Ahhh, time for a nice cold draft. Well, at least it’s still cold for you guys up north. Down here in Florida I’m looking forward to a nice warm draft. … Oh, you thought I was talking about something else. Of course, I speak of the Fantasy Baseball drafts we are all preparing for. Don’t worry you can have a few of the other kinds of drafts in celebration after you win your league with a little help from my Fantasy Baseball Draft Tips for 2022.
The 2022 Fantrax Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit is just kicking into gear, but I wanted to jump in right away with a few nuggets of wisdom (or my version) before draft season really heats up. This isn’t so much my draft strategy as it is my stream of consciousness regarding what it takes to have a successful draft.
I’m gonna be honest with you. I repost this article every year with just a few minor tweaks… until this year. Things have changed so much in the last few years I think it’s more than time to re-examine some of the basic tenets I once held firm to.
Follow these basic principles, and with a little luck on the injury front, you’ll find yourself in contention come July. Don’t worry, all of us here at FantraxHQ will be here to offer support along the way and help you seal the deal when September rolls around. First, you’ve got to get to that point, so let’s lay out the road map to Fantasy success.
Fantasy Baseball Draft Tips
1. Be uber-safe in the first four to five rounds.
Whoever said you have to take risks to win, didn’t mean drafting injury-prone or unproven players in the early rounds. I get it. It’s boring to play it safe, and nobody makes comments about how great a pick is when it’s the obvious safe play. That’s okay. I’d rather look like a genius in September than March. That probably means you’ll skip over the trendy hitter everyone thinks is gonna break out. It means you’ll probably have to bypass that pitcher with the 100-mph heater to go along with a sketchy injury history. Maybe you won’t get shares of Shohei Ohtani or Luis Robert, two hitters with a wide array of potential outcomes, and who are going very early in drafts. The early rounds of a draft are not where you earn profit. Use them for safe investments more likely to get you your money back. Save your upside plays for later.
2. Let your sleepers be sleepers.
This hasn’t changed much for me. Everybody has sleepers. Even those fantasy baseball snobs who say there is no such thing as a sleeper; they have sleepers. They just like to call them value plays, late-round fliers or some other less cliche term. Whatever you call them, sleepers are players that may have big question marks, but you like them to greatly out-produce their draft cost. It’s a chance to make a nice profit in your draft. Profit is what wins leagues.
If you start reaching too far for your sleepers, though, you take away a lot of your profit even if that player breaks through and you feel like a genius for drafting them earlier than everybody else. I still remember a perfect example of this from years ago.
It was an NL-Only industry mock draft during the draft season of 2012. Jose Altuve was coming off a nice, but unspectacular 57-game debut (Yes, the Astros were in the NL then). The draft was going mostly as expected until someone (I honestly don’t remember who) drafted Altuve in the third round.
Now Altuve went on to have a very nice year and probably returned his value, so some would say this guy nailed it. Smart fantasy baseball managers know he cost himself a ton of value. He could have safely waited until the eighth or ninth round to draft Altuve and taken a more proven player in the third. So maybe he got third-round value out of Altuve, but his ninth-round pick was just a run-of-the-mill ninth-round pick. It was a great call on the player. It was a terrible mistake as a draft pick.
3. Use a paper cheat sheet
But Fantrax and other draft sites show who’s been drafted and who hasn’t. Why the extra piece of paper? Two reasons. First, while it’s easy to see who is available overall, the speed at which most drafts move means it’s not always easy to see how many draftable players are available at any one position.
More importantly, though, you want a cheat sheet with your own rankings, because the default rankings for any site are going to conflict with your values. Your favorite end-game sleepers might be so buried on the site you forget all about them in the heat of the draft. Your cheat sheet will help you stay on top of the available player pool better and ensure you maximize value later in the draft. Don’t worry, we’ll have some printable cheat sheets for you once the player pools are a little more clear.
