the fact that he was seeking a massive long-term deal, and this was the impetus to a trade that sent him to the Los Angeles Dodgers. As fantasy owners, we should collectively rejoice. Not only is Betts joining a deep lineup on an excellent team, but he is motivated. Maybe “motivation” isn’t the source for more home runs or a higher batting average, but it’s likely to play a role in stolen base attempts. He mysteriously swiped only 16 bags in 2019, representing a career-low of his full seasons, and it was on the heels three consecutive years with at least 25 stolen bases. Betts is a steady source of production across all statistics, and any return to the mean for his stolen bases totals moves him firmly into the top-five of a fantasy draft.”Mario Mergola

Case Against
“Maybe it shouldn’t, but that 2017 season still looms over Betts’ head when he hit just .264 with 24 homers. The last two seasons have quieted those doubts, but Betts seems to be the riskiest bet of the tier-one hitters nonetheless. He was only truly elite in one category last year (135 runs scored), and that should repeat as he is set to leadoff for the Dodgers this year. The 29 homers, 16 steals, and .295 batting average are huge positives for any fantasy team, but they do not really pop off the page individually. You could see the park and league shift making him more of a 120 run, 25 homer, 75 RBI, 15 steal guy with a strong batting average, which is nice and all, but not impossible to find later in the draft. Betts is a strong option, but I am not sure he deserves in the same class as the rest of the top five.”Jon Anderson

Draft Approach
“The move from Fenway Park to Chavez Ravine doesn’t hurt Betts as much as it may seem, especially when he’s fallen into the second round in certain drafts. Granted, what helps David Price in a change of location – the ballparks – hurts Betts a tad, but he’s going to be hitting at the top of the best lineup in baseball, and he brings automatic league-leading runs scoring potential with a 30/20 upside. After the top four picks in the draft, there’s an argument for a handful of players. If you want to pivot to one of the top arms or shortstops, you won’t receive pushback, but Betts is as safe as they come with a combo of floor and ceiling.” Michael Waterloo

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