Last Updated: 2/8
A couple of things to note before reading:
- These rankings are for 10- and 12-team head-to-head category leagues with standard scoring and a starting lineup consisting of 1 C, 1 1B, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 SS, 3 OF, 2 UTIL, and a shallow bench, and were created by Scott Chu with input from Nick Pollack.
- These rankings do not contemplate keeper or dynasty rules, nor do they consider whether there is an overall prize beyond the league itself (such as NFBC).
- Within the write-ups, we will call out individual players who would see value boosts or drops in alternative formats, such as rotisserie leagues, deeper leagues, or points leagues
- We are more than happy to answer your questions, requests, and counter-points in the comments or on Twitter!
1. Fernando Tatis Jr. (San Diego Padres) – As a result of his shoulder injury, Tatis logged enough time to qualify as an outfielder for fantasy purposes, solidifying his spot atop our outfield rankings. In 130 games last season, Nando clobbered over 40 home runs while stealing 25 bags—a level of fantasy dynamism that most of us can only salivate over. The young phenom has a high floor (150 wRC+ or higher in all three MLB seasons) and practically limitless upside. Batting in the heart of the dangerous Padres lineup should allow him to rack up the counting stats as he did in 2021, finishing just shy of 100 in both runs and RBIs despite only playing in 80% of the season.
If there’s a concern, it’s his injuries. While he logged nearly 550 plate appearances last season, he played through a nagging left shoulder injury and turned down surgery this offseason. He seemed to work through it just fine last season, but there’s always a risk his shoulder flares up and causes him to miss time this season. Still, the power/speed combo Tatis boasts is hard to pass up.
2. Juan Soto (Washington Nationals) – You could argue for the 23-year-old Juan Soto as the top outfield option on the board, and quite frankly I wouldn’t argue with you much. Soto’s been putting out video game numbers since debuting in 2018, but the last two seasons he’s taken it a step further. Over 850 plate appearances, he’s posted an otherworldly 171 wRC+ while leading all of baseball in OBP both seasons. Seriously, he walks 50% more than he strikes out and has a career batting average over .300. Did we mention he’s only 23?
Unfortunately, while there’s a pretty good argument Soto could be the best hitter in the game right now, his fantasy value takes a hit without the same raw power or speed of Tatis. A reasonable 2022 expectation is around 30 homers and 10 stolen bases. He’s also mired on the underwhelming Washington Nationals, limiting his run/RBI potential.
That said, those same arguments held true last season, when Soto finished as the third-highest fantasy outfielder per Fangraphs. For a standard five-category league, he offers probably the highest floor but not the highest ceiling. When deciding on your first-round pick, there’s a lot of value in taking a safe pick like Soto.
3. Bryce Harper (Philadelphia Phillies) – Soto finished second in MVP voting last season, finishing just behind our #3 outfielder, Bryce Harper. With 10 major-league seasons under his belt, Harper represents another high floor pick. In a lot of ways, Harper represents the more established version of Soto, with a bit more of an edge in the power department (the two-time MVP led MLB in slugging in 2021).
Harper is a lock for 30+ homers and a handful of stolen bases, but the Phillies’ offensive mediocrity in 2021 could rear its ugly head again in 2022, cutting into the right fielder’s counting stats. If the age of Soto gives you pause, consider Harper as a possible substitute while maintaining a reliable, pure hitter.
4. Kyle Tucker (Houston Astros) – On the other hand, if you eschew the “safe” pick, Kyle Tucker could be your choice in the first round. After a disastrous stint in 2018, Tucker has quickly asserted himself as one of the premier offensive outfielders in the league. In his first full big-league season last year, Tucker took yet another step forward, finishing with 30 home runs, 14 stolen bases, a shiny 147 wRC+, and, perhaps most importantly, a strikeout rate under 16%.
