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20 Things To Watch For In Week 1 (2022 Fantasy Baseball)

by Dennis Sosic | @call_me_sos | Featured Writer
Apr 4, 2022
Shohei Ohtani

Shohei Ohtani is always one to watch and especially in week one of the MLB season.

Welcome, fantasy friends and foes, to the 2022 Fantasy Baseball season.

Every week I will identify what to watch for as you prep your fantasy baseball lineups and rosters.

While fantasy managers wait on the returns of their top picks, Fernando Tatis Jr (SS, OF – SD) and Ronald Acuna (OF – ATL), I preview the first week of the 2022 season.

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1. First Pitch 2022

Thankfully, we will be able to watch MLB games starting on April 7, with seven games on the schedule. Play Ball!

2. Shohei Ohtani (DH, SP – LAA) MVP Follow-up

Shohei Ohtani will come off his MVP-winning season by making his first career Opening Day start and serving as the leadoff hitter for the Los Angeles Angels. The two-way star has emerged as the most exciting player in the game. The hype is justified and continues to rise, including establishing the Shohei Ohtani Rule, which will allow Ohtani to be the pitcher and the designated hitter in games he plays. The addition of Ohtani hitting leadoff will maximize his volume and fantasy impact at the plate. Another MVP campaign is not out of the question.

2. What to do with Jacob deGrom (SP – NYM)?

Jacob deGrom was scheduled to make his fourth Opening Day start for the New York Mets, but the Mets just announced that the right-hander would not throw for four weeks due to a stress reaction in his right shoulder. This is devastating news for Mets fans and fantasy managers. The uncertainty of his return forces fantasy managers to move off deGrom because the initial report is not encouraging for his return until June.

3-8. Rookie of the Year Favorites

Julio Rodriguez (OF – SEA)

Julio Rodriguez is regarded as the No.2 overall prospect according to Baseball America. He has the talent and potential to be a superstar in the not-too-distant future in the big leagues. Rodriguez has had a good spring training with three doubles, a home run, five RBI, two stolen bases, and a .925 OPS. The Mariners will have plenty to explain if they send him to Triple-A. Rodriguez is one of my favorite sleeper selections this season.

Spencer Torkelson (1B, 3B – DET)

The former number one overall pick projects as a consistent middle-of-the-order masher capable of producing towering home runs to all fields. Spencer Torkelson brings the thunder to the plate and will get on base with good contact skills. Torkelson batted .267/.383/552 with 30 homers and 91 RBI in 121 games in the minors last year. While he may not start the season with the Tigers, Torkelson will make an impact in the Tigers lineup and on your fantasy rosters.

CTAs

Bobby Witt Jr. (SS – KC)

Bobby Witt Jr. is an exceptional talent rated as the MLB top prospect and was named the 2021 Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America. Across two minor league affiliates last season, he appeared in 123 games and led all minor-league players in extra-base hits. He also hit 33 home runs and knocked in 97 runs.

His elite levels of power, speed, and plate discipline translate to the odds-on favorite for the Rookie of the Year and a fantasy unicorn.

Oneil Cruz (SS – PIT)

Since he arrived in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, Oneil has done nothing but turn heads. Cruz made his MLB debut last season and went 3-for-9 with a homer across two games. He is hitting .333/.333/.723 with a 1.067 OPS with a pair of dingers this spring. Cruz hit two balls that exceeded 113 mph exit velocity rate. Nevertheless, Cruz was optioned to Triple-A to manipulate his service time and gain an extra year of control. There are zero reasons for Cruz not to be the Pirates’ Opening Day shortstop. Cruz has the potential to be a superstar with above-average speed, and his 6-7 frame produces massive raw power. Regardless of the Pirates’ posturing, Cruz still has an excellent chance to win Rookie of the Year.

Keibert Ruiz (C – WAS)

Keibert Ruiz is the number one prospect in the Washington Nationals system and looks to have the starting position locked up behind the plate. In 23 games last season, Ruiz slashed .284/.348/.395 with a .743 OPS and two homers, 14 RBI across 81 at-bats. Ruiz put up impressive numbers in Triple-A with the Dodgers and Nationals, and his prospect pedigree will be one of the top storylines for the 2022 Washington Nationals.

CJ Abrams (SS – SD)

CJ Abrams is projected to be a future star and compelling table-setter for the San Diego Padres for the next decade. He possesses a plus hit tool with plus speed. In addition, he has played both his primary position at shortstop along with second base and in centerfield. The 21-year-old Abrams is hitting .304 with a pair of homers and a .899 OPS this spring. With all-world shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr out for at least the first two months of the season, it opens the door for their top prospect to be on the Opening Day roster and be a valuable contributor from the onset of the 2022 season.

