As the 2018 season draws to a close, it's never too early to start thinking about next year. For fantasy owners, that means beginning to prepare for next season's drafts.While a lot can change over the next few months, the first rounds of fantasy drafts are reserved for the game's
As the 2018 season draws to a close, it's never too early to start thinking about next year. For fantasy owners, that means beginning to prepare for next season's drafts.
While a lot can change over the next few months, the first rounds of fantasy drafts are reserved for the game's elite. Only the biggest superstars are worthy of a first-round pick -- players who can be counted on to provide MVP or Cy Young Award-caliber production. They should be durable, in or near their prime years and have a track record of posting strong numbers in multiple fantasy categories.
With that in mind, here are 12 players who will likely be targeted in the first round of fantasy drafts next year.
Michael Trout, Angels
Baseball's best all-around player will likely be first off the board in many leagues again next year thanks to his elite production in all categories. Few blend power and speed like Trout, who has averaged close to 30 homers and 30 steals per season since 2012. Trout is also the best hitter in the game, leading all players (min. 500 plate appearances) in slugging percentage and OPS since 2011 while batting over .300 for his career. At 27 years old, Trout already ranks among the greatest players of all time and is possibly still improving at the plate after posting the highest walk rate and on-base percentage of his career in 2018.
Mookie Betts, Red Sox
Besides Trout, Betts is arguably the most well-rounded player in baseball. The multidimensional right fielder has notched at least 24 homers and 26 steals in three straight seasons, displaying an elite combination of power and speed. He's also a superb contact hitter who has carried an average above .330 for much of this season and has never struck out 90 times in a single campaign. Heading into his age-26 season, Betts is in his prime and will likely be a top three pick in most fantasy drafts next year given his superb skills and fantasy-friendly spot as the leadoff hitter in a stellar lineup.
Jose Altuve, Astros
Although he will likely fail to lead the American League in hits for the first time since 2013, Altuve is batting well over .300 again while notching double-digit totals in homers and steals for the fourth straight year. The three-time batting champ and 2017 AL MVP consistently rates as one of the top performers in fantasy thanks to his outstanding performance at the plate and on the bases. Since the start of the 2014 season, no one has a higher batting average (min. 200 plate appearances) and only two players -- Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon -- have stolen more bases. Throw in his 20-homer potential and daily presence in Houston's loaded lineup, and the 28-year-old is a clear first-rounder next year.
J.D. Martinez, Red Sox
Martinez has continued to solidify his case as one of the best hitters in baseball during his first season with the Red Sox, making a serious run at the Triple Crown while pacing MLB in several major categories. Since overhauling his swing in 2014, Martinez has posted the highest slugging percentage in the Majors (min. 350 plate appearances). He's also batted over .300 during that span while averaging more than 30 homers per season. With numbers comparable to those of Jose Cabrera and Jose Pujols in their primes, Martinez is an ideal centerpiece for a fantasy lineup.
Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Arenado has been one of the most consistent sluggers in baseball over the past few years, leading all players in RBIs and ranking third in home runs since the outset of 2015. He's also recorded an average near .300 during that time, making him the top bat at the hot corner. The slick-fielding third baseman has become increasingly selective at the plate as well, raising his walk rate from 5.1 percent in 2015 to greater than 11 percent in 2018. With help from hitter-friendly Coors Field, Arenado is one of the safest first-round selections in fantasy.
Jose Ramirez, Indians
While he sometimes flies under the radar, Ramirez has rivaled Trout and Betts as one of baseball's most complete players over the past two seasons. After emerging as an AL MVP Award finalist in 2017, Ramirez has arguably been even better in 2018, posting career highs in homers, RBIs and steals. He has also taken a big step forward in the plate-discipline department, registering more walks than strikeouts and hovering around the .400 mark in on-base percentage. As one of the few players capable of leading his league in both home runs and stolen bases, Ramirez is a tremendous first-round selection.
Francisco Lindor, Indians
If there were any doubts about Lindor's power surge in 2017, when the shortstop more than doubled his previous career high in homers with 33, the 24-year-old erased them by matching that total with nearly a month left in the 2018 season. He has become arguably the best shortstop in baseball since debuting in 2015, tallying double-digit home runs and steals in all four of his seasons while consistently hitting for high averages. Gaining an additional boost from his spot as the leadoff hitter for one of the best offenses in baseball, Lindor is also pacing the Majors in runs scored this season. Heading into his age-25 campaign, Lindor is a deserving first-round pick in fantasy leagues thanks to his superlative production at a relatively thin position.
Manny Machado, Dodgers (eligible for free agency this offseason)
Machado has turned in the best offensive season of his career in 2018 while playing enough games at shortstop and third base to qualify at both positions in fantasy leagues. Though his performance has dipped a bit following his July 18 trade to the Dodgers, he is still on pace to achieve career highs in all three triple-slash categories and has already topped 30 homers for the fourth straight year. He has also been more aggressive on the bases, posting 13 steals after swiping just nine bags in 2016-2017 combined. With multi-position eligibility, 40-homer/20-steal potential and the ability to bat .300, the 26-year-old is a safe first-round choice for 2019, regardless of where he signs this offseason.
Javier Baez, Cubs
Baez has blossomed into one of the best players in baseball in 2018, posting career highs across the board during an MVP-caliber season. He's steadily improved since becoming a full-time player in '16, developing into one of the game's premier power hitters while notching a double-digit steals total every year. Baez's eligibility at multiple positions is a bonus, enabling owners to shift the slugger around the infield as needed. Coming off his first season with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in 2018, Baez is a legitimate superstar worthy of a first-round pick.
Trevor Story, Rockies
Story showed impressive power over his first two seasons, but his penchant for striking out prevented him from reaching his full potential. That has changed in 2018, as the shortstop has become a more polished hitter by cutting his strikeout rate from 34.4 percent in 2017 to less than 27 percent in '18. The improvement has resulted in a breakthrough for the 25-year-old, who has set career highs in nearly every department and improved his average by more than 50 points -- from .239 to .293 -- since last year. He has also become a major stolen-base threat (25 steals), making him a true five-category contributor worth taking in the first round next year.
Max Scherzer, Nationals
If there's a pitcher worth drafting in the first round, it's Scherzer -- a three-time Cy Young Award winner who may win his fourth (and third in a row) after another marvelous season. The Nationals ace has surpassed Clayton Kershaw as the best pitcher in baseball over the past several years, putting together an unmatched track record of dominance, durability and consistency. Dating back to 2013, Scherzer has posted a sub-3.00 ERA with a sub-1.00 WHIP while leading all pitchers in wins, innings and strikeouts. Wrapping up arguably his finest season, the 34-year-old is still at the top of his game and merits consideration in the first round next year.
Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs
With Joey Votto suffering a down season and Giancarlo Stanton now in the American League, Goldschmidt is arguably the Senior Circuit's premier slugger. He has been incredibly steady, hitting .290 or better and making the All-Star team in six straight seasons while surpassing 30 homers four times during that stretch. The first baseman has been less aggressive on the bases this season (five steals) after producing 113 steals from 2012-17, but his plate skills appear to be as strong as ever.
Tyler Maher is a fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com.