According to an old proverb, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” God then, must be a big fantasy baseball fan, or at the bare minimum, a fan of fantasy managers. How many digital seasons have fallen by the wayside due to an ill-timed injury or a bad-hop draft?
In many ways, fantasy baseball requires a steely resolve and an understanding of things infrequently (read: never) going entirely your way. Plan for a healthy season, a rebound, a breakout – and what happens?
Let the laughter ensue, I guess – our shared hobby is to predict the whimsies of billionaire owners, team intel, managers, and put our hopes in certain players and ideals with 100 percent of the available player pool at our disposal.
However, there are fantasy baseball managers who possess a level of masochism driving them to reach beyond the general pool of players. A select few are restricting their ‘fun’ to a single league’s worth of teams and players, thus leaving the fallback options for injury, bad drafts, or player regression even more limited.
With partial resources and a thinner margin for failure, how can a manager succeed in NL or AL-only leagues?
Well, it’s the same as any other league – winners plan to take advantage of draft values whenever available, and know how and when to pivot when their plans fall apart quicker than predicted.
Frankly, I don’t have the time or space to detail every player available in the pool – and as such, I know some names will be left out of my three chosen designations – “At the Top,” a look at players who may be taken in the first five rounds, “If You Wait,” a mid-round selection who can accumulate or maybe take a next step in the coming year, and “Sleeper Selection,” a player who, by all intents and purposes, might be a slight change away from relevance.
This forms a lovely layer cake of information you can choose to scrape away or chow down on, doesn’t it? Let’s dig right in.
AT THE TOP: WILL SMITH, LAD
Arguably the top catcher across mixed league formats, Will Smith represents a clear top-of-the-line selection at ADP 69. The 27-year-old boasts strong power metrics across the board and has no trouble getting on base, but with a BABIP trailing league average, a smidgen of normalization in this regard could boost his batting average closer to .270. Particularly in two catcher NL-only leagues, grabbing an elite (or great) C1 is critical – without a proven contributor filling one of those spots, you put yourself at a disadvantage early in the draft. Smith’s projections are in the 90th percentile for catchers in every scoring category apart from stolen bases – and even still, his R, HR, RBI, and AVG projections more than make up for the lack of bags he will contribute as compared to a catcher like Daulton Varsho.
IF YOU WAIT: KEIBERT RUIZ, WAS
Should an MLB team ever construct a lab to create players, catchers would be a fine selection for the position players to be cloned. This is (probably) all hypothetical, though the Dodgers’ immense catching depth served as the impetus towards adding Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to their already loaded team last season. How? By sending stud prospect Keibert Ruiz across the country to Washington. Ruiz’ most telling tool offensively is ‘hit’, as he has a knack for keeping a high mark in batting average without sacrificing pop. With no Will Smith or Austin Barnes in his path and nothing stopping the Nationals from giving the youngster every opportunity to succeed, Ruiz’ 169.4 ADP indicates the community at large is buying as a C1. I can support this notion and would be fine waiting if it meant Ruiz was my starter.
SLEEPER SELECTION: LUIS CAMPUSANO, SD
Alright, alright, go with me here – between Victor Caratini and Jorge Alfaro, catching duties seem to be well-covered in Slam Diego, but pray tell, where in the world could one Luis Campusano (ADP 507.7) fit into the Padres puzzle? Hello, universal designated hitter. I’m of the mindset Campusano could exceed the rather low bar of offensive production at the catcher position despite uninspiring defensive play. After all, his double-plus bat speed and power are enough to inspire hope among prospect fiends and wave off any worries his sub-par framing may bring about. With no position to man most days and two eligible spots in the batting order he could fill, Campusano makes sense as a late-round gamble in drafts.
AT THE TOP: PETE ALONSO, NYM
For the record, I prefer to think of Pete Alonso (ADP 47.8) as the fresh-faced Florida Gator he once was, only still wearing the garish orange and blue combination because he’s comfortable in it. (Don’t start, Michael.) Regardless of his questionable team allegiance, Alonso is indisputably one of the most Herculean batters at any position across MLB, and his fifth-in-MLB max exit velocity and seventh-in-MLB barrel rate are confirmations the power is as real as his sterling freshman campaign indicated. His selectivity may be first apparent in the dips in K% and BB%, but the decreased soft contact along with boosts in medium/hard contact, along with a career mark in line drive rate inspires hope of a batting average return to its 2019 peak. Even without an average gain (and even considering a slight average DROP), this is a ridiculous power bat and a slam-dunk second-round choice in NL Only drafts. (Just hush, Mike.)
