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Safety first: 5 No. 1 picks for the risk averse

Trout, Altuve among most secure first-round options
February 2, 2017

An old adage in fantasy states that you cannot win a league in the first round, but you can lose it there.Each season, a handful of "can't miss" players falls short of expectations. Case in point: Bryce Harper, Carlos Correa and Giancarlo Stanton in 2016.But in hindsight, none of those

An old adage in fantasy states that you cannot win a league in the first round, but you can lose it there.
Each season, a handful of "can't miss" players falls short of expectations. Case in point: Bryce Harper, Carlos Correa and Giancarlo Stanton in 2016.
But in hindsight, none of those players was exactly the safest of first-round choices. After all, Harper had previously enjoyed just one excellent season, Correa had been a Major Leaguer for less than a year and Stanton had experienced his share of injury problems.
Looking ahead to '17 drafts, the first round continues to be filled with tantalizing but risky options. As the draft timer ticks down, owners will be left to ponder several major questions when deciding on their ever-important top pick. Among them: Can Mookie Betts duplicate his single dominant campaign? Will Trea Turner repeat his second-half success from '16? And can Clayton Kershaw avoid landing on the disabled list for a third time in four years?
Of course, fantasy owners will have a number of secure options to choose from in the first round. While no player is truly a sure thing, the following five players are pretty close.
Michael Trout, outfielder (Angels): Trout provides owners with an unmatched level of security, having averaged 33 homers, 116 runs scored, 96 RBIs, 28 steals and a .310 batting mark since the outset of '12. Yes, the slugger fell from 41 homers in '15 to 29 a year ago. But with a baseball-leading 116 walks and .441 on-base percentage, the outfielder nonetheless tied a personal best in OPS (.991) and led all players in runs (123) for the third time in his career. Furthermore, the outfielder boosted his value with a resurgence on the bases -- collecting 30 steals after swiping 27 bags combined across '14-15. Heading into his age-25 campaign, Trout should be selected first overall in virtually all leagues.

Kristopher Bryant, 3B/OF (Cubs): After winning the '15 National League Rookie of the Year Award, Bryant made some major second-year strides and finished as the '16 NL MVP. Reducing his strikeout rate to 22 percent (30.6 percent in '15), the slugger recorded an impressive .292/.385/.554 slash line with 39 round-trippers last year. And with the support of a loaded Cubs lineup, the youngster was one of five big leaguers to reach triple-digits in both RBIs and runs scored. Having shown a penchant for producing hard contact and a lofty fly-ball rate, the 25-year-old must be regarded as one of baseball's elite power hitters entering '17.

Jose Altuve, second baseman (Astros): After seemingly hitting his power ceiling with 15 homers in '15, Altuve raised his game again last year -- producing a career-high 24 home runs. The second baseman also remained one of baseball's top contact hitters, winning his second American League batting title with a .338 average. And though Altuve finished with a full-season low in stolen bases (30), he still reached the 30-steal plateau for the fifth straight season -- something no one else has accomplished in that span. Able to offer stellar production across the board, the 26-year-old could be headed for another memorable season from the heart of a much-improved Astros lineup.
Nolan Arenado, third baseman (Rockies): Arenado not only tied for the NL lead in homers (41) and paced baseball in RBIs (133) for the second straight season in '16, but he also made encouraging strides to become a more well-rounded hitter. Pairing his solid contact skills (14.8 percent strikeout rate) with a career-high 9.8 percent walk rate, the third baseman notched personal-best marks in average (.294) and on-base percentage (.362). With help from Colorado's hitter-friendly park factors and stellar lineup, the talented 25-year-old should continue to deliver incredible production this season.

Manny Machado, 3B/SS (Orioles): Machado dazzled with the bat in '16, finishing with career-best marks in average (.294), homers (37), RBIs (96) and runs scored (105). As a result, he remained a highly valuable asset for fantasy owners despite tallying no stolen bases (20 steals in '15). Still just 24 years old and eligible at multiple positions, the infielder is among the safest options at the back end of Round 1. Anything he provides in the speed department will simply be a bonus on top of his other terrific stats in '17.

Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB.