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Draft and Hold Early Round Strategy

A 50-round draft and hold is a type of draft that is becoming more popular within the fantasy baseball community. The beauty of this league type is the lack of in-season management. You still have to set your lineup every week but, there is no management of FAAB or trading involved. After drafting 50 players, that is who you go to battle with every week. No matter how well you draft there is no avoiding injuries, underperforming players, or prospects that have yet to get called up to the big leagues. Nothing in fantasy sports, much less baseball, is guaranteed. Drafting stability is necessary for the 162-game grind. This season alone saw our first minor league season in over a year, rule changes mid-season, and a deadened ball that took several weeks to learn the extent of its impact. You have to prepare for anything to happen.

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Draft and Hold Early Round Strategy

Draft Pick Strategy

In this draft, I teamed up with my friend Daniel Prepas, a successful high-stakes player I have become friendly with over Twitter. Though we couldn’t live further apart, from the east to the west coast, we seem to agree on the majority of the player pool. Considering we did this draft in the middle of October, it made sense to team up to make things easier.

With the hopes of getting our pick somewhere in the middle, we ended up with the sixth pick in the draft. Considering we drafted with a bunch of fellow high-stakes sharp players, it was important to stay in the middle of the draft. The reason for this is to stay as close to “position runs” as we could. What that means is, if one person takes a catcher then the next pick is a catcher, there could be a run where seven of the top backstops go within 12 picks of each other. If you are on the far end, whether it be the front or back of the draft, you could wind up with a poor player of that position. Being forced to punt the position entirely if you miss out on any of the players you were looking at drafting.

Now, we go into the picks. At the sixth pick, we were looking at potentially taking Bo Bichette or José Ramírez. With the assumption that Trea Turner or Fernando Tatis Jr. would not fall to us, we were looking for a five-category contributor that both has a high ceiling and floor, Bichette and Ramirez check all of those boxes. Unfortunately, Ramirez was taken third overall, Bichette went the pick before us at five. That left us with one option, Shohei Ohtani.

Shohei Ohtani: Round 1, Pick 6

Ohtani is an ideal pick in the first round of a draft and hold due to his one-of-a-kind versatility. This season he hit 46 home runs, stole 26 bases, and hit for a .257 average. What happens when he goes into a slump and clogs up your utility spot? Oh, that’s right, you can use him as a starting pitcher. Ohtani tossed 130 innings, struck out 156 batters, and pitched to a 3.18 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. There literally isn’t anything he cannot do on the diamond, that applies to the fantasy world where he is an excellent pick to build around in the first round.

Zack Wheeler: Round 2, Pick 25

With our following selection, we decided to go with the best pitcher on the board, Zack Wheeler. There is no doubt Wheeler had far and away the best season of his career. This may make it hard for some people to buy in to a 31-year-old coming off a career year. The thing is, Wheeler always had this in him. The Phillies right-hander features a mid-to-upper-90s four-seamer to go along with a wipeout slider, plus curveball; a complete five-pitch mix. He even struck out 29-percent of batters while walking only six percent, showing his legitimate stuff could turn out elite results.

When buying into a starting pitcher this early, health is nearly as important as performance. Since 2018, Wheeler ranks third in all of Major League baseball in innings pitched, six behind Gerrit Cole’s 662. After having injury issues early in his career, he has done a wonderful job staying healthy the past four seasons. Aside from going on the injured list with shoulder fatigue in July of 2019, Wheeler has had no other injury designation since 2018.

Chris Sale: Round 3, Pick 36

After taking our first ace, we decided to dip back into the starting pitcher bin and grab our second ace, Chris Sale. Sale does pose a bit more risk than Wheeler due to his most recent seasons. Not only did he have Tommy John surgery in 2019, but he also faded away at the end of the previous season. In 2018, Sale suffered left shoulder inflammation at the end of the season, causing him to throw 158 innings.

Aside from the injuries, Sale is the most talented pitcher on the board. Given the stability of Wheeler, it allowed us to take a gamble on Sale in the third round. Even if he only gives us 150 innings pitched, the strikeouts and wins will be elite. As long as you can hit on a few pitchers in the later rounds that round out your bench. Prepare for Sale to start fading away the final two months of the season.

It’s not a risk you have to take, it was one we were comfortable with given the talent. After watching Sale reach 98 MPH with his fastball in the last start of the season and averaging 95. He is healthy to go into the 2022 season, expect 140+ innings pitched with close to 200 strikeouts, elite per inning production.

Aaron Judge: Rond 4, pick 55

Once fantasy baseball season starts in early 2022, there doesn’t seem any way Aaron Judge will be falling to the fourth round in 15-teamers. Last season, Judge hit 39 home runs with six stolen bases and a .287 batting average. Even if you factor in a struggling Yankees lineup around him, Judge had himself a great season.

The hesitation with Judge will always be his inability to stay on the field, a reasonable thought after he missed chunks of the last three seasons. He had 498 plate appearances in 2018, 447 in 2019, and only played half the season in the wonky 2020 season. What most people missed going into 2021 was that Judge had changed his workout regimen.

