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Breaking down the first round of the Rotowire Dynasty Invitational

The fantasy industry’s newest expert dynasty league is underway and this is what the first 20 picks look like, with commentary from all managers on their selections.

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-All Star Game Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On Dec.26 the Rotowire Dynasty Invitational kickstarted its slow draft. It’s a 20-team roto league with 19 other managers from around the industry, many of which have a concentration in the prospecting world.

The draft is 40 rounds and includes both major and minor leaguers. All teams must roster at least 10 minor leaguers. The categories are standard, 23 active spots, there’s a weekly FAAB waiver period and we all have a $100 season budget. If you’re wondering how draft order was decided, I gave a breakdown here. It’s a neat draft method that uses future keepers as bids on draft slots.

From-scratch dynasty drafts are some of the coolest and most promising in all of fantasy baseball. Careful thought must be given to each selection, weighing age, free agency, veteran discounts and more. The first round of any draft is crucial, but the first round of a dynasty startup even more so.

I reached out to all managers to get their reasoning behind their first-round selection. Here’s what what they had to say:

1. Mike Trout - Eddy Almaguer, Fake Teams

The easiest pick that I’ll make all draft. He was headed toward a 43 HR/28 SB campaign last year before injuring himself. He’s 26, has a revamped Angels team around him and is primed for his greatest year yet, which is a scary thought for opposing pitchers. There is no better chip with which to start a dynasty league and I’m excited I get to own him in this setting, even if it cost me 18 keepers heading into 2019.

2. Jose Altuve - Justin Mason, Friends With Fantasy Benefits

Mason: “Altuve has been the most consistent elite player in fantasy over the last three seasons, hitting at least 15 home runs, stealing at least 30 bases, and posting .300+ batting averages. In a league this deep he is worthy of the top pick considering the shallowness of second base.”

Author’s Note: Altuve seems to be the consensus second overall pick in all fantasy formats this year and Justin laid out why. In a speed-starved game, Altuve’s stolen bases are that much more valuable.

3. Bryce Harper - Matt Modica, CTM Baseball

Matt: “My rationale was after Trout, Harper was my number two in this format. He just turned 25 and could consistently put up 40, 100 & 100 as he enters his prime with solid average and triple crown upside. I planned on Correa at three because I thought it would be Trout then Harper, I still considered CC and his prime position but in the end Bryce is my boy and the best is yet to come.”

Author’s Note: When healthy, Harper has shown he’s an easy lock for 35+ HR, 200 R+RBI and a .300/.400/.500 slash line. I don’t think it was at the forefront of Matt’s decision, but boding well for Harper owners in dynasty leagues is that he’ll more than likely call a hitter’s park home in 2019 with teams like Cubs, Yankees, Phillies waiting in the wings to court him once his free agency kicks in after 2018.

4. Mookie Betts - George Bissell, Baseball Prospectus

George: “Mookie Betts is a 25-year-old, proven five-category franchise cornerstone that dynasty owners can build around for the next decade. Even if he fails to ascend to the stratospheric heights of his 2016 campaign again, Betts power/speed combo establishes an extremely high realistic floor in the current landscape.”

Author’s Note: Mookie’s well-rounded profile is not unlike Altuve’s or Trout’s and he’s shown has has the MVP upside we crave with first-round picks. Even in a ‘disappointing’ 2017 he went 24/26 with 200 R+RBI. If that’s his floor, George will take that any day of the week.

5. Trea Turner - Rob Silver, 2016 NFBC Main Event Champion

Rob: “Trea Turner has the highest fantasy ceiling in baseball and his speed gives him a solid floor. Would have taken him second overall, happy he fell to me.”

Author’s Note: I love Turner this year as well, though I don’t know if I like him enough to take him second overall in a dynasty like Rob said he would. But to Rob’s point, Turner was on a 17 HR, 70 SB 150-game pace last season. From the shortstop position.

6. Carlos Correa - Clay Link, RotoWire

Clay: “Correa was a no-brainer for me. He's one of the game's best hitters (not just at shortstop), and he's a proven commodity at the ripe age of 23. The home runs and RBI at the position make him incredibly valuable in this 20-team format. I was pretty much set on Kris Bryant heading into the draft, fully expecting Correa to already be gone by the time I picked.”

