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Early-Round Picks to Target and Avoid (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

Mar 3, 2021

 
The early rounds can make or break your fantasy baseball drafts. Knowing not only who to target but also landmines to avoid can make a world of difference. Our writers provide the players they are targeting and avoiding inside the top-50 picks.

Rankings referenced is using FantasyPros Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR)

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Q1. Which player inside the top-50 ECR are you avoiding the most?

Luis Robert (OF – CWS) ECR: 41
In 2019 across three levels in the minors, Robert totaled 32 home runs and 35 stolen bases, which tells us he’s a solid power/speed threat. Then, in his major league debut in 2020, Robert put up 11 home runs, 33 runs, 31 RBI, and nine steals with a .233 batting average in 227 plate appearances. That projects for roughly 29 home runs and 23 steals over 600 plate appearances. Robert displayed power and speed, but the concern involves his hit tool and batting average evidenced by the high chase rate and low contact rate. In 2020, he recorded the fourth worst chase rate with a 43.1% O-Swing% and third worst contact rate at 61.4%. That’s not a good combination, and Robert’s ADP is a bit high given the risky hit tool.
– Corbin Young (@Corbin_Young21)

For starters, I see the upside in Robert. There is no denying he is one of the most physically gifted athletes in all of baseball. He has that sort of upside that we’ve seen from Ronald Acuna Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. in recent seasons. I typically don’t mind taking chances on these sort of upside plays. However, with Robert, it’s different. There is a ton of swing and miss in his profile (2nd-percentile whiff rate), and that’s only the first problem. The other issue is the White Sox have a loaded lineup, and we could see Robert hitting low in the order all season if he continues to struggle with putting the ball in play. Ranked ahead of Marcell Ozuna, George Springer, Tim Anderson, Brandon Woodruff, and Zac Gallen, Robert likely won’t end up on any of my rosters.
– Justin Johnson (@JJ_JetFlyin)

Yu Darvish (SP – SD) ECR: 19
I have repeatedly avoided Darvish as I wait for his eventual downfall, and he continues to prove me wrong. Darvish actually is improving, and he took another massive step forward in 2020. The problem? He took too big of a step forward, and he entered the realm of unsustainable. Not only was his ERA a ridiculous 2.01, but his FIP and xFIP — 2.23 and 2.82, respectively — were more than a full run lower than his ERA from 2019. The oddity is that most projections system know this and are factoring in a regression, yet he is still drafted as a top-five pitcher. Top-50 player? It’s hard to argue that one, but I won’t pay the high price driven by his impossibly-great numbers.
– Mario Mergola (@MarioMergola)

Since 2015, Darvish has had one singular season that would justify him being selected in the top-19 where he is being ranked – last year. Outside of the shortened 2020 campaign, Darvish has either underachieved, gotten hurt, or too often, both. Quite frankly, the reason Darvish was able to have such a good 2020 was because it was shortened. He knew that, and he pitched accordingly. To expect a repeat of his 2.01 ERA, which xFIP suggests should have been closer to 3 anyways, would be tough.
– Alex Altmix (@Altmix_23)

Aaron Judge (OF – NYY) ECR: 47
This is purely about health. My draft strategy is to avoid big-time injury risks inside the top-ten rounds, and Judge is exactly that. Since his tremendous rookie season in 2017, he’s played in roughly 60% of all games. Judge is a top-15 bat when he is healthy, but we simply can’t count on that. Even if you don’t believe he is injury prone, he will only give us a handful of stolen bases. If Judge is going to be your second or third bat, and you haven’t targeted a player who steals bases yet, it’s wise to pass on Judge.
– Carmen Maiorano (@carmsclubhouse)