Tucker has a well-rounded offensive profile, but the speed potential is what makes him worth a first-round gamble. If his 2021 rate holds, he’s good for another 15 stolen bases and could potentially flirt with 20—combined with 30+ home runs, a batting average around .280, and a spot in a deadly Astros lineup? Count me in.
5. Ronald Acuña Jr. (Atlanta) – It feels a bit weird to have Acuña all the way down at number five on our list (especially after coming in at #1 on this list a year ago), but ACL injuries are scary and it’d require an aggressive rehab for him to be ready to take the field on Opening Day. On the bright side, there’s hope that his recovery is coming along just fine:
— B/R Walk-Off (@BRWalkoff) January 4, 2022
Whenever Acuña does make it onto the field, there’s no doubt he’s immediately one of the most talented players in the game. The 24-year-old was on a torrid pace before going down in July (17 stolen bases and 24 home runs in just 82 games) and offers a similar power/speed upside to Tatis. The severity of an ACL injury and murky recovery timeline makes Acuña a bit of a risky pick, but he easily has #1 fantasy player potential.
6. Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels) – I know, I know, some of you are furious Mike Trout is this far down the list. And I don’t blame you—he’s the best baseball player of our generation and is only 30 years old. Even if his days of stealing 20-30 bags are long gone, he’s a lock for 30 home runs in a full season, if not 40. He’s shown no signs of slowing down at the plate—in the 36 games he played last season, he posted an OPS over 1.000.
Emphasis there being on in a full season. Trout hasn’t logged a truly full season since 2016, and fantasy baseball relies on consistent play to log those counting stats. The loss of speed among the basepaths (or at least the willingness to try) is a big hit to his fantasy value, but the bigger loss would be missed games. The nagging nature of the calf injury last season breeds uncertainty for 2022—or confidence, if you think the “play it safe” strategy the Angels employed sitting him the remainder of the 2021 season will set him up to come into 2022 healthy and rested.
There’s not much to say about Trout that you don’t already know, but obviously if he can put together a healthy season he’s guaranteed to be one of the best hitters in the game. With a bit more lineup security than in years past (Shohei Ohtani, Anthony Rendon, Jared Walsh), Trout could easily be primed for an MVP-caliber season if he can stay on the field.
7. Mookie Betts (Los Angeles Dodgers) – At 29 years old, it’s looking like the days of stealing 30 bags are over for Mookie. And with just 23 home runs last season (admittedly over just 122 games), it feels like 2018 MVP Mookie was long ago.
But there’s hope: Betts dealt with (but largely played through) a nagging hip injury that clearly affected his performance. After declining surgery over the offseason, the hope is that he’s fully recovered and ready to hit the ground running in 2022. If he is—and with both his offensive pedigree and one of the best offenses in baseball around him—Betts could end up a steal at the seventh pick.
8. Yordan Alvarez (Houston Astros) – How much Alvarez will actually play in the outfield this season is unclear, but fantasy managers probably won’t care too much if he can keep hitting like he did last year. It’s been a roller-coaster career so far for Alvarez—exploding onto the scene in 2019 and winning Rookie of the Year, missing almost the entire 2020 season due to knee problems, having knee surgery on both knees, and then finally returning to the plate in 2021 picking up right where he left off.
After putting concerns over his knee injuries to bed, Alvarez is looking ready for another season of 30+ dingers while hitting in a potent offense. While it’s unlikely the strikeouts will ever come down too much, an increase in his walk rate would pay dividends to his overall offensive profile. And with essentially just one and a half seasons in the big leagues under his belt, there’s no reason to think he can’t continue to improve his game.
9. Aaron Judge (New York Yankees) – Like others on this list, staying on the field has been Aaron Judge’s biggest problem. Last season he played in 148 games and finished fourth in MVP voting. The only other year he logged 600+ plate appearances? His dominant 2017 performance where he won Rookie of the Year and finished as runner-up in the MVP race. In between, he’s been able to chip away at his strikeout rate.
