Compared to the landscape one year ago, figuring out the 2022 first round was an absolute breeze. With a full 162-game season about to be put into the rearview mirror, we have plenty of data to separate the best players in baseball from those who merely had productive stretches.
Yahoo managers are going to find my projected first round for 2022 a little bit pitcher-heavy, but I firmly believe that the lack of depth at the position right now makes baseball’s elite aces extremely valuable. While my order may change a bit over the winter, here’s how I see the first round right now.
1. Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS, Padres)
Tatis can be in one of two spots in your draft rankings: at the very top or the very bottom. The shortstop is clearly the No. 1 overall option when healthy, as his 2021 statistics pace out to roughly 50 homers, 30 steals and 240 R+RBI across a full season. But fantasy managers can’t ignore the fact that the 22-year-old had multiple left shoulder injuries this season and nothing was done to permanently fix the problem. Drafting Tatis in 2022 means making an investment in his shoulder more than his talent.
2. Trea Turner (SS/2B, Dodgers)
Turner is the most consistent foundational piece for the stolen bases category, having ranked among the top-5 in baseball in each of the past five seasons. And now that the career .301 hitter also has 20-plus homer power, he is the complete package to start off a fantasy roster. Turner has hit third since joining the Dodgers lineup, which gives him a chance to post a career-best RBI total next year.
3. Bo Bichette (SS, Blue Jays)
A five-category stud, Bichette is a terrific foundational piece for any fantasy roster. At 23 years old, the career .296 hitter still has the potential to improve on a 2021 that will include nearly 30 homers and 25 steals. For Bichette, the icing on the cake is his membership in an elite Blue Jays lineup. Hitting amongst George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez ensures massive counting stat totals.
4. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B, Blue Jays)
We rarely see one lineup produce a pair of top-5 picks, but the Blue Jays will pull that feat off next season. Guerrero proved every scout right this year, turning his potential status into production and making his case to be considered as baseball’s best pure hitter. Reminiscent of Miguel Cabrera, Guerrero should spend the next decade continually threatening to win the AL Triple Crown. Only a lack of base stealing ability keeps the 22-year-old from topping this list.
5. Juan Soto (OF, Nationals)
In my eyes, the case to be baseball’s best hitter has become a three-way conversation between Guerrero, Soto and Mike Trout. Soto could lead the Majors in batting average next year, but to move up these rankings he will need to establish himself as a 40-homer player, as his steals game is unlikely to make any further progress. The other negative surrounding Soto is not his fault — the rebuilding Nats will not deploy a 2022 lineup that matches the likes of the Blue Jays or Dodgers.
6. Corbin Burnes (SP, Brewers)
While I may change my mind over the winter, I can make a great case for Burnes as my No. 1 starter. The right-hander leads the Majors in K-BB%, which is an excellent stat for assessing hurlers. At age 26 with no significant injury history, he is as likely as any hurler to stay healthy in 2022. And after being handled with kid gloves this year, Burnes could produce 185 innings and 260 whiffs next season. Take one look at his 1.51 FIP and you’ll be ready to draft this stud in Round. 1.
7. Jacob deGrom (SP, Mets)
No one can argue that a healthy deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball. The right-hander was on his way to winning many managers their 2022 leagues when he was felled by a forearm injury after 15 starts. deGrom is the pitching version of Tatis — you can take him first overall if you believe he can match his 2021 success (1.08 ERA, 0.55 WHIP). And you can take him off your draft list completely if you believe that he will be sidelined at some point again in 2022.
8. Gerrit Cole (SP, Yankees)
I consider Cole to be the safest Round 1 pitcher for 2022. The right-hander has been among the ERA, WHIP and SO leaders during each of the past four seasons. He has conquered pitching in the Bronx and survived the crackdown on pitching substances. And Cole pitches for a team that will be somewhere between good and great next season. There is little downside here.
9. Shohei Ohtani (OF, Angels)
As a position player, this once-in-a-lifetime talent has the potential to rank among the homer and steals leaders next year. Only his inability to produce a high batting average keeps the career .265 hitter from placing higher on this list.
10. Walker Buehler (SP, Dodgers)
The Dodgers took the kid gloves off Buehler this season and the results were fantastic. The right-hander is competing with teammate Max Scherzer for the NL Cy Young award and will be one of just four pitchers to throw 200 innings. The 27-year-old’s only downside is that his strikeout rate doesn’t match that of the other pitchers on this list.
11. Max Scherzer (SP, Dodgers)
Based purely on skill, performance and durability, Scherzer should be the No. 1 pitcher for 2022. After all, the right-hander will likely win his fourth Cy Young award this season and has posted 2.73 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP since joining the National League in 2015. But I can’t ignore the fact that the 37-year-old is by far the oldest player in this article, which pushes him to the back end of the first round.
12. Jose Ramirez (3B, Indians)
From a power-speed perspective, Ramirez can match nearly every hitter on this list. And for that reason, the 29-year-old is a fine foundation piece at the end of Round 1. The downside of Ramirez is twofold. First, he has hit .268 since the outset of 2018. And second, his lineup support on the retooling Indians is unlikely to match that of players on contenders such as the Blue Jays and Dodgers.
Just Missed the List
Ronald Acuna Jr. (OF, Braves)
Acuna was on his way towards justifying his No. 1 overall 2021 draft slot before a torn ACL ended his season in July. I expect the outfielder to open 2022 on the IL, which will keep him out of the first round discussion. Additionally, we don’t yet know if Acuna will have the same speed after undergoing surgery.
Mookie Betts (OF, Dodgers)
Betts struggled this season, but I wouldn’t argue with anyone who wanted to draft him in the first round. After all, even a down year from the outfielder has included a solid .856 OPS.
Mike Trout (OF, Angels)
Trout may still be the best hitter in baseball, but he last played in more than 140 games way back in 2016 and appeared in just 36 contests this year. Also, the Millville Meteor no long chooses to regularly steal bases. Getting someone like Trout or Betts in Round 2 certainly feels like a great plan.