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How to win your fantasy baseball league despite picking last

Building a worst-case scenario fantasy team.

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Howdy and wsup, gentle fantasy baseballers!

Today, we’re going to do an exercise that we performed before the NBA season began waaaay back in the longlongago of 2017: drafting players one round early to illustrate how deep the fantasy pool is, and why you shouldn’t freak out if your draft goes poorly. We’ll pick last in a 12-owner league, and we’ll only consider players from the following round. (So, our first pick will be of a player generally taken in the second round, and so on.)

To be as fair as possible, I’ll just draft the best available player, while also paying attention to roster demands. We’re going to disregard relief pitchers because, well, they’re the worst: they can’t hit well enough to be batters, and they can’t pitch well enough to be starters. And, they’re the most volatile (and, most fungible) position. To be blunt, RPs suck and you shouldn’t waste high picks on them. Just ask yourself how many closers at the beginning of the season will still be the closers for that same team at the end of the season. NOT MANY. It’s foolish to waste high picks on such risky players. But, y’know, go for it, if you want to. We’ll take note of an outfielder’s primary position, but we’ll just use the OF designation while drafting.

We’re going to use ESPN’s average draft position (“ADP”), and we’ll use this roster construction: C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, CI, MI, OF, OF, OF, OF, UTIL, SPx5, and we’ll have a 6 player bench. So, grab a towel, remember not to panic, and let’s go!

1st pick (#12 overall) - Corey Kluber, SP, CLE (ADP #14)

This hurts because I hate the GD Indians, but the Kluberbot is a top 5 pitcher. Get them while you can. The old ways still make the most sense: elite pitching gets you to the playoffs. And, elite SPs are becoming rarer and rarer.

2nd pick (#24 overall) - Josh Donaldson, 3B, TOR (ADP #26)

Donaldson had a bad first half last year due to injury but he was one of the best hitters in the second half. He’s 32 which is NOT! OLD! He’ll probably end up having one of his best statistical years just out of spite, and to shut all the haters up. He might even be a top 10 offensive player, so we’re thrilled with him in the second round when he’s generally going in the third.

3rd pick (#36 overall) - Jacob deGrom, SP, NYM (ADP #38)

DeGrom has been one of the most consistent SPs in fantasy over the past several years, and there’s no reason to think that will change (outside of injury, duh). He’ll end the season as a top 15 SP, if not top 10.

4th pick (#48) - Yu Darvish, SP, CHC (ADP #50)

If Darvish is healthy, he’s a top 10 pitcher. Our staff is looking pretty damn good, so far.

5th pick (#60) - Byron Buxton, CF, MIN (ADP #63)

Our first OFer taken! Buxton had 16 homers and 29 steals last season. He’s 24 freaking years old. Ugh, the Twins. Anytime you can reasonably predict a player to have a legit shot at 20 home runs and 30 steals is a time you should say, DRAFT THAT GUY.

6th pick (#72) - Andrew McCutchen, CF, SF (ADP #77)

McClutch was the 53rd best player in my league last year, hitting .280 with 28 homers and 11 stolen bags. Um, yes, I will take that. I think folks are scared by his age (31, younger than Josh Donaldson, who, as we discussed, IS! NOT! OLD!), his ballpark (is San Francisco’s stadium really that different than the Pirates stadium?), and the fact that people already assumed that McCutchen was trending down. But, as we all know, people are stupid. Like, it’s really, really dumb to doubt an expert in their field, y’know? And, Andrew MFing McClutchen is an expert at playing baseball. Don’t let haters guide you.

7th pick (#84) - Nicholas Castellanos, 3B/RF, DET (ADP #90)

Nicky Grapes is one of the hardest hitting batters in the majors. There’s all sorts of data that points to him being an elite hitter. But, who cares about all that? He’s a Detroit Tiger! Do you actually need to know anything else?? Plus, I like the positional flexibility. By the way, he’s basically tied with Joey Gallo at ADP 90, but I am not a Gallo believer.

8th pick (#96 overall) - Domingo Santana, RF, MIN (ADP #104)

We could’ve had Kyle Hendricks or Rich Hill here, but both of them miss games (all pitchers do, to be fair), we already have a strong rotation, and Santana was one of only five players to hit 25 homers and steal 15 bags. Even if he regresses, 20 and 20 is still a real possibility. Challenge accepted.

9th pick (#108) - Adam Jones, RF, BAL (ADP #111)

Jones will hit .280 and 25 home runs. That’s what he does. We now have a full outfield, all four of whom can/will hit 25+ homers. Mission accomplished.

10th pick (#120) - Matt Olsen, 1B, OAK (ADP #127)

And, here’s a guy who can hit 40 home runs. Olsen’s being overhyped, but his power is real. If he can raise his average to around .260 and maintain that power, he’ll be a top 100 player, no doubt, and maybe top 50. He’s also 23, so there’s room for improvement.

11th pick (#132) - Zack Godley, SP, ARI (ADP #135)

Godley became one of the 40 best SPs after joining Arizona’s rotation full time. The fact that ‘zona now has a humidor may help all their pitchers, but Godley is already a good groundball pitcher, so he might not even need the help. This is a great bargain in the 11th round.

12th pick (#144) - Marcus Stroman, SP, TOR (ADP #151)

And, Stroman is the best groundball pitcher in the game and he was a top 30 SP in my league last year. That’s good enough for me. We’ll add Toronto’s ace as our 5th SP. Hard to believe this rotation can’t get you to the playoffs.