A healthy season from Judge has a good chance at 40 homers or more. It’s hard not to want to take a gamble on that level of power upside.
10. Luis Robert (Chicago White Sox) – Speaking of upside, let’s talk about Luis Robert. We haven’t gotten to see a full season from the 24-year-old but between 2020 and 2021 he’s logged over 500 plate appearances at the big league level and has 24 home runs and 15 stolen bases to show for it alongside a .294 batting average and a 132 wRC+.
What’s more, he’s shown significant improvement between his 2020 and 2021 seasons: cut down his strikeout rate by over 50%, improved his contact rate, and even slightly upped his power stroke. In almost 300 PA last season he posted a 157 wRC+. Meanwhile, the lineup around him continues to get better and better. Lucas Spence here at PL did a great writeup looking at Robert’s continued growth over his (short) career.
Robert is one of my favorite upside picks and has the potential to be a league-winner for you and the White Sox. The price is steep but the payoff could be an MVP.
11. Nick Castellanos (Free Agent) – With a .309/.362/.576 slash line and 34 home runs, 2021 felt like the season we had been waiting for with Nick Castellanos. He’s always been able to hit the ball hard, but it finally turned into real production as the 30-year-old was named to his first All-Star game. He felt good enough to opt out of his contract with the Reds and remains a free agent during the lockout.
So how much should we value him based on one standout season in the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park? To be honest, still a lot. Castellanos posted his career-best strikeout rate and with a BABIP pretty in-line with his career norms, I think there’s a good shot at seeing similar production (albeit maybe a slightly lower home run total depending on where he ends up).
12. Teoscar Hernández (Toronto Blue Jays) – After middling offensive production in his first two full seasons in the league in 2018 and 2019, Teoscar Hernández exploded in 2020 and carried over that production at the plate into 2021. Hernández finished as the #2 OF value in fantasy last year per Fangraphs, and with an ADP closer to 30 that ended up an absolute steal for fantasy managers. While the batting average and strikeout rate might be due for some regression, most of the 29-year-old’s production seems legit. Pair that with a dynamic offense around him and Hernández could easily end up with a 30/10 season with an impressive Run/RBI total to match. Even if the batting average comes down a bit from last season, that level of power and speed is extremely valuable.
13. Starling Marte (New York Mets) – Marte led all of baseball in stolen bases last season with 47 (tied for the most in his career), but entering his age-33 season there are some definite causes for concern over whether that pace is sustainable. If he’s able to replicate his 2021 success (career high in wRC+ alongside the stolen bases), he’ll be one of the most valuable players in fantasy.
But that’s a big “if,” and without the speed he becomes a much more run-of-the-mill type of outfielder. Marte hit just 12 home runs last year despite hitting .310, and it’s hard to make an argument for drafting a 15-HR player as a top-10 outfielder off the board (as he’s going in most drafts right now) if he can’t contribute 30+ stolen bases to go with it. We’re factoring some of that risk into his ranking here, but your alternate options for a speed ceiling that high are quite limited. Marte shouldn’t hurt your lineup in any way, but if the speed drops off his ceiling will fall too far for his current price.
14. Cedric Mullins (Baltimore Orioles) – One of those other high ceilings in the speed department is 2021 breakout star Cedric Mullins who contributed a 30/30 season alongside a .291 batting average. Mullins gave up on switch-hitting before the 2021 season and the results were immediate. He’s got the Oriole’s leadoff spot locked down and while his RBI opportunities will be limited, he should be a strong contributor in four of the five categories even if we see a bit of regression from last year. A 20/20 season with a batting average over .270 feels like a safe floor, but there’s definite optimism he can flirt with another 30/30 season and finish closer to .300 than .270.
