It’s been a long and boring offseason and we’re not even to Christmas yet. The White Sox are the only team to make much noise thus far. The Yankees are still in talks with re-signing DJ LeMahieu. None of that has been noteworthy, however. So for my fellow fantasy baseball fans, I figured I’d inject a little excitement into your winter. (I know it is technically fall still, but like Hall of Fame owner Bill Veeck once said, “there are only two seasons—winter and baseball.”)
For a 12-team rotisserie league, I think this is a fair place to grab Cole. I don’t mind going with a starting pitcher at the end of the first round. Knowing you can turn right around and get a good hitter in round two makes it a decent strategy. Cole has consistently finished in the Top 5 of starting pitchers for a handful of years. Karabell has him sandwiched between deGrom and Bieber and you wouldn’t be blamed taking him as the first SP. Some people are shying away from pitchers early in fantasy baseball with starters throwing less innings and accumulating fewer wins. But if you can get someone like Cole to anchor your rotation, I’m buying him here. Keep in mind, however, if another team were to take deGrom and/or Bieber earlier in the round, you might want to go with the best hitter available. Since it should be someone like Christin Yelich, Freddie Freeman or Jose Ramirez, they would be hard to pass on.
DJ LeMahieu-#35, 2B3
This is of course dependent on LeMahieu signing back with the Yankees. I’ve gone back and forth with him at #35. On the one hand, his 21st ESPN Player Rater finish in 2020 says he is worth the slot. However, that number was highly driven by his outstanding batting average. He was tied for 12th in runs though and tied for 5th in HRs among 2B. Ultimately, I’d like someone with a bit more run production here, but I can’t argue with him being a top 3 second baseman. He’s also the highest-ranked player with three-position eligibility and that is always a plus. I wouldn’t hate it if he was taken here. I might personally go with someone a little more four-category projectable like Luis Robert or George Springer.
Luke Voit- #39, 1B5
Voit, 19th, actually finished right between Cole (17) and LeMahieu (21) on the Player Rater last season. Karabell has him right behind AL MVP Jose Abreu, even though Abreu finished twelve spots ahead of Voit last season. Voit is the first Yankee I’m going to sell at his ranking. Though it is 20 spots lower than his finish from 2020. Looking at Karabell’s rankings, there are too many names I think could make a bigger impact. Bauer and Kershaw are in the vicinity and Robert, Springer, Kyle Tucker, Keston Hiura and Marcell Ozuna are all ranked immediately after Voit. Like LeMahieu, I agree he’s in the top 5 at his position but I’d be willing to wait on another 1B.
Aaron Judge- #54, OF16
To see Judge ranked so low actually saddens me. After his Rookie of the Year, 2nd-place MVP 2017 season, it wasn’t crazy to think he could be a top 5 fantasy hitter for years to come. Three years later, we all know how that has turned out. The thing is, Judge still produces around his injuries. Even last season when he hit .257 in 28 games, his .554 slugging percentage was his best since 2017. Though my heart is telling me to buy, my head is, well, still telling me to buy. There are times in a fantasy baseball draft where I feel like I need to make a high risk/high reward pick. And, IMO, besides Giancarlo Stanton, there aren’t many bigger hitters that fit that category. I would not let Judge pass at this point of the draft. There are simply not a lot of potential impact bats to be had here. If you want to play it safe, by all means, take a Michael Conforto or Eddie Rosario. But I’m grabbing Judge and his first rounder potential.
Giancarlo Stanton-#89, DH6
Let’s get this straight, there are not six DH-only players I’d take over a healthy Stanton. But like Judge, we don’t know when we’ll get a healthy Stanton. With that, DH-only types are hard to own unless they are truly an elite bat—like a healthy Stanton. If Aaron Boone has his way, it will take much of the season for Stanton to obtain OF eligibility, if he does at all. I talked about the risk/reward of Judge being worth it, but I don’t quite feel the same about Stanton because of his DH-only eligibility. In this area are youngsters like Cavan Biggio, proven power threats like Joey Gallo and a ton of high quality starting pitchers to be had.
Gleyber Torres-#93, SS12
Torres had a really down shortened 2020 and was one of the biggest disappointments on the diamond and in fantasy baseball. But this is the guy I feel Karabell is furthest off on. I believe Torres will have a bounce back year and in 2019 he was a three-category star while also hitting for a solid average. Now he’s never going to steal many bases, so he won’t be one of the best shortstops, and he gets docked in OBP leagues, but he should vastly outpace the 12th best fantasy SS in 2021. Not only am I buying Torres at 93, I’m thinking about reaching for him some 20 spots sooner.
Aroldis Chapman-#104, RP3
I’m not a fan of taking RPs too early in drafts. And if you’re in a league that counts holds+saves, closers take an even bigger hit. Are there only two closers worth drafting over Chapman? There might be. Even with his own decline, the closer position has been pretty volatile in recent years. And managers are mixing and matching their bullpens more than ever. Boone has at least, mostly, stuck with Chapman as his main source of saves—unless he’s really struggling. If you can get a big potential power bat in Vlad Jr. or Brandon Lowe, I’d go that route. Or if someone like Charlie Morton or Patrick Corbin is still available I’d rather have them. But if there aren’t any players you love here, I wouldn’t hate taking Chapman.
Gio Urshela-#108, 3B16
Gio may be a star to Yankee fans, but he honestly doesn’t do enough to be a top-end fantasy option. Like LeMahieu, Urshela is a great guy to have on your team for average. And the fact that he doesn’t strike out a lot helps him avoid extended slumps. So he is someone who is solid, steady. A player you could put in your lineup each day and not worry about him. But he also doesn’t have the ceiling of some other 3B. He’s in the same area as Chapman, so if you like any of the names above, I’d go with them. Also, youngsters like Ke’Bryan Hayes and Alex Verdugo could be available around then. But if you want a steady corner infield option, or you waited at third base, by all means draft Urshela and enjoy. You can never have too many guys you know exactly what you’ll get and I think we now know what Urshela will produce.
*BONUS* Clint Frazier-#205, OF56
Most rankings, like Karabell’s, go by the top 300 players, which is a little more than what an average fantasy baseball draft has taken. Hicks, Frazier, Sanchez, Andjuar and Britton all made Karabell’s top 300, plus free agents Paxton and Tanaka. But I honestly didn’t see the need to tell you not to waste a pick on Hicks, Sanchez, Andjuar or Britton.
Frazier actually finished the abbreviated season 176th on the Player Rater. So I’m definitely surprised to see him so low in Karabell’s initial rankings. Frazier has the potential to be a five-category contributor, though his stolen bases and average will probably be on the low end. I don’t expect many Yankees to move a ton in future rankings, but I do see Frazier shooting up the boards if it’s obvious he’ll have a clearer path to at bats in 2021. I personally think this is the season Boone and the Yankees finally find ways to make Frazier a regular. So I’m definitely buying at this point and probably looking at him in the top 150 or so fantasy players to begin 2021.