FROM A TO ZINKIE: Projecting the first round of 2019 drafts

I’ll admit it: looking ahead to the first round of the upcoming season is one of my favorite exercises. So I was very excited when Brent and Ray gave me the go-ahead to detail my 2019 first-round rankings in the final 2018 installment of From A to Zinkie. I hope that this column has given readers a number of valuable tips this season, and I greatly appreciate all of the comments and feedback I received throughout the past few months. And while I’m sure I will change my mind once or twice (or 10 times), here is my preliminary ranking of the Top 15 players for 2019 drafts:

1. Mookie Betts (OF, BOS) is my top pick, and please believe me that I am not trying to be provocative by ranking him ahead of Mike Trout (OF, LAA). Betts will head into 2019 having outperformed Trout in two of the past three seasons, but that is only a small part of the equation in my eyes. Lineup support is a major factor in this ranking, as the Red Sox project to have a dominant offensive group once again next season, while the Angels will be an unremarkable bunch if they don’t make some significant additions. I expect Betts to hit over .300, lead the majors in runs scored, and post a 30-30 season in 2019.

2. That’s right... two players ahead of Trout! Jose Ramirez (3B, CLE) could finish this year as the No. 1 overall fantasy asset, and he should be a Top 3 pick next year no matter how he fares in the season’s final weeks. The 25-year-old will lose his middle infield eligibility next season, but he joins Trout as the players with the best chance of enjoying a 40-30-.300 campaign. He also hits in an elite lineup that will return most of its key pieces, which is a major factor in this ranking.

3. Although I put Betts and Ramirez ahead of Mike Trout (OF, LAA), I can’t drop this incredible skill set any further. And for those who want to pick on this ranking, I am fully in the camp that Trout is the best offensive player in baseball. I would have Trout light years in front of every other player if he was a member of the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros etc., but he seems destined to toil in a mediocre lineup against next year. Still, owners will be ecstatic to select someone who should hit .300 with roughly 40 homers and 30 steals.

4. J.D. Martinez (OF, BOS) has emerged as arguably the top power hitter in baseball. This dude crushes the baseball, regularly ranking among the Major League leaders in hard-contact rate. And his hard-hitting approach works in two ways, as it ensures a lofty homer total and also a .300 average. Like Betts, Martinez benefits greatly from the counting-stat expectations that come along with hitting in baseball’s most productive lineup. While there are certainly a number of contenders, he is likely the odds-on favorite to lead the majors next year in homers and RBI.

5. Putting Francisco Lindor (SS, CLE) in my Top 5 means that just three lineups contribute all of the Top 5 assets. Like his teammate Ramirez, the shortstop is going to post career highs in all four counting-stat categories this year while also supplying a high batting mark. Lindor has yet to spend any time on the disabled list, and should just be entering his prime during his age-25 season. And although I feel slightly safer with the idea of selecting Martinez than Lindor, I could easily switch the two on the basis that grabbing a speedy shortstop in Round 1 is more attractive than tabbing an slugging outfielder.

6. Jose Altuve (2B, HOU) is going to be a tough player to rank next season. The diminutive second baseman went into 2018 with the label of baseball’s most stable superstar after posting several spectacular seasons without ever setting foot on the disabled list. But everything trended in the wrong direction this year, as his per-game production tailed off and he finally succumbed to an injury. No one will debate Altuve’s ability to post a batting average in the neighborhood of .330, but there will be considerable consternation about whether or not he is a 15 or 25-homer player and a 20 or 30-steals contributor. And the conclusions drawn by individual rankers will determine whether he is plucked in first or second half of Round 1.

7. Max Scherzer (RHP, WAS) continues to win his duel with Father Time, as the 34-year-old could post career-best marks this year in ERA and WHIP. And trust me when I say that I had a major pause before putting a starter who will turn 35 shortly after the 2019 All-Star break in my first round. But Scherzer has earned this lofty ranking on the basis of having produced a sub-3.00 ERA, a sub-1.00 WHIP, and more than 250 whiffs in each of his four seasons with the Nats. Once the top hitters are off the board, I will take a chance that he has one more game-changing year in his right arm.

8. Chris Sale (LHP, BOS) was going to be the top starter on my list until a pair of DL stints dropped him behind Scherzer. On a per-start basis, the southpaw has been the best pitcher in baseball this year, posting obscene ratios (1.97 ERA, 0.85 WHIP) and averaging 9.5 whiffs per outing. And by combining his skills with a high-scoring Red Sox lineup, the perfect recipe emerges for a high win total. But the obvious concern with Sale is injuries, as he has twice landed on the DL this year. Still, he was injury free during 2016-17, and he won’t turn 30 until the outset of next season.