IF YOU WAIT: MAX MUNCY, LAD
It’s stretching the meaning of “if you wait” and against my better judgment, leaning into some fears about a season delay, but one sect of players who could best benefit from a lack of March/April games would be those with a cloudier injury outlook. One such example is Max Muncy (ADP 111.6, 147 in February 2022), who with full health would likely represent a first-or-second round selection in this format. “Waiting,” in this regard could indicate waiting for the season may make Max Muncy a rounds-deep discount. Then again, if either a deal comes together or his damaged arm is not where it should be, Muncy might burn managers on even the deepest of selections.
SLEEPER SELECTION: YOSHI TSUTSUGO, PIT
Y’know, I didn’t MEAN to dunk on Tsutsugo while discussing his similarities to Seiya Suzuki last month. I genuinely meant what I said – his time in Pittsburgh was encouraging, and to double down on the sentiment (and to apologize for the inadvertent diss), I’ll encourage NL Only drafters to take a closer look at Yoshi Tsutsugo (ADP 399). All 8 of his home runs, 8 of 12 doubles, and 78 percent of his RBI came as a Pirate – moreover, the NL Central appears to be the place his power would have played most frequently, as well. Could Tsutsugo be a bizarre post-hype sleeper? I’m not saying no…and weirder things have happened.
AT THE TOP: JAKE CRONENWORTH, SD
A great many of the top-tier options at second base across the National League are multi-positional wonders. Admittedly, the premier second baseman in the NL (and probably MLB as a whole) is Ozzie Albies, who is exclusively eligible at the keystone, but I believe a great approach in this format is to seek out a dual-eligible player to settle in at second. One player I’ve been investing in whenever available this offseason is Jake Cronenworth (ADP 123.6). Cronenworth is, in my opinion, one of the trickiest at-bats a pitcher can face in the modern game. Combining strong plate discipline with above-average HR and SB totals, this Padre will be a great accumulator (150 R+RBI feels very safe) while catalyzing many counting stats of his own, as well.
IF YOU WAIT: JEAN SEGURA, PHI
Is there a more unappreciated player in Major League Baseball than my man James Cigarettes?
All Jean Segura (ADP 216.4) does is get on base and score. I realize the Phillies need to add some more firepower to the lineup, but very few additions could supplant Segura from the leadoff spot, where he projects to do much of what he’s done for his entire career – sterling AVG, double-digit HR and SB with healthy R and serviceable RBI figures. Sign me up, baby. 🚬
SLEEPER SELECTION: GARRETT HAMPSON, COL
The fleet-footed Garrett Hampson (ADP 311.8) has the “pleasure” of playing for the Colorado Rockies, and as such, his playing time is constantly threatened by any number of factors. Perhaps the Rockies get the urge to resurrect the career of Brian Dozier (ADP unknown)? Maybe they shuffle their jammed infield over and again until Hampson’s playing “left out” instead of “2B?” The issues against Hampson’s playing time aren’t strictly Monfortian in nature – he also has seemingly allowed his contact-heavy approach to slip over his time in the majors, only surpassing a .270 average in his first major-league campaign, probably due to a lessened rate of groundballs. With the litany of issues against him, though, Hampson still offers his incredible speed and managers have not shied from targeting him late in drafts. NL Only managers would be wise to accommodate Hampson – as a reserve round selection – on the off-chance his contact rate or playing time see increases.
AT THE TOP: MANNY MACHADO, SD
A peripheral first-rounder in the format, Manny Machado (ADP 23.8) is, in my opinion, the most trustworthy option at the hot corner available in the National League. Easy, Austin Riley stans, I’m not dogging your guy – in fact, I’d be pleased with Riley at third – but I see Machado’s potential upside as being greater than A-Ri’s. Machado’s got just as much power output, a Padres lineup which (without Freddy Freeman and considering Acuna and Tatis as equivalent risks) sort of poo-poos the Braves and thus, gives him the greater potential for R+RBI, Machado is as safe a pick at 3B as the NL can offer.
IF YOU WAIT: JUSTIN TURNER, LAD
Give me the old, give me the boring, broken masses and let them remain sheltered, huddling under my arm and established on my teams. Don’t listen to the ageist nitwits of the world, Justin Turner – I love you, man. Thank you for being Justin Turner.
…oh, right. Justin Turner; even when considering his proclivity for missing time each season, given 120 games played, I expect nothing less than 140 R+RBI, 20+ HR, and a lovely batting average to boot. (Sound familiar? James Cigarettes waves hello.) If you miss out on the Machado, Arenado, and Rileys of the world, seek out Justin Turner (ADP 153.6) as a mid-round boost to the offensive categories. Ride it until the wheels fall off, man.
