The first round of a fantasy baseball draft is discussed far more often than it should be. The truth is no matter what player you decide to select, you are likely to walk away with solid production. The player drafted first overall is almost never the top performer at seasons end, but the entire first round rarely “disappoints.”
This leads many to believe that the loss of one of these players, either by injury or other circumstances, is seen as a death sentence to a fantasy roster. After all, how can you possibly replace that production?
Maybe you can.
Now you certainly are not going to be able to replace a first-round talent one-for-one. That is not happening, at least in the sense that you can prepare for. Breakouts happen every year, but that is hardly a sound strategy for replacing a single superstar.
What if I told you that you can build a first-round superstar with players nearly outside of the top-200 or maybe the waiver wire? Is that something you would be interested in? If you plan correctly, not only can you build a first-round talent at minimal cost in case of injury, but set yourself nicely if your entire team remains healthy.
A draft is not won in the first round. A fantasy baseball draft is won in the mid to late rounds. So let’s go to the laboratory, get out our microscope, and build a few superstars.
Building a Roto Frankenstien
As stated in the introduction, you can not hope to replace a superstar with just one player. That is more of a lottery ticket than strategy. What we need to do is take the production of a first-round talent, break it down into components, and then rebuild it with two later round players.
But how is that fair? Of course, two players can outproduce one.
1.) That is true, but we are building a first-round talent on the cheap. So have an open mind.
2.) We are going to even the score by adding a replacement-level player’s production to “Side A.” This is a player that you would find on the very end of your fantasy bench. For argument’s sake, let’s give this player a random made-up name. How about “Adam Frazier.”
So Side A will be a first-round star plus “Adam Frazier,” while Side B is comprised of two late-round players. The goal is to come close to completely recreating the production at a fraction of the cost.
The overall result will depend on if you decide to start each building block full-time. But most importantly, the exercise will teach you to think in terms of overall roster construction than individual player value.
This is going to be fun, so smile.
Rebuilding Ronald Acuna
The consensus 1.01 in most roto drafts, Ronald Acuna is the current gold standard for upside. Nearly reaching 40/40 last season has fantasy baseball enthusiasts excited for the production base he can bring to a roster.
Like every player in the major leagues, he is not without his flaws. Acuna tends to strike out a bit more than one would like, but so do many power hitters. He makes up for this with a 10%+ walk rate and overall badass approach to playing. Acuna has a solid 24.4% line drive rate to go along with a healthy 45.8 hard-hit percentage.
However, you only have one, maybe two, shots at getting him in your draft. Bummer right? So let’s go to the lab and build him from scratch!
Primary Building Block: Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers
Ryan Braun is oddly disrespected in fantasy leagues. The former NL MVP (albeit with controversy) still smokes the ball, with his biggest flaw being his health. Braun, when playing, still holds elite levels in both exit velocity and hard contact.
Braun has compiled double-digit HR and stolen bases in 12 of the last 13 seasons, and nearly 20/10+ in each of his last six. He brings with him a respectable batting average and a primary spot in the Milwaukee lineup surrounded by reigning fellow former MVP Christian Yelich. It is a great situation for any hitter to find themselves in.
The best part, for him, may be the addition of the Universal DH to the National League. According to Statcast, Braun’s OAA (Outs Above Average) was in the third percentile. Yeah, third. THREE. That is not great. Before the Universal DH, Braun was likely looking at a platoon situation with Justin Smoak at first base. However, this new situation breathes new life into his season and at-bats should be an everyday occurrence.
Over 60-games you can expect a batting average around .280 with nine home runs and four stolen bases, with room for more.
Secondary Building Block: Kolton Wong, 2B, Cardinals
In 478 at-bats last season, Kolen Wong produced 11 HR and 24 stolen bases for the Cardinals, while earning his first gold glove award. He established career highs in batting average, slugging percentage, and wRC+. Wong had produced similar production in previous seasons, so the “breakout” is very easy to believe in. He even received down-ballot consideration in the MVP voting (which was likely home cooking, but still).
