While most fantasy baseball managers are heading into a well-deserved slumber, those of us who insist on staying ahead of the competition are already sizing up the playing field for 2020 drafts. And although trades and free-agent signings are going to shift the status of many players, here is an early look at those who should find a spot in the first round next year.
1. Ronald Acuna, OF, Atlanta Braves
Although Mike Trout continues to possess baseball’s best skill set, Acuna and his plus speed have reached the top of the fantasy mountain. The 21 year old is on the cusp of a 40-40 season, has topped the century mark in RBI, and ranks second in Major League Baseball in runs scored. There is nothing he can’t do from a fantasy perspective, and at his age, the arrow continues to point skyward. The scarcity of steals in the current landscape drives Acuna to the top of this list.
2. Christian Yelich, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
While we were all debating whether or not Yelich could repeat his breakout season, he decided to take his game to an even higher level. The five-category stud had an outside chance of reaching the 50-homer plateau and had already swiped 30 bags before falling victim to a knee injury. He also ranks near the very top of the Majors in batting average without the aid of a BABIP that is any higher than his career mark. Assuming his knee is fine in spring training, Yelich should be locked into a top-3 spot.
3. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Trout could sit atop a points-league list, but in roto formats, the fact that he no longer runs the bases aggressively (11 steals) pushes him a notch below Acuna and Yelich. Additionally, the Millville Meteor can’t match the two players ranked above him in the area of lineup support. Trout remains baseball’s best talent and is a remarkably safe pick at No. 3 overall.
4. Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
With at least 39 homers in two of his initial three big league seasons, Bellinger is already well-established as one of baseball’s top power hitters. And this slugger has deceiving speed, having produced a double-digit steals total in every MLB campaign. For Bellinger, the big 2019 breakthrough came from cutting his strikeout rate, which has allowed him to emerge as a legitimate .300 hitter.
5. Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox
Betts is so good that his mediocre seasons are spectacular. Even without coming close to his 2018 marks in most areas, the table-setter leads the Majors in runs scored, is threatening the 30-homer plateau and is in the neighborhood of a .300 average. Having hit .304 with an average of 29 homers, 121 runs scored, 93 RBI and 25 steals per year from 2016-19, Betts is among the best five-category studs.
6. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
After opening the season on the IL with multiple lower-body injuries, Lindor returned on April 20 and produced 31 homers and 22 steals across 137 games. He will also reach the 100-runs plateau for a second straight year and has an outside shot of hitting .300. Having averaged 34 homers and 21 steals per year since the outset of 2017, Lindor is one of baseball’s best power-speed threats.
7. Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies
Betting on Coors Field sluggers is rarely a bad idea, and Story is the latest in Colorado’s long line of fantasy studs. The 26 year old also perfectly fits the trend of targeting players in the early rounds who can provide a foundation in the steals category. Like Lindor, Story is a shortstop who should easily top the 30-homer and 20-steal plateaus while also hitting for average and hovering around triple digits in RBI and runs scored.
8. Gerrit Cole, SP, Houston Astros
With a 2.61 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP and 302 strikeouts, Cole is putting the finishing touches on a fantasy season for the ages. And because he is still on the right side of 30, the right-hander is a preferable option going forward to the aging hurlers who are battling him for 2019 supremacy. Still, the pending free agent could knock himself off this list during the offseason by signing with a mediocre club or one who plays in a bandbox.
9. Jacob deGrom, SP, New York Mets
Like Cole, deGrom gets the nod over Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander by virtue of being several years younger. The 31 year old started slowly this season, but he eventually found his top form and now owns a 2.51 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP and 248 whiffs. deGrom has won just 20 games across the past two campaigns, but wins are a fickle stat and he could easily collect 15-20 victories next year.
10. Juan Soto, OF, Washington Nationals
Soto is a budding fantasy stud, already capable of posting a .300 average while swatting 35 homers and reaching triple digits in RBI and runs scored. And the 20 year old has a bit of speed, having produced 12 steals to this point in 2019. In fact, with just a little more power production, Soto would compare favorably to Bellinger.
11. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
The metronome for Major League power hitters, Arenado has hit .300 with an average of 40 homers and 124 RBI per year from 2015-19. Even in an era with power production at every turn, the Rockies superstar stands out from the crowd by virtue of his reliability. Still, Arenado offers no speed in a generation where swipes are coveted. I considered leaving the 28 year old off this list, but I couldn’t turn away from potentially combining Arenado in Round 1 with a speedster and an ace in the subsequent two rounds.
12. Justin Verlander, SP, Houston Astros
Although I don’t want to be left holding the bag when Verlander hits the wall, there is no indication that his decline is on the horizon. The veteran’s fastball velocity continues to hover around 95 mph, and he enjoys the benefits of a stellar defensive group, elite offensive support, and a pitcher-friendly home park. Having three starters on this list stems from the lack of pitching options in the current fantasy landscape. When the waiver wire is dotted with unreliable starters who cannot be counted on to even throw five frames, the few aces become immensely valuable.