According to Eric Cressey, a personal trainer that worked with a few Yankees in the off-season. Judge had lifted fewer weights, started doing yoga, and emphasized the stopping and starting required in fielding, running the bases, and swinging. That isn’t your typical “best shape of my life” type of filler that you may hear in Spring Training. It’s an actual tangible change that worked out for Judge, allowing him to play his first complete season since 2017.

If Judge is on the field, he comfortably returns the value at pick 55. Whether it be roto, head-to-head, draft, and hold any format. Judge is one of the ten best hitters in baseball and he may have overcome his biggest hurdle.

Jazz Chisholm: Round 5, Pick 66

After four rounds, we have two aces and two sluggers. Thankfully we landed Ohtani in the first-round, to lock in 20 or so stolen bases. Now that we have all fields covered with the first four picks, we can attack steals again in the form of the Miami Marlins’ budding fantasy star, Jazz Chisholm.

Chisholm had a standout rookie season in a fantasy sense, cranking 18 home runs to go along with 23 stolen bases. That includes a trip to the injured list on top of making adjustments to big-league pitching.

The thought behind this pick is addressing a position of need, second base. Chisholm also happens to be shortstop eligible, which is key for draft and hold, having the flexibility of multiple positions. Additionally, Chisholm is going to bat leadoff for what should be a much improved Marlins lineup.

Miami’s front office has already come out and said that they will be aggressive this off-season in pursuing offense. Whether or not it comes to fruition is another story, at least they cannot be any worse than last year. If they don’t land a big name in a trade or free agency. They will at least add a few veterans that can help them out.

Chisholm should provide tons of plate appearances, stolen bases, home runs, runs scored, and is someone you can plug into multiple positions if you run into an injury. The fifth round may be a reach for someone with a questionable hit tool but, the unique skillset and playing time opportunity make up for it.

Ryan Pressly: Round 6, Pick 86

Playing in a FAAB league allows you to punt closer if you so choose. In a Draft and Hold, you do not have that luxury. Sure, you could wait on closer and take some late-round fliers but that isn’t an effective strategy unless you rely on getting lucky. At a minimum, you need to leave the draft with two rock-solid closers that you know will have the role, at least to start the season. Maybe even three if you want to play it safe.

Getting Pressly after the first tier on closers has gone was the best-case scenario. Stolen bases and starting pitching falls off quite a bit while it isn’t too big of a gap between Pressly and Josh Hader, Liam Hendriks, Rasiel Iglesias.

Pressly saved 26 games in the 2021 season, a lower total than you would expect being on a team that reached the World Series. Sometimes closers are on a team that is so good, the majority of their wins are blowouts, creating a lack of opportunities. Even if we get 30 saves from Pressly and he doesn’t finish within the top 10 in saves, the job stability and quality of innings make him a number one closing option.

Bobby Witt Jr.: Round 7, Pick 98

Here is where the fun begins. After six rounds, we have power, aces, speed, and a closer. The hardest thing to find in any draft are players that provide stolen bases and have a clear path to playing time. That is what Bobby Witt Jr. will give you.

Between Double-A and Triple-A this season Witt Jr. went off for 33 home runs and 29 stolen bases in 123 games played. What is most impressive about Witt’s performance is that he had almost identical production from Double-A to Triple-A. So, even though he made the step up in competition, his slash line and strikeout rate remained the same and in some ways got slightly better.

Witt is an elite prospect, maybe even the top fantasy prospect going into the 2022 season. He could have a Spring Training similar to what he had going into the ‘21 season and the draft hype will go overboard. If that happens, Witt is a potential fourth-round pick. The fact that we got him in the seventh round is gravy. His potential production is too much to pass up at that stage of the draft.

Lastly, what makes me feel so comfortable about the pick is the guaranteed playing time. Either Adalberto Mondesi will move to the outfield or Whit Merrifield will move to right field. Witt Jr. is the team’s top prospect, the Royals will do what they can to get him in the lineup.

Kris Bryant: Round 8, Pick 115

After making a riskier pick in Witt Jr., we decided to take the reliable Kris Bryant. Even though it may appear Bryant is on the decline, he still managed to put up five-category production and checks all of the boxes. He has an entire six-year career of production, holds the coveted multi-eligibility, and should join a team that is ready to compete in free agency.

Given how shallow the third base position is this year, we had to address this position before the other options were taken. Immediately after we took Bryant: DJ LeMahieu, Anthony Rendon, Matt Chapman, and Ke’Bryan Hayes went in the next round. This exact issue was mentioned earlier in the piece, wanting to be in the middle of all the position runs. If we had a pick at the back end of the draft, we would have missed out on all of those players.

After eight rounds, we have two ace starting pitchers with track records of success. Three sluggers that all play every day and bat in the middle of their respective lineups. A relief pitcher who is guaranteed to start the season as the closer. One leadoff hitter that will help us in stolen bases and one prospect that has a chance to win rookie of the year. Even though it may not be the perfect start to a draft, it’s a mix of risk, upside, and reliability.

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