It may be sacrilegious to write about baseball before the Super Bowl is even played, but the fantasy football season is over. So, why not? Fantasy baseball drafts are already happening. Granted, these drafts are comprised of mostly analysts competing against each other at this point, but it’s really not too early to start thinking about your own draft(s).
Drafting a fantasy baseball team can be a daunting task. On draft day, you must fill 23-30 roster spots, depending on league rules, from a pool of more than a thousand Major League Baseball players. Fantasy managers often prepare for their drafts by looking at player rankings and ADP. Others look at projections and track records on players they like.
Both of the above-mentioned player screening methods are helpful, but I want to recommend another method that I have found helpful. Identify the position players who can be considered legitimate five-category players and target them in the early rounds of your draft. Of course, you won’t get all of them, but attempt to draft as many as possible.
Five-category players are a rare breed in fantasy baseball. No pitcher is going to qualify as a five-category contributor because starting pitchers generally don’t earn saves. At best, they will be four-category players. Only hitters who can hit for a good average, score runs, drive in runs, hit home runs and steal bases can be considered five-category players.
In my opinion, a player who excels in the five primary hitting categories in rotisserie leagues are the most important players to any fantasy team. There are a number of hitters who can hit home runs and can contribute in three categories (runs, home runs and RBI). A smaller number can add a high batting average. But many of them don’t steal bases.
But what is that threshold for a player to be considered a five-category contributor? I would define a five-category player as someone who is above average in all five categories. This is not a perfect science, but I am looking for a player who will bat .269, score 70 runs, hit 22 home runs, drive in 68 runs and steal 10 bases.
I will call the dozen players on my list “The Dynamic Dozen.” Conspicuously absent from this list are Ronald Acuna, Vladimir Guerrero, Shohei Ohtani, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout and Freddie Freeman. Each of these six players falls short in at least one category. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t draft any of them. It just means they didn’t make my list.
The 12 players listed below are the only players I believe capable of being five-category contributors in 2022. This is not an endorsement to draft all of them because some are better values than others. But many of them are on my draft target list. Their ADP is based a recent National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) list.
TREA TURNER, 2B, SS, ADP 1
Turner is the top-ranked player at NFBC and is being drafted first or second in every draft. He has been a five-category player in multiple years throughout his career. In 2021, his batting average was a stellar .328. He scored 107 runs, hit 28 home runs, stole 32 bases and drove in 77 runs. The RBI total was limited by being the leadoff hitter in 72 games.
FERNANDO TATIS, SS, OF, ADP 2
If managers aren’t drafting Turner, they’re drafting Tatis No. 1 overall in early drafts. Limited to 130 games last year because of a shoulder injury, he still managed to hit 42 home runs, score 99 runs, drive in 97 runs and steal 25 bases. His batting average was .282. He has the highest ceiling of any player in the game, but the injury risk must be considered.
JUAN SOTO, OF, ADP 3
Soto, 23, heads into his fifth major-league season as a superstar. In 2021, he scored 111 runs, hit 29 home runs and drove in 95 runs. He also posted a .313/.465/.534 slash line in a less-than-stellar Nationals’ lineup. Soto isn’t known for his speed, nabbing only nine steals in 16 attempts. However, I am counting on him having double-digit steals in 2022.
JOSE RAMIREZ, 3B, ADP 4
If Soto is a borderline steals contributor, Ramirez is marginal on batting average. His .266 BA in 2021 was the second-lowest of his career, but he made up for it with counting stats. He also scored 111 runs, hit 36 home runs, stole 27 bases and drove in 103 runs. With a career batting average of .278, I predict Ramirez will hit above the .269 threshold.
BO BICHETTE, SS, ADP 5
Bichette, who turns 24 in just a few weeks, tied for the MLB lead with 121 runs scored in 2021. He also batted .298, hit 29 home runs, stole 25 bases and drove in 102 runs. Hitting in the heart of what has become one of the most prolific lineups in baseball, Bichette could be expected to improve his performance if he is able to lower his chase rate.
BRYCE HARPER, OF, ADP 9
Harper failed to bat above .270 in three consecutive seasons and was in danger of falling below that threshold in 2021 before he turned things around. He slashed .328/.450/.691 over his final 94 games last year to finish with 101 runs, 35 home runs and 84 RBI. He managed 13 steals, which was good enough to make him a five-category contributor.
KYLE TUCKER, OF, ADP 11
In 2021, Tucker’s first season as a starter for the Astros, he got off to such a bad start that someone dropped him in one of my leagues. I picked him up with a huge FAAB bid, and Tucker went on to score 83 runs, hit 30 home runs, drive in 92 runs and add 14 steals. He also posted a career-best BA of .294. I will say that an ADP of 11 may be too high.
OZZIE ALBIES, 2B, ADP 21
Albies is the only major league player to hit at least 20 home runs, score at least 100 runs and swipe at least 10 bases, in each of the last three full seasons. With that said, the price tag is high for a player lacking huge upside in either power of speed. Albies gives you a safe floor but lacks the high ceiling of other players being drafted in the first two rounds.
MANNY MACHADO, 3B, ADP 23
Machado, who will turn 30 this season, offers power and some speed, although he might not reach the double-digit threshold in steals. Meanwhile, the Padres lineup gets weaker every year which could precipitate a decline in Machado’s overall production. Like Albies, Machado gives you a solid floor without a high ceiling for a second-round pick.
TEOSCAR HERNANDEZ, OF, ADP 31
A late bloomer, Hernandez, 29, started his breakout in the shortened 2020 season and then took his game to the next level last year, with 32 home runs, 116 RBI, 92 runs and 12 steals. His batting average was a career high .296. Previously held back by a strikeout rate above 30 percent, he lowered the whiff rate to 24.9 percent in 2021.
TREVOR STORY, SS, ADP 39
Like every fantasy manager, I like to “buy low” on a good player, and Story fits the bill. In 2021, he had his worse season since 2017 before becoming a free agent. The possibility of playing somewhere other than Coors field has depressed his ADP enough that I’m now an eager buyer. In Roto, where steals are crucial, Story is a player I want on my team.
TYLER O’NEILL, OF, ADP 45
The long-awaited breakout finally happened for O’Neill last year. He clubbed 42 home runs, scored 89 runs, drove in 80 more and added 15 steals. His batting average of .286 was easily the best of his career. Hitting in the middle of a suddenly potent Cardinal lineup, there is little reason for me to doubt the breakout. I’m willing to “buy high” on O’Neill.
Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.