Author’s Note: Correa fell one, maybe two spots further than I thought. Before going down with injury, he was headed toward at least a 110/32/110 season to go along with career high marks in AVG, OBP and SLG. At 23, he’s already a superstar that can challenge for an MVP and if he had gone as high as third overall I would have understood it.

7. Nolan Arenado - Ryan Bloomfield, Baseball HQ

Ryan: “I was looking for an elite MLB track record with another 3-4 years at peak from my first-round pick. At 26 with a .297 batting average and 40 HR per year since 2015, Arenado checked all boxes. He's a free agent after 2019, so that was my only qualm, but his contact/power combo can play anywhere. Also considered Kris Bryant and Paul Goldschmidt here, but Bryant didn't quite have the track record and Goldschmidt is four years older.”

Author’s Note: Ryan’s only concern about Arenado is he might not call Coors Field his home park after 2019, but he still has an .859 OPS in a season’s worth of road at bats since April 2016. And frankly, in dynasty leagues I don’t concern myself with any event that’s more than a year out. Ryan has an elite contributor to try and win him a championship right now.

8. Kris Bryant - Derek VanRiper, RotoWire

Derek: “With the eighth overall pick, I was torn between Kris Bryant (whom I selected), Aaron Judge, Manny Machado, and Paul Goldschmidt. My hope was that Carlos Correa would slide to that spot, as I prefer him to the rest of that group. The decision-making process for a league this size, with the ability to keep a player forever nudged me in the direction of youth and safety, which made Goldschmidt and Judge particularly problematic because of Goldy's age and Judge's very high strikeout rate. As Machado goes, I was increasingly pessimistic about taking him over Bryant given that there isn't a significant age gap, and because Bryant's overall profile includes a higher OBP, and year-to-year consistency that makes him look quite a bit like Goldy of 3-5 years ago. I also felt like there was more multi-year stability with Bryant as someone likely entrenched with the Cubs through 2021, while Machado's new team in 2019 isn't necessarily going to bring him a better home park, or lineup context around him, even though it could be a huge upgrade if he ends with the Yankees.”

Author’s Note: When I was deciding on my bids, I was aggressive with the first eight slots. To me, this is where the first tier ends of superstar dynasty cornerstone pieces. Derek benefitted from a “down” season of Bryant’s to land him in this spot. Like Derek said, Bryant’s OBP gives him a high floor and if you told me he’s going to win the 2018 MVP, I wouldn’t blink an eye. I’d have considered him as high as the fourth spot due to age, park and team.

9. Paul Goldschmidt - Chris Blessing, Baseball HQ

Chris: “As the first picks came trickling in, I quickly identified three players I liked for 1.9. Despite missing out on Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant, Paul Goldschmidt was a solid selection despite some small worry about his production taking a hit from the use of a humidor in Arizona. I did briefly consider the middle infielders taken by Sayre and Winkelman right after my selection. However, I like my chances landing some value at SS later in the draft as opposed to missing out on a potential MVP with some SB value in Goldschmidt.”

Author’s Note: Ol’ Reliable. Goldy turned 30 in September but my rule of thumb is if someone can still be elite or near-elite for at least three more years, it doesn’t matter how old they are. I don’t expect the humidor to affect a hitter of his caliber. About the only question mark I have was Arizona’s team-wide dip in stolen bases in the second half, which led to Goldy stealing just five bases after the All-Star Break. He can certainly be valuable without the steals, but it’s that one thing that’s set him apart from others at his position.

10. Francisco Lindor - Bret Sayre, Baseball Prospectus

Bret: “Originally, when we were bidding on draft order, I counted 11 players who fall into the category of young fantasy superstars and I knew that picking 10th, I'd certainly be able to snag one of them. When Chris took Paul Goldschmidt (as much as I love him), that left me with three options: Lindor, Seager and Machado. The separator? Steals. Lindor showed he could hit for the same kind of power as those two last year, and has shown the ability to hit for a Seager-like average, but to get that value with year-in-year-out 15-20 steal potential in a player who is a lock to stay at shortstop for the next 7-8 years was too much to pass up. Lindor is fascinating as he's gone from being undervalued as a fantasy prospect before his debut (due to security over upside) to overvalued as a major-league fantasy asset after his rookie season back to undervalued as a elite dynasty player. Lindor hit 19 homers and stole 11 bases while hitting .298 in the second half last season. That's not just elite, that's Trout-ian (Trout himself hit 17 homers, stole 12 bases and hit .285 in the second half—so at least for 2.5 months, he out Trouted Trout). And while he's not Trout (no one is), Lindor doesn't get mentioned often among names like Correa, Turner, Arenado and Bryant, but he deserves to be.”

