The Hot Stove is fully on fire, and the embers have reached all the way to the first round of 2018 fantasy draft projections. And with the Yankees adding Giancarlo Stanton to an already-potent lineup, they have pushed the slugger to the early portion of Round 1 while also bringing
The Hot Stove is fully on fire, and the embers have reached all the way to the first round of 2018 fantasy draft projections. And with the Yankees adding Giancarlo Stanton to an already-potent lineup, they have pushed the slugger to the early portion of Round 1 while also bringing Aaron Judge into the top 15 of fantasy assets. Here is a complete breakdown of the players who should have their names called early in '18 drafts.
First pick: Michael Trout, outfielder, Angels: Even with a leaguewide uptick in offense, Trout has managed to stay ahead of the competition. A generational talent whose early career output rivals that of any player in history, Trout overcame a near-seven week absence with a thumb injury to once again rank among the top assets. Having improved his power without sacrificing his other strong plate skills during 2017, Trout should enter '18 as the consensus top pick in all fantasy formats.
Second pick: Jose Altuve, second baseman, Astros: While Trout stands alone atop the fantasy landscape, he is challenged by Altuve for the label of baseball's most consistent superstar. The elite batting-average asset has ranked among the stolen base leaders in each of the past six seasons, and he was able to sustain his 2016 power gains during the '17 campaign. Now supported by one of the best lineups in baseball, Altuve can contribute stellar stats across the board.
Third pick: Stanton, outfielder, Yankees: After tantalizing fantasy owners for a several seasons but frequently falling short of expectations due to a combination of injuries and inconsistency, Stanton finally put it all together for a magnificent campaign in 2017. While fantasy managers shouldn't ignore the fact that the slugger played fewer than 125 games four times from 2012-16, the top candidate to lead the Majors in roundtrippers could post even more memorable numbers now that he has joined a potent Yankees lineup.
Fourth pick: Paul Goldschmidt, first baseman, D-backs: By his standards, Goldschmidt had an underwhelming season in the power department in 2016. But the first baseman eased concerns about his swing by going deep 36 times and maintaining a helpful batting average in '17. Goldschmidt also continued to regularly contribute with his legs, making him one of the top all-around assets in the game.
Fifth pick: Nolan Arenado, third baseman, Rockies: Even in an era that is heavy on sluggers and light on speedsters, Arenado possesses the plate skills to remain a coveted first-round option. The 26-year-old has the ability to hit .300 with enough power to clear 40 home runs. Arenado is also one of the favorites to lead the Majors in RBIs next year, as his production is boosted by a strong supporting cast and a hitter-friendly home park.
Sixth pick: Charlie Blackmon, outfielder, Rockies: Blackmon produced an outstanding encore to his breakout 2016 campaign, setting the table for one of the best lineups in baseball by posting an elite batting mark and displaying career-best power. Like Arenado, the 31-year-old Blackmon should deliver another year of top-tier production with help from Colorado's quality lineup and offense-boosting venue.
Seventh pick: Trea Turner, shortstop, Nationals: Despite being limited to 98 games because of a fractured right wrist, Turner scored 75 runs and ranked third in baseball with 46 steals this year. With improved health next season, the speedster should rank among the Major League leaders in stolen bases and runs scored, while also supplying a helpful batting mark from his post atop a talented Nationals lineup. And with 25 homers in 759 career plate appearances, Turner can contribute in the power department, as well.
Eighth pick: Clayton Kershaw, starter, Dodgers: Kershaw is arguably the best overall asset in fantasy baseball on a per-game basis, but he's missed significant parts of the past two seasons with back injuries. When healthy, the left-hander is a virtual lock to post a sub-2.50 ERA, a WHIP below 1.00 and a lofty strikeout total. But even though his ceiling is sky high, Kershaw carries too much risk to go No. 1 overall. The 29-year-old is definitely the biggest boom-or-bust option in the first round of 2018 drafts.
Ninth pick: Max Scherzer, starter, Nationals: Owners who closely monitor their teams are acutely aware of the shortage of ace-level starters in today's game. Those who acknowledge the shifting landscape will be ready to pounce on elite arms, such as Scherzer, at the outset of their drafts. While the three-time Cy Young winner may lag slightly behind Kershaw in terms of per-start production, his spectacular swing-and-miss skills and superior health history make him arguably the best combination of excellence and reliability on the mound.
10th pick: Corey Kluber, starter, Indians: After giving a memorable effort during the 2016 postseason, Kluber stumbled out of the gate in '17 and had a 5.06 ERA when he landed on the disabled list with a back injury in May. But a month on the shelf seemed to do the trick, as the right-hander returned at the beginning of June and went 15-2 with a 1.62 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP the rest of the way. Those who are assigned a late spot in '18 drafts would be wise to start their roster by pairing Kluber with a stud hitter.
11th pick: Mookie Betts, outfielder, Red Sox: Despite falling short of his breakout 2016 season in most areas, Betts was the only player in baseball last year to reach 20 or more homers and steals while also hitting the century mark in RBIs and runs scored. The 25-year-old could be a late first-round steal for owners who recognize that poor batted-ball luck was a contributing factor to his diminished batting average.
12th pick: Judge, outfielder, Yankees: Judge emerged as one of baseball's most feared sluggers during 2017, setting the all-time rookie home run record (52) and ranking among the Major League leaders in runs (128) and OPS (1.049).While his penchant for whiffs makes the slugger a potential batting-average liability (.228 average in second half of '17), he paced all hitters in average exit velocity (94.9 mph, min. 200 balls in play) and total barrels (87) last year, according to Statcast™. Now set to work in tandem with Stanton and superstar catcher Gary Sanchez, Judge should compile game-changing counting stats once again next year.
13th pick: Bryce Harper, outfielder, Nationals: Harper bounced back from his disappointing 2016 season with a dazzling '17 campaign, performing at an offensive level that strongly resembled his National League MVP Award-winning effort in '15. However, an August knee injury limited him to just 111 games, marking the third time in his six-year career that Harper has appeared in fewer than 120 contests. Even if he doesn't regain the baserunning aggressiveness that led to 21 steals in '16, Harper could be a top 10 overall asset by staying off the disabled list in '18.
14th pick:Chris Sale, starter, Red Sox: Notice a trend? Hitters dominated the first round of fantasy drafts for many years, but several starters should fly off the board within the initial 15 picks of 2018. Owners will have few better options than Sale, whose '17 dominance included the highest whiff total (308) recorded by any hurler in the past 15 seasons.
15th pick: Joey Votto, first baseman, Reds: Already one of the best hitters in baseball for quite some time, Votto elevated his game to another level in his age-33 season by reducing his whiff rate and showing increased power. While the 34-year-old is not surrounded by a star-studded supporting cast, he is talented enough to reach the century mark in RBIs and runs scored regardless.
Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB.