Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: How to Approach Start, Middle & End
The first rule of fantasy baseball drafts is to acknowledge (and accept) that someone in your league will absolutely, without fail, draft a player you were planning to roster this season. Every cheat sheet you make and every plan you create can go out the window as early as Round 1.
Rather than a specific plan for your draft, you need to establish an approach as to how you want to fill your roster, where the hidden gems are by ADP, and when it’s okay to reach. In a regular snake draft, you cannot irrationally outbid anyone to get your guy. (Ah, the benefits of salary cap leagues.) You need a general understanding of which players you’re drawn to and where to get them.
How you approach the start, middle, and end of your draft is up to you. We will look at them as three separate drafts and offer tips on how to approach each one.
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Tips on Approaching the Start, Middle and End of Your Draft
Let’s take a look at how to open your fantasy baseball draft.
Starting Your Draft
The first round is not the round to take a risk. When you look at ADP and rankings, you’ll notice that those first 10 to 15 picks are guys with high ceilings but, more importantly, very high floors. In baseball, there isn’t as much riding on your first pick (versus football, where it could derail your season immediately). But you still want to make a good choice.
When deciding who you want to take first, consider who you want to see on your team in the dog days of summer and ask yourself three questions:
- Who do I want to “set and forget” in my lineup in July and August?
- Who do I have the most confidence in?
- Who do I want to be committed to (especially in leagues with “can’t drop” lists)?
When every player is available, it can be difficult to answer those three questions, but it is imperative that you do so to avoid landing the player who will be an albatross to you later in the season. You can’t predict injuries or the like, but you can certainly put yourself in a much better position by choosing the best five-category (or dominant four-category) player with a solid floor.
No matter who you select, recognize that he is going to give you 162 games at most. The fantasy baseball season is a marathon, but 162 games is a drop in the bucket of everyone you need to draft to fill your roster. Your first pick needs to have a projection well north of 600 plate appearances for hitters or at least 200 strikeouts for pitchers. Elite production exists for two rounds in shallow leagues and only one for deeper leagues. Grab the trustworthy players here.
Middle Rounds: Prepare for the “Dead Rounds” Accordingly
In fantasy football, there is a well-known “RB Dead Zone” (third through sixth rounds, typically), and many fantasy managers avoid drafting a running back there. In fantasy baseball, I typically find these “dead zones” to fall between Rounds 7 and 10. This is primarily because there are typically four types of players who exist in this range:
- The oft-injured, could-be superstars or could-be IL clogs (Byron Buxton)
- The already injured but “imagine getting his top production back midseason” players (Bryce Harper)
- The high-ceiling, sophomore-slump threats (Vinnie Pasquantino, MJ Melendez, Logan Gilbert, Kyle Wright)
- The boring-but-gets-the-job-done players (Jose Abreu, Xander Bogaerts, Bryan Reynolds, Gleyber Torres)
These are the rounds that analysts get asked A LOT about because it seems like we’re not quite to the “sexy sleepers” or “high-risk, high-reward” prospects yet. We’re much more in the territory that many fantasy managers say, “Well, I need a catcher, so I suppose I’ll take one of the Contreras brothers here.”
With all due respect to Willson and William (who are Top 12 catchers in my rankings), these rounds are where you can begin to semi-reach for the players hiding out on every sleeper list that all of your league mates and you have read about. No, don’t grab the guy ranked 200 in the eighth round, but let’s say someone like Hunter Greene (ADP: 121) is on your target list, and you have no interest in anyone left around your pick No. 100.
This is when you can reach. I’d go so far as to say this is when you should reach because, depending on your draft order, Greene may not be there when it comes back around.
Mock drafts are an amazing tool to help you prepare for your drafts using your specific rules and scoring, but they struggle with the “Dead Zone” because the computer isn’t typically going to reach for the players that every live person knows and is excited about. If you are continuously getting one of these guys at his exact spot in the draft, bump him up at least one round when you’re matched against your league mates.
Ending is better than mending.
Imagine this: You’ve reached the last five rounds of a grueling draft. The coffee has long stopped working. You’re probably hungry or thinking about the next thing you have to do. What can the final five picks really mean anyway?
Well, they are the last opportunity for you to get as deep into your strategy as you can. Don’t stray from whatever you’ve done already and suddenly start adding pieces that don’t fit into the rest of your roster. If you didn’t care about stolen bases in Round 3, you certainly shouldn’t start caring about them in Round 22.
Instead, continue building on your power-focused approach and grab a couple of prospects who should be called up this season who could step right into being a useful piece. In saves leagues, draft the best handcuffs available, let them help your ratios and strikeout count, and then trade them to the manager who just lost the guy ahead of him later in the season. Draft the prospect with the highest possible reward for that season. Grab the wily veteran who might have a renaissance year.
In 2021, the last guy taken in my home league was Joey Votto. After 36 HR, 99 RBI, and a slash line of .266/.375/.563, the manager who drafted him declared himself a genius. Not at all annoying.
The point is that there are always useful players who can help your team build late in the draft. And if your league mates are sleepwalking their way out the door, you can have an espresso, stay focused, and capitalize on their drowsiness.
Focus on your approach and, as always, good luck!
Beyond our fantasy baseball content, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you prepare for your draft this season. From our free mock Draft Simulator – which allows you to mock draft against realistic opponents – to our Draft Assistant – which optimizes your picks with expert advice – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball draft season.
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Kelly Kirby is a featured writer and the lead copyeditor at FantasyPros. You can check out her archive here and follow her on Twitter at @thewonkypenguin.