9-12. Closer Battles

Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox closer role might be the team’s most significant question mark heading into the 2022 season. Matt Barnes (RP – BOS), Garrett Whitlock (RP – BOS), and Jake Diekman (RP – BOS) are all vying for the primary closer role. Regrettably, there is no clear-cut solution for the Red Sox and fantasy managers. Barnes was dominant in the first half of last season but borderline unplayable in the second half. Whitlock enjoyed a terrific rookie season with a 1.86 ERA. He was Boston’s most reliable bullpen arm the previous season. Southpaw reliever Diekman provides depth to the back of the bullpen and will see a handful of save opportunities. The Red Sox also has Josh Taylor (RP – BOS) was dominant down the stretch as the left-hander will remain a reliable late-inning, high-leverage option. Unfortunately, no one has emerged as the definite primary closer, which makes it a challenge for fantasy managers on who to target.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds saw ten different pitchers record a save last season, with both Heath Hembree (RP – PIT) and Mychal Givens (RP – CHC) leading the team with eight apiece. Unfortunately, both Hembree and Givens are no longer with the team, and the Reds will not have a defined closer heading into the 2022 season. Once again, the Reds will have a group of relievers closing games, but the best options are right-handers Art Warren (RP – CIN) and Hunter Strickland (RP – CIN) this season.

San Diego Padres

The back of the Padres bullpen is jumbled upon the departure of NL saves leader Mark Melancon (RP – ARI), with multiple relievers vying for closing opportunities. Over the last two seasons, Robert Suarez (RP – SD) was dominant in Japan but has never pitched in the big leagues. Last season, Emilio Pagan (RP – SD) was a disappointment with a 4.83 ERA and -.0.4 WAR. Pierce Johnson (RP – SD) is a serviceable reliever but doesn’t instill fear in opposing hitters. Dinelson Lamet (SP, RP – SD) has a closer arsenal, but his durability is a huge concern. Luis Garcia (RP – SD) was impressive last season, but he is still recovering from an oblique injury, while lefty Drew Pomeranz (RP – SD) was just placed on the 60-day injured list after forearm surgery. This bullpen looks like a situation that fantasy managers should avoid.

13-16. Former MVP looks to rebound

Cody Bellinger (OF – LAD)

Cody Bellinger has won the NL. Rookie of the Year Award in 2017 and was named the 2109 NL MVP, but he has struggled mightily since that magic season. Bellinger is coming off an injury-plagued 2021 season in which he hit just .165 with ten homers and 36 RBI.

The lefty slugger has gone hitless in his last 13 at-bats with 11 strikeouts and looks completely lost at the plate. His stock continues to sink as we approach Opening Day. Bellinger might be a valuable buy-low candidate that will hit in a lethal Dodgers lineup and can rise to be a league winner. Then again, he could just have lost his ability to hit and be the first player you drop off your fantasy roster. Stay tuned.

Mookie Betts (OF – LAD)

Mookie Betts experienced several injuries last season, which limited him to just 122 games and his lowest offensive numbers since 2017. Nevertheless, Betts is one of the premier outfielders in the league and will be surrounded by Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner in a potent Dodgers lineup. Betts is set to hit leadoff for the Dodgers this season, and his healthy return should produce a breakout season.

Mike Trout (OF – LAA)

Mike Trout is a perennial MVP candidate and annual top-three fantasy selection. Trout is arguably the best player of our generation. In 36 games last season before his injury, Trout produced a .333/.446/.624 with a 1.090 OPS and a 1.8 WAR.

Trout reported in camp that he had “no issues” with the calf and looked to prove why he is the best player in baseball.

Christian Yelich (OF – MIL)

After producing back-to-back MVP-caliber seasons in 2018 and 2019, Christian Yelich has regressed to record his two worst offensive seasons over the last two years. He registered a career-low .736 OPS last season and only nine home runs, and his slugging percentage fell to a career-worst .373.

Yelich is hitting .300 with two doubles among his six hits this spring. The Brewers have new hitting coaches this season, so hopefully, they can help jump-start Yelich’s bat.

17. Byron Buxton’s (OF – MIN) health

The Minnesota Twins and fantasy managers hope that Byron Buxton can finally stay healthy for an entire season. Buxton has only played in more than 100 games in a season once, but the Twins still believed in Buxton enough to extend the centerfielder to $100 million for seven years. Last season, Buxton produced outstanding numbers, hitting over .300 with a 1.005 OPS and an insane 4.5 WAR. Unfortunately, he suffered a catastrophic injury and played in just 61 games. However, Buxton has been smashing the ball in Grapefruit League play. If he can only stay healthy, Buxton is an MVP-type candidate.

18. Robbie Ray’s (SP – SEA) encore?

Robbie Ray had a career season in 2021, leading the league in ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts. Ray parlayed his career season into a big contract with the Seattle Mariners and will be the Mariners SP1. However, all of his 2021 numbers scream regression. The question is, how much does Ray regress? Current ECR has Ray as a top 15 SP, and it’s challenging to believe that Ray will reach that type of production in 2022.

19. Justin Verlander’s (SP – HOU) return

The future Hall-of-Famer has been out for two full seasons due to Tommy John surgery. Justin Verlander has three spring starts, hasn’t allowed a run, and has struck out ten batters across 8.2 innings.

Verlander says this spring has gone as smoothly as he hoped, bouncing back between starts. Sitting at 94-95 mph with his fastball, the 39-year-old Verlander will not start Opening Day but is scheduled to take the mound to pitch in the third game of the Astros season on April 9.

20. Francisco Lindor (SS – NYM) rebound?

He showed flashes of being the All-Star caliber player he was for Cleveland after he came back from a strained right oblique injury in late August. In September, Lindor slashed .257/.346/.549 in 30 games, including nine home runs and 25 RBI. Mets fans and fantasy managers are optimistic to see more of that than his first-half slash line of .225/.325/.373.

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Dennis Sosic is a featured writer at FantasyPros. 

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