If you are blessed to have the first overall pick in your season-long fantasy baseball league this spring, rejoice. There is a small handful of players who are worthy of that selection and no matter whom you choose, It’s hard to mess this pick up (unless you are hit by plain bad luck).
I believe there are six players who are realistic options at the top of the draft. Let’s cover the pros and cons of each player’s case to be No. 1.
Fernando Tatis Jr., shortstop/outfielder, San Diego Padres
Pro: There is an argument to be made that Tatis belongs in his own class. He is the best five-category player in the sport, can be used at multiple positions and likely hasn’t reached his peak yet at just 23 years old. Consider that Tatis led the National League with 42 homers and stole 25 bases (third-most in the NL) while playing in just 130 games last year.
Con: And why did he play in only 130 games last season? Because his left shoulder kept popping out of place. It’s impressive that Tatis missed just 22 games because of three partial shoulder dislocations during the regular season, but it could happen again at any moment on the diamond. Tatis decided against offseason surgery to strengthen that joint, so there is a pretty large red flag tied to the player who has the most upside of anyone in MLB.
Trea Turner, shortstop/second baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers
Pro: Turner, one of baseball’s best pure hitters over the past few seasons, won his first batting title in 2021 and led all players with 195 hits. He’s batted better than .320 in each of the past two seasons. He also paced the NL in total bases and stolen bases last year. Speed is Turner’s best attribute; he posted the highest sprint speed in the league last year at 30.7 feet per second. Stolen bases is the most important stat in standard 5x5 leagues because of scarcity. Turner’s power took a jump in 2021 as he finished with 28 homers. It also helps that he will always be batting at or near the top of the Dodgers’ strong lineup.
Con: Turner played in 148 games last year and all 162 in 2018. Still, he carries some injury risk since he missed at least 40 games in 2017 and 2019. His stolen base ceiling now seems capped at 40. That’s a fine total, but it’s a little unsatisfying for a player who stole 46 bases in just 98 games back in 2017. While his bat has some juice in it, Turner’s run production abilities are lacking compared to the other players in this range.
Juan Soto, outfielder, Washington Nationals
Pro: Just consider his insane, historic second half of the 2021 season: In 72 games, Soto put together a .348/.525(!)/.639 slash line with 18 homers and 53 RBIs. He has led the NL in batting once and in on-base percentage twice before his age-23 season. He has a career .981 OPS through his first four years. He’s not the fastest guy in the world, but he’ll probably chip in 8-10 stolen bases. Soto is just an extremely well-rounded player with a very high floor.
Con: A realistic projection for Soto in HRs and SBs is 30 and 10, respectively, which puts him a step or two below the top players in each category. His run production may be held back some by the Nationals’ largely unproven lineup.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., first baseman, Toronto Blue Jays
Pro: If we’re holding a discussion about MLB’s best hitter, Vlad has got to be in the middle of it. He assuaged the worries about his power entering the 2021 season by bashing 48 home runs, tied for the most in the sport. He also led the American League last year in OBP, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and total bases. But the real reason why he’s a part of this group is his big jump in batting average — from .262 in 2020 to .311 last year. He’s one of a slim few players whom you can project to hit .300 in 2022.
Con: Stolen bases are critically important in a standard categories league, and Vlad really won’t help you there at all. Guerrero hit 10 homers in just 23 games at the Blue Jays’ ballpark in Dunedin last year. He then hit the same amount in 35 games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, which is a much more neutral stadium for hitters. So it’s probably unreasonable to expect Vlad to flirt with 50 dingers once again.
Jose Ramirez, third baseman, Cleveland Guardians
Pro: Ramirez provides you with a great starting point in power and speed with 30-plus homers and 25-plus steals likely. His OPS+ has topped 140 in four of the past five seasons. Getting that kind of a production from a player whose strikeout rate has been less than 15 percent in all but one of his nine seasons is a real rarity. Ramirez’s position also gives him an edge since the hot corner is not as flush with talent compared to previous years. He has played in at least 150 games in four of the past five full seasons.
Con: The days when Ramirez could be counted on to provide a stellar batting average are gone. He was down to .262 last year, and that doesn’t look like a fluke in his profile. The Guardians’ offense will probably be mediocre at best, which might curb some of his counting stats. Ramirez isn’t old by any means (29), but he is the oldest player on this list.
Shohei Ohtani, designated hitter/starting pitcher, Los Angeles Angels
Pro: He’s the most talented player in baseball, so there’s that. He has top-notch power and also stole 26 bases on 36 attempts last year. Although he has been a global phenomenon for a while, he is right in the middle of his prime as he enters his age-27 season. If you’re able to use him as both a pitcher and a hitter, then he probably should be the No. 1 pick, especially in a points league.
Con: However, many leagues allow you to draft only half of Ohtani’s value at one time. He’s still first-round quality as a hitter, but he’s probably not going to give you a batting average above .265 and he won’t be eligible for any roster spots other than DH or utility. While we love watching him dominate the game in so many ways, Ohtani’s talents also raise his injury probability. Just consider that if you take Ohtani near the top of your draft, you are paying for a season that was likely a once-in-a-generation performance.