Updated 4/2/22: I’ve updated the written section for the Starting Pitchers as a few arms have changed. The tables are NOT updated as I didn’t have enough time to do so, but I’ve updated the Chart at the bottom. Also fixed some typos and removed the injured Riley Greene.
It’s time for my yearly tradition: The Ultimate Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide for 2022. It’s my personal draft outline for who to draft and when for your fantasy baseball leagues.
In this guide, I’ll outline who I’m targeting in each round, which positions I’m focusing on getting early in the draft, and those on which to wait. All my favorite players are here in one place for each position, with a round-by-round cheat sheet at the end.
I’ve done this draft outline for years, and last season I added more to this already bloated article, turning it into a proper guide instead of just an outline, and I’ve kept a lot of it the same. We really need to talk about draft philosophy — specifically 12-teamer standard league draft philosophy, but much of this applies to other leagues as well. I’ve adapted many approaches and refined my strategy over the years, and I wanted to take the time this year to discuss how you should be navigating your draft at a macro level before we determine who should be on our radar at the micro-level, round by round.
These thoughts ring true a year later, and while I hum Wanted Dead or Alive and say “only the names have changed,” there are some little elements I’ve sprinkled through them as well.
Lastly, I added one new section to this guide that I haven’t before: Draft Strategy Based On Your Pick. It matters a whole lot as who you select early maps out how you attack your draft later. Enjoy that.
Before we begin, I want to direct everyone to our Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit For 2022. This is where you’ll get links to all our rankings, research articles, sleepers, busts, player breakdowns, all for free. If you enjoy this and want to support this little company I started in 2014, consider subscribing to PL+ and joining our incredible Discord.
With that out of the way, let’s get started.
There are many tenets of drafting I want to discuss, but if there is one that you take home with you it’s this:
You Are Not Drafting A Best Ball Team
I’ve hammered this point across articles and podcasts for years now and it’s for good reason. As we prepare for drafts, we’re overwhelmed with different rankings and projections, from a site awarding “most accurate experts” that are determined from their pre-season rankings and how they played through the entire season (Spoiler alert: Those are best ball rankings, not draft rankings!) to a collection of projections that make you feel comfortable grabbing a pitcher because “he’ll give me a 3.80 ERA” or a hitter on your bench that gives you just enough RBI or Runs to make his spot worthwhile.
This is all a lie.
I’m willing to bet that you won’t be rostering at least 30% of the team you drafted by June 1st. Go back and look at your drafts from previous seasons and you’ll quickly see how few picks panned out in the back half of your draft. You should be drafting in a way that not only expects this but plans around it from the start.
Think of yourself, the astute, smart, dashing fantasy manager. In the 20th round, you drafted Steven Matz because the projections say he’s destined for a 3.90 ERA and 1.25 WHIP this year. What you’ll realize on May 15th is that Matz won’t perform at a 3.80 ERA across each start. Sure, the expected average at the end of the year is a 3.80 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, but on May 15th, that’s a 4.46 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. Do you have the faith to hold him? Has something changed?
The great news for you is that the waiver wire exists. You don’t have to keep rostering Matz. And even better than that, there will be so many available pitchers who will help you at that time, who you’ll be so happy to swap with Matz. This brings us to our next point:
Draft Preparing To Use The Waiver Wire
The waiver wire is a magical place. It’s where seasons are won, your next favorite player has a cozy abode, and it feels like the most glorious mall in America where you can constantly go shopping. I can hear many of you right now “But Nick, it’s so hard to find someone good on the wire!” and to all of you, I want to show you an image:
All 12 of those pitchers had significant value in 2019 and were drafted after pick #300 — i.e. went undrafted in your 12-teamers.
Wait a second, I forgot a few pitchers in there. Let me repost that.
Ah, there we go. 24 pitchers with legit value through plenty of the 2019 season. But wait. Did you notice anyone missing from these images?
Mike Minor (200 Ks!)
All of those guys were pitchers draft past pick 300 — and I didn’t even include those who were dropped after a slow start and picked up later in the year!