15. Tyler O’Neill (St. Louis Cardinals) – The other big breakout 2021 star on this list is Tyler O’Neill, who like Mullins put together more plate appearances in 2021 than his previous three seasons in the league combined. Also like Mullins, O’Neill shattered his previous marks, smashing 34 home runs and swiping 15 bags to go along with them. It’s coupled with a strikeout rate north of 30%, but if 30/10 is his floor we can excuse the strikeouts.
Of course, spending a top-15 OF draft pick on the production from a single season might give you pause, but PL’s Grant Washburn did a deep dive and thinks the breakout is legitimate, though the price might be a bit high.
16. Whit Merrifield (Kansas City Royals) – As with Marte just a few spots above, selecting a 33-year-old speed specialist as one of the top 20 outfielders off the board carries significant risk. While Merrifield collected 40 stolen bases in 2021 (second only to Marte), it came with a 91 wRC+. In fact, Merrifield’s offensive stats have largely declined since peaking in 2018 and investing draft capital into a speedster who may drop off at any point is a bit of a gamble. On the other hand, Merrifield is basically guaranteed 650+ plate appearances as the everyday leadoff hitter and should provide a good source of runs alongside a batting average that won’t hurt you and a handful of homers. If you missed out on the other sources of speed already, Whit could pay dividends for your team (albeit with a lower floor than Marte), plus has the added flexibility of 2B eligibility.
17. George Springer (Toronto Blue Jays) – Over the past three seasons, Springer has averaged a .939 OPS at a 48 HR per-162 game pace. In an injury-shortened season, Springer smacked 22 home runs in just 78 games. 2022 could be his chance to show the full season of dominance many were expecting when he arrived in Toronto last year. If he can stay healthy, he’s a lock for at least 30 home runs and a ton of counting stats in one of the scariest lineups in baseball.
18. Byron Buxton (Minnesota Twins) – Oh, Byron. Buxton was unstoppable last season, compiling a 169 wRC+ and putting up MVP numbers—while healthy. Even though some of the missed time was unfair to blame on him (broken finger from a HBP, for example), it’s hard not to be concerned about a 28-year-old who has topped 100 games in a season only once.
Still, the one-time top prospect had finally put it all together and was showing off the potential everyone had been waiting for, compiling 19 home runs and 9 stolen bases in just 61 games. Buxton represents the ultimate gamble: if you buy into his torrid (but limited) 2021 and think he can stay healthy, he’ll be an absolute steal outside of the first round. On the other hand, you might be sinking considerable capital into someone who stays in your IL spot for most of the season.
19. Randy Arozarena (Tampa Bay Rays) – After an incredible postseason performance in 2020, Randy Arozarena shot up the 2021 draft boards while simultaneously becoming a favorite on “overrated” lists going into the season. He showed off the power/speed potential fantasy managers dream of but had such limited experience that regression seemed inevitable and the going rate was steep for an unproven rookie.
And while he did regress at the plate, he remained above average with a .274/.356/.459 slash line. Coupled with the power/speed we glimpsed in 2020, Arozarena put together a 20/20 season and win AL Rookie of the Year. It was enough for him to finish as the 16th-highest outfielder per Fangraphs—not much better than his ADP (before pick 60) but a perfectly valuable outfielder. There aren’t a lot of 20/20 players out there and there’s plenty of room for him to continue to improve with his plate discipline.
20. J.D. Martinez (Boston Red Sox) – Like it was to so many of us, 2020 was a brutal year for J.D. Martinez. The Red Sox DH slashed just .213/.291/.389 during the season with only seven home runs, setting himself up as a prime bounce-back candidate in 2021. And while he did bounce back (posting a respectable 128 wRC+ with 28 home runs), it was still his worst offensive season (aside from 2020) since 2013.
Martinez should comfortably reach 20 if not 30 home runs, but as his batting average declines so does his overall fantasy value. Entering his age-34 season, Martinez is a bit of a risky choice: if he refinds his stroke he’ll dominate in all categories except speed. If not, well, he’s still a solid hitter—just not necessarily worth the draft capital.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)