4. Don’t wait too long on third base
Over the past few years, it was first base that was shallower than most people realized. While first base still has just a few truly elite bats, it has returned to being a position where you can get solid production even late in drafts. Third base? The question marks start early. I feel okay with the top four in ADP at the current time. That’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Jose Ramirez, Rafael Devers, and Manny Machado. The next three are Austin Riley, Alex Bragman, and Nolan Arenado and I’m still okay there, even though each of those players has some questions to answer. After that you start running into question marks and risk. You wanna pay what it takes to roster Adalberto Mondesi? If you do, you probably stick him at shortstop. Can Anthony Rendon stay healthy and bounce back? Kris Bryant has look pretty mediocre over the past few years. The rest of this position is filled with could-be’s and high risk/reward types. If it makes sense I’m trying to draft a third baseman in the second or third round. After that you’re probably reaching and hoping on a player with way too many question marks.
5. Draft two top starting pitchers in the first four to five rounds
We may not always get the names right, but there’s little argument that elite-level starting pitchers are more valuable than ever. They are the rare pitchers still throwing close to 200 innings or more and enjoying the full benefit of this swing and miss generation of MLB hitters. Meanwhile, the bulk of starting pitchers are seeing fewer innings and subsequently fewer wins and a smaller share of the strikeouts. We don’t know how the baseball will play this year, but in order to compete you’re going to need two elite starters who give you high quality innings with plenty of strikeouts. If you don’t get these aces, you’re gonna end up chasing strikeouts with lesser-quality pitchers and your ratios are gonna be worse for it.
It definitely hurts to bypass some of the great hitters in the earlier rounds, but with more hitting positions to fill, you can make up for it during the rest of the draft. It’s virtually impossible to make up the production an elite starting pitcher can provide.
6. Draft at least two good middle relievers in the late rounds or in the reserve rounds
For many of the same reasons the elite starting pitchers have gained value, so have the really good middle relievers. I covered many of the reasons I’ll be using middle relievers even in mixed leagues in this article, but the big takeaway is that the gap between the bulk of starting pitchers and good middle relievers is getting smaller. The best part? These middle relievers are almost free! Use them early in the season while you’re still waiting to see what your upside picks really are. If you draft skill over role you’re also very likely to “luck” into a closer or two during the season. The relief pitcher rankings are a hot mess right now. That likely means there will be plenty of opportunities if you draft the right middle relievers.
7. You can wait on the middle infield
I remember the days when the middle infield was Derek, Alex, and Nomar, and then a bunch of garbage. It’s still nice if you can get Fernando Tatis Jr., Trea Turner, or Bo Bichette, but both shortstop and second base go 20 deep in useful players. If you don’t grab one of the top few at each position, you’re gonna be okay waiting.
8. Position scarcity is real; just don’t overreact
Position scarcity isn’t what it was in the days of the big three shortstops I mentioned previously, or when Piazza and Pudge were behind the plate, but it still exists. We just have to treat it differently. Back then it meant grabbing one of those scarce elite options to gain a huge advantage. Nowadays I’m not sure we can gain a huge advantage at any particular position. It’s more about not getting shut out of a position. So don’t reach on J.T. Realmuto or Salvador Perez if they go too early. Just don’t wait until you’re looking at Tucker Barnhart and Yan Gomes as your starting catchers.
9. Track the rosters of the two owners who come before you and after you
Most online drafts move too fast to meaningfully track rosters of the entire league and even in 12-team leagues, it’s very hard to predict which players will go off the board in between your picks. What you can do is try to keep an eye on the positional needs of the owners who draft in close proximity. It might help you decide between two players you’re targeting. For example, if you know the owners drafting before and after you already have two closers, you might wait on the closer you want and grab your second starting catcher. If you’re within a few slots of the turn (3rd-4th, 9th-10th) this really comes in handy.
Did you find Doug’s Fantasy Baseball Draft Tips useful? For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2022 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!