But that image is from 2019! What a fortunate season! I’m skipping over 2020 because of all the hilarity that was 60 days of games (and even then we had fun names like Kevin Gausman and Corbin Burnes and…you get the idea) but I’ve been plastering the following table on all of my Starting Pitcher preseason articles because it happened in 2021 and will happen again in 2022:
And this table is ignoring the fact that there were many starters we could add in-season who helped in shorter bursts:
Nick, how am I supposed to know which pitcher’s to pick up and when? Well, don’t worry about that one, just read my daily SP Roundup articles that will come out early in the AM every single day of the season. It’s why I do it and you will be able to get many of these arms — you’ll only need 2-3 to win your league!
Now that we’ve established that you want to pick up arms off the waiver wire, it’s important that you draft accordingly. What this means, is you have to set yourself up for a sturdy floor, then feel comfortable taking chances.
After going through the entire draft season, that SP plan has turned into drafting three starters who I’m confident I’m not dropping through the full season. Currently, for me, that’s the Top 35 starters on my Top 100 Starters (updated every Monday through the season!), then I’d aim to add two to three across the next two tiers to solidify the rotation, but could find an open door to the wire by May. It’s alright, we should anticipate it.
Once you have those three, take all the fun picks you like, just make sure that we can collectively decide on them early in April — there’s nothing worse than taking a starter late in your draft and realizing he has poor matchups early that make him sit on your bench. You might as well take something that can give you value in those early weeks.
So take your Jon Gray, Aaron Ashby, Reid Detmers, Alex Cobb, Noah Syndergaard, etc. Don’t feel like you need a ratio “rock” with your fourth starter — you already have three others! — and you’ll be able to find one of them on the wire if you really want one during the season. It’s the Ms. Frizzle method: Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.
This Is For Hitters, Too
This plan doesn’t apply just for pitchers. During the season, the two easiest positions to fill in your daily lineups are Outfield (especially in a standard 3 OF league!) and UTIL. That means as you traverse your draft, plan to leave at least one UTIL and one OF spot for the later rounds of the draft. Take a flier on each and plan to search the wire for that one batter who made the changes you like.
Lastly, I want to mention here to play to your personal strength. If you don’t have one, we have all the articles and AMAs to help through the year (come hang out when I’m live on Twitch!), but if you’re better at finding hitting in-season, great! Draft accordingly to give yourself the ability to fill those holes.
Other Minor Things To Consider
I’ll just bullet point now, and it mostly stems from that expectation that you’re going to be changing your team through the season.
- Who cares which team is projected to win the season — Yep, I’m saying it again. You’re not in a best ball league!
- Drafting is about a floor you’re comfortable with early, then taking chances late — you can replace the weak spots on the wire if you fall in the back half of the draft
- Know yourself as a manager — I already mentioned this before, but I want to say it again. Are you better at finding hitting on the wire? Are you willing to make the changes each day for platoon bats? Will you have the time to make constant waiver wire swaps through the season? Draft to cover your weaknesses and open yourself up to take advantage of your strengths: For me, that’s a lot of hitting early (my weakness) and relying on the waiver wire for SP (my strength, shocking, I know).
- When in doubt, draft a closer — Many people say “I’ll just get a closer on the wire” and I like to think I’m the same, but man, it’s annoying. When you’re going through your draft and don’t love any options, drafting a closer always helps. I’ve called closers “the currency of fantasy baseball” as every team can use one more guy for saves. You’ll always improve by grabbing a closer.
- Team construction is huge, especially for roto leagues. Look I don’t like punting categories as it puts too much pressure on winning the other categories. Go for “average” in saves and steals if you want, and reach on ADP if you need that one guy for steals at 2B. Who cares about ADP values, winning your league is way better.
Y’all should know what league you’re playing in. This draft outline will speak to Yahoo’s settings as it is the most lenient of them all (i.e. the broadest of audiences). Here’s a quick table to cover each league’s eligibility settings:
Don’t know if a player I’ve mentioned is eligible in your CBS or ESPN league? My good friend Grey Albright over at Razzball went over every multi-positional player and outlined their games played at each position. It rocks.
