2022 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: The best value picks from first 10 rounds based on average draft position

When you write about Fantasy sports, you get used to people in your everyday life asking you for advice around this time of year. Usually, it’s something simple like, “Hey, which one of these keepers should I pick?” or “Can you take a look at my team and let me know what you think?”

But the other day, I got a more involved question: “Who is your favorite player to draft in every round?” This was, of course, far too much for one person to ask individually, but as the jumping off point for an article? Well, it made perfect sense, so today I’m going to write about my favorite player to target in each of the first 10 rounds based on average draft position.

Obviously, every draft is different, and all it takes is one person to make your favorite target unavailable. If you’re drafting with me and your target is George Springer, for instance, you’d better make sure you take him before my pick is up in the fourth round, because I’m taking him if he’s there. His fifth-round ADP doesn’t matter much when you’re drafting with me.

Still, if I’m in a typical draft and players go off the board where they usually do, this is who I’d be targeting in each round to start off my draft, based on ADP data from NFC drafts since March 21.

First round: Mike Trout (13.2 ADP)

There’s no such thing as a good or bad pick in the first round, really. These guys are going where they are for a reason, and more often than not, who you end up with is ultimately more a function of where you draft than your strategy or personal feelings about any given player; if Vladimir Guerrero falls to No. 6 overall, you’re probably going to just draft him, even if you might prefer to get some early speed.

But Trout as the No. 12 player off the board with a 14.4 ADP is my favorite pick in this range. You’re getting a discount for injury, but he’s also going off the board later than Ronald Acuna on average – you know, the guy who hasn’t been cleared to actually play baseball yet.

That’s not a knock on Acuna or his value, and his lofty status is not undeserved, given his stolen base potential. However, I’m not totally ready to write off a healthy and engaged Trout as a base stealer if the Angels are actually competitive, especially since he has still rated out as an elite base runner with top-end speed by available metrics. Maybe that won’t mean 30 steals or even 20, but he’s more than capable of a return to double digits, even if you should view that as a potential bonus.

Trout is right there with Juan Soto in terms of the best hitters in the game, too, except he might hit 15 more homers. In fact, if Trout stays healthy, he’s probably the safest bet to lead the majors in homers, which may not be factored into his price enough.

Machado took a bit of a step back from 2020 last season, especially in batting average, but if you look at the underlying numbers, he was pretty much the same guy – .304 expected batting average and .545 expected slugging percentage in 2020 vs. .295 and .531 in 2021. Machado was, of course, excellent in his own right, so that is just to say that it’s not hard to see him having an even better season. I think he’s a roughly comparable hitter to Rafael Devers except he’s got a better chance for double-digits in steals, too. I do not just like Machado more relative to cost – 22.4 ADP vs. 13.9 for Devers – I prefer him outright.

Story’s price was deflated before he signed, and Fenway is not going to be as good a home park for him as Coors Field was. But it’s the next best thing. Fenway has a big boosting effect on batting average, and although it is not quite as pronounced as the impact Coors has, that’s a great sign for Story. The biggest question mark for him coming off a down season while leaving Coors is where the batting average will settle. I think you can expect something close to .280 – he was at .292 from 2018 through 2020 – with upside for 30-plus homers and 20-plus steals in a great lineup. He’s moved up more to the mid-third in drafts since his signing, but I still think he’d be my pick for the third round anyway – it’s not a round I especially love the values ​​for.

It’s kind of cheating to just pick players with injury concerns for this exercise because, for the most part, everyone agrees about how good these players are; it’s more a question of risk tolerance. I’m more willing to take risks on hitters in the early rounds than most, and especially those with first-round potential, which is exactly what Buxton brings to the table. He was arguably the best player in baseball on a per-game basis in 2021, but even if you do not expect him to replicate last year 1.005 OPS, his per-162 game pace over the past three seasons is a .277 average, 36 HR, 91 RBI, 101 R, and 22 steals.

Obviously, doing that while dealing with the grind of a full season is a much different thing, especially for a player like Buxton who has struggled so much just to stay on the field. But when we talk about potentially league-winning picks, Buxton belongs in that conversation no matter where you take him. If he falls to the fourth or fifth, you’re loading your team with five-category potential few players can match.

