Safety in num­bers:

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Ryan Bloom­field

Look­ing at po­ten­tial first-round fan­tasy base­ball picks for 2019.

Send us feed­back

Reach ed­i­tor Stephen Borelli at sborelli@us­ato­day.com.

Get our app

Find our dig­i­tal edi­tion at the Ap­ple, Google Play, Ama­zon Kin­dle stores.

Cover credit

Ezekiel El­liott by Matthew Em­mons, Car­son Wentz by James Lang, USA TO­DAY Sports; Wil­lie Tag­gart by Joe Rondone, The Tal­la­has­see Demo­crat.

Base­bal­lHQ.com USA TO­DAY Net­work

If you’re out of the run­ning for a fan­tasy base­ball ti­tle right now, it’s prob­a­bly not be­cause of your first-round pick.

Per Base­bal­lHQ.com’s Cus­tom Draft Guide, 12 of the top 15 picks from the Na­tional Fan­tasy Base­ball Cham­pi­onship (NFBC) are en­joy­ing top-40 sea­sons in stan­dard 5x5 leagues. The only real “busts” have been Kris Bryant and Car­los Cor­rea — nei­ther one has hit 15 home runs — and per­haps Clay­ton Ker­shaw, who owns a 2.51 ERA but has thrown just 143 in­nings thanks to re­cur­ring back is­sues.

The high hit rate means space will be tight for new faces in 2019’s first round. We’ll take a look at which ones de­serve con­sid­er­a­tion, who they’d re­place, and fin­ish out with a pro­jected first round for 2019.

Mov­ing up

A mid-round pick en­ter­ing the sea­son, Javier Baez’s five­cat­e­gory ex­plo­sion sticks him squarely in the first-round con­ver­sa­tion. With gobs of hard con­tact and com­plete free­dom on the basepa­ths, Baez is one of just five hit­ters with at least 30 home runs and 20 steals. Well­po­si­tioned in the mid­dle of a po­tent lineup, he’s also on pace for 100-plus runs and RBI in an MVP-cal­iber sea­son.

First-rounder? Al­most, but Baez falls into the “show us again” cat­e­gory, as grav­ity is our game’s most pow­er­ful force. Baez has ex­cel­lent power/speed skills, but his free-swing­ing ap­proach brings on some ra­tio risk. There will be safer play­ers with longer track records as firstround op­tions.

Af­ter a rough start, Alex Breg­man has been on an ab­so­lute tear since June. He’s the only hit­ter (with at least 300 at­bats) who has more walks than strike­outs and an av­er­age exit ve­loc­ity of at least 89 mph. Those raw skills have trans­lated to a .294-30-100 line with a mod­est dose of speed (10 stolen bases) mixed in for good mea­sure.

First-rounder? Breg­man has put up first-round skills for the past year and a half. He’s in. We’d nor­mally like to see an­other full sea­son like this, but Breg­man has an ad­vanced plate ap­proach, bud­ding raw power, a strong run­ning game, and el­i­gi­bil­ity at both short­stop and third base. Just 24, the sky’s the limit.

Jose Ramirez nearly made the first round last year; his quest to lead the Amer­i­can League in home runs (38) and steals (32) in the same sea­son ce­ments his sta­tus as a firstrounder next year. Ramirez’s elite plate skills round out the full pack­age as he’s hit­ting .304 over the last three sea­sons.

First-rounder? Yep, Ramirez’s well-rounded skill set and ex­cel­lent track record make him a lock. You could even make the case for him as a top-three pick.

Ramirez’s team­mate, Fran­cisco Lin­dor, has been nearly as good as his fel­low in­fielder with 35 homers, 23 stolen bases and a .282 bat­ting av­er­age in his age-24 cam­paign. Lin­dor has been given a green light on the basepa­ths and has im­proved his hard-hit rate in each of the last two sea­sons: from 28 per­cent to 35 per­cent to 41 per­cent.

First-rounder? Lin­dor’s five­cat­e­gory pro­duc­tion is fully backed by his raw skills. He’s a shoo-in for the first round next year and could be there for a while.