Alright, I think that’s enough ranting before the draft outline. I needed to let all of that out as, without the understanding of how I’m playing the regular season, this draft outline doesn’t make sense. You need to be doing both in tandem to win your leagues. You got this.
…fine. One more time
You are not drafting a best ball team.
Okay okay, let’s actually move on now.
Who I’m Drafting Round By Round
Draft Outline Primer
H’ok, the real meat of this article. Let’s go over the details of these picks and why I’m choosing who I am:
- This outline is meant for a redraft, 12-teamer 5×5 Roto or H2H league with 23 rounds. It still applies to most variants, but obviously, it’s not a one-size-fits-all.
- In general, the positional eligibility is from Yahoo. Know your league’s settings and adjust accordingly.
- I have purposefully left some holes because drafts are fluid creatures that need affection and constant attention to nail down just right.
- Don’t follow this so rigidly that when Brandon Lowe falls to the ninth round you ignore him, nor do you ignore that you may have to reach an extra round from these targets at times.
- Round targets are based on Fantasy Pros’ ADP, which merges NFBC, Yahoo, and CBS data. They are a rough estimation and should give you a general idea of when you should be looking to grab them.
- There are certain players who have round labels well before or after their ADP. Either I want to reach or I’ve seen them fall consistently and will watch their stock mid-draft.
- These aren’t the only players I’m looking to draft, but they are the ones that I’m hoping fall to the right place.
- I can’t list every player at every position for obvious reasons. You should 100% be reading the player ranking articles from Scott Chu, Dylan Burris, Rick Graham, and myself that provide detailed reasoning for our affection or skepticism. I’m sorry I can’t answer all comments that ask “Why aren’t you considering [Player]?” or “You forgot [This Player]. He wasn’t forgotten, just not someone I found myself taking either because I liked others at that spot or thought he was going too early.
- I highlighted my favorite players for each position in yellow inside their tables. Keep in mind this isn’t included in the master chart at the bottom as it would complicate things too much
- “What’s your ideal amount of SPs and Bench bats?” Generally: 8x SP, 2x RP, 3x Hitters in a standard daily league with 4 bench spots. Why? Getting PAs each day is more important than an extra start. Just how it works out.
- That last point emphasizes multi-positional eligibility. It’s for Mondays and Thursdays when teams have days off — you want as many PAs as possible and multi-positional players can do wonders. Even a 1-for-4 with a Run and RBI helps.
I’ve done more mocks this offseason than any other year, testing strategies from different positions, and I’m going to bring in more bullet points to go over the general approach I have in drafts:
- The trend you’ll see is that I elect to wait on grabbing starting pitchers. This isn’t for everyone and I understand if you want to be a little more aggressive than I am
- I’m a huge believer that you should be drafting with the mindset of three to four SPs that you trust through the year, then your final four SPs are options that you’re okay dropping if they don’t pan out.
- You need to have a 2B, SS, and 1B plan. You can find yourself overpaying if you don’t lock in a 2B or 1B you like in the first 12 rounds. Whereas C, 3B, OF all have later options that can work.
- Closers are dumb, and I hate them. You’re better off solidifying your offense than feeling OK with a stat that makes up only 10% of your week-to-week and isn’t even a guarantee. Check out Alex Fast’s We’ve Drafted Saves Wrong Again and you’ll understand.
- The final eight rounds or so will be shooting for upside starters and bats. There are so many to choose from. I have specific guys I like. You probably have different ones, and that’s cool. Get your guys.
Alright, I think you understand the flow. Get tons of offense early, with at least one SP rock in the first 3-4 rounds, and trust in the starting pitching depth from rounds 7-14. Let’s focus on the specific players to target during your drafts by position and later round-by-round.
First Basemen / Utility
There are a lot of options at first base, but there are three distinct tiers to me.
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr./Freddie Freeman — Vlad is in yet another stellar Toronto lineup while Freeman should be even better now that he’s a Dodger and is a fantastic foundation for any squad.
- Matt Olson / Pete Alonso / Paul Goldschmidt / José Abreu / Kris Bryant — These won’t let you down + Abreu & Bryant should be solid but not elite through the year.
