Fantasy Baseball: Ranking the safety of every first-round draft pick

Every fantasy manager frets over their first-round pick more than they likely should, and I’m no exception. After all, the impact of making the wrong choice with your greatest investment is difficult to ignore.

Those who want to make sure they leave the first round with the safest superstar they can find should reorder their draft queue to the rankings below.

1. Trea Turner (SS, Philadelphia Phillies)

Turner has been a rock-solid fantasy contributor the past five seasons. The career .302 hitter can carry a fantasy squad in the batting average category while exceeding the 20-homer plateau, scoring 100 runs and placing among the MLB steals leaders. Relocating from the Dodgers to the Phillies is an upgrade in terms of home park for the 29-year-old, and his new lineup should provide a reasonable facsimile to the one he is leaving.

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2. José Ramírez (3B, Cleveland Guardians)

Ramírez gives Turner a run for his money in terms of safety, having ranked among the league leaders in homers, runs, RBIs and steals the past three seasons. He has been a fantasy star for most of the past six years, as his only hiccup was a mediocre performance in 2019. At age 30, Ramírez is primed for another excellent season as the centerpiece of Cleveland’s solid lineup.

3. Freddie Freeman (1B, Los Angeles Dodgers)

A career .298 hitter who has batted over .300 in six of the past seven years, Freeman is arguably the safest source of batting average in the first round. As the centerpiece of a Dodgers lineup that always scores plenty of runs, he should reach the century mark in runs scored and RBIs. Freeman’s homer totals tend to bounce between acceptable and great, which is the only thing that keeps the 33-year-old from topping this list.

4. Kyle Tucker (OF, Houston Astros)

Tucker offers a great combination of a high floor and ceiling. At age 26, he is still young enough to take a step forward. And with 60 homers and 39 steals the past two seasons, he has established a trustworthy foundation of providing an elite power-speed combination. Tucker spent most of last season batting fifth or sixth in the lineup, but sliding into a premium spot could really boost his ceiling.

5. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B, Toronto Blue Jays)

Guerrero Jr. showed last year that even his disappointing stat lines are pretty good when he hit .274 with 32 homers, 97 RBIs and 90 runs scored. These numbers should serve as the presumed floor for the 23-year-old going forward, as he will log many campaigns that more resemble his 2021 season (48 HR, 111 RBIs, 123 R, .311 BA). I can see the rationale for ignoring Guerrero in the first few selections, but he is a rock-solid option in the second half of Round 1.

6. Mookie Betts (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)

Betts was terrific last season, when he accumulated 35 homers, 82 RBIs and 117 runs scored. And as Yahoo colleague Scott Pianowski has commented on Betts over the years, even his worst seasons are pretty valuable from a fantasy perspective. Betts no longer swipes bags regularly enough to be a factor in the initial eight or 10 picks, but he is a high-floor option near the Round 1-2 turn.

7. Aaron Judge (OF, New York Yankees)

After hitting .311 with 62 homers, 131 RBIs and 133 runs scored last season, Judge warrants consideration as the No. 1 overall pick. But the imposing slugger remains a greater injury risk than the players who've preceded him in this article, as he missed 142 games in the 2018 through 2020 seasons before establishing an improved durability baseline the past two years.

8. Shohei Ohtani (UTIL, Los Angeles Angels)

Ohtani has shown undeniable skills as a hitter, having produced 80 homers, 193 runs scored, 195 RBIs and 37 steals the past two seasons. And by coming to the plate in all but nine contests across those two years, he has proven that he is capable of being a reliable fantasy star while working out of the rotation. But Ohtani will always come with the risk that an injury on the mound could cause him to miss some starts as the Angels' designated hitter.

9. Juan Soto (OF, San Diego Padres)

Seemingly one of the safest options a year ago, Soto now carries an element of risk. The southpaw slugger performed below expectations for the Nats in 2022 before bottoming out as a member of the Padres and finishing the campaign with an .853 OPS that was by far the worst of his five-year career. I expect Soto to bounce back in his age-24 season, but I can’t move him higher on this list until he returns to form.

[2023 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP]

10. Julio Rodríguez (OF, Seattle Mariners)

Rodríguez has a sky-high ceiling, but he also has just one year of MLB experience and therefore cannot find his name any higher on this list of MLB superstars. Additionally, the youngster’s rookie season included some highs and lows, such as a .544 OPS in April and a .701 OPS in August. Finally, Rodríguez is known as a speedster but swiped just six bases after July 1 last year.

11. Ronald Acuña Jr. (OF, Atlanta Braves)

Full disclosure: Acuña Jr. is my No. 1 overall player for 2023. I’m willing to look past his warts and grab him as my roster anchor, but I also have to acknowledge that there are significant reasons for concern after he struggled with knee soreness following his April 28, 2022, return from a torn ACL. I expect the 25-year-old to return to being a dominant power-speed asset this year, but I can’t guarantee that it will happen.

12. Yordan Álvarez (OF, Houston Astros)

Álvarez slid down to the bottom of this list when he reported some hand soreness in the initial days of spring training. The ailment raises red flags due to the fact that Álvarez dealt with the same issue last August, when he slumped to a .638 OPS across 23 games. The lefty slugger also played in just two games during the 2020 season and missed a total of 45 contests the past two campaigns.