SLEEPER SELECTION: EVAN LONGORIA, SF
Honestly, the same vibes for Justin Turner apply here. Accommodating Giants batters with the way Gabe Kapler manages in San Francisco is a little trickier than the average team’s players, but a pre-injury Evan Longoria (ADP 360) was absolutely KNOCKING in 2021. Could Longo continue this return to fantasy relevance a decade after being a first-round lock? I’m no medium, but it would be a fun thread to follow (and a cheap thread to pull in your drafts) this season.
AT THE TOP: FRANCISCO LINDOR, NYM
The shortstop ranks in the National League are stacked with talent. Here’s a bold prediction – Trea Turner is going to be really, really, really ridiculously good at baseball in 2022. Fernando Tatis Jr. is just as talented and will likely represent the top two picks in the format with Turner. However, Francisco Lindor, at ADP 49.8, could represent an excellent consolation prize for anyone picking in the back half of the order, unable to grab one of the top two options early. With better luck for health, Lindor should find himself with numbers more closely resembling his career averages – just shy of 50 HR+SB and 200 R+RBI – and his adroit defense will keep him in the Mets’ ennead through any slumps.
IF YOU WAIT: WILLY ADAMES, MIL
Boy, getting out of the AL East looked good on Willy Adames (ADP 138.8), didn’t it? Maybe it was the division, maybe it was the change of scenery, sure; a certainty in the change can be credited to Adames swinging the bat more often. A launch angle adjustment here, an uptick in hard-hit rate there, and Adames finishes a breakout season at the ripe old age of 26. What’s to come? More of the same, frankly, and with an improvement from Christian Yelich and continued gains from Luis Urias, a boost in R+RBI, settling Adames anywhere from a total 150 to 165.
SLEEPER SELECTION: PAUL DeJONG, STL
Rather than rest on his laurels, DeJong reached out to Gradum Baseball founder Lorenzo Garmendia to work on his swing this offseason. Garmendia, whose recent successes include J.D. Martinez and the aforementioned Adames, could reignite the Cardinals shortstop’s bat. DeJong admitted to needing a more stable routine in order to be a consistent hitter and has taken to Garmendia’s biomechanical approach to a full body, coordinated connection with the ball. With an average ADP of 396, DeJong could represent an absolute steal in the late rounds.
AT THE TOP: JUAN SOTO, WAS
What is there to say which someone much wiser or more statistically advanced than I hasn’t already said? There’s no reason Juan Soto (ADP 2.8) shouldn’t be taken in the first round of every draft this season, barring AL Only drafts (and even then, I think he’s probably a better final round shout than some) and is an inarguable number one overall in many formats. The preternatural selectivity at the plate is matched only by the master craftsman’s toolset for the most ridiculously talented outfielder in the National League. Not that you didn’t already know…
IF YOU WAIT: SEIYA SUZUKI, WHO CARES
IF YOU WAIT: MICHAEL CONFORTO, FA
Considering Michael Conforto (ADP 175.8) is a free agent as of writing, this may be a moot point, but for the interim, keep the former Metropolitan in mind in the middle rounds when targeting outfielders. Now hopefully healed from the hamstring injury which cost him a month+ and potentially the reason for his drab first half, Conforto’s stock may be linked to his landing spot in free agency. There are definite needs in outfields across the National and American Leagues, but it’s safe to say Conforto will be taking his plate discipline and 20+ HR power to a home park outside of Queens in 2022.
SLEEPER SELECTION: LANE THOMAS, WAS
Snagging a full-time role after a mid-season trade from St. Louis to Washington, Lane Thomas (ADP 295.3) made the most of his extended opportunity and shined through September. Batting .277 with 10 HR+SB and a 73 percent contact rate, Thomas impressed positively upon his new team and according to the all-powerful Roster Resource, has taken a starting job in left field. Projections are modest, predicting 20-ish HR+SB with just over 100 R+RBI, but Thomas would not be the first ex-Cardinal to spread his wings and soar for another team. I’d say he’s well worth a late-round pick to find out!
AT THE TOP: CHARLIE MORTON, ATL
I’m not going to be the sucker who undervalues Charlie Morton (ADP 90.2) and misses out on what COULD be an SP1 for the price of an SP3 in drafts. In NL Only drafts, Morton could end up as your number one, but stacking him with either a risk injury (Jacob DeGrom) or a high-K upside youngster (Freddy Peralta) is a lethal one-two. An ERA a shade over 3.50, about 180 K, and opportunities to win games with Atlanta – sign me up.