- All the others listed below — Many of them feel like the same to me, just make sure you get one of them (I don’t really consider Jake Cronenworth a 1B, he’s more beneficial as an SS/2B).
Of that final tier, I’m all for waiting until there’s a moment in the draft where you don’t love all the options available. At that point, grab your Joey Votto or Luke Voit and be happy you did. Heck, grab another one or two as your UTILs if you want in the backend of your draft.
Truly, I adore all of these bats. Take a deep chance on Andrew Vaughn or Spencer Torkelson if you can as well — both are fantastic hitters who could blossom if they’re given consistent at-bats early in the year.
This one can get rough quickly. I find myself pushing hard to go for a second baseman of some kind in the first two rounds, and if I whiff, I narrow my sights on José Altuve before the fifth is over. I can also see many targeting Whit Merrifield for stolen base security, possibly as a support for a power-heavy opening such as Freeman + Devers.
Once Altuve is gone, I’m shifting toward Ketel Marte, Jorge Polanco, or Jonathan India on most days — I can understand Lowe as well but there’s often someone who adores him before the others. I love the feeling of grabbing Max Muncy before the cliff hits as I don’t want to have to chase Jake Cronenworth instead of quality starting pitchers — if you’re out of options, it may be the best bet.
If you need legit discount second basemen, Kiké Hernández may be my favorite one given his situation in Boston. Draft him to survive in the early weeks as you scour the wire to find a more permanent option.
I think you’re starting to understand the importance of securing a strong infield by now. Third base can dry up in a hurry as well, and an early pick of José Ramírez does allow for a sigh of relief in the later rounds. A second-round snag of Rafael Devers or Manny Machado is often in the cards as well, and while I don’t find myself gravitating toward Austin Riley or Wander Franco constantly, there have been moments where they’ve fit into the plan.
Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant are solid fills in the middle rounds, while Alex Bregman and Anthony Rendon feel like the last strong options in the position…and they’re both injury question marks for the year ahead. Even with the position filled, if you’re grabbing Bregman and/or Rendon, consider a backup of Ty France or Josh Donaldson just in case, with the latter as my favorite early-season mid-round 3B choice to fill the spot until something appears on the wire.
If you’re in a tough spot, Jeimer Candelario shouldn’t necessarily be bad, especially as he hits in the middle of the Detroit lineup. Something to consider even as a UTIL spot later in the draft.
Man, I love it when I can get Trea Turner or Bo Bichette in the first round, especially now that Fernando Tatis Jr. is out for months (and I’m not interested in drafting injured players). I can’t say I feel incredibly confident with the mid-tier shortstops like Francisco Lindor or Corey Seager, which has me often grabbing Trevor Story or Xander Bogaerts when I can.
If those don’t work out, I’m aiming for Jorge Polanco to fall or a toss-up between Willy Adames and Dansby Swanson as my true backup (fine, and Jake Cronenworth. Again.). Sometimes Carlos Correa or Javier Báez fall, but I’d rather look elsewhere at that point in the draft.
It gets real dicey after Jake and you may want something secure in Brandon Crawford, or roll your dice with the waiver wire and kick it off with the high upside plays of Gavin Lux or Oneil Cruz, the latter of which may not even be on the team in April. You see the options, you really should consider a shortstop before the 12th round.
In general, I believe that outfield is the easiest position to fill in-season, meaning that I’m not overly aggressive getting three I trust out of my draft. In fact, I’ll go out of my way often not to draft two in the first two rounds, with my favorite drafts coming when I resisted until the 4th or 5th to get my first one — the infield is way more important!
That said, there are some stud hitters from the outfield and sometimes they are just too good to pass up. Juan Soto, Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, and Kyle Tucker are all major targets, all but Soto as mid-to-late first-round targets. I’ll rarely go an outfielder in the second unless someone like Luis Robert falls to the end of the round, with Teoscar Hernández and Whit Merrifield the only options I’m looking for in the 3rd (the latter as a 2B instead of an outfielder).
