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2020 Draft Recap: Round 1 (Fantasy Baseball)

Jan 6, 2021

The calendar turning to a new year and the NFL fantasy season coming to an end means one thing – it is fantasy baseball season. Thanks for being with us here at FantasyPros as we ramp up our fantasy baseball content.

A logical place to start in your 2021 fantasy baseball research is looking back to 2020 and seeing how things went. That is what we’ll do in this series, taking a look back at the first round of the average 2020 fantasy baseball draft and evaluating how it turned out on a player-by-player, as well as a round-by-round basis.

Let’s not waste any more time. Let’s talk about Round 1!

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1.1: Ronald Acuña Jr. (OF – ATL)
It is hard to earn your spot as the number one pick in drafts when you miss 23% of the season, as Acuña did in 2020. He still managed a very productive 14 home runs and eight steals in 46 games (a ridiculous 49-28 HR/SB, 162-game pace), so he performed like a first-rounder when on the field.

Acuña was a bit disappointing in batting average leagues, hitting just .250, but he took his on-base percentage to a whole new level at .406 after posting one of the league’s best walk rates (18.8%). The weeks that fantasy managers went without him were likely brutal, but he remained a game-changing fantasy player when in the batter’s box.

1.2: Christian Yelich (OF – MIL)
There were a few disappointments in the first 10 picks, but none were bigger than Yelich. In 58 games, he posted a woeful .205 batting average. It is nearly impossible to provide a helpful on-base percentage with that number looming, but Yelich did not hurt us in that category, using his 18.6% walk rate to get his OBP up to .356. He hit 12 home runs and stole four bases, a 34-14 pace that was hugely disappointing after what we saw from him the last two seasons.

The underlying metrics do not give us much comfort either, as his strikeout (30.8%) and contact (68.2%) rates were by far his career-worsts. He also saw a large decline in barrel (12%) and hard-hit rate (41.1%). Maybe Yelich was not healthy last year, and he will snap back into a top-three hitter in 2021, but there is a real reason for concern after his disastrous 2020 season.

1.3: Mike Trout (OF – LAA)
Surprise, surprise: Mike Trout was awesome in 2020. He tied for fourth in MLB with 17 home runs, tied for sixth with 46 RBIs, and contributed nicely in runs (41), batting average (.281), and on-base percentage (.390) as well. Despite that, he did not quite match expectations in 2020. Trout pretty much completely stopped running (one steal), and his OBP was actually the worst number he’s posted since 2014. He struck out more (23.2%) and walked less (14.5%) than we have grown accustomed to, so it may actually be time to bump him out of the top three in 2021. You can nevertheless certainly rely on Trout to fill the stat sheet and never hurt your fantasy team moving forward.

1.4: Cody Bellinger (1B/OF – LAD)
The Dodgers’ slugger may have been the least secure first-round hitter pick, and it was a disappointing season for him from a fantasy perspective. Bellinger hurt managers in batting average (.239) and on-base percentage (.339) without providing elite numbers in anything (33 runs, 12 homers, 30 RBIs, six steals). He just did not hit the ball as well as he had, with a career-low 38% hard-hit rate and a career-high 37.6% ground-ball rate. The strikeout rate remained low (17.3%), which is encouraging for 2021, but we may have just been a bit too high on Bellinger last year. This is still a top-10 hitter, no doubt, but he a significant step behind the top tier.

1.5: Mookie Betts (OF – LAD)
Fantasy managers who drafted Betts in the first round probably had really great seasons. Betts went nuclear in 55 games, hitting 16 homers with 47 runs, 39 RBIs, and 10 steals while maintaining a strong batting average (.292) and on-base percentage (.366). He was undoubtedly the most valuable first-round bat, and he has boosted himself right back into the top three for 2021. At the age of 28, there is no reason to expect a decline anytime soon, and that elite Dodgers offense around him should continue to bring in elite counting stats.

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1.6: Gerrit Cole (SP – NYY)
Cole did not earn his spot as the number one starting pitcher drafted, but he was still elite in 2020 with a 2.84 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and a 32.6% strikeout rate. Yankees Stadium did cause some home run issues (1.73 HR/9, the worst mark of his career), but Cole navigated around it well enough. While he came up a big stride short of Shane Bieber, Trevor Bauer, and Jacob deGrom, Cole remained a set-and-forget fantasy ace who can be taken in the first round once again in 2021.

1.7: Jacob deGrom (SP – NYM)
It was hard to imagine that deGrom could get much better, but that’s exactly what he did in the short 2020 season. He raised his velocity significantly, leading to a career-high 28.8% strikeout rate. He did that while maintaining a great walk rate (6.7%), which led to Cy Young level ratios of a 2.38 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. The wins were still somewhat hard to come by, as he went 4-2 in his 12 starts, but the elite numbers everywhere else makes you forget about that problem real fast. DeGrom is probably the top dog at starting pitcher for 2021.

1.8 Francisco Lindor (SS – CLE)
There was only one good fantasy hitter on Cleveland last year, and that was not Lindor. He had the worst season of his career, hitting just .258 with a .335 on-base percentage and only eight home runs and six steals. None of these numbers are bad, but they definitely do not match expectations from a top-10 pick. The good news is that his strikeout rate (15.4%) stayed elite, and his walk rate (9.0%) improved. He did whiff more than ever before (9.3% swinging-strike rate), which got him into some disadvantageous counts and drove production down. There’s no reason to panic on Lindor given his age and track record, but it certainly was not the 2020 season that fantasy managers hoped for.

1.9 Nolan Arenado (3B – COL)
Yelich was the biggest disappointment of the first round, but Arenado wasn’t far behind. He posted a career-low .253 batting average and .303 on-base percentage. His home run rate also fell precipitously, hitting just eight in 48 games for a 27-homer pace. Arenado is only 29 years old, and the career sample should completely outweigh the small 2020 sample. However, for a guy that does not steal bases, you don’t want to see even short samples of bad production like this. The smart money is on a big bounce-back from Arenado in 2021, but there will be a fair amount of hesitance for people drafting him in 2021.

1.10 Trevor Story (SS – COL)
Unlike his teammate, Story did not disappoint. He slugged 11 homers and stole a ridiculous 15 bases in 59 games (a 30-41 pace) while once again posting a strong batting average (.289). The Rockies’ overall offensive struggles hurt his RBI count (28), but he remains one of baseball’s few true five-category studs. It is probably time to draft Story ahead of Arenado; there is no reason to expect anything but elite production from this shortstop.

Round Overview

A 60-game season was sure to produce some wonky results, and no round was hit harder by this than Round 1. One could argue that Betts, Cole, deGrom, and Story were the only ones who justified a first-round selection. Acuna is the only player who can pin his down year on an injury, as the rest of this group played full seasons.

A key takeaway is that you should target steals if drafting a hitter in the first round. We knew that Arenado and Trout weren’t going to run much, putting more pressure on the rest of their numbers rounding out. It also might be a better idea to grab a pitcher in the first round, just because an ace like deGrom or Cole typically posts elite numbers as long as they are healthy.

While a couple of these players may fall out of the first round in 2021, none of them deserve multiple-round downgrades. That is it for Round 1. Check back here later, as we look at Round 2!

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Jon Anderson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jon, check out his archive and follow him @JonPgh.

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