Pete Alonso (1B – NYM) ECR: 50
Here are two players with their full-season pace numbers from 2019-2020: Player A: 93 runs, 48 HR, 108 RBI, 1 SB, .252 AVG, .332 OBP. Player B: 83 runs, 41 HR, 109 RBI, 1 SB, .245 AVG, .333 OBP. Player A is Alonso, player B is Matt Olson, who had just a brutal 2020 season. Does it really make sense to take Alonso in the 40’s when you can take Olson in the 90’s? Alonso will probably be a great source of power this year, but the problem is that there are just so many guys a lot like him later in the draft. If I’m taking a hitter in the first 50 picks, I want a guy that can produce in ways that not a lot of guys outside of the top 50 can, so I’m way off Alonso even at this cheaper price point compared to last year.
– Jon Anderson (@JonPgh)

Adalberto Mondesi (SS – KC) ECR: 27
The choice to avoid Mondesi comes with a grain of salt, as I tend to avoid targeting players who’s value is solely surrounded by stealing bases. Mondesi is a tremendous player, but he gives you next to nothing outside of stolen bases. The Royals’ shortstop posted a .160 ISO to go along with a 89 wRC+ and 30% strikeout rate. Those hitting numbers are just too poor for me to target in the 2nd/3rd round. I would much rather target top end starting pitching or proven hitters in this range. I would feel much more confident selecting players such as Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker and Nolan Arenado. While there is a possibility that Mondesi puts together a 20 HR/40 SB season, I’m unwilling to take that risk at such a high ADP. That being said, if Mondesi were to slip outside of the top-50 players, I would gladly take him. But, right now, Mondesi comes with too high of a price tag and not enough offensive production to back it up.
– Travis Cain (@TravisCain_)

Xander Bogaerts (SS – BOS) ECR: 25
Bogaerts is currently 25th among all players in the latest ECR and someone I am avoiding at that price tag. He slashed .300/.364/.502 with 11 home runs, 22 RBI, 36 runs scored, and eight stolen bases across 225 plate appearances in 2020. The Red Sox offense didn’t improve as a whole and Bogaerts hit an abysmal .204 with runners in scoring position. It’s also worth nothing that the 28-year-old is dealing with a sore shoulder during Spring Training. I’d rather have Alberto Mondesi, Alex Bregman and Corey Seager, all shortstops who are being selected within that range. Bogaerts is a solid fantasy option at SS, but I am not buying him at a top-25 overall pick.
– Brad Camara (@beerad30)

Bo Bichette (SS – TOR) ECR: 23
Bichette checks in at 23rd overall, which makes him the fifth shortstop off the board. There’s a lot to like about Bichette’s upside, yes, but you’re paying for every bit of that if you take him at the second/third round turn. His major league sample, while impressive, is so small and that makes it hard to project his value. Through 75 career games, Bichette has a .307/.347/.549 batting line with 16 home runs, 44 RBI, and eight stolen bases over 319 at-bats. He’s barely played half a full season in the majors. His batted profile, so far, suggests he’s a good to very good hitter but not an elite one. He hasn’t ranked in the 90th percentile or higher in any category, which includes barrel rate (82), xISO (83), exit velocity (57), and sprint speed (70). Bichette could explode for a 25/25 season while hitting .315 and I’ll eat crow but he hasn’t even played a long enough stretch to experience a significant slump in his career, which will eventually happen. I feel more comfortable taking Xander Bogaerts or Corey Seager as my shortstop, who are both being selected after him.
– Jon Mathisen (@EazyMath)

Tim Anderson (SS – CWS) ECR: 44
I don’t have anything against Anderson. Shortstop is just an incredibly deep position this season, and I just keep waiting for the other shoe to drop with Anderson. A career .281 hitter, Anderson broke out by hitting .335 in 2019 and followed that up by hitting .322 in the shortened 2020 season. His walk rate is dreadful, his exit velocity isn’t anything to write home about, and he finished amongst the worst in the league in xwOBA in both 2017 and 2018. Anderson also ran less in 2020 (5 steals in 49 games which is just a 16.5 steals pace over a full season). Anderson hits at the top of a loaded White Sox lineup and by no means am I suggesting to avoid him entirely. At his current ADP, however, I just never find myself targeting him aggresively in drafts either, as I’m more tham happy to wait a few rounds and draft someone like Gleyber Torres, Javier Baez or Carlos Correa.
– Lucas Spence (@lspence24)

Q2. Which player inside the top-50 ECR are you targeting the most?