IF YOU WAIT: STEPHEN STRASBURG, WAS
Speaking of SP1 upside, Stephen Strasburg (ADP 268.2) is going far too late for a player of his upside. Fine, let’s factor in time on the injured list – if the 33-year-old throws 120 innings, I’m betting on 130+ K, great ratios, and a fair shot at wins based upon his talent. Anything more is gravy, as, at this pick, Strasburg is a potential SP1 masquerading as an SP4 or greater. If you’ve taken a trustworthy ace and have your batting in order – take the shot. I know I will!
SLEEPER SELECTION: REIVER SANMARTIN, CIN
Shoutout to my original favorite analyst, Kyle Wheeler, for pointing out how exceptional Reiver Sanmartin (ADP 462) looked in two starts at the end of the 2021 season. Admittedly, Sanmartin is a player I do not have all the answers on – but I will be the first to admit there are interesting elements to his skillset. The 25-year-old lefty’s fastball is a sub-90 MPH offering, the weakest of his pitches by a fair margin; fortunately though, a pair of strong secondaries (80 MPH slider and 84 MPH changeup) and next-level command brought Sanmartin to the show and propelled him to 11 K over 12 innings. Admittedly, Sanmartin has never exclusively been a starting pitcher – his lanky frame and dominance versus lefties seem to indicate there’s a potential future in the bullpen – but the all-knowing Roster Resource seems to believe the fifth rotation spot is his to lose. At his bargain-basement cost, if the ‘worst case’ is coming away with a quality reliever, the ‘best case’ of a lithe starter with great command and strong secondaries is a great deep-round pick.
AT THE TOP: WILL SMITH, ATL
While the catching name-variant we discussed earlier is decidedly the Fresh Prince, the closer-style Will Smith (ADP 123.5) is probably more the CGI Genie from 2019’s Aladdin. Yeah, sure, the skills from a previous version (Smith’s 2018-19 run-suppression and strikeout totals) may be more charming, but there’s something to be said for the version we have. Smith struggled with walks in the second half but rebounded with 11 scoreless innings in the playoffs. What’s to believe? Easy – the track record. I’m buying Will Smith with confidence.
IF YOU WAIT: COREY KNEBEL, PHI
Corey Knebel (ADP 197.2) is currently being drafted as if he’s the de facto closer in Philadelphia – and for good reason. Honestly, he’s an upside play in a bullpen with very little of the same. At this point, only a signing or trade could poo-poo the party until we begin to see actual, on-field results. An untimely injury did cost Knebel about half the 2021 campaign and doesn’t do favors for a profile which already earned the “injury concerns” merit badge. (You can’t prestige it, Core.) Regardless, the velocity bounced back post-injury, and for the here and now, Knebel is at best a closer for a win-now team, and at worst, a second-best reliever in a bullpen with little to write home about.
SLEEPER SELECTION: ART WARREN, CIN
Man, the Reds bullpen is…really something, huh? One dart with a particularly sharp point to it among the group in Cincinnati is Art Warren (ADP 530.5), a 29-year-old righty who projects to be a dark horse for saves in the NL Central. Warren’s stint in Cincinnati featured 26 games spread over 21 innings, twirling a 1.29 ERA with 14.57 K/9. Alright, that’s good numbers – sign up, right? Well…yes, but…hold on. The ERA is due for obvious regression, at the very least to his career number around 3.00, but still a manageable ratio for managers. The successes he enjoyed in AAA seemed to hold in his time in the big leagues, and his slider is a legitimate weapon, with a 28% swinging-strike rate. You can call me Ango Gablogian, because especially in deeper leagues, I’m buying Art.
OTHER POSITIONS (UTIL / MI / CI)
Generally, the best advice I can give for MI/CI/UTIL positions echoes the beliefs of high stakes player Jenny Butler, who believes positional flexibility covers bases by allowing one player to fill multiple spots and allows further elasticity in the later rounds of a draft. Keep in mind that using players with dual or triple positional eligibilities not only makes roster construction easier but gives you more options for in-season management, as well. A corner/middle infield combo player like Josh Rojas, Luís Urias, or Joey Wendle is an exceptional choice in NL Only leagues. A catcher-eligible player like Daulton Varsho or Tyler Stephenson, who may see time at other positions, could accumulate more often than a normal catcher and make sense as a selection based upon versatility, as well.