The season has only been over for a few hours and I know I’m not the only one turning my eyes toward spring 2018. This past year was incredible for power and elite pitching. It seems like the power-hitting bats either got better or met our expectations while the top-tier pitchers far exceeded them. With that in mind, it’s become very difficult to narrow down a field of 12 for the first round of 2018. You could easily make a case for 20 different players, but ultimately, this is the group that I think will emerge.
- Mike Trout - Death, taxes and Mike Trout as the top overall pick. Before he got hurt at the end of May, he was headed for an historic season. What did he muster in just 114 games? 33 HR, 22 SB and a 1.071 OPS. Had he not been injured, I’m confident we would have been looking at a 45/30 season.
- Paul Goldschmidt - Goldie might be the most reliable bat in fantasy outside of Trout. And in the first round, consistency is king. He’s slashed at least .297/.400/.540 in the last five seasons. It’s not obscene to say his baseline is 100/30/110/15 with upside from there. The only nit I’m picking is he stole just five bases in the second half as the entire DBacks offense stopped running.
- Jose Altuve - Here’s another guy who’s slowly becoming a model of consistency. For the second straight year he’s hit at least 24 HR, stolen at least 30 bases, crossed home plate more than 100 times and has done it while hitting .335+. Altuve has morphed into a perennial MVP candidate and with eligibility up the middle, that’s a huge boost. In a year where only six players stole more than 30 bases, his speed becomes that much more valuable.
- Bryce Harper - Like Trout, Harper was headed for a monster season before a freak knee injury knocked him out for almost two months. In 111 games, he surpassed nearly all counting stats from 2016, where he played 147. I know health is still a lingering issue in his young career, but it’s hard to drop him lower when his true ceiling is ‘Unanimous MVP Candidate’. He’s a threat to hit more than 40 HR each season with an incredible slash line. The only thing that gives me slight pause is he stopped running this year (4 SB) after swiping 21 bags in 2016.
- Nolan Arenado - Am I the only one who thinks Nolan never really got the spotlight this season? Has he officially become boring? If so, that’s great news because boring more often than not means consistent. For the third straight year he reached the 130 RBI mark. That’s wild. He’s a sure bet to hit 35+ HR with a baseline .290/.350/.560 slashline from the hot corner and that’s a valuable commodity any day of the week.
- Chris Sale - I can’t hold off any longer. Personally, I’m going to draft a bat 99% of the time in the first round, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize greatness on the mound. Sale struck out 308 this season, second most by an AL pitcher in the last two decades. The lefty had an absurd 36 K%, easily the highest mark of his career and tops in all of baseball. With a baseline of 15 wins, 275+ Ks, an ERA under 2.75 and a WHIP under 1.05, Sale is a sure a bet as any pitcher to lead your team to glory while staying healthy.
- Charlie Blackmon - All right, I’m done doubting this dude. I didn’t believe his power outburst in 2016 and what does he do? Hits eight more this season. His home/road splits are a legitimate concern (.773 SLG at home, .784 OPS on the road), but the final product is still fantastic. With a great probability to cross 110 runs, knock in about 85 or more, steal 10-15 and own a fantastic slash line, it’s hard to leave him out of the first round. Wouldn’t go as far as avoiding him in H2H, but he’s someone I like just a tad bit more in roto leagues.
- Giancarlo Stanton - Finally. We all got the season we knew he was capable of. This season, Stanton finally stayed healthy all year and delivered one of the coolest baseball months ever in August, finishing the year with 59 bombs. As we all know, the issue with Stanton has never been the skills, it’s been the health. If he can play another 150+ games in 2018, then 45 HR is the absolute lowest HR total I’d predict. And even on the Marlins he was able to get his counting stats.
- Mookie Betts - Despite finishing with 24 HR, 26 SB and 203 R+RBI, 2017 felt like a disappointment for Betts. The counting stats were there at the end, but Mookie never had a true standout month and from 8/3-9/8 he didn’t hit a single home run. To make matters worse, the 24 year old who never hit below .291 in a season, all of a sudden couldn’t cross the .270 mark. Taking a step back, however, let’s look at his numbers and realize that this was a down year. 2016 might be a best-case scenario, but Mookie can be a bargain in the first round next year if you believe his .268 BABIP was just pure bad luck. I expect him to bounce back.
- Clayton Kershaw - Should I swap Kershaw and Sale? Maybe. Kershaw is in a great home park, pitches in the National League and gets to face the Giants and Padres multiple times each year. But for the second consecutive year, Kershaw missed a not insignificant time with injury and didn’t cross the 180 IP plateau. He also doubled his career HR/9 (though hard to blame him too much there), and recorded his highest FIP (3.07) since 2010. He still had a great 25.3 K-BB%, but given that he’ll be 30 to start 2018 and that manager Dave Roberts will DL you if you sneeze in the wrong direction, I’m not confident Kershaw stays healthy for a full season again. Despite this negative blurb, I don’t want to paint the wrong picture: he’s still a first rounder who’ll guarantee you elite ratios.
- Trea Turner- Somehow Trea fell a little short of expectations and yet he’ll find himself in the first round again next year. While his slash line fell way short of his 2016 performance, the sheer counting stats are going to have us drooling next spring. In just 96 games he hit 11 HR and more importantly, stole a whopping 46 bases, third most in baseball. Extrapolating that to 150 games (because can we count on anyone to play 162 anymore?), he was on a 17 HR, 70 SB pace with 115 runs. Not since vintage Jose Reyes have we seen those numbers from a SS. With continual incremental improvements of his BB% and K%, Turner represents one of the better draft picks on the turn next year.
- Aaron Judge - Sorry, I caved. In late August I wouldn’t have ranked him here, but Judge made some serious adjustments in the last month of baseball and reverted back to being an MVP-caliber hitter. Some way, somehow, with a 30 K% he still hit .284 to go along with an outstanding .422 OBP and 52 HR. The 6-foot-7 giant also stole 9 bases for the hell of it. He will easily be the highest risk/reward candidate in the first round next year, and I think we might have just seen a best-case scenario, but if he can hit 40 HR and slash .260/.375/.580, is that a disappointment?
Those are the 12 I’m sticking with for now. As I mentioned before, there are certainly other worthwhile candidates. Anthony Rizzo, Max Scherzer, Freddie Freeman, Joey Votto, Corey Kluber and more have a case to sneak into the end there. But given the combination of upside and consistency from my list, I think that come early next year, you’ll find these guys around this ADP.