13th pick (#156 overall) - J.T. Realmuto, C, MIA (ADP #167)

How about a top 5 catcher? I don’t know about Realmuto’s continuing ability to steal bases, but he’ll hit .280-ish and get you 15-20 home runs. If you can’t get Sanchez, Gattis, Posey, or Perez, Realmuto is probably your best hope.

14th pick (#168) - Ian Kinsler, 2B, LAA (ADP #170)

Our first middle infielder! Kinsler had a down year due to an unlucky BABIP, but he still finished as a top 20 second baseman. His batting average will positively regress, he’s in a better lineup now (sigh, Tigers, sigh), and he still hit 20+ HRs last year. 20 bombs and 10 steals is damn good for us here.

15th pick (#180) - Eugenio Suarez, 3B, CIN (ADP #188)

Suarez was a top 15 3B last year, he’s 26 years old, and he plays half his games in Cincinnati’s ballpark. Suarez will be our third 3B, but only because Castellanos has 3B/OF eligibility. Plus, Suarez had more value than Eric Thames in my league last year, so hell yeah we’re taking him here.

16th pick (#192) - Matt Chapman, 3B, OAK (ADP #200)

I chose the very last player in the top 200 of ESPN’s ADP to prove a point: Matt Chapman, who is now our fourth 3B, was a top 40 third baseman in less than 300 ABs. He will be a top 20 3B this year, he will hit over 20 home runs, and you will be rewarded for drafting him. He had a 10% walk rate in the second half and 14 home runs. Good sign. He’s our first bench player, but he’ll probably be starting by the end of the season.

*We’re now out of the top 200, so I’ll continue by using player ownership outside of the top 200 on ESPN. ALL of the players below are owned in less than 10% of leagues*

17th pick (#204) - Neil Walker, 2B, NYY (7% owned)

How bout a guy who’s hitting in the same lineup as Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez? Walker had a down year, but he’s on a better team and in a better park now. Folks say he’s just a bridge to the young guys, but that doesn’t mean the Yanks will kick him to the curb as soon as they can. If he can hit for more power in Yankee Stadium (which, probably), then you might have a top 20 2B for a basement price.

18th pick (#216) - Ketel Marte, SS/2B, ARI (4.5% owned)

Marte had a quiet year last season, but it was encouraging. His BABIP was .290 last year, so he was unlucky and should positively regress. He’s not going to hit 20 home runs for you but he had 17 extra base hits in less than half of a season. Project that out, and you could have a middle infielder with 30+ XBH, including 10ish homers. If he starts stealing bases like he did in the minors, then you could be looking at a 10-15 guy. This late in the draft, that’s awesome.

Remaining bench picks (we already have one):

  • Kolten Wong, 2B, STL (he starts, he hits for average, and he might get you some steals) (9.4%)
  • Mallex Smith, OF, TB (his name is MALLEX, and if he hits for average, he’ll be a terror on the basepaths; this guy could be top 5 in steals) (9% owned)
  • Joc Pederson, OF, LAD (plenty of upside) (4.2% owned)
  • Derek Fisher, OF, HOU (ditto, could be a 20-20 guy) (3.3% owned)
  • Nathan Eovaldi, SP, TB (back from Tommy John surgery; definitely has a spot in Tampa’s rotation; at one time was one of, if not the, hardest throwing pitchers in MLB) (1.9% owned)

So, here’s our worst-case-scenario team:

C- J.T. Realmuto (13th pick)

1B - Matt Olsen (10th pick)

2B - Ian Kinsler (14th pick)

SS - Ketel Marte (18th pick)

3B - Josh Donaldson (2nd pick)

CI - Nick Castellanos (3B/OF) (7th pick)

MI - Neil Walker (2B) (17th pick)

OF1 - Byron Buxton (5th pick)

OF2 - Andrew McCutchen (6th pick)

OF3 - Domingo Santana (7th pick)

OF4 - Adam Jones (8th pick)

UTIL - Eugenio Suarez (3B) (15th pick)

SP1 - Human Replicant Corey Kluber (1st pick)

SP2 - Jacob deGrom (3rd pick)

SP3 - Yu Darvish (4th pick)

SP4 - Zack Godley (11th pick)

SP5 - Marcus Stroman (12th pick)


Matt Chapman (3B) (16th pick)

Kolten Wong (2B) (19th pick)

Mallex Smith (OF) (20th pick)

Joc Pederson (OF) (21st pick)

Derek Fisher (OF) (22nd pick)

Nate Eovaldi (SP) (23rd pick)

And, then there are three spots remaining for your relief pitchers, resulting in a 26 man roster.

As I said, this is kind of a worst case scenario. Even so, we did a good job! I think this is definitely a team that makes the playoffs, based mainly on the rotation, but also due to the overall solidity and consistency of the outfield. If Josh Donaldson returns to his MVP form, then we have an elite-elite offensive player, too. I’m a real big fan of Ketel Marte with our 18th pick, too, I think he’s going to have a very nice year.

Hopefully, this exercise makes you feel better about your upcoming draft. Remember, DON’T PANIC! Even if you feel as if you didn’t draft well, you probably did better than you think. If you go into your draft with a plan, including long shots that you have a good feeling about, then you’ll probably do better than the above. Do your research, and trust yourself. Odds are that the other owners are having problems with their draft, too.

Good luck!