If you’re out of the running for a fantasy baseball title right now, it’s probably not because of your first-round pick.
Per BaseballHQ.com’s Custom Draft Guide, 12 of the top 15 picks from the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) are enjoying top-40 seasons in standard 5×5 leagues. The only real “busts” have been Kris Bryant (ADP: 15) and Carlos Correa (14) — neither one has hit 15 home runs — and perhaps Clayton Kershaw (5), who owns a 2.51 ERA but has thrown just 143 innings thanks to recurring back issues.
The high hit rate means space will be tight for new faces in 2019’s first round. We’ll take a look at which ones deserve consideration, who they’d replace, and finish out with a projected first round for 2019.
A mid-round pick entering the season, Javier Baez’s five-category explosion sticks him squarely in the first-round conversation. With gobs of hard contact and complete freedom on the basepaths, Baez is one of just five hitters with at least 30 home runs and 20 steals. Well-positioned in the middle of a potent lineup, he’s also on pace for 100-plus runs and RBI in an MVP-caliber season.
First-rounder? Almost, but Baez falls into the “show us again” category, as gravity is our game’s most powerful force. Baez has excellent power/speed skills, but his free-swinging approach brings on some ratio risk. There will be safer players with longer track records as first-round options.
After a rough start, Alex Bregman has been on an absolute tear since June. He’s the only hitter (with at least 300 at-bats) who has more walks than strikeouts and an average exit velocity of at least 89 mph. Those raw skills have translated to a .294-30-100 line with a modest dose of speed (10 stolen bases) mixed in for good measure.
First-rounder? Bregman has put up first-round skills for the past year and a half. He’s in. We’d normally like to see another full season like this, but Bregman has an advanced plate approach, budding raw power, a strong running game, and eligibility at both shortstop and third base. Just 24, the sky’s the limit.
Jose Ramirez nearly made the first round last year; his quest to lead the American League in home runs (38) and steals (32) in the same season cements his status as a first-rounder next year. Ramirez’s elite plate skills round out the full package as he’s hitting .304 over the last three seasons.
First-rounder? Yep, Ramirez’s well-rounded skill set and excellent track record make him a lock. You could even make the case for him as a top-three pick.
Ramirez’s teammate, Francisco Lindor, has been nearly as good as his fellow infielder with 35 homers, 23 stolen bases and a .282 batting average in his age-24 campaign. Lindor has been given a green light on the basepaths and has improved his hard-hit rate in each of the last two seasons: from 28 percent to 35 percent to 41 percent.
First-rounder? Lindor’s five-category production is fully backed by his raw skills. He’s a shoo-in for the first round next year and could be there for a while.
Manny Machado was a top-20 pick entering the season; he’ll go even higher next year. A bad first half wrecked Machado’s 2017 line — his batting average cratered to .259 — but it’s rebounded nearly 40 points this year. Machado’s paired the plus average with 35 homers and 14 steals in what’s been his best fantasy season to date.
First-rounder? No doubt. Machado’s now hit more than 30 homers four years in a row with an average of .290 or better in three of the last four. The speed game is useful again too, so at peak age, the free agent-to-be is in for a major payday and belongs in the first round no matter where he lands.
J.D. Martinez has been the top fantasy hitter in standard formats and is flirting with the American League Triple Crown. The 31-year-old now has back-to-back 40-homer seasons that are fully backed by BaseballHQ.com’s power metrics. Better yet, he’s cut down on the strikeouts, which bodes well for a fourth season in a row of hitting .300.
First-rounder? Martinez won’t get you those scarce stolen bases, but he more than makes up for it with an elite foundation of batting average and home runs. He has put up first-round skills in each of the last two seasons and makes for a fine anchor as your top pick.
Trevor Story has always had light-tower power and we’re seeing it flourish this year with 33 home runs. Story’s combined the power surge with a green light on the basepaths (26-for-32 in steal attempts) and a .289 average. Just 25 years old, he’s the first shortstop with a 30 HR/25 SB season since Hanley Ramirez in 2008.
First-rounder? Not yet, as Story doesn’t quite have the track record of a first-rounder. He’s also had severe contact issues prior to 2018; it’s no sure thing his high strikeout totals are a thing of the past.
Christian Yelich figured to get a nice bump moving from Marlins Park to Miller Park. Did he ever. Hitting from the two-spot in a potent Milwaukee lineup, Yelich has a career-high 30 homers with 19 steals and a .313 average. He’s been a top-10 hitter this year and he’s in his prime.
First-rounder? He’s close, but Yelich doesn’t quite have the raw power to be a reliable 30-HR bat; his 33 percent home-run-per-fly-ball rate this year is well above career norms. The likely power fallback knocks Yelich from the first round, but his all-around game makes for a fine second-round choice.
So who’s out?
We mentioned Bryant, Correa and Kershaw in the introduction; their subpar seasons were enough to boot them from first-round consideration. That leaves two others from 2018’s cohort to be cut:
Bryce Harper hit just .220 in the first half, and while he’s turned things around down the stretch, Harper’s returned first-round value just once in seven seasons. His ceiling remains as high as any, but track record outweighs upside in Round 1.
Giancarlo Stanton didn’t quite get the Yankee Stadium power boost most expected; his 34 homers pale in comparison to the 59 he hit last year. He’s still a top power source, but without a plus batting average or speed profile, there’s not enough here to warrant an anchor pick.
So here they are; the first-rounders for 2019:
1. OF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
2. OF Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
3. 2B-3B Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
4. OF J.D. Martinez, Red Sox
5. SS Francisco Lindor, Indians
6. 3B Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
7. SS Trea Turner, Washington Nationals
8. SP Max Scherzer, Nationals
9. 2B Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
10. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
11. SS Manny Machado, free agent
12. SP Chris Sale, Red Sox
13. OF Charlie Blackmon, Rockies
14. SS-3B Alex Bregman, Astros
15. SP Corey Kluber, Indians
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