Fantasy Baseball 2021 Draft Strategy: Advice and Cheat Sheet for 1st Round

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistMarch 17, 2021

Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. celebrates after a double against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning in Game 7 of a baseball National League Championship Series Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Even though fantasy drafts are often won and lost in the middle and later rounds because depth is so crucial for a long season, the tone for your roster is set in the first round. 

The opening round is when every superstar is going to come off the board. There's plenty of depth at every position where there might be a few big names available after the top 12 players are taken, but for the most part, your best player is going to come in the opening round. 

Before you set your big board and head into the draft room to build your squad for 2021, here are some words of wisdom to help maximize the potential from your top pick.


2021 Fantasy Mock Draft First Round (Standard Head-to-Head Scoring)

1. Mookie Betts, OF (Los Angeles Dodgers)

2. Ronald Acuna Jr., OF (Atlanta Braves)

3. Mike Trout, OF (Los Angeles Angels) 

4. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS (San Diego Padres)

5. Juan Soto, OF (Washington Nationals)

6. Trea Turner, SS (Washington Nationals)

7. Trevor Story, SS (Colorado Rockies)

8. Gerrit Cole, SP (New York Yankees) 

9. Jose Ramirez, 3B (Cleveland)

10. Jacob deGrom, SP (New York Mets) 

11. Freddie Freeman, 1B (Atlanta Braves) 

12. Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF (Los Angeles Dodgers)


First-Round Strategy and Cheat-Sheet Information

There Are Two Options for the No. 1 Overall Pick

If you are fortunate enough to get the top pick in the draft, congratulations, because you have the opportunity to select Mookie Betts or Ronald Acuna Jr. 

As great as Mike Trout is, and as much fun as Fernando Tatis Jr. is, Betts and Acuna are the only two players you really need to consider at No. 1 overall. 

Acuna's fantasy ceiling is off the charts. In the last full MLB season two years ago, the Atlanta Braves star missed becoming the fifth member of the 40-40 club by three stolen bases. His batting average took a dip last season (.250), but he set career highs in on-base percentage (.406) and slugging percentage (.581).  

Betts had no problems adjusting to National League pitching in his first season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He finished second in NL MVP voting with a .292/.366/.562 slash line with 16 homers, 39 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 55 games. 

Ashley Landis/Associated Press

The only thing that could slightly depress the fantasy value for both players is their spot in the batting order. They both hit leadoff, which likely gives them fewer opportunities to drive in runs. But they also play for teams with loaded lineups that will allow them to score a ton of runs. 

By comparison, Trout doesn't look quite as good because the Los Angeles Angels don't have the infrastructure around him. Anthony Rendon will make it easier for him to score runs, but RBI opportunities will likely be few and far between. 

Tatis could easily elevate himself into the Betts-Acuna fantasy territory, but he isn't quite up there yet heading into his third full season. His rookie campaign was cut short due to injuries, but the 22-year-old did play in 59 of 60 regular-season games last year. 

As long as he stays healthy in 2021, he should have no problem being one of the three best fantasy players in MLB. 


Don't Be Frightened by Turner's Injury History

It's a testament to how good Trea Turner is when healthy that he has been worthy of a first-round selection for most of his career with the Washington Nationals. 

Last year was only the second time in five full MLB seasons that the 27-year-old didn't spend time on the injured list. He was also excellent with a .335/.394/.588 slash line, 12 homers, 41 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 59 games. 

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Even in the seasons when Turner has missed significant time due to injuries, he's put up numbers that most players can't get to in 162 games. Despite missing 64 games in 2017, he hit 11 homers, drove in 45 runs, stole 46 bases and scored 75 runs. 

During the 2019 season, he hit .298/.353/.497 with 19 homers, 57 RBI and 35 stolen bases in 122 games. 

If Turner can stay healthy for an entire season, he's a borderline MVP candidate in the National League. 


Beware the 2020 Career Year

Shane Bieber and Trevor Bauer won the Cy Young Award in their respective leagues last year, but neither player is included in our first-round mock draft. 

Both pitchers are certainly early-round fantasy selections, possibly as early as Round 2. When it comes to the first round, though, Jacob deGrom and Gerrit Cole are much safer bets because they have longer track records of elite-level performance. 

In order to properly evaluate Bieber and Bauer, it's probably best to focus more on what they did in 2019 than in 2020. A 60-game season is virtually impossible to determine what was real and what was a small-sample mirage. 

Bieber led MLB with a 1.63 ERA; Bauer was second at 1.73. They also had the highest strand rates in MLB. Bauer's .215 batting average on balls in play was 79 points lower than his career average, and he posted the lowest groundball rate of his career (34.3 percent). 

Consistency has never been a trait Bauer has displayed in the big leagues. His ERA totals over the past four seasons have been 4.19 (2017), 2.21 (2018), 4.48 (2019) and 1.73 (2020). 

Bieber does offer more certainty than Bauer by virtue of being five years younger and an All-Star two years ago, his first full season in the big leagues. The Cleveland ace had a 3.28 ERA with 259 strikeouts in 214.2 innings in 2019. 

Fantasy Pros has Bieber ranked as the No. 3 pitcher and a borderline first-round pick (No. 10 overall). Bauer is ranked fifth, with Yu Darvish of the San Diego Padres ahead of him. DeGrom and Cole are the only starters ahead of Bieber, which is justified because they have been elite for the past three years. 

If you're going to draft a starter in the first round, make it deGrom or Cole. If both of them are off the board, you can wait until the second round to start building your rotation.