Lucas Giolito (SP – CWS) ECR: 20
Inside the top-50 ECR, I’m targeting Giolito. In 2019 and 2020, Giolito recorded a 3.41 and 3.48 ERA with a 1.06 and 1.04 WHIP. That means he should provide solid ratios with high strikeout rates ranging from 32-33% the past two seasons. Giolito had three pitches that resulted in double-digit swinging-strike rates in the four-seamer, changeup, and slider in 2019 and 2020. From Jeff Zimmerman’s Mining the News article in early February, Giolitio is working on a new curveball, which could add to his filthy arsenal. I’m targeting Giolito in the second round with confidence.
– Corbin Young (@Corbin_Young21)

Kyle Tucker (OF – HOU) ECR: 36
Simply put, Tucker is one of the next superstars in baseball. There really isn’t much not to like about his game. He plays excellent defense, as he was a gold glove nominee, cementing his spot in the lineup. His power and speed is that of an elite player, as he has 13 home runs and 13 steals in 70 games played between 2019 and 2020. If there is any false narrative against Tucker, it’s that he has some swing and miss in his game. Not true. He has been league average or better every season in the minors, and was below league average during the 2020 season. Still with more power in the bat than he’s shown, Tucker will be flirting with the first round next season.
– Justin Johnson (@JJ_JetFlyin)

Walker Buehler (SP – LAD) ECR: 21
I like to view fantasy players as stocks or investment opportunities where I am looking to buy at a discount. Buehler isn’t necessarily inexpensive, but he has seen his price decrease over the past twelve months. During last year’s preseason, I was aggressively drafting Buehler immediately after the top arms of Gerrit Cole and Jacob deGrom, even if it meant spending a late-first round pick. Buehler is now available firmly in the second-round — at the earliest — and still holds the same “fantasy ace” potential we saw prior to the 2020 season.
– Mario Mergola (@MarioMergola)

Freddie Freeman (1B – ATL) ECR: 13
Freeman should be considered one of the biggest values of 2021 drafts. Why? He is currently ranked 13th in the latest ECR. Sure, it’s been weird times lately, but have we already forgotten Freeman is the reigning NL MVP? Projection systems seem to baselessly knock Freeman year after year with rankers falling as victims. I see a player who has continuously improved numbers like his K%, BB%, and tapped into power he couldn’t find early in his career. We can legitimately expect 35+ home runs, triple-digit RBIs and runs, and an average over .300. That’s worthy of a top-six or top-seven pick.
– Alex Altmix (@Altmix_23)

Clayton Kershaw (SP – LAD) ECR: 28
Everyone is concerned about Kershaw’s back, but he’s actually put up 149 innings every year since 2009, and he made 10 starts last year after coming off a back injury in Summer Camp. In a year where six-man rotations will be common and innings will be limited, Kershaw offers that rare upside of 175+ innings pitched with excellent ratios and above-average strikeouts. Waiting for Kershaw allows you to stack up on bats and get an ace late in the second round or early in the third round. He has also shown the will and determination to get better, as evidenced by his visits to Driveline over the past two years. We can’t quantify will and determination, and I’m confident that Kershaw will return SP1 value.
– Carmen Maiorano (@carmsclubhouse)

Ozzie Albies (2B – ATL) ECR: 32
I have Albies all alone in my top tier of second basemen. Over the last two seasons he’s produced at a pace of 97 runs, 24 homers, 83 RBI, 14 steals, and a .292 batting average. That makes Albies one of the few true five-category contributors in the game, and you get the added bonus of getting that production at a position where the rest of your league will likely struggle. I think Albies is a top-20 value going outside of pick 30, and I’m all over it.
– Jon Anderson (@JonPgh)