Manny Machado was a top-20 pick en­ter­ing the sea­son; he’ll go even higher next year. A bad first half wrecked Machado’s 2017 line — his bat­ting av­er­age cratered to .259 — but it’s re­bounded nearly 40 points this year. Machado’s paired the plus av­er­age with 35 homers and 14 steals in what’s been his best fan­tasy sea­son to date.

First-rounder? No doubt. Machado’s now hit more than 30 homers four years in a row with an av­er­age of .290 or bet­ter in three of the last four. The speed game is use­ful again too, so at peak age, the free agent-to-be is in for a ma­jor pay­day and be­longs in the first round no mat­ter where he lands.

J.D. Martinez has been the top fan­tasy hit­ter in stan­dard for­mats and is flirt­ing with the Amer­i­can League Triple Crown. The 31-year-old now has backto-back 40-homer sea­sons that are fully backed by Base­bal­lHQ.com’s power met­rics. Bet­ter yet, he’s cut down on the strike­outs, which bodes well for a fourth sea­son in a row of hit­ting .300.

First-rounder? Martinez won’t get you those scarce stolen bases, but he more than makes up for it with an elite foun­da­tion of bat­ting av­er­age and home runs. He has put up first-round skills in each of the last two sea­sons and makes for a fine an­chor as your top pick.

Trevor Story has al­ways had light-tower power and we’re see­ing it flour­ish this year with 33 home runs. Story’s com­bined the power surge with a green light on the basepa­ths (26-for-32 in steal at­tempts) and a .289 av­er­age. Just 25 years old, he’s the first short­stop with a 30 HR/25 SB sea­son since Han­ley Ramirez in 2008.

First-rounder? Not yet, as Story doesn’t quite have the track record of a first-rounder. He’s also had se­vere con­tact is­sues prior to 2018; it’s no sure thing his high strike­out to­tals are a thing of the past.

Chris­tian Yelich fig­ured to get a nice bump mov­ing from Mar­lins Park to Miller Park. Did he ever. Hit­ting from the twospot in a po­tent Mil­wau­kee lineup, Yelich has a ca­reer-high 30 homers with 19 steals and a .313 av­er­age. He’s been a top-10 hit­ter this year and he’s in his prime.

First-rounder? He’s close, but Yelich doesn’t quite have the raw power to be a re­li­able 30-HR bat; his 33 per­cent home-run-per­fly-ball rate this year is well above ca­reer norms. The likely power fall­back knocks Yelich from the first round, but his al­laround game makes for a fine sec­ond-round choice.

So who’s out?

We men­tioned Bryant, Cor­rea and Ker­shaw in the in­tro­duc­tion; their sub­par sea­sons were enough to boot them from firstround con­sid­er­a­tion. That leaves two oth­ers from 2018’s co­hort to be cut:

Bryce Harper hit just .220 in the first half, and while he’s turned things around down the stretch, Harper’s re­turned firstround value just once in seven sea­sons. His ceil­ing re­mains as high as any, but track record out­weighs upside in Round 1.

Gian­carlo Stan­ton didn’t quite get the Yan­kee Sta­dium power boost most ex­pected; his 34 homers pale in com­par­i­son to the 59 he hit last year. He’s still a top power source, but with­out a plus bat­ting av­er­age or speed pro­file, there’s not enough here to war­rant an an­chor pick.

So here they are; the firstrounders for 2019:

1. OF Mike Trout, Los An­ge­les An­gels

2. OF Mookie Betts, Bos­ton Red Sox

3. 2B-3B Jose Ramirez, Cleve­land In­di­ans

4. OF J.D. Martinez, Red Sox 5. SS Fran­cisco Lin­dor, In­di­ans 6. 3B Nolan Are­nado, Colorado Rock­ies

7. SS Trea Turner, Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als

8. SP Max Scherzer, Na­tion­als 9. 2B Jose Al­tuve, Hous­ton Astros

10. 1B Paul Gold­schmidt, Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs

11. SS Manny Machado, free agent

12. SP Chris Sale, Red Sox

13. OF Char­lie Black­mon, Rock­ies 14. SS-3B Alex Breg­man, Astros 15. SP Corey Klu­ber, In­di­ans

In­di­ans third base­man Jose Ramirez’s 38 home runs, 101 RBI, 101 runs and 32 steals this sea­son clearly make him a first-round choice. KIM KLEMENT/ USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.