Fantasy baseball is nearly a year-round commitment and your league’s draft is the most important day of the fantasy year. While the draft is only the beginning of the season, too many draft mistakes could sink your roster right out of the gate. These nine major draft mistakes are common but can be avoided with the proper plan.
Different league formats require different strategies. In head-to-head competitions, sometimes it’s fine to punt a tough category such as saves or steals. In a rotisserie setting, that could be the difference between winning your league and missing a payout. For the purpose of this list, we’ll consider a standard 5×5 roto scoring league.
The season is not here yet, but why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!
Biggest Mistakes to Avoid on Draft Day
1. Walking in Unprepared
No matter what you expect, the draft will never go according to plan. Another manager will always go off-script and throw everyone else for a loop at some point and that’s where good preparation can separate you from the others. Many of the mistakes listed here go hand-in-hand with being unprepared, like waiting too long to target certain positions or stat categories. In a more shallow, casual league, there’s no need to overwhelm yourself. Stick to a basic plan and remember that you’ll have to be flexible at some point.
Getting ready for a draft may seem daunting for someone new to fantasy baseball. Fortunately, there are plenty of accessible resources for rankings, projections, opinions, and strategies, starting right here at Fantrax. Fangraphs also offers a variety of important tools, including multiple projection systems and an easy-to-look-at roster page for each team. There are countless other resources and it’s fine to include some of your personal preferences. If you can avoid the major mistake of unpreparedness leading up to draft day, all the others are much easier to navigate.
2. Waiting too Long on Steals
As mentioned, there are two specific categories that tend to cause the most trouble. Trying to find enough steals can be a headache and it’s best to at least build a foundation in the early rounds. Of the 12 players with at least 25 steals in 2022, five are being drafted in the first round heading into 2023. 10 of those 12 go in the top 100, with the two exceptions being Jon Berti and Jorge Mateo, who both come with playing time concerns. Players that provide “cheap steals” like those two or Myles Straw tend to provide almost nothing else in other categories.
The good news is that new rules for 2023 could increase stolen base numbers across the league. It remains to be seen how big that impact will be; Steamer projects just nine players to swipe at least 25 bags. This is the main reason why I often don’t draft players like Juan Soto or Yordan Alvarez with my first pick. While they’re two of the most dangerous bats in the league, grabbing another elite hitter with speed upside opens up more options through the draft. After drafting a Soto or Alvarez type, you’ll want to target someone like Tommy Edman to make up the difference.
3. Relying too Much on Youth
Half the fun of fantasy baseball is landing a breakout rookie, especially in dynasty and keeper formats. When it comes to redrafts, banking on too much production from young, unproven players is a big risk. If you think Gunnar Henderson or Corbin Carroll can produce the way that Bobby Witt Jr. and Julio Rodriguez did in 2022, then roll the dice and have some fun. However, there needs to be some roster balance rather than drafting too many rookie and second-year players.
On the flip side of rookie breakouts is the top prospect letdowns. Just in the last few years, we’ve seen several high-end prospects fall short of reaching their potential, including Jarred Kelenic, Spencer Torkelson, Alek Thomas, Gavin Lux, and Jo Adell. All these players, and several others in a similar spot, are still young enough to turn things around, but they highlight the risk of young talent at the top level. In a standard redraft league, it’s safer lean more on established MLB stars and regulars.
4. Missing a “Position Run”
There comes a time in many drafts when several managers start to think alike. Teams may realize that they haven’t drafted a certain position yet and they can’t afford to wait much longer. All of a sudden, four catchers fall off the board in one round as these managers avoid getting stuck in an ugly spot. Naturally, you never want to be the last one needing a catcher in this situation.
This could happen for any position but more often during the last tiers of “good” closers and starting pitchers. It’s particularly tough on those that are positioned near the front or back of a draft. In a 12-team league, managers in the first or last spot will go 22 picks between selections, leaving plenty of room for a missed position run. This is one of the draft mistakes that a manager doesn’t have a lot of control over but it can be monitored. Try to stay on top of your roster and address major needs before a run looks to be brewing.