The fun comes in the 5th and 6th with legit names like Nick Castellanos, George Springer, Eloy Jiménez, Tyler O’Neill, and Kris Bryant. While Bryant would likely fill at 3B instead, the others are all major ceiling plays and you should feel great having any on your squad, even if Springer and O’Neill are a touch more on the riskier side.
After that, it’s a matter of finding the right player at the right time. I search to fill other positions instead of claiming my third outfielder, which means I’ll keep an eye on Giancarlo Stanton, Franmil Reyes, Seiya Suzuki, and Hunter Renfroe, but rarely reach for them.
As far as discount outfielders go, there are some fun ones that can fall in drafts. Jorge Soler, Avisaíl García, Robbie Grossman, and Akil Baddoo are all outfielders who can make a quick impact…or be off your team by May. That’s fine, you’re not taking them early in your drafts.
Finally, at the very end are some familiar names from other positions, with the addition of Julio Rodríguez. Remember, it’s so late in the draft that you’re losing very little by spending a pick here. If they don’t make the opening day roster, just replace them! Very little to lose here.
Don’t forget about Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham, each heading to new homes with a higher ceiling than most. Solid options to consider when searching for your final UTIL or bench spots, and Kiké Hernández is a target of mine given his multi-positional eligibility — get those PAs from your bench on those off-days!
However, if you find yourself without a stud catcher, I usually go after Keibert Ruiz or call it a day and have a ball with someone in the last round. Other names I didn’t even mention are Adley Rutschman, Austin Nola, Joey Bart, Eric Haase, etc. There are a lot of options and I encourage you to be aggressive on the wire early if you don’t get a solid backstop.
Oh my. Starting pitchers. There are so many different ways to craft your rotation and I want to emphasize that you do what you feel is best for you. Do you want to take a stud starter or two? By all means! Just have a plan for your hitters and jump back into SP before it’s too late. I’ve seen a first-round Gerrit Cole or Corbin Burnes work well from a 6-9 pick as it does free up the early-mid rounds for more hitters before grabbing another starter in the 8th. It just depends on what the draft gives you.
That said, I’m seeing what the draft gives me and delaying my first SP pick until the last moment — I personally feel getting your infield locked up is that important. What I can’t resist, though, is Zack Wheeler falling in the third round and Sandy Alcantara in the fourth. Both are genuine studs and I’d feel relieved rostering either.
Most of the time, my ideal strategy is grabbing three pitchers between rounds 5 through 10. Sometimes that’s Lucas Giolito or Robbie Ray in the fifth, other times it’s a trio-run of Lance Lynn, Joe Musgrove, and Alek Manoah in rounds 6,7, and 8. Regardless, there is a bit of a bloated mid-round group until about Mike Clevinger, where the question marks begin to reign. It amplifies the necessity to get a trio of arms before them, though I personally believe if you take enough chances past the 10th round, you’ll find yourself with at least five starters you trust through the year.
Joining Clevinger are Luis Severino, Michael Kopech, Patrick Sandoval, Logan Gilbert, and a few others, pitchers who I believe will definitively aid your 2022 team and are going at a point in the draft where hitters don’t come with the same guarantee. It’s what makes me comfortable aggressively drafting hitters in the first ten rounds and leaning on pitching in the mid-to-late rounds.
When you have your six or so starters you enjoy, there are some later targets I want to take chances on everywhere. Jon Gray feels ready to take advantage of a new environment in Texas; Adam Wainwright and Alex Wood are going shockingly late despite looking like dependable early-season arms; and Alex Cobb is a wonderful late grab if you need a touch more volume in April.
Lastly, open the door for some volatile high ceiling plays, too. Noah Syndergaard and Stephen Strasburg haven’t been aces for years, but they’re going at a point where it’s worthwhile to see how the rest of the spring plays out for both — Strasburg maybe not as much given a likely IL stint, but hey, just stash him there at the end of your draft.
Okay, I sadly don’t have enough time to go through and update everything inside this guide, but I did want to make an update on who I’m targeting during those late rounds.
I’m more hesitant to chase Mike Clevinger and Ian Anderson based on their poor command so far in the spring. There are plenty of great options and while both could easily pan out this year, I’d rather take other chances out of the draft.
