Written by: Adam Ehrenreich (@mel_reich)
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
My favorite pre-draft exercise each winter is predicting who will take the leap into the first round the following fantasy baseball season. I look closely at players with ADPs within the top-100 and try to determine who I believe is going to take the proverbial ‘next step’ in the upcoming season. Successfully predicting these players—even if it’s just one or two—could be the key that helps you win it all in your fantasy league any given season.
To state the obvious, we won’t see the same redraft top-12 in 2022 as we currently see today. There will be movement, both in and out, of the top-tier of fantasy draft boards. Today, I will give you my take on four players who could make that quantum leap into the first round next season. To reiterate, using their current ADP to get outstanding value could separate you from your league mates, regardless of the stakes of your league.
Looking at ADP data for the month of March, a couple of names stick out as strong examples of players who made a major leap in the rankings from last season to this season. A simple look at the NFBC top-12 for 2021 features Fernando Tatis (2.29), Shane Bieber (10.53), and Jose Ramirez (10.82), each a star that made tremendous jumps in the ranks since Opening Day 2020. Last year, I accurately predicted Tatis would graduate into the first round, and he showed out in a big way despite the many nuances of the shortened 2020 season.
The hard part is predicting who may drop out of the top 12. While I was right about Alex Bregman, the only other player to drop out of the top-12 was Cody Bellinger, who we saw mired in a slump during the sprint season. While Bregman and Bellinger have the star power to end up being first-round picks in 2022, they will not be featured in this article. This year I can see Gerrit Cole, Jose Ramirez, Trea Turner and Shane Bieber dropping out of the first round to make room for these four budding stars.
Kyle Tucker (March NFBC ADP: 35.01) – Patience is a virtue in fantasy, and it finally paid off for those who waited on Kyle Tucker. Going from being a late-round stash to a top-30 pick in one season is seismic. When Tucker received his chance, he certainly seized the day. In 2020, the 24-year-old finished the season with 9 home runs, 42 RBI and 8 stolen bases, along with a league-leading 6 triples and a serviceable triple-slash line of .268/.325/.512 in 228 plate appearances, all while hitting in the lower half of the Astros lineup. As will be a common theme following the shortened season, let’s conservatively prorate that to a 550 plate appearance season. Tuckers’ batting line could have been 23/110/21, which are tremendous numbers, but are they good enough for the first round? What excites me the most is that Tucker was a career .283 hitter in five minor league seasons. He also went 30/30 in 2019 in Triple-A in 536 plate appearances, so we know what the ceiling might look like. A full spring and a vote of confidence from the Astros could catapult the 24-year-old Tucker into the 30/30 conversation, and once you hit that level of play you’re a lock for the first round in fantasy drafts. The outfielder is a potential steal in the third round in 2021.
Bo Bichette (24.19) – Bichette is another player who excites me for 2021 and beyond. In the shortened season, Bichette had a triple slash of .301/.328/.512 with 5 home runs, 23 RBI and 4 stolen bases in 128 plate appearances. After batting .311 in his rookie season in 212 plate appearances and .324 across four minor league seasons, I am inclined to believe the hit tool is for real and certainly not a fluke since he debuted in Toronto. If Bichette can keep that batting average above .300 with 20 home runs, 100 RBI and 15 stolen bases as a shortstop, he will easily become a first-round pick in 2022, when he could conceivably take another step forward in his development. At 23-years-old, batting in the heart of a stacked Blue Jays lineup, the sky is the limit for Bichette.
Luis Robert (35.42) – The electric Robert is the real deal. After making the minors look easy, Robert made a splash in his rookie season for the White Sox, finishing the shortened season with 11 home runs, 31 RBI, and 9 stolen bases in 227 plate appearances. Those are undeniably fantastic numbers, which would roughly prorate to 29 home runs, 84 RBI and 24 stolen bases over a 550 plate appearance season. The only thing holding Robert back was a .233 batting average. The gap between his batting average and the .302 OBP is actually a bit larger than expected thanks to an aggressive approach, and I wonder if the .300 BABIP will improve during the 23-year-old’s sophomore campaign in the big leagues. If the outfielder can boost his average closer to .270, we’re talking about a sure-fire top 20 player who can be had in the mid-late 3rd round this draft season. This could be the last time the 23-year-old Robert is outside of the top 10 in fantasy drafts for years to come. I can see Ronald Acuña Jr. type hype going into 2022 and beyond.
Yordan Alvarez (79.03) – After taking the league by storm in 2019 and winning the AL ROY, a lingering knee injury cost Alvarez the majority of his 2020 campaign. This prediction is a bit of a stretch, as Alvarez is currently a UT-only player whose playing time will likely be monitored at least early in the season. However, when he plays, expect fireworks. Looking forward, what’s so exciting about Alvarez is the prospect of the 23-year-old potentially possessing 1B/OF eligibility this time next year. The Astros have discussed giving Alvarez looks at first base, and we know he is a natural outfielder. Depending on the format, Alvarez could be considered among the top-tier first basemen in 2022. After finishing 2019 with a line of .313/.412/.655, 27 home runs, and 78 RBI (in 369 plate appearances!), I see a hopefully-healthy Alvarez hitting close to 40 home runs with 120 RBI and a batting average close to .300 in the near future. Even if he fails to reach these gaudy predictions in 2021, he should only continue to improve in the coming seasons. So yes, there are two Astros on this list. While that may make some people sigh, it is undeniable that the future is bright in Houston once again, and your fantasy team can benefit greatly from this 7th round steal.
I find that shortstops and five-tool outfielders are the creams of the crop in fantasyland. Being able to pinpoint breakouts at these positions is essential and allows you to draft areas of need, and even based on positional scarcity, early on in the draft. One step further, being able to land numerous potential fantasy MVPs in the middle rounds could be a huge difference-maker. I may not draft Bichette over a player like Francisco Lindor in the early 2nd round, but the upside is undeniably enticing and there is no reason to be ashamed to reach for your guys. If they weren’t already there, the four players above should be added to the top of your targets list.
Honorable Mention: Ozzie Albies (35.11), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (49.75), Pete Alonso (54.29), Austin Meadows (84.55)
Been there before & can get there again: Cody Bellinger (16.83), Bryce Harper (17.45), Nolan Arenado (41.97), Alex Bregman (45.82)
Follow P365 MLB Analyst Adam Ehrenreich on Twitter! @mel_reich
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Featured image courtesy of photographer Tim Warner and Getty Images