Fantasy baseball 2022: Year of the bounceback

No one knows if the season will start on time, but we do know that it is never too early to start preparing for your fantasy baseball league. Without any plan or preparation, I ran a mock draft earlier today, and the results suggest that I am banking on bounceback seasons for many fading stars.

Format: Seventh pick in a 15-team league

Pick 1: Ronald Acuña Jr.

The Braves outfielder has slipped to 12 in average draft position (ADP), although that will improve if he can show full recovery from the ACL injury that robbed him of the second half of last season.

With six hitters already off the board (Fernando Tatís Jr., Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Jose Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette), my options were either a pitcher or one of Acuña, Bryce Harper or Mike Trout. All three hitters have the potential to finish the season as the best player in baseball, so this was a play based on the thought that we might not have seen the best of Acuña yet.

Pick 2: Luis Robert

I don’t like taking two outfielders with the first two picks, but Luis Robert is a special player. If you stretch his 2021 over 162 games, it equates to 30 homers, 100 runs, 102 RBI, 14 stolen bases and a .338 batting average. It’s difficult to see that not being the number one player in fantasy.

Pick 3: Aaron Nola

It was time to take a starter. I had hoped injury/form issues would have dropped Shane Bieber or Jacob deGrom, but they had long gone. The other options were Lucas Giolito (who burned me last year), Kevin Gausman or Sandy Alcantara. I opted for Nola, partly on the basis that every time I watched him, he looked like an ace, and partly as the 3.37 FIP to 4.63 ERA suggests he was a little unlucky in 2021.

Pick 4: Luis Castillo

As someone who watched more Reds games last season than any other team, Luis Castillo was tough viewing. I had hoped 2021 would be the year he stepped up into the top five starters, but instead, he was tagged with the league-worst 16 losses. However, he continued to take the ball every fifth day and finished the season with a 2.98 ERA over his final 16 starts.

Pick 5: Francisco Lindor

I love this pick. It was tempting to take Eloy Jiménez, but I didn’t want a third outfielder this early, and I also contemplated Corey Seager in Texas. But the possibility of a return of the happy-go-lucky smiling superstar from his Cleveland days was too good to pass up. From 2017-2020, Lindor was a fantasy stud. He smashed 111 home runs with 68 stolen bases. The only player to hit more homers with 50-plus swiped bags was Mike Trout.

Pick 6: Kris Bryant

After the first month of 2021, KB was back to MVP form. In fact, as mentioned in a previous article, with the exception of Covid 2020, the guy has never had a bad season. His floor is high; his ceiling is at the very top. Add to this Bryant’s multi-position eligibility, and it was an easy choice ahead of Carlos Correa, Max Muncy or Jorge Polanco. To be honest, I discovered later that I could have waited on third base.

Pick 7: Christian Yelich

This was the pick when I realised that I was a bounceback hound. Yelich, the MVP winner in 2018 and runner up in 2019, has failed to get his form back since the start of the pandemic. However, Yelich remains a great hitter with huge potential. Jazz Chisholm, Tommy Edman, and Jesse Winker were other hitters in this region. It wasn’t a tough choice for me.

Pick 8: Cody Bellinger

Once again, it was too difficult to let a recent MVP slip past me. Unfortunately, Bellinger has lost his 1B-eligibility, so my outfield was now complete. The Dodgers know far more about baseball than me, and as they have just agreed a $17 million deal, it gives me confidence that we are more likely to see the .906 OPS player from the postseason than the .542 OPS guy from the regular season.

Pick 9: Anthony Rendon

There are very few players I enjoy watching more than Rendon. Obviously, 2021 was an injury-plagued disaster, but he was in the MVP conversation in each of the previous four seasons. This could be a great pick if we see Rendon, Trout, and Shohei Ohtani together for 80% of Angels games. Joey Gallo was my second choice for this pick, just ahead of Jarred Kelenic or Franmil Reyes.

Pick 10: Sonny Gray

2021 was a step in the wrong direction after a couple of great years. I can’t say that I am confident his back issues will not reappear, so fingers-crossed for 30 starts with 3.50 ERA. I wasn’t happy with this pick straight after the draft, but I was not too fond of the other starters in this ADP area: Eduardo Rodríguez, Ranger Suárez, Hyun Jin Ryu or Noah Syndergaard.

Pick 11: Rhys Hoskins

I liked this pick, although I would have preferred Ke’Bryan Hayes, but I had already filled 3B and DH. Hoskins offers power and patience, and at only 28 years old, has the potential to continue to improve. I also like the high floor; has he ever had a bad season? Players I opted against in this range were Ty France, Gleyber Torres and Brendan Rodgers.

Pick 12: John Means

Surely, 2022 will be the year we start to see MLB-calibre play in Camden Yards. It is difficult to judge how good (or bad) John Means is while surrounded by such ineptitude. As Graham Muncie wrote in a recent Bat Flips and Nerds article, “Means was as close as you could ever be to a perfect game without achieving one.” I’ll take that upside potential.

Pitchers I passed up to take Means included Tarik Skubal, Anthony DeSclafani and Tanner Houck. I’m not sure DeSclafani will repeat last year, but I was very tempted by Houck.

Pick 13: Gavin Lux

I still needed a catcher, second base, one starter and two relief pitchers. With Seager out of the picture, middle infield in Los Angeles is less crowded, but Lux still needs to battle for playing time. I like players like Lux; high-profile prospects for whom success at MLB level isn’t instantaneous. It’s sometimes difficult to remember that he has only just turned 24 years old. I’m looking for Lux to turn his 1.077 OPS in Triple-A into meaningful MLB production this season.

I opted against Jean Segura, Kiké Hernández and Nicky Lopez. All three are fine second basemen, I just felt that the gamble for Lux’s ceiling was worth it.

Pick 14: Zach Plesac

This is another gamble, but so were the other starters in this range. Plesac’s fastball got destroyed last season, but if he can recapture some form to it, he will return to being a four-pitch starter with above-average offerings.

Other starters in the area were Jameson Taillon, Taijuan Walker, Casey Mize and Kyle Gibson.

Pick 15: Garrett Whitlock

I had left it too late to get one of the obvious closers, and I was not confident in the job security of guys like Joe Barlow, Paul Sewald or Matt Barnes. As we all saw last season, Whitlock has skills. It was surprising his sub-2.00 ERA over 73⅓ innings didn’t garner a single Rookie of the Year vote. When (rather than if) he gets the Red Sox ninth-inning gig, Whitlock has the potential to be a top 10 closer.

Pick 16: David Bednar

Here is a pitcher who did receive ROY consideration. It appears that the Pirates’ closer role is Bednar’s to lose, although it’s true that Pittsburgh might not give him many opportunities. The 27-year-old offers good control and an excellent strikeout rate (32.5 K%).

Pick 17: Tyler Stephenson

There were plenty of catchers available at the end of the draft – that’s what happens in 15-team, one-catcher leagues. Stephenson was my tip for 2021 Rookie of the Year (he came sixth), and now with Tucker Barnhart out of the picture in Cincinnati, Stephenson will get a greater share of the action. The Reds also gave him 20-plus games at first base. Every extra plate appearance from your catcher is handy.

Photo by Rich Schultz

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Fantasy Baseball 2022: Draft & Hold Eliminator… with a twist

We are creating a new Bat Flips and Nerds league for 2022. It is an invitational league, but we have a couple of spots for readers/listeners. If you want to get involved, leave a critique of this draft in the Twitter comments. The best one might get an invite.

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