5. Ignoring Needs
Getting caught on the wrong side of a position run goes together with another mistake: ignoring your needs. Everyone in a league has the same needs as they’re all filling out the same starting roster. This season in particular, third base could cause some issues. There are multiple big drop-offs in the top-10 and it feels like not having a high-end third baseman this season could be a mistake. That doesn’t mean you should reach heavily for one, but it’s smart to have a plan for these problem positions going in. Instead of grabbing your third pitcher or outfielder in the seventh round, Alex Bregman could fill your position before a drop-off.
The catcher position is also a tricky one to navigate nearly every year. In a two-catcher league, it’s imperative to secure at least one strong player at the position for stability. The deeper you go in drafts, the more red flags each player will contain. Waiting too long to fill a shallow position could result in you relying on a player that ends up in a platoon or loses playing time altogether. No roster is perfect, but a balanced one is the best chance for success in roto leagues.
6. Too Much Injury Risk
This may be the mistake I make the most. Players with a sketchy injury history or one that may begin the season on the injured list can often be found at enticing draft discounts. We often believe that these players will eventually stay on the field for a full season but that’s not always the case. Byron Buxton is a name that comes to mind here. He’s a common draft target of mine nearly every year because he’s a superstar when he’s on the field. Unfortunately, he hasn’t played more than 100 games in a season since 2017.
As with the other draft mistakes on this list, the key is moderation. Drafting Buxton is fine in a vacuum but he wouldn’t pair well on a roster with Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Bryce Harper. Jacob deGrom could still provide elite value but if you grab him early in the draft, you should aim for safer arms later rather than someone like Clayton Kershaw or Tyler Glasnow. Roster balance is about mitigating risk while still aiming for some upside. When drafting Fernando Tatis Jr. in the early rounds, planning around his early-season absence is key.
7. Waiting too Long on Saves
The other problem category is saves. In a saves-plus-holds league, drafting top-tier closers doesn’t carry the same weight as it would in a standard league. However, if you’re in a standard saves-only format, the closer pool is drying up quickly. More teams are leaning toward the committee approach and the days of the 50-save closer feel long behind us (Edwin Diaz was the last to do it with 57 in 2018). With saves becoming more of a premium, these big-name relievers are going higher than ever in drafts. It’s important to secure a steady closer and there are options to get this done.
Being a waiver-wire hawk throughout the season can certainly help if you’ve missed out on closers during the draft. Between injuries and poor performances, several new closers and committees will be introduced throughout the season. Still, the safest way to ensure you can at least compete in the category is to snag a strong closer in the draft. If you’re not willing to pay top dollar for Diaz, Emmanuel Clase, or Josh Hader, you can wait just a bit and still land someone like Ryan Pressley or Ryan Helsley. In a draft-and-hold format, you may consider grabbing two closers early on to feel more secure.
8. Living and Dying by ADP
Many drafts, especially those involving casual fantasy players, roughly follow the platform’s ADP rankings. It’s one of the most common ways to sort players in draft rooms and it provides a sense of value to fantasy managers. While it is useful, ADP should be used more as a loose guide than a hard set of rules. You wouldn’t want to reach very far in the first few rounds because you’re passing up some serious value. The gap in players’ values grows tighter as the draft goes on, making ADP less useful.
Using third base as an example again, if you’ve already missed the top players, it’s fine to push Max Muncy or Eugenio Suarez up to ensure that you don’t fall any further. The same goes for catchers and closers. Avoiding mistakes often means being more risk-averse, but building a solid foundation will allow you to reach for high-upside players as the draft progresses. Those later high-upside picks are great for exciting rookie and potential injury bounce-backs.
Got a few more draft mistakes of your own? Share them in the comments below. For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!