Author’s Note: Well, I think Bret talked me into making sure I have a share of Lindor somewhere this upcoming year. My only qualm with Lindor has been trying to figure out what player you’re drafting. Last year he dramatically increased his FB% (28% to 42%), had a better Hard Hit% (27% to 35%), and even made a little bit more contact while cutting down his swinging strikes. If he’s the 30/15 guy again, then that’s pretty great from shortstop. If he reverts to the higher average, high-teens HR guy, then that’s still good, but it may unintentionally change Bret’s team construction.

11. Corey Seager - Matt Winkelman, Phillies Minor Thoughts

Matt: “I really like going young SS early in any league because it locks up a position that always feels shallow. I thought about the Stanton/Judge bashers, but HRs are easy to find and I don’t trust either in average. While Seager is a zero in steals, the batting average and other skills at shortstop made him an easy pick.”

Author’s Note: Entering his third full year, Seager already feels like a safe player, which is quite the compliment for a 23 year old. If I’m Matt, though, I’m hoping for another tick in offensive production. 25 HR, 90 RBIs with a near-.300 AVG is great, but he lacks some of the offensive ceiling of the following picks. Is Seager that different from what Bregman might offer later? But in the first round, drafting safe is often the better route to take.

12. Cody Bellinger - J.P. Breen, Milwaukee’s Tailgate

J.P.: "As much as I adore Manny Machado, I had to grab Cody Bellinger for my first-round pick. He's younger, projects to hit for more power, and will benefit from a high-end lineup. Moreover, Bellinger stole 17 bases between Triple-A and the majors last year, while Machado has only swiped nine in the past two years. All of that tipped the scales toward Bellinger for me."

Author’s Note: If Bellinger had accrued 650 plate appearances, he was on pace for a 103/46/115/11 season. While his power slowed down in the second half (14 HR), he improved his average and on-base percentage and cut down on his K%, promising signs that he can make adjustments. The Astros exposed him in the World Series, and that might tip some teams off on how to handle him in 2018, but not everyone has Lance McCullers’ curveball either.

13. Ronald Acuña - Tom Trudeau/Greg Wellemeyer, Dynasty Guru/Baseball Prospectus

Tom: “When Greg and I discussed co-owning a team (I happily accepted because he's easily one of the best dynasty owners there is) I advocated for my usual tank-year-one strategy. Greg was my toughest competition in the 20-team [The Dynasty Guru Expert League] this past year and has seen first hand the merits of delaying gratification in dynasty startups. I finished lastish in years one and two and that team now boasts Harper, Trout, Correa, Machado, Mookie and Vlad Jr.

As for Acuna, specifically, we targeted him with a bid for the 5th pick, but ended up selecting 13th. We're relieved to get him as he's our #2 or #3 asset for a tank strategy (you can make a case for #1, we both liked Correa #2 behind Trout).

Acuna looks to be the best fantasy prospect since Trout and Harper and is arguably more valuable than they were at the time due to the scarcity of the wheels he will bring. I've heard skeptics speculate he won't run in the Majors, but it's hard to fake all the bags he's swiped and I haven't seen sufficient research on SB efficiency in the minors to justify that concern.”

Author’s Note: In cased you missed it, just want to point out that Tom and Greg said they wanted the fifth pick to draft Acuña. I think Tom did a good job explaining their rationale. They may not initially be going for it, but they’ll be damned if they don’t have the best prospect in baseball as a foundation for an eventual superteam. With a 25-year-old Machado still on the board, I can’t justify this pick, but boy did it drum up some chatter. I’m excited to see how this duo constructs their roster.

14. Manny Machado - Matt Thompson, Friends With Fantasy Benefits

Matt: “With the 14th pick I wasn’t expecting Machado to be on the board at all. I’ll gladly take the 25 year-old superstar in a contract year that gets to hit in that park. Pick will look even better if he gets shortstop eligibility, but even if he doesn’t I have a 25 year-old in his prime with probably another decade of elite performance in him. Perfect for dynasty formats.”

