Who Should Be the First Overall Pick in 2020 Fantasy Baseball Drafts?
Each year, we go through the exercise of hemming and hawing over who should be the first overall pick for MLB re-draft leagues. It's a fun debate to have because it gives us something other than reclining airline seats to discuss in the downtime between the Super Bowl and most season-long drafts.
For 2020, it seems like more than just hemming and hawing. We've got a legitimately tough decision with Ronald Acuna, Mike Trout, and Christian Yelich grouped at the top of draft boards. You can make a case for all three in that first slot, and you can also justify putting any of them third.
I wanted a bit of help in sorting through who should be atop my list in a standard 5x5 roto league. I had my own personal thoughts, but it can't hurt to chop it up a bit and make sure I'm not overlooking something. So, I chatted on Slack with my numberFire colleagues, Kenyatta Storin and Austan Kas, to get their takes about this dilemma.
jimsannes: All right, just so we know where we all stand, how are you guys ranking those top three as of right now?
AustanKas: It feels like splitting hairs here, and I'd be thrilled to land any of these three with my first pick, but for me, I'm putting them: Trout, Yelich, Acuna.
I just can't see myself passing on Trout if I'm up and he's available.
kenyattastorin: Like Austan, I agree it’s ridiculously close between these three, and I think it’s Trout first, followed by Acuna and Yelich. We often preach safety in the first round, and even with the rise of Acuna and Yelich, it still doesn’t get any safer than Trout. We’ve seen guys like Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve try to claim Trout’s throne in recent years only to drop down draft boards the following season. Maybe this is finally the year, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
jimsannes: Oh, cool, so we're actually all on the same page as having Trout first. I've got him there followed by Yelich and Acuna. Huge win for confirmation bias.
Let's start with the Trout discussion, then. Having him first probably shouldn't be a hot take, but it sort of is. In the NFBC drafts since February 1st, Trout's actually going behind both Acuna and Yelich, in that order. We clearly don't think that's stupid, but it's interesting.
For me, it was hard to not go Trout because I love the addition of Anthony Rendon to that lineup, and there's a chance Trout runs a bit more if Joe Maddon does wind up batting him leadoff. What put him over the edge for you two?
AustanKas: I agree with a lot of what Kenyatta said. I'll believe this is the year someone passes Trout when I see it. Maybe that's not the best attitude to have since Trout's incredible numbers from previous seasons don't count for 2020, but I'm super risk-averse in the first round.
There's also the fact that Trout, per Steamer projections, tops this trio in homers, runs, RBI and OBP.
kenyattastorin: To me, the argument for Acuna -- and why he’s going first most often -- is he’s the best candidate to have a 30-30 season with maybe even a 40-40 ceiling, which is obviously tantalizing as hell, and I can’t blame anyone for taking the plunge. Both Yelich and particularly Trout are projected for fewer swiped bags, which is a big deal when stolen bases are drying up these days.
jimsannes: Yeah, it's hard to argue against that. And it does mean you have to alter your draft a bit and emphasize stolen bases later on, whereas going Acuna or Yelich gives you extra flexibility.
The big reason I put Acuna third is the strikeouts. He struck out 26.3% of the time last year, and he didn't walk as much as Trout and Yelich. That's why I liked Austan's point about OBP: you can't steal first base.
Maybe that's nit-picky, but I think Acuna has the highest odds of disappointing due to his plate discipline, and that matters to me.
kenyattastorin: I was just about to say the same thing: I think Acuna’s batting average is something that’s often overlooked because of how he’s performed in his first two seasons (.285 career). The high strikeout rate means it’s not a sure thing, and his xBA on Statcast is .277. Not bad by any means! But if we’re nitpicking, there’s the possibility of a dip, particularly in just his third campaign. The other two are much more likely to hit .300 and are projected as such.