Over the past week, Bryant has been a fifth-rounder, and I love the value there. There have been concerns over the past few seasons about Bryant’s underwhelming quality of contact data – 29th percentile in average exit velocity, 42nd percentile in hard-hit rate in 2021 – but he’s a guy who has consistently outperformed his expected stats for most of his career , so that really hasn’t been a concern for me. And it definitely isn’t now that he’s in Coors Field for half his games. The question for me with Bryant isn’t whether he’ll be worth a fifth-round pick, but whether we’ll be talking about him as a top-25 pick this time next year. I’m not expecting him to be as good as Nolan Arenado was in his Coors-fueled heyday, but 30 homers, double-digit steals and an average that approaches the high-.200s is unreasonable to expect. If you’re worried about the lack of quality of options at third base, Bryant is the best value proposition.

There haven’t been any pitchers on this list yet, but that’s not to say I do not like the values ​​at the position. So, in the interest of making sure I don’t ignore the humble pitcher, I’m drafting a lot of Max Scherzer (17.4 ADP), Robbie Ray (47.9), and Freddy Peralta (52.8), before this range, too. I just generally do not love the values ​​in this range relative to the hitters available, in keeping with my larger draft strategy regarding pitchers.

That being said, I do find myself drawn to Gausman at this price quite a bit. He’s probably best suited as a No. 2 starter for our Fantasy team, but I just do not find myself all that worried about his second-half struggles last season. He was never going to sustain his ridiculous 1.73 pre-ASB ERA, and I do not think this was a situation where the sticky-substance crackdown impacted him adversely – Gausman had a 2.32 ERA and 27.8% strikeout rate in the month after the crackdown . Really, he just had an awful July, as he gave up a 5.11 ERA in his five starts, but was pretty solid otherwise, with a 3.70 ERA (2.97 FIP) and 28% strikeout rate from Aug. 1 on. The move from San Francisco to Toronto isn’t ideal, but Toronto is backing him up with one of the best offenses in baseball and a pretty good defense, so I’m not too worried about the shift in home park for him.

At this point, it just seems unfair to hold Seager’s injury track record against him. He underwent serious surgery in 2018 on his hip and elbow, but had played 84% of his possible games in 2019 and 2020, finishing ninth in MVP voting in the COVID-shortened season. And, while he missed 72 games in 2021, nearly all of that came about as a result of getting hit by a pitch on the hand, and I’m just not going to hold that against the guy.

And Seager has established himself as one of the very best hitters in baseball over the past two seasons, hitting .306 / .381 / .545 with 31 homers in 147 games. He’s facing a downgrade in both lineup and home park with his move from the Dodgers to the Rangers, but Seager hits the ball so hard that the park shift shouldn’t bother him much. In a lot of ways, he’s a Freddie Freeman cclone going 50 picks later.

Look, none of us has any idea whether Verlander is going to be able to stay healthy after effectively missing the past two seasons following Tommy John surgery. He’s 39, after all, and has thrown just six innings since 2019, how much can we reasonably expect from him? On the other hand, he’s pretty much looked like himself so far during the spring, throwing 8.2 shutout innings with 10 strikeouts, and his velocity has mostly been right where we want it to be.

Which is to say, whether Verlander will be able to hold up in the long run, he more or less looks like himself right now. And the last time we saw him in 2019, he was the best player in Fantasy regardless of format. And, while there’s a risk that he won’t be able to provide the innings he has in the past, there isn’t exactly a ton of incentive for either Verlander or the Astros to conserve his arm – he’s near the end of his career one way or the other. Given all that, it’s reasonable to say he has more realistic upside than any other pitcher being drafted in this range.

I’ve been more excited about Yelich than Cody Bellinger throughout the draft process, and it seems like the consensus might be shifting that way with every report about Bellinger tinkering with his swing this spring. Those two will be linked in most Fantasy players’ minds all season, but Yelich is worthy in his own right. Last season was tough, but a lot of the underlying numbers were still strong – 80th percentile or better in average exit velocity, max exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and sprint speed while his plate discipline bounced back more or less to pre-2020 levels.

The problem was that he did not elevate the ball, reverting back to ground ball rates we have not seen since his Marlins days. Well, that was the problem from a performance standpoint. The other issue was the back injury he struggled with throughout the season. Yelich says that is something he’s dealt with throughout his career, so the hope is it won’t be a recurring issue, but it’s always a risk. Still, the underlying skill set was still strong enough last season that I’m willing to bet on a bounceback. If not to MVP levels, at least to must-start levels.

If you listen to FBT, you know Adames has been one of our collective favorites all preseason. Shortstop is a deep position full of stars, but Adames might be your last chance to draft a player who has a good chance of being a legitimate difference maker. That’s what he was after getting traded to the Brewers, as he hit .285 / .366 / .521 in 99 games, and that was in line with what he produced outside of Tropicana Field, where Adams historically struggled. The 26-year-old former top prospect is could a top-60 pick this time next year.

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