Author’s Note: I think this might be my favorite pick of the round for obvious reasons. Machado had a bit of a down year but a lot of that was bad batted ball luck. I don’t see any glaring reason why he can’t return to being the player that was on average eighth overall in ADP entering 2017. If he does, then mark this as the first steal of the draft.

15. Freddie Freeman - James Anderson, Rotowire

James: “Well, this was not a fun pick. I thought I would probably get Ronald Acuña at 15, and he went two picks ahead of me. Then Manny Machado, who I would have been ecstatic to end up with, went the pick before me. All of a sudden I was left with four or five guys I could make a case for at 15 and none that I felt great about starting my team with. I didn't want an outfielder who wouldn't run, and I wanted an element of safety and flexibility in case I choose to go for it in 2018 or build for 2019 and 2020. I also like to let hit tool be the tie breaker when I don't see much of a gap. I really can't stress strongly enough how uninspired this pick makes me feel.”

Author’s Note: One of the perils of drafting in the last quarter of a 20-team league is you’re now wading into the pool of Great-Not-Elite players, which is usually a less exciting way to start a dynasty league. To Freeman’s credit, his 2016 and his early 2017, especially, looked like he was morphing into an elite bat. But I understand James’ angst -- Freeman is not as young as some of the elite picks before, plays a fairly loaded position and doesn’t run. He’s very safe, and that has value in a league this deep. But Freeman doesn’t have that ‘Brag To Your Friends He Was Your First Pick In A Startup Dynasty League’ trait about him.

16. Giancarlo Stanton - Melissa Lockhard, Oakland Clubhouse

Melissa: “I planned to take a middle infielder or a third baseman with my first pick, but with my top picks off the board and Stanton still sitting there, I decided to take the plunge and go with power for my first selection. I recognize that there are risks involved in taking Stanton, who has a checkered injury history and doesn't always hit for average, but I'm taking a bet that his numbers will reach new heights in the American League East, with its hitter-friendly ballparks. Stanton will have plenty of line-up protection in New York, will be able to DH if leg injuries pop up and may find it easier to hit for average given the offensive environment at Yankee Stadium (not to mention the frequent road games at Fenway, Rogers Centre and Camden). At 28, Stanton figures to be hitting home runs for a long time for my team."

Author’s Note: Stanton’s biggest drawback in the fantasy environment right now is his toolkit is the least valuable. Home runs, RBI and runs are abundant. We saw his peak year last season and to his benefit, he’s going to one of the best places to try and replicate it. It’s really hard for me to see Stanton having a year worse than 100/40/110. You could argue players like J.D. Martinez, Khris Davis and Edwin Encarnacion do almost the same. But sometimes, just owning someone who can mash 55+ home runs is just damn fun.

17. Aaron Judge - Josh Katzenstein, The Times-Picayune

Josh: “This was a really tough call for me. Anthony Rizzo and JD Martinez were both strongly considered, but I decided I wanted to go younger. After reaching that decision, I debated between Judge, Alex Bregman and Gary Sanchez. I absolutely love Bregman's tools and think he'll be a five-category contributor for many years. Ultimately, I thought that Judge had the most upside of anyone on my board, and I didn't want to see him hit 50 homers every year for someone else.”

Author’s Note: I’m such a risk averse person in fantasy drafts that when someone drafts the big breakouts, I get excited to hear their rationale. I understand Josh wanting to take the risk and land last year’s runner up to the AL MVP. In the first half of a 20-team draft, perhaps floor should be more of a consideration. But the back portion is so ‘meh’ at times that you want to shoot for the stars. I don’t think there’s a riskier early investment than Judge considering his floor for 2018 could be starting right fielder for Triple-A and his ceiling AL MVP.