AustanKas: The strikeout rate is why I put Acuna third. I get the upside, but I think there's more risk with him than Yelich or Trout. For what it's worth, Steamer has Acuna's average at .282, compared to .305 for Yelich and .297 for Trout.
jimsannes: I also think it's good to stress that if I wind up with Acuna, I'm not going to sweat it. Dude's awesome. It's just when Trout and Yelich are there that I get a little squeamish.
kenyattastorin: Meanwhile, I think stolen bases are the big worry for Trout, which is valid after just 11 last year. But his stolen bases have been all over the place in his career. From 2012 onward: 49, 33, 16, 11, 30, 22, 24, 11. Sure, getting 30 again is unlikely, but we shouldn’t totally write him off on that front. He’s just just 28!
jimsannes: Please don't remind me.
kenyattastorin: Are you guys concerned at all about Yelich’s knee injury? Or Trout’s recent injuries, too?
AustanKas: Yelich's injury is definitely a concern for me, moreso than Trout's recent injuries. But hopefully Yelich can put those concerns to bed in spring training. If not, then he may slip down into the next tier.
jimsannes: With Yelich, it sounds like he's good to go for spring training. The injury was scary at the time, but I really, really value guys who are good to go from the jump. It seems like he's cleared that hurdle already.
Was that why you had Acuna above Yelich?
AustanKas: Yeah, Kenyatta, explain yourself!
kenyattastorin: I guess it worries me juuuust a smidge (even though I agree he sounds healthy) at least as far as stolen bases maybe. And he’s probably due to regress from last year’s 30, anyway. I think for me, Acuna and Yelich are really close, but I lean towards Acuna’s stolen-base upside.
AustanKas: Can't really argue there. The choice at two would be a tough call for me, assuming Trout went first.
jimsannes: The two things that pushed me toward Yelich over Acuna were plate discipline and the fact that he also supplies a good number of steals. But the gap is minuscule, so I can't fault you for flipping the two.
kenyattastorin: Also, I think it’s also worth reminding everyone that Trout played in just 134 games and produced 110/45/104/11 with a .291/.438/.645 slash line and won AL MVP.
So… even without the stolen bases… well…
AustanKas: I guess he's pretty good.
jimsannes: Decent, though he did ruin my now super awkward Alex Bregman for MVP bet.
AustanKas: Even if he steals 10 bags, I think he's still the runaway (had to) first overall pick.
kenyattastorin: And while Yelich and Acuna have some fantastic Statcast numbers lately, you still can’t beat Trout’s absurd track record on that front, too.
jimsannes: So, overall, it seems like we agree that:
A) Trout is first
B) They're all in the same "tier"
C) We'd be happy to have any of them
Anybody else in contention here, or is it just those three?
Not too many guys who can contribute elite numbers in four categories and possibly five.
AustanKas: Francisco Lindor and Juan Soto are the only guys I could try to squeeze in. If it's an OBP-heavy league, Soto is super appealing if you're into guys who walk a ton, hit a lot of homers, have a proven track record of elite numbers and are 21.
Soto did quietly swipe 12 bases last year, too, so he's not a dud there.
jimsannes: The fact that neither of you mentioned Byron Buxton personally offends me.
kenyattastorin: You just wish you could draft Marcus Mariota for baseball.
jimsannes: It couldn't be any worse than my NFL best-ball shares of him last year.
I think the points about pitcher are fair, but I kinda don't hate the second tier at pitcher this year? I know it's generally -EV to invest in those guys. But.
I could see an argument for plugging Mookie Betts up into a similar tier to Yelich and Acuna because I'm a sucker for Mookie and his non-existent strikeout rate. He would be the one guy I'd give an iota of consideration to in the top three. But he doesn't touch Trout at the top.
AustanKas: I love Mookie, too. Lots of good hitters to choose from early in the first, but like you said, Trout is alone at the top.
kenyattastorin: I think the move to LA hurts Mookie just a little -- not going to get as many RBIs batting behind a pitcher, and his plate appearances can only go down -- but Mookie is always fantastic.
In general, I think figuring out how you’re handling stolen bases and pitching in the first couple rounds is paramount, and batting average is often an overlooked thing to keep in mind, too.
AustanKas: That's a good point.
jimsannes: And it seems like Trout, Acuna, and Yelich check all those boxes.
So, our consensus here is Trout first, your preference between Yelich and Acuna after that, and then Buxton? Sweet. Glad we were able to sort this one out, guys.