Getting the first overall pick in drafts used to be a cause for celebration- the manager with the first choice selected the clear best player and started to build a team with a leg up on the competition. While picking first in 2022 is not a cause for panic, players with the first overall pick have a decision on their hands more so than in years past.
From the time Mike Trout won his first MVP in 2014 to as recently as 2019 there really wasn’t much of a debate at the top of drafts. You hoped and prayed that you got the first overall pick to be able to select Fish Boy. In those five years, Trout’s ADP never fell below 1.67 at NFBC. Even the year before that, in 2014, only two players were selected with the first overall pick– Trout and Miguel Cabrera.
In recent years, there has been a bit more of a debate as to who should be selected as the first picks in drafts. In 2020, Ronald Acuña Jr. was still a clear favorite though, as shown by his ADP of 1.5 and Christian Yelich, a bit behind at 2.43. Last year it was a two-man race between Acuña (1.98 ADP) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (2.65 ADP).
For 2022, the viable options for the first overall pick are as plentiful as ever – currently, six players – Trea Turner, Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, José Ramírez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Shohei Ohtani – have been chosen with the first overall pick at NFBC. (Acuña may throw his name in the ring with a healthy spring training as well. A strong case can be made for Bo Bichette, too.)
Additionally, a pitcher has yet to be taken with the first overall pick. The injury concerns of Jacob deGrom probably make it a bit more difficult to select a pitcher first overall this year, but there are still cases to be made for taking a pitcher at one, but for this exercise, we will focus on the healthy hitter options. (As a notorious “punt early pitching” guy, that was just the way this article came to fruition, promise.)
Having multiple viable options at the top of drafts can be intimidating; however, fear not. We here at Pitcher List are by your side with the power of information so you can make the best decision possible if you are fortunate enough, or brave enough, to draft first overall this year. I and esteemed colleagues will be providing the case for those six players who have currently been selected with the first pick at NFBC to help make the best decision possible to start drafts. All ADP data courtesy NFBC as of 1/19.
Since 2012 there have been seven seasons in which a player has had a batting average of .300, 25 home runs, and 30 stolen bases:
- Mike Trout (3x: 2012, 2013, 2016)
- Christian Yelich (2019)
- Mookie Betts (2018)
- Ryan Braun (2012)
- Trea Turner (2021)
If you want five-category production and you have the first overall pick, the clear choice is Trea Turner. For his career the former Washington National and San Diego Padre farmhand’s per 162-game average is a staggering .303/.358/.492 with 24 homers, 48 stolen bases, 114 runs, and 79 RBIs. While Turner has played only more than 145 games twice in his six full years in the big leagues and hasn’t actually put together a season quite like his 162-game pace – last year came pretty close, and he was close to that pace in the shortened 2020 season – I am still very comfortable taking Turner first overall.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room with Turner: playing time. The fantasy community, in general, may be a bit too quick to apply the “injury-prone” label to players. In fact, it is hard to distinguish between a player being injury prone or simply having bad luck.
Looking at the above table, Turner clearly falls into the unlucky bucket rather than the injury-prone one – the two fractures were due to HBPs. The durability issue that surrounds the Dodgers’ superstar is not valid and I would argue he carries much less injury risk than someone like Fernando Tatis Jr. who is currently rehabbing a serious shoulder injury or Shohei Ohtani who has had major elbow surgery in the past.
The most encouraging thing about Trea this year is the fact that he will be in the best lineup of his career. All he needs to do is come close to the 148 games he played last season to eclipse his career-high in runs and RBI (107 runs, 77 RBI in 2021) in the stacked Dodger lineup. Steamer has the slick middle infielder projected for .290/.350/.536 with 25 HRs, 27 SBs, 104 runs, and 83 RBIs. I would be taking the over on most categories depending on where he is in the batting order (Roster Resouce currently has him in the two-hole behind Mookie Betts).
Lastly, Turner does not get enough credit for the amount of power that he has. Because he consistently is close to the top of the league in steals, batting average, and doesn’t look like the prototypical slugger it is easy to forget how much power the NC State product is capable of. Turner ranked in the 84th percentile for Max Exit Velocity in 2021 and his 92.6 Exit Velocity on fly balls and line drives is around boppers like Kris Bryant, Ryan Mountcastle, Nolan Arenado, and Austin Meadows. Turner’s ISO over the last three seasons: .200, .253, .208. His ISO of .213 over the last three seasons ranks 48th in the majors.
Fernando Tatis Jr.
During the 2021 campaign, Padres wunderkind Fernando Tatís Jr. fought the injury bug and won. Limited to 130 games and soldiering through shoulder struggles, Tatís paced the National League with 42 home runs and paid his membership dues for the vaunted 40/20 club by swiping 25 bases. That homer mark was just six shy of the league-leading tandem of Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Salvador Perez — in 31 fewer games. Injury concerns also paved the way for playing time in the outfield, en route to SS/OF dual-eligibility status that makes Tatís a veritable Swiss army knife in fantasy lineups.
Shoulder subluxations didn’t prevent Tatís from flexing prodigious power (league-best 12.8% Barrels/PA rate, and tied with Aaron Judge for fourth in total barrels with 70) and elite speed (96th percentile sprint speed, per Baseball Savant) in an injury-shortened season, and while Tatís opted against surgery, an entire offseason of rest and rehabilitation should have fantasy managers salivating over the gaudy numbers the 23-year-old dynamo can post in a full campaign.
Tatís anchors a formidable Padres’ lineup (Roster Resource projects him as the No. 2 hitter against RHP), locking him into ample opportunities to score and drive in runs. He set a new career benchmark with an 11.4% walk rate and .403 wOBA (fourth-best in baseball), so getting on base is no concern: The fleet-footed and ball-clobbering (55.6% hard-hit rate) Tatís posted a .324 BABIP to combat a 28% K rate.
Trea Turner is the lone player with a higher NFBC ADP than Tatís at the time of writing, but his profile lacks the tremendous power of Tatís (Turner set a career-high with 28 homers in 2021), with appreciably similar stolen-base upside. (Turner swiped 32 bags in 148 games; Tatís stole 25 in 130.)
Unless there are apparent warning signs that Tatís remains hampered by his shoulder in spring training, he’s justifiably the top pick in any fantasy draft. – Erik van Rheenen
With the first overall pick, you may be tempted to go for a flashy, up-the-middle option with proven speed, such as Trea Turner and Fernando Tatis Jr. However, I encourage you to bask in the steady production that Juan Soto will provide your team with.
In my mind, there is little doubt that Soto is the best offensive producer in baseball. In what was considered to be a “down year” for him, the 23-year-old posted a 163 weighted-runs-created plus (wRC+). Now, you don’t get points for a high wRC+, but it is a great demonstration of the type of hitter is. Soto’s on-base skills, which include a batting average over .300 and a walk rate over 20%, give him an extremely high floor in terms of scoring runs; he’s scored 110 and 111 runs, respectively, in his two full seasons as a pro. The batting average and runs scored create quite the foundation to build upon, but there’s more that Soto brings to the table.
That would be his power, which should be much better than the 29 home runs he hit last year. See, in the first half, Soto struggled mightily from a power perspective; he had just a .162 isolated power (ISO). In the second half, though, Soto made some clear adjustments, to hit the ball in the air and with more authority, leading to a .291 ISO and 16.8% barrel in the second half.
After posting a 22.6% line-drive rate last year, there’s room for positive regression for Soto in that department. Meanwhile, there’s always the chance he makes an approach change to continue to try to hit the ball more in the air and gear for power, especially with a new hitting coach taking over. Regardless, he’s going to be a very strong contributor in every offensive category, while he’ll pitch in with around ten stolen bases as well.
In terms of a high floor, I’m not sure anyone comes close to Soto, which is important when comparing him to the other candidates. Per Fangraphs’ auction calculator, using Steamer projections, Soto ranks third in estimated value, only behind Fernando Tatis Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. However, between Tatis Jr.’s shoulder injury and how deep the first base position is, I’d much rather play it safe and take Soto. In an OBP league or points league, this is a no-brainer. However, even in a standard 5×5 Roto league, I’m not sure there is anyone else that you can trust like you can with Soto. – Justin Dunbar
When you select the first overall pick in a draft, simply put, you need someone who does it all. Not only are we looking for power and speed, but also add an abundance of counting stats with a respectable batting average. We call these unicorns “five-category contributors.” And that is the type of player that needs to garner your consideration for such a robust draft price.
Unfortunately, starting pitchers don’t produce saves, and relief pitchers don’t get enough volume. That is why you turn to cardboard cutouts with bats for the numero uno selection in your draft. Don’t overthink this pick, and focus solely on a batter. Sorry, Gerrit Cole and Corbin Burnes, you’re fun to watch but not so much with the first overall pick.
As you can see, we’ve got immense production across the board in all categories. However, some might say, “what about the batting average?” Well-consider this. Ramírez was pretty unfortunate in that category; in fact, Statcast suggests his xBA should actually be .281-nearly 20 points higher. A .281 xBA would bump him up quite a bit up the ranks, all the way to 22nd overall. Furthermore, Ramírez showcases a .278 batting average in a little more than 3500 at-bats throughout his nine-year career.
Next, let’s step back and look at this from a different lens. The third-base position Ramírez plays is pretty thin, starved for multi-category talent. This point will be crucial for roto league players since balance and roster construction is key to the format. Again, contributing in all categories is a key reason for choosing Ramírez.