Francisco Lindor (SS – NYM) ECR: 16
Freddie Freeman currently ranks 13th overall on FantasyPros. I believe, after Freeman, there is a drop off to another tier of the fantasy baseball rankings. For me, Lindor is the number one player in this second tier who will be in the first tier a year from now. Overall, to his standards, Lindor had a subpar season last year. The power numbers were simply not there as he posted a .157 ISO, 102 wRC+ and .415 SLG. This is a classic case where a change of scenery takes his game back to where we saw it in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Lindor is in a much more potent offensive lineup and I believe his numbers will increase dramatically from last year. The new Mets shortstop is projected to hit anywhere from leadoff to the No. 3 hitter. Fantasy baseball managers will want pieces of this Mets offense and Lindor will be the driving force behind it. I’m targeting Lindor in all my leagues and trying to pair him with a top starting pitcher such as Shane Bieber or Max Scherzer. We will be talking about Lindor as a top-10 player on all fantasy baseball rankings this time next year.
– Travis Cain (@TravisCain_)

Zac Gallen (SP – ARI) ECR: 49
Gallen has been one of the most effective pitchers in the majors and was dominant in a shorted 2020 campaign. He owned a 2.75 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 82 strikeouts across 72 innings. The 25-year-old made changes to his arsenal by utilizing his cutter more while throwing less fastballs. Gallen threw his changeup at least 16% of the time which resulted in a 29.6 K% while using it. Gallen is a high-upside No.2 with the chance of being an ace for fantasy managers in 2021.
– Brad Camara (@beerad30)

Luis Castillo (SP – CIN) ECR: 37
A player I’m targeting inside the top-50 ECR is Luis Castillo, who is being drafted as the 36th overall player. He’s been a very good pitcher up to this point in his career and now, entering his age-28 season, is primed to make the leap to “great.” He realized a lot of his potential in 2019 and built on that in the shortened 2020 campaign. He finished the year with a 3.21 ERA (2.65 FIP), 1.23 WHIP, and 89:24 K/BB ratio over 70 innings. He put up career highs in K % (30.5%), average launch angle allowed (2.2 degrees), and HR/9 (0.6). He also lowered his walk rate from 10% in 2019 to 8.2% in 2020 while increasing the velocity on all four of his offerings. He accomplished all of this while producing the worst WHIP of his career, which felt more like bad luck than anything. Despite pitching in the launch pad that is Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, Castillo has always done an excellent job inducing soft contact with his pitch mix. His four-seam fastball (12.3% SwStr in 2020) mixed with his devastating changeup produced a career-best 58.4% Ground-ball rate last year. Innings pitched isn’t a big concern for him either as he topped 190 in 2019 and was on pace for about the same last year. He feels like a pitcher that is starting to put it all together and should be a legitimate fantasy ace this year. I’m more than happy drafting my offensive nucleus with my first two picks and nabbing Castillo in the third as my SP1.
– Jon Mathisen (@EazyMath)

Rafael Devers (3B – BOS) ECR: 35
After posting a monstrous fantasy line in 2019 with 129 R, 32 HR, 115 RBI, 8 SB with a .311/.361/.555 slash line in his age-23 season, Devers stumbled out of the gate in 2020, with the lack of a typical spring training and struggled mightly to find his timing in the batter’s box. In his first 21 games, Devers hit just .163 with 11 R, 2 HR, and a mere 5 RBI. However, over his final 36 games, Devers returned to form, hitting .307 with 21 R, 9 HR, and 38 RBI which was right in line with his elite 2019 production. I’m discarding that first 20 games as a simple extended version of spring training and utilizing this as an opportunity to get Devers at a minor discount in drafts in 2021. Just 24-years-old, Devers has one of the best hit tools in all of baseball, bats in a favorable lineup, and in a great hitter’s ballpark. A bounceback season from Jd Martinez would only serve to boost Devers’ counting stats as well. Giddy up.
– Lucas Spence (@lspence24)

Check out our early consensus rankings for 2021 fantasy baseball drafts >>


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