Reid Detmers and Matt Brash have rotation spots. Get those two guys beginning in the 18th or later. Same goes for Alex Cobb who is now throwing 94-96mph and that’s all kinds of awesome. Skip on Eric Lauer who is behind in the spring and not looking great. Strasburg is definitely out for some time and not worth the IL stash at the moment. Noah Syndergaard is low on his velocity and I’d rather chase something else.
Aaron Civale has looked solid with his stuff, as has Jesús Luzardo and Patrick Corbin. All three are worth your attention after Detmers, Brash, and Cobb go, with Civale as the safer pick, Luzardo as the fun pick, and Corbin as the red emergency button pick. There’s also Zach Eflin who seems ready to go 70+ pitches in his first outing and serves as a “I need a start a few starts in April” option if you’re looking for that.
I’m not too keen on relievers, but I completely understand grabbing Josh Hader or Liam Hendriks early if you simply want to forget about it. Not too early, but a 4th/5th round pickup is something I’ve done once or twice myself.
After that, most of the time I’m ignoring relievers again until round 10 or so, but there have been lulls in drafts where I follow my old rule of “when you don’t like what’s on the board, pick a closer”. Most of the time, though, it’s Taylor Rogers with a helping of Scott Barlow, Camilo Doval, and a late flier on Art Warren.
In most situations, grab one that you like, and take some outside chances late, then follow Rick Graham’s weekly Closer rankings + the staff’s daily Reliever Ranks articles to follow who you should be picking up in-season. That’s the true path to victory.
Who To Pick From Different Draft Slots
I felt like this year I should add a few words about how your approach changes based on where you’re slotted in the draft. For example, here’s how the first three rounds could look from someone in the #1 spot, #7 spot, and #12 spot:
These early picks completely shape how you’re going to approach your draft. Team 1 already has a massive amount of speed with their shortstop position handled via Trea Turner, allowing them to get Yordan Alvarez in the third. Team 7 didn’t have as much of an opportunity to grab speed and will need to adjust to grab a shortstop and second basemen moving forward. Finally, Team 12 has speed and power looking great early and will need to focus on outfielders later on.
Before your draft, plan out those first three rounds carefully. If you’re in the back half of the draft, you’re not getting Turner or Bichette, which means you need a shortstop plan, while speed may be an issue. Here Team 12 adapted with Albies and Story, but it’s not always so easy.
If you’re at the front, figure out who your big name will be (Turner, Soto, Vlad, JoRam, Bo) with anticipation of what you want your second and third round to be. Are you going with Soto? Then you’ll need to find some speed and a strong middle-infield before the cliff hits later on.
If you’re in the middle, good luck. It’s my least favorite spot to pick as you miss out on the elite bats in the front while the return in the second and third isn’t exceptional relative to the bookend draft slots. Maybe you’re the type that can chance it with Gerrit Cole or Corbin Burnes and wait until pitching again until the 7th round or so, though I personally would prefer Bryce Harper or Mookie Betts. It’s not a great spot to be in.
Personally, I find myself leaning on grabbing Trea Turner or Bo Bichette early on. Locking in a stud shortstop opens the door to a better 7th or 8th SP pick and removes the anxiety of grabbing Willy Adames at the right time. If I’m in the middle, hope for one of the Top 5 bats to fall, and pivot to a stud outfielder otherwise. At the turn, Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies make for a phenomenal early foundation, with Kyle Tucker or Mookie Betts as worthy backups.
At the end of the day, make sure you work out with this guide who could be there later on in your draft and build from the bottom to establish who those top picks are. Want to reach a little for Jonathan India in the 8th? Then don’t go for Mookie Betts or Ozzie Albies at the opening turn. I fully endorse messing around with Fantasy Pros’ mock draft simulator as a quick way to test out the first 10-15 rounds and see how you like the feel of certain early picks. It’s not perfect, but it gets the job done.
All Targets Round By Round Cheat Sheet
I made this handy chart for you to reference through your draft:
Good luck! Here’s to a fun 2022 season ahead.