Scheduled to leadoff for the Cardinals in 2020, Kolten Wong is a tremendous value capable of being a difference-maker in both power and speed over 60-games. He makes for the perfect complement to Ryan Braun in rebuilding Ronald Acuna.
Rebuilding Jose Ramirez
By the end of the first round, many power/speed threats have been taken and the popular choices on the board are either a starting pitcher or a trio of third baseman. I am speaking of Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman, and Jose Ramirez. J-Ram has been somewhat inconsistent over the past two seasons, combining half-season hot streaks with slumps. However, an adjustment in launch angle (decreased) to return to being a line drive hitter seems to have fixed his primary problems (see thread below for a full breakdown).
Next up in my #2020PlayerBreakdowns Series is:
Jose Ramirez, 3B
27 years old
Drafted: N/A, Int’l FA
Let’s get started…
— Matt Williams (@MattWi77iams) March 6, 2020
In the end, fantasy owners are taking Ramirez at the first round turn expecting a solid base of power and speed at third base. So let’s go in a different direction…
Primary Building Block: Justin Turner, 3B, Dodgers
If not for his “blazing speed” (33rd percentile sprint speed), Turner would have been a prime candidate in my quest for 400 article. But regardless of his speed, Turner is a dangerous hitter and could very well challenge for the batting title in 60-games if he can remain healthy.
Turner will be batting third for the best team in baseball, surrounded by former MVP Mookie Betts, current MVP Cody Bellinger, and Max Muncy. For a player with such a high batting average ceiling, the counting stats write themselves.
in 60-games you can likely write a .290 average in pen, with a chance for SO much more, while expecting nearly 10 HR. The speed will not be there, so we will need to supplement elsewhere, but Turner makes for a great building block in two key areas.
Secondary Building Block: Ender Inciarte, OF, Braves
We have quite a few options for our secondary building block. If you were in a daily league and could afford to make lineup changes, Dee Gordon would be a reasonable bet. IF you are a gambler, you could always take a shot on the dirt-cheap price of Kevin Keirmaier and his power/speed combo. But if we are playing a bit more safe with our production vs value equation, let’s take a shot on Ender Inciarte.
The news that Yasiel Puig is joining the Braves is unlikely to impact Inciarte, who is a fantastic fielder. Many expect Marcell Ozuna, who is a brutal fielder, to occupy the DH spot in Atlanta.
Enciarte himself is of the Adam Eaton mold. A little power, a little speed, and a respectable batting average. In his last two full seasons (lumbar/hamstring injuries in 2019), Inciarte was able to go 10+ HR and 20 stolen bases, nearly reaching 30 SB in 2018.
Inciarte makes for a low-investment option in your draft with power and speed that happens to bat in the middle of a great lineup. Combine his services with Justin Turner and you have recreated Jose Ramirez at a fraction of the cost.
Rebuilding Trevor Story
Trevor Story is part of a group of first-round shortstops that many are placing tremendous faith in to contribute across the board for their fantasy team (Francisco Lindor and Trea Turner being the others obviously). Early in the 2020 offseason, there were many experts that had Story out in front of this talented trio. After all, he is the only one playing half of his games at Coors Field. However, the news of a 60-game season and uncertainty of having to constantly travel in and out of high altitude has some worried.
If you also factor in the poor ballpark conditions that Story has to face on the road this season (Oracle Park, Petco Park), it’s actually a bit of a buzzkill. If you don’t believe me just check out the RotoFanatic Schedule Factors. For a right-handed Rockies hitter, left field in 2020 looks a like a great place to hit (3rd best schedule). However, if you shift to left-center, the Rockies have the 18th ranked schedule. That is how bad road games could factor into 2020 for Trevor Story.
So not only are we going to discuss how to build Trevor Story from scratch if you miss out on him, but maybe you should avoid him altogether?
Primary Building Block: Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers
To be honest, I have no idea why Elvis Andrus is being drafted so late (SS18 since 6/1 in NFBC). Shortstop is definitely a deep position, but the Rangers infielder produced a .275 average with 12 HR and 31 stolen bases last season. In a year where speed is at a premium, you can have Andrus at nearly pick 150.
It is unknown how the new ballpark in Texas with fare, but we care more about stolen bases than power in this situation regardless. Andrus will bat second in the Rangers lineup behind Shin-Soo Choo and before Joey Gallo, so counting stats should come in bunches.
Take the discount, take the speed, and select Elvis Andrus as your primary building block to rebuild Trevor Story.
Secondary Building Block: Howie Kendrick, 1B/2B
Howie Kendrick is the worst kept secret in fantasy baseball. Everyone knows about him. Yet, he is still being selected past pick 250 in NFBC leagues in July despite having a path to everyday playing time with the news of Ryan Zimmerman opting out.
Kendrick carries a fantastic batting average floor along with deceptive power. In 2019 he was able to raise his Barrel% from 4.8 to 11.4 due to a trendy shift in launch angle (7.9 degrees to 11 degrees). The results speak for themselves though. A career-high 91.6 mph exit velocity (Top 8% of MLB) and .336 xBA (Top 1%) are ELITE numbers. Add that to a K rate in the bottom 10% of the league and you have a very dangerous hitter than can be had for practically free.
If you learn nothing else from this article, learn this: Draft Howie Kendrick.
Rebuilding Walker Buehler
At the end of the first-round, fantasy players are put to a decision on whether or not they want to draft an “ace” for their roster. The usual choices in this area are Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Walker Buehler. But if you are going to invest in a starting other this year you had better be sure of the production they are going to bring. For most of the offseason, Walker seemed to be possibly the safest of the trio. Young starter for the best team in baseball with no current lingering worries or injury.
However, since the shutdown, many starting pitchers have taken time to remain stretched out and “ready to go.” Not Walker Buehler. Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior gave him permission to take the time off and rest. While this may prove to be a smart decision in the end, reports indicate that Buehler will only be able to go 3-4 innings for his first several outings of the season. That means no wins, fewer strikeouts, and a healthy amount of tilt for anyone who drafted him.
Why don’t you avoid the headache and rebuild Walker Buehler from scratch!
Primary Building Block: Ross Stripling, RP/SP, Dodgers
You don’t have to travel very far to find the primary building block for our Walker Buehler Frankenstein. It’s teammate Ross Stripling!
Ross Stripling nearly escaped the nightmare that is “the Dodgers way of handling pitchers” earlier this offseason, but the trade that would have sent him across town to the Angels fell through. But when a door closes, a window opens, and it looks like David Price’s decision to opt-out in 2020 may have given Stripling another shot at the LAD rotation. This is not a foregone conclusion, as he will have to compete with teammate Dustin May for the honor.
However, the best part about Ross Stripling is that even if he does not win the job outright, he still holds plenty of value in the Dodgers bullpen. Remember how we mentioned that Walker Buehler may only go 3-4 innings? Who do you think is going to soak up all those wins? The Dodgers have a very talented bullpen, so it’s hard to make a definitive statement. But if Striping were asked to remain at his old post it would be a smart bet that he and Tony Gonsolin would be first in line to vulture those Ws.
Stripling brings a safe floor to ERA, WHIP, and K that should serve as a solid base for our Frankenstein. We now need to find some cheap upside that can fire up those ratios while padding our counting stats.
Secondary Building Block: Ryan Pressly, RP, Astros
I will open with this statement: If Ryan Pressly was given the ninth inning in Houston, he would immediately be top-5 closer in baseball.
In 2019 Pressly posted career bests in ERA, K/BB, and BB% while leading all MLB relief pitchers with a 43.2% O-Swing, thanks to a devastating curveball. The league average O-Swing is 31.6%. Combine his swing and miss stuff with the fact that only allowed a 65.5% contact rate (11th best), and you have a truly dominant pitcher.
The best part? You can get him past pick 300 in fantasy drafts and may even get a few saves from him in this accelerated season. Pair him with Ross Stripling and you have recreated Walker Buehler at a relatively non-existent price.