Major League Baseball will soon take center stage and welcome back fans after a 60-game schedule in 2020 left them craving more.
Before Opening Day rolls around April 1, it's time to take a look at which players are worth betting big on in fantasy this year. Last season's small sample size may not have been enough to make sweeping judgments about the league, but it did show who is ready to take the next step, who remains on top and who is trending downward.
Here's a look at which players to target—and some to avoid—when queuing up your draft board ahead of this season.
10-Team 1st-Round Fantasy Mock Draft
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
2. Mookie Betts, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
3. Juan Soto, OF, Washington Nationals
4. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, San Diego Padres
5. Jacob deGrom, SP, New York Mets
6. Ronald Acuna Jr., OF, Atlanta Braves
7. Gerrit Cole, SP, New York Yankees
8. Jose Ramirez, 1B, Cleveland
9. Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies
10. Cody Bellinger, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers
It's impossible to imagine not drafting Mike Trout No. 1 overall in most years. It's unfathomable not to take him with the first pick in 2021.
Trout has more support around him in the Los Angeles Angels lineup than ever before. A lineup bolstered last offseason by Anthony Rendon's addition now features a healthy Shohei Ohtani, a highly touted prospect in Jo Adell, a consistent bat in Justin Upton and a future Hall of Famer in Albert Pujols.
There won't be many opportunities for opponents to pitch around Trout this year. That leaves the generational talent in a prime position to put together another MVP-caliber season. The only question is whether crosstown rival Mookie Betts will join him in adding some individual hardware in 2021.
1st Baseman Rankings
1. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
3. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
4. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
5. Pete Alonso, New York Mets
6. Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals
7. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
8. Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics
9. Luke Voit, New York Mets
10. Eric Hosmer, San Diego
2nd Baseman Rankings
1. DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees
2. Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays
3. Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals
4. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
5. Cavan Biggio, Toronto Blue Jays
6. Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves
7. Nick Madrigal, Chicago White Sox
8. Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks
9. Keston Hiura, Milwaukee Brewers
10. Chris Taylor, Los Angeles Dodgers
Brandon Lowe generated some serious MVP buzz during the pandemic-shorted 2020 season before falling off in early September. He's one of the best hitters on the American League champions, and the Tampa Bay Rays will be relying on him to provide power in the middle of a lineup that will believe it can win the AL East title again this year.
That should put him ahead of DJ LeMahieu, but the New York Yankees infielder has been too consistent for too long to consider moving him down. In 50 games last year, the 32-year-old slashed .364/.421/.590 with 10 home runs. A full season of that will have him right back in the AL MVP conversation after finishing third last year.
As for the first basemen, Jose Abreu and Freddie Freeman represent the two reigning MVPs, Cody Bellinger won NL MVP in 2019 and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could end up leading the league in home runs this season. There are few bad decisions to make here.
3rd Baseman Rankings
1. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland
2. Manny Machado, San Diego Padres
3. Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels
4. Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
5. Nolan Arenado, St. Louis Cardinals
6. Yoan Moncada, Chicago White Sox
7. Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox
8. Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics
9. Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
10. Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds
1. Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres
2. Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
3. Trea Turner, Washington Nationals
4. Francisco Lindor, New York Mets
5. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
6. Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox
7. Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
8. Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
9. Bo Bichette, Toronto Blue Jays
10. Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
Jose Ramirez is going to hit a lot of home runs in Cleveland this year. If that's the type of thing that interests you in a fantasy player, go ahead and draft him. If you need a bit more convincing, just know he finished second in MVP voting behind Abreu, batted nearly .300 on balls in play in 2020 and struck out in just 16.9 percent of his plate appearances. You want him on your team.
If Ramirez isn't available, however, don't sweat. Manny Machado, Alex Bregman, Nolan Arenado and Rendon can essentially pencil themselves in for the All-Star Game.
The most interesting players here are the two men at the hot corner in Chicago.
Kris Bryant is finally in a contract year after a bit of service time manipulation and is playing for his next paycheck. If the former MVP is going to return to form, now would be the time. A few miles south of Wrigley Field, Yoan Moncada is ready to help lead the White Sox back to the playoffs after struggling with lingering symptoms from COVID-19 last year.
Moncada had trouble catching his breath and mentioned repeatedly that his legs didn't feel right in 2020. He told The Athletic's James Fegan he's healthy now and playing at his best. If so, he could be a steal in the middle rounds for a lucky fantasy manager.
1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
2. Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers
3. Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
4. Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
5. Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros
6. Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox
7. Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta Braves
8. George Springer, Toronto Blue Jays
9. Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
10. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
1. J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies
2. Yasmani Grandal, Chicago White Sox
3. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
4. Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs
5. Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
6. Will Smith, Los Angeles Dodgers
7. Sean Murphy, Oakland Athletics
8. James McCann, New York Mets
9. Austin Nola, San Diego Padres
10. Christian Vazquez, Boston Red Sox
After Yasmani Grandal and J.T. Realmuto, the talent at catcher isn't anything to get excited about. If you have a chance to grab either of the top two here, don't hesitate to do so.
This won't be the position that makes or breaks a fantasy season. Especially considering Sean Murphy, James McCann and Christian Vazquez are just as likely to go on slugging sprees as they are to endure some ruthless slumps.
The better play is to reach for outfield talent early, even if the top five are already off the board—which they likely will be unless you have a top pick.
Don't over think this one. Aaron Judge, Christian Yelich and George Springer are all elite players and will more than likely put you in prime position to rack up runs. Luis Robert and Kyle Tucker have the potential to become superstars and are starting to put it all together. Juan Soto may end up as the best player of this generation.
There are too many options on the table here to panic.
Starting Pitcher Rankings
1. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
2. Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
3. Shane Bieber, Cleveland
4. Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers
5. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
6. Trevor Bauer, Los Angeles Dodgers
7. Yu Darvish, San Diego Padres
8. Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox
9. Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals
10. Tyler Glasnow, Tampa Bay Rays
Relief Pitcher Rankings
1. Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox
2. Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
3. Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels
4. Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
5. Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
6. Brad Hand, Washington Nationals
7. James Karinchak, Cleveland
8. Devin Williams, Milwaukee Brewers
9. Alex Colome, Minnesota Twins
10. Nick Anderson, Tampa Bay Rays
It might be simple, but when in doubt over drafting arms, take the one who plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Diego Padres.
The 2021 offseason featured a chaotic arms race between the NL West rivals, with Los Angeles adding 2020 Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer to a rotation containing Cy Young contenders Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Luis Urias. The Padres retaliated by grabbing Yu Darvish from the Cubs and Blake Snell from Tampa Bay to go with Joe Musgrove, Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack.
And that doesn't even begin to cover the bullpen in each city.
Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon, Emilio Pagan, Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, Joe Kelly and Corey Knebel could duel each other for innings on end.
If your fantasy pitching staff looks anything like an all-West Coast affair, something has gone right for you in your draft.