9. Trea Turner (SS, WAS) has fallen somewhat short of expectations this year, but maintains a lofty ranking due to the further decline of steals across the majors. In short, the speedster’s ability to collect somewhere between 40-50 swipes is even more valuable right now than it was two years ago. And Turner is far from a one-trick pony, as he possesses 20-homer power and the potential to score 100 runs. I’m also expecting a batting average somewhere in the range of .285.

10. Nolan Arenado (3B, COL) can make a strong case for being the safest pick on this list. After all, the 27-year-old is in his prime and is on a four-year stretch of hitting around .300 while ranking among the Major League leaders in homers and RBI. If I wanted to nitpick with Arenado, I would point out that he is likely going to fall short of the 40-homer plateau for a second straight season, is not going to match his previous RBI totals this year, and contributes virtually no steals. But all of these shortcomings pale in comparison to the attractiveness of landing such a skilled power hitter who plays half his games at Coors Field and was last on the DL in 2014.

11. Manny Machado (SS, LA) is heading into free agency on a high note, as he will post a career-best OPS this season. On pace to post a homer total of at least 33 for a fourth straight year, the 26-year-old is ultra-reliable from a power perspective. And while his batting average fluctuates a little bit more, he is a career .283 hitter who should finish over .290 twice from 2016-2018. His major price tag should ensure that Machado signs on with a contending team, which will ensure triple-digit projections in RBI and runs scored for 2019.

12. Bryce Harper (OF, WAS) feels like the hardest Round 1 player to rank every season. His career has thus far been a roller-coaster ride, with scorching stretches mixed in with maddening cold spells and the occasional injury. To put his inconsistency in its simplest terms, the slugger has hit at least .319 in two of the past four seasons and may bat under .250 in the other two campaigns. But his power skills are less in doubt, and looming free agency should guarantee that he is part of a quality lineup next year. After all, also-ran teams are unlikely to put out the kind of money that will be required to lock up the 25-year-old for the better part of the next decade.

13. Giancarlo Stanton (OF, NYY) hasn’t met lofty expectations for his first season in the Big Apple, but he is still having an excellent year that will include nearly 40 homers, 100 RBI, and a respectable batting average. Still, more was expected from someone who tallied 59 long balls and drove in 132 runs without the benefit of a hitter-friendly home park in 2017. Stanton has trended in the wrong direction this year in terms of plate discipline and fly-ball rate, and those concerning trends cannot be ignored. Still, the relatively high floor and sky-high ceiling makes Stanton a solid choice at the back end of Round 1.

14. Alex Bregman (3B, HOU) is developing nicely into a fantasy stud. In fact, his rapid growth has already pushed him ahead of fellow Astros infielder Carlos Correa (SS, HOU). No matter how he wraps up his excellent 2018 season, Bregman is likely going to be projected by yours truly for something in the range of 30 homers, 100 RBI, 100 runs scored, 15 steals, and a .290 average. Not a bad way to start your team if you pick near the end of Round 1, as you can pair his five-category dominance with an ace starter, a stud power hitter, or another multi-dimensional offensive player.

15. Trevor Story (SS, COL) has rocketed into my 2019 first round in recent weeks. The slugger is somewhat a product of Coors Field, as his OPS at home this year dwarfs his mark on the road. But I don’t see any reason to believe that he will play for a team other than Colorado next season, which ensures that his venue-dependent success will remain a feature rather than a bug. Story has made strides with his strikeout rate this year, and while his plate discipline will never make him remind anyone of Joey Votto (1B, CIN), he is making enough contact to produce 30 homers and drive in 100 runs. And his newfound base-stealing prowess makes me willing to project a 20-swipe season.


And as an added bonus, here are my picks for Round 2 (in no particular order):

Javier Baez (2B, CHC), Jacob deGrom (RHP, NYM), Corey Kluber (RHP, CLE), Aaron Judge (OF, NYY), Charlie Blackmon (OF, COL), Andrew Benintendi (OF, BOS), Paul Goldschmidt (1B, ARI), Gerrit Cole (RHP, HOU), Freddie Freeman (1B, ATL), Starling Marte (OF, PIT), Aaron Nola (RHP, PHI), Trevor Bauer (RHP, CLE), Clayton Kershaw (LHP, LA), Christian Yelich (OF, MIL), Ronald Acuna (OF, ATL).

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.