18. Clayton Kershaw - Chris Welsh, In This League

Chris: “This was tough, I had hope Stanton would fall, and then thinking Kershaw might go 17, I had set on Judge. This being a dynasty it allowed Kershaw and Blackmon to fall, and those were my two big choices after Judge went 17. I almost took Blackmon in hopes of getting Sale on the comeback, but figured 19 or 20 would take advantage and take Kershaw and Sale. I went with Kershaw to possibly be the counter to 1 and 2 (You) and Justin who are in win now. My hope is if Sale were to drop I could dominate pitching and build up hitting after. Being 18 is a bit of a disadvantage so I can zig when others are zagging. I also trust in my minor league drafting that I can focus offense for the future, as well expect older established hitters to fall in the dynasty format. Dream scenario is 19 and 20 want to play young and Blackmon comes back.”

Author’s Note: The pitching seal is finally broken! This group is showing that they prioritize bats much more than pitching, which runs counter to redraft leagues this year where sometimes three pitchers are gone inside the top 12. It’s no surprise why Kershaw fell this far: pitchers get hurt and are a riskier long-term investment than bats. In spite of that, this is great value for the game’s best pitcher. There is a little bit of health concern now that he hasn’t crossed 175 IP in the last two seasons, but when he’s on the mound, he’s about as close to a sure thing as possible.

19. Gary Sanchez - Ralph Lifshitz, Razzball

Ralph: “Eddy was shocked that a life-long Red Sox fan took Gary Sanchez with his first pick. Honestly, I have no loyalty. I’d trade my wife in for another model if the meatloaf was better. Ya dig? As for the draft, I struggled with this pick. I was hoping Judge would fall to me, but no such luck. (Wow, I have a thing for Yankees! Sorry Ma!) I kicked the tires on George Springer (28), Anthony Rizzo (28), and Jose Ramirez (25). I wanted to start the draft with some power, but would prefer a player younger than 27. That left me Ramirez and Sanchez, and I don’t expect 29 from Jose again. In many ways Gare-bear is flawed, but ultimately he offered me the best combo of youth, power, and upside. Plus I don’t have to think about catcher again. Though the downside is a catcher was my first pick... Ahh whatever, unleash the Kraken!”

Author’s Note: Three Yankees in four picks. Man, that’s going to be a scary lineup. Sanchez has it all: a premium position, a damn good lineup, a fantastic hitter’s park, and power nearly unrivaled by any of his catching brethren. Ralph knows that backstops are the easiest to pluck off waivers, even in deep dynasty leagues, but I can’t fault him for falling for the package that Sanchez brings to the table.

20 &21 . Jose Ramirez & Byron Buxton - Craig Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

Craig: “20th overall wasn't a great spot to pick in this format. I don't mind the turn, exactly, but given the way the talent lined up and the different tiers of players, I'm not exactly getting great value in the first two picks. Well, maybe I should reserve that type of talk for my second pick. I'm pretty happy to get Jose Ramirez at 20th to end the first round. He's only 25 and will is at least a four-category producer in terms of avg/r/hr/sb. He'll pick up RBI too, but probably won't be a difference-maker there. Still, multi-position eligibility only helps matters, as I have the flexibility to opt for the best 3B or 2B on the board later on, too. He's a really solid, flexible building block at the end of round one.

I didn't intend to balance safety with upside in my second pick. Ramirez has plenty of upside on his own, which is why I was happy to snag him where I did. But when placed alongside Buxton, my second pick, it's hard not to view it that way. Buxton was b.a.d in the first half of the 2017 season. One of the worst hitters out there. But something clicked for him in the second half, where he was more of a bad man than straight up bad. He's got the superstar upside that could land him inside the top 10 picks (if not higher) when it's all clicking, as it was in the second half of 2017. But there's ample risk, too, and I did waver on taking him. His proclivity for injury makes this riskier than I'd prefer, especially paired with poor performance in the past, but given the dearth of stolen bases in today's game, getting a player of Buxton's potential power/speed combo in the second round (even if it is the first pick) was too tantalizing to pass up. That's another aspect of picking at the turn -- you know certain guys aren't getting back to you, which makes it easier to swing big.”

Author’s Note: Given that the turn is usually playing one pick off the other, I thought it only fair to include both of Craig’s picks. At first, I was pretty surprised he went Buxton. But I think we’ve all forgotten what he did in the second half where he slashed .300/.347/.546 with 11 HR and 13 SB. The more I think about this pairing, the more I love it. Craig might have to do a little catching up on power, but he’s got a pretty easy 40 HR/60 SB duo with upside for more.