To understand how scarce the third-base is, use Fangraphs Auction Calculator and search by dollar amounts for all 3B. There are only seven worth $10 or more, with Ramírez earning $28.9, the highest dollar amount among all qualified 3B. To give a point of reference, that is three fewer $10 players than at the catcher position. J-Ram achieves this considerable dollar amount by adding positive dollars in all five categories. Something only he and Manny Machado should do.
In summation, José Ramírez is as polished as they come. Steamer projections show Ramírez for 97 runs, 34 HR, 101 RBI, 23 SB, and .266 BA stat line over 570 ABs. You have to ask yourself, is there anything this guy can’t do? And at a weaker position, no less. Don’t sweat this one; click DRAFT on José Ramírez when you’re on the clock, then sit back and relax. –Dave Swan
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
There’s an old saying in fantasy baseball. You can’t win your league in the first round, but you can certainly lose it in the first round. Making a first-round pick is all about minimizing risk. Any of the players mentioned in this article are worthy of first-round consideration obviously, there’s no questioning that. We are talking about the very best of the best.
But if I am selecting at 1.1, I want the safest pick. A cornerstone of my team to build around that I can rely on. Day in, day out. And in 2022, for me, that player is Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
One of the most highly-touted prospects in the history of Major League Baseball, many felt that Guerrero underwhelmed in his first two seasons in 2019 (age 20) and 2020 (age 21). “Too much hype” the fantasy masses screamed. “Too many grounders to shortstop” the analytics folks cried.
But in reality, the ultra-talented young kid was still finding his footing at the MLB level. Until 2021 happened. No matter how you slice it, Vlad Jr. was one of the best players in baseball.
The numbers clearly speak for themselves. Vlad Jr. finished the 2021 season as the #1 overall ranked player in Yahoo! fantasy leagues. He flirted with rarified air, nearly completing the historic Triple Crown in the American League before falling just short in AVG and RBI while tying for the league lead in homers. And while the junior Guerrero wasn’t even named the AL MVP because of the historically unprecedented dual-threat performance of Shohei Ohtani as both pitcher and hitter, I am here today to make sure we put some respect on his name.
Why wouldn’t he be the choice for the first overall pick in 2022? “We need stolen bases from a top overall pick!” they’ll say. Psshhh…not when you lead the league in virtually every other category. Trea Turner is awesome but has never been the poster boy for durability. José Ramírez plays for a mediocre team which will limit his ceiling. Fernando Tatis Jr. injured his shoulder twice last season and still has not had surgery to correct the issue. Ohtani is a once-in-a-generation player but many league formats separate his accomplishments as hitter/pitcher, which limits the upside for each. And a simple “no thanks” to any pitcher in this argument.
Guerrero seems like the easy choice to me. He turns just 23 years old in March and is still years away from entering his prime years – which is simply terrifying. And most importantly, after getting into significantly better physical shape prior to last season, he played in 161 of 162 games in 2021 and has shifted over to being a first baseman full time, limiting the stress on his body and even more so adding to his durability and increasing the likelihood of staying healthy and in the lineup, which is what I want in a first-round pick. Reliability. Guerrero hits in one of the most hitter-friendly venues in all of baseball in the heart of one of the most potent offenses in all of baseball. When factoring in lineup and ballpark, which are vitally important in the fantasy game, Guerrero arguably hits in the single best lineup spot in baseball. Juan Soto is phenomenal and certainly warrants consideration alongside Guerrero, but for me, the ballpark and lineup give Guerrero the edge.
For me, the 23-year-old superstar is a money-in-the-bank choice with the first overall pick in 2022. – Lucas Spence
If you are going to have a debate, it is important to know the parameters. When you are talking about the first pick, the most important parameter is the league format. If you are playing in a weekly league or on one of the platforms where Ohtani the Hitter and Ohtani the Pitcher are discrete players, feel free to move on.
But if you are in a daily moves league where you can draft the whole Ohtani, take him first. While everyone else is debating whether they want a SS or an OF or maybe even an SP, you can get the guy who was fourth on the Razzball player rater last year and the 33rd best SP on the player rater. One pick, two studs.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 4, 2021
— Alden González (@Alden_Gonzalez) July 10, 2021
Lest you have some doubts, Ohtani was 3rd in MLB in HR, 8th in SB, 11th in R, and 18th in RBI. Oh, and this year he should get more help in the lineup – most importantly from a healthy Anthony Rendon and Mike Trout. Those are numbers that are on a par with any of the bats you might take at 1.1 – but none of them put up a 3.18 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 156 K in 130.1 IP. If you are playing a format that lets you take full advantage of that, don’t hesitate to enjoy the Sho. – Chad Young