Going into the 2020 fantasy baseball season, there was a clear #1 pick in fantasy, but with a short season who should you take with that pick?
Throughout the majority of the 2010s, Mike Trout has been the consensus number one pick and for good reason. He consistently put together MVP campaigns and took home the award three times in his first nine seasons. In fact, throughout his career Trout has never finished below 4th place in MVP voting, illustrating just how amazing he really is. Already a sure-fire Hall of Famer, Trout is going into his 10th season, however, this year, with offensive powerhouses such as Ronald Acuña Jr., Mookie Betts, and Christian Yelich and work-horse pitchers like Jacob DeGrom, Max Scherzer, and Gerrit Cole, the script that has lasted for almost a decade will likely change.
Before you decide on who to pick first consider the shortened season and the fact that it likely means that you will not have any second chances when it comes to fantasy. You will have to draft a talented and flexible team and hope for the best in terms of a hot start. Furthermore, you will need to bolster your team with one or two aces to increase the likelihood of a successful pitching staff. If a fantasy team’s pitching is sub-par to begin the season it will have very little time to make a switch, meaning that star pitchers are all the more important this year, while on the hitting side you will have more opportunities to make some changes and rescue the season.
So, let’s get into the nitty-gritty. You know what you are going to get from all the players mentioned above. Trout, Acuña, Betts, and Yelich will all hit the long ball and rack up the RBI’s while DeGrom, Scherzer, and Cole will send players back to the dugout left and right. So how should you decide who to pick first overall? To differentiate between these players, let’s first look at MLB.com journalist Mike Petriello’s recent article.
In his piece, Petriello created a graph describing the strength of schedule for each team going into the shortened season. The graph shows that teams like the Brewers, Mets, Nats, Dodgers, and Yankees all have relatively easy schedules while teams such as the Braves and Angels do not.
So what does this mean for fantasy? Well, the Angels have one of the most difficult schedules in Baseball, forcing fantasy owners to question taking Trout first as he might not bring enough value. As for the Braves and Acuña Jr., the teams they are slated to play poise some challenges but nothing near what the Angels will have to handle. More importantly, Yelich, Betts, Cole, DeGrom, and Scherzer will all play somewhat strong teams but generally, each player’s respective franchise has a rather easy schedule. Nevertheless, we can’t just base our opinions off of the strength of schedule for the top players in the league, we must look at their stats as well.
Mike Trout is coming off you guessed it…another MVP season. His 2019 campaign was simply amazing, hitting a fantastic .291/.438/.645/1.083 to go along with 45 HR, 104 RBI, 110 runs scored in only 600 PA (134 Games). Going into 2020, I see no reason for Trout not to produce another astounding stat-line, meaning that once again he will, and should, be at the top of all draft boards. However, due to other elite players around the league and his difficult schedule, Trout is no longer the undisputed first overall pick.
Ronald Acuña Jr.
Ronald Acuña Jr., perhaps the most electric player in Baseball, also had a phenomenal 2019 season, making him a strong candidate to be taken off the draft board first. Acuña’s swagger, speed, power, and defensive skills combine to form an exciting and reliable stud. Last year Acuña Jr. slashed .280/.365/.518/.883 to go along with 41 HR, 101 RBI, and 37 SB. Keep in mind that the Brave’s star is only 22 years of age and will only get better as time goes on.
As someone who happily owned Acuña last season, I must highlight the fact that he almost joined the elite 40/40 club (40 HR and 40 SB) which would have been an incredible feat for a player to achieve at such a young age. If I had the first pick in any of my drafts, I would heavily consider taking Acuña Jr. despite a semi-difficult schedule.
Another outfielder that makes a strong case to be taken first overall is Mookie Betts. Now sharing a loaded outfielder with fellow superstars Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson, Betts has the potential to put together a very strong season. However, there are some concerns that you must address before considering snagging him 1st overall. Last season Betts put up very solid numbers slashing .295/.391/.524/.915 with 80 RBI, 29 HR, and 16 SB. However, last year plenty of fantasy owners took Betts with the first overall pick hoping that he would put up the same numbers he did in 2018.
As you probably know, the Red Sox’s stud at the time deservedly took home the MVP award in his historic 2018 as he hit .346/.438/.640/1.078 to go along with 80 RBI, 32 HR, and 30 SB. Clearly, his 2018 was much better than his 2019, but Betts has a good chance to come back stronger than last year and have a successful season, which would make Dodger fans and fantasy owners happy and relieved. In my opinion, Betts is not worth the first overall pick, but look to grab him later in the first round (anything past the 5th pick is a steal).
The last hitter I will be breaking down in this article is the Brewers’, Christian Yelich. Yelich’s strengths are his power, speed, and defense. His swing is simple and is easily one of the most beautiful in all of MLB. Last year was surely Yelich’s best season as he slashed .329/.429/.671/1.100 plus 44 HR, 97 RBI, and 30 SB. Losing out a very tight MVP race to Bellinger in 2019, Yelich will certainly give it his all this year in an attempt to take home his second MVP award.
Yelich and the Brewers also have the 6th best strength of schedule, which serves as another reason to snag Yelich at one. Yelich is a very compelling player and if given the option, I would consider picking him first. However, you must trust and believe that he will put up a very similar, if not better stat-line than he did in 2019.
Now, let’s discuss some of the pitchers who you should consider picking first overall. Jacob DeGrom has established himself as the best pitcher in the NL, winning the Cy Young award in back to back seasons. He relied primarily on his fastball and nasty slider to send hitters back to the dugout with ease. In fact, in 2019 DeGrom set a career-high 11.3 SO/9 and even had the lowest ERA among pitchers who threw 200+ innings.
The Mets’ superstar pitcher will have another stellar season and should finish as a top 3 pitcher. The only thing I would watch for in picking DeGrom is his tendency to not get off to the best of starts, but other than that I believe that he will likely have another successful season and will certainly produce on any roster.
Max Scherzer is coming off another stellar campaign. Mad Max finished 3rd in Cy Young voting last season, most likely because he missed some time due to injury. However, as he has shown through his bunt-foul ball to the eye incident, Scherzer is strong and will gladly fight through an injury if his team needs him.
Last year was not Scherzer’s best, yet he still had a sub 3.00 ERA and maintained his streak of 200+ strikeouts, which began in 2012. Scherzer will be 35 come 2020, so he is definitely aging and you should take that into consideration if you are serious about pursuing him with the first overall pick. However, he has a tendency to get off to hot starts, a relatively easy schedule, and a track record of Cy Young-winning seasons makes Mad Max a real contender to be taken off the board first.
Last but not least, let’s talk about Gerrit Cole. Cole joined the Yankees, his favorite team in his younger years, this offseason in the hopes of winning multiple WS championships with the Yankees. Unfortunately for us Yankee fans, we had to deal with Cole’s dominance while he was in an Astros uniform. Now though, Cole is with the Bombers and will be hungry to defeat his old and irresponsible teammates. Last season, anyone who had the chance to watch Cole pitch saw perfection.
In the second half of his 2019 season, Cole went a perfect 11-0 to end the regular season. In that span, he carried a ridiculous 1.79 ERA, a WHIP of .742, and 14.7 SO/9. Cole is a huge fantasy threat if he is not on your team. He has the potential to change an entire category whether it be QS, K, ERA, IN, or WHIP, and will surely make any fantasy pitching staff a huge burden to compete with. Ultimately, if Cole is available past the 5th pick he is a steal, but look to grab him at one if you truly believe that he will put up better numbers than his cross-town rival DeGrom and defending WS champ Scherzer.