It’s March and the spring training games are finally underway. Fantasy baseball managers all over the world are getting ready for those ever-crucial drafts in order to stock their fantasy rosters with the talent that they hope will end up with a championship.
They say that practice makes perfect — and you can certainly practice your drafting skills in our Mock Draft Lobby — but that saying begs the question: What would a “perfect” draft even look like?
We asked this question to the hosts of our ESPN Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast and they’ve weighed in with their ideal picks from each of the 10 standard draft positions in the first round in each of our primary fantasy baseball formats. They’ve also offer up the perfect complements to these first-round selections to be grabbed in Round 2.
Draft slot No. 1
Tristan H. Cockcroft (points-based leagues): Round 1 Shohei Ohtani, Round 2 Kyle Tucker
I’ve made the “Ohtani should be first overall” case previously, and there’s still zero question in my mind he’s the consensus No. 1 pick for the points format. That he gives you both hitting and pitching flexibility opens up the Rounds 2-3 possibilities, which is where Tucker, Manny Machado or perhaps one of the ace/top-eight SP might slip. One could even make the case for taking breakthrough candidate Wander Franco here.
Eric Karabell (roto/category-based leagues): Round 1 Trea Turner, Round 2 Yordan Alvarez
Sure, you can make the case for taking Juan Soto first, but then you would be chasing stolen bases a bit later on in the proceedings. Getting Turner first is safe. Alvarez, meanwhile, simply mashes, and he is outfield-eligible.
Draft slot No. 2
Cockcroft: Round 1 Juan Soto, Round 2 Shane Bieber
Soto would be a no-brainer No. 1 overall pick if not for Ohtani’s presence, as he was the No. 2 hitter and No. 5 hitter in fantasy points in what some saw as a “down year” for him. Bieber has among the best points-per-start potential of what should be available come Round 2 of a points league.
Eric Karabell: Round 1 Juan Soto, Round 2 Starling Marte
With Marte in Round 2, you’re getting those stolen bases that a fantasy manager does not get from the pick of Soto. One would not pair Turner with Marte. Even early on in the draft, you have to take a look at the overall makeup of your roster, rather than blindly grabbing the “best available talent.”
Draft slot No. 3
Cockcroft: Round 1 Gerrit Cole, Round 2 Manny Machado
In points leagues, the No. 1 starting pitcher — Cole is effectively that, as a much more volume-based pitcher than Ohtani, who has positional qualification — is a perfectly viable No. 1 overall pick, rounding out the list of three natural candidates for the spot. Machado, thanks to his consistency (other than in stolen bases), is a supremely underrated 2022 pick.
Eric Karabell: Round 1 Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Round 2 Ronald Acuna Jr.
Let us pair up the juniors, both exciting young players with unlimited futures. Acuna may still end up missing a month or so recovering from his knee injury, but he is a five-category star when he plays. Plus, thanks to the delayed start to the season, he may be back even sooner.
Draft slot No. 4
Cockcroft: Round 1 Jose Ramirez, Round 2 Aaron Nola
Ramirez headlines the next three-man tier for points leagues, having finished No. 3 among hitters and tied for seventh overall in scoring in 2021. Nola might be the surprise entry out of either of our picks anywhere in this column, but volume is a big thing in points-based scoring. He brings it.
Eric Karabell: Round 1 Bo Bichette, Round 2 Manny Machado
Locking up the left side of the infield in the first two rounds feels pretty good. Bichette may continue his ascent towards stardom, while Machado may be ready for a little bit of decline. Nevertheless, these guys are both safe investments.
Draft slot No. 5
Cockcroft: Round 1 Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Round 2 Jacob deGrom
Guerrero was three fantasy points off the league’s lead in 2021, with the contact-quality metrics to fully support his stat line. The Mets ace, meanwhile, would give Ohtani a run for No. 1-overall honors if we had a promise he’d make it through 33 starts with 210-plus innings unscathed.
Eric Karabell: Round 1 Jose Ramirez, Round 2 Max Scherzer
Ramirez somehow remains a bit underrated in fantasy circles and I don’t fully understand why. Scherzer is not young and thus may slip in drafts, but there is little concern about the numbers he will give you whenever he’s on the mound.
Draft slot No. 6
Cockcroft: Round 1 Corbin Burnes, Round 2 Mike Trout
Pitchers come at a premium in the points format, and Burnes was one of two hurlers to finish among the top-10 SP in both of the last two seasons, joining Cole. Getting stability there affords a team the luxury of some risk/reward speculation with Trout, whose 3.6 points-per-game average from 2019-21 was the majors’ best (by roughly 0.05 over Soto), even if that came in only 223 games.
Eric Karabell: Round 1 Bryce Harper, Round 2 Brandon Woodruff
It would be tough to beat this hitter/ace combination. Not having to wait as long between your picks when you’re in the middle part of a draft round has a lot of advantages.
Draft slot No. 7
Cockcroft: Round 1 Trea Turner, Round 2 Robbie Ray
Turner is a debatable pick in points-based scoring, as players who derive a good amount of their value from their speed are typically devalued, but I see more than enough offensive punch in his game. Plus, he benefits from setting the table for the game’s best lineup, which locks him in as a clear first-rounder. Ray, meanwhile, remains a top-10 points league starter despite possible regression.
Eric Karabell: Round 1 Mookie Betts, Round 2 Rafael Devers
There’s nothing wrong with taking consecutive hitters to start your draft, and we should expect Betts to return to top numbers again. Remember, this is for roto-based scoring, so unlike points formats, one can afford wait a bit on pitchers.
Draft slot No. 8
Cockcroft: Round 1 Max Scherzer, Round 2 Bryce Harper
Scherzer finished second among pitchers in fantasy points despite pitching fewer frames than any of the four directly behind him on that list. That tells you all you need to know about his per-start impact. If his age or recent history of minor injuries bothers you, know that coupling him with a “consistency king” like Harper, or perhaps a Freddie Freeman if he slides, would be a coup to begin your draft.
Eric Karabell: Round 1 Gerrit Cole, Round 2 Kyle Tucker
Cole is my top starting pitcher, though depending on the league format I may still decide to simply take hitters with my first three or four picks before diving into the SP pool. Tucker, for his part, is an emerging star.
Draft slot No. 9
Cockcroft: Round 1 Mookie Betts, Round 2 Walker Buehler
I like Betts to rebound this season. Between a greater likelihood of full health and the arrival of Freeman in Los Angeles, he’s one of the highest-floor players in this format. Buehler, meanwhile, is the defending No. 1 points scorer.
Eric Karabell: Round 1 Shohei Ohtani, Round 2 Corbin Burnes
Two pitchers? I thought you said we should wait on pitchers. Relax. Chances are good that in a league with weekly transactions, Ohtani is going to fill your DH slot and receive nary a pitching stat. Burnes, on the other hand, is your Cy Young award winner.
Draft slot No. 10
Cockcroft: Round 1 Brandon Woodruff, Round 2 Freddie Freeman
If you’re talking consistency, you probably can’t find a pair of picks that are more likely to fall within 10 points of their projected totals than Woodruff and Freeman. I’m a big proponent of having your first-round (and often second, too) pick come the closest to meeting his projection, especially at the round’s back end.
Eric Karabell: Round 1 Freddie Freeman, Round 2 Walker Buehler
Freeman ends the first-round of hitters for me, and Buehler is my No. 2 overall starting pitcher. This is a terrific combo if you get stuck with the last pick of Round 1. See, waiting doesn’t have to be so bad!