Musings on Drafting in the Early Rounds

Missing on an early-round pick is one of the surest ways to ruin your fantasy season. Owners who wound up with Ryan Braun or Joey Votto last season probably had to get creative during the season in order to remain competitive in their leagues. While missing on a pick can be devastating, the first couple rounds of a draft are rarely stressful for the prepared owner. You have an idea of which players will be on the board when you pick, and it’s not too difficult to make a list of the top-20 players in your league. Even if you do that, different strategies may force you to change your mind. So, how do you prepare for the first few rounds of your draft?

First off, every fantasy owner should probably make a list of the top 20-24 players. Rank at least as many players to get you through the first two rounds of your draft. It’s not difficult, and it’s an easy way to just look down and know who you like the most. Make those decisions at the time you write the list and stick with it. You can rank more players, but I find that round three might be an acceptable time to start drafting based on your current needs.

What I mean by that is, during the first two rounds, I generally take the best player available. Maybe that seems obvious, but there are certain owners who will employ different strategies early. Going for position scarcity is always a popular option, and could lead owners to go with a third baseman even though there are some strong first basemen still on the board. As far as early strategies, that’s kind of it. Some owner will take Clayton Kershaw in the first round, and will need to figure out how to adjust after missing out on a hitter, but that’s about the variety you’ll get early.

Now, the reason I tend not to buy into position scarcity is because I don’t like the idea of passing on a better player in favor of a shallower position. If you trust your rankings and projections, you should want to grab the most points you can early, right? That’s why I tend to take a best player available strategy.

This, of course, can lead to issues. I attempted this strategy last year, and found one main issue with it. What do you do when the best player available in both of the first two rounds plays the same position. In other words, you drafted a first baseman in round one, and the best player available in round two is also a first baseman. In leagues that employ a CI spot, this is easier to take, but what about in leagues that only use a UTIL. Is this too early? Is it worth it? Should you just take a player at another position knowing you probably won’t see a big drop-off?

Last year, I took the plunge, and had mixed results. In the first round of my draft, I snagged Edwin Encarnacion with the eighth pick. In the second round, Joey Votto was the highest player on my board. I snapped him up, and immediately filled my UTIL spot. In the end, I won the league, but not because of Votto. So, this was an instance of a good result, but an iffy process.

The truth is, I don’t know if my process was wrong here. And, considering the state of the end of the first round/early second round this season, I can see myself put into the same situation again. Maybe this time Jose Abreu is my first round pick, and someone like Encarnacion or Anthony Rizzo is there in the second round. The scenario could also work at third base depending on how highly you value Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon and Adrian Beltre.

What exactly are the repercussions of this type of move? Well, you’re going to miss out on a strong player at another position. Probably first, third or outfield depending on the highly ranked players this year. First and outfield are generally thought to be positions where you can get value later, so maybe it’s not all that bad. Third base is a completely different situation.

As far as how it impacts your league-mates, that depends. Again, first base is usually fairly deep, so owners probably aren’t going to panic all that much if you grab two early. Third base, though, might send owners into a tizzy. It could force someone to take the next third baseman much higher than normal knowing two elite guys are gone.

Alright, so let’s say things didn’t work out. Maybe your team got off to a slow start, and you need to make a move to stay competitive. You have what should be an elite hitter just taking up your UTIL spot. And while it’s not idea to have to trade your second round pick, I find it’s easier to pick up hitters during the season. This is mainly because hitting is easier to project and more dependable. And since it’s only the UTIL spot, it doesn’t matter what position your free-agent hitter plays. No one wants to be in this situation, but at least you have a piece that can get you enough value to get back into the race.

In the end, I think I would make the move again. It’s a very specific scenario, sure, but I like the potential reward over the risks. It’s generally thought that fantasy owners shouldn’t fill their UTIL spots so early, so I’ll turn it to you, the reader. How do you approach the first two rounds? Do you go best player available, or consider positions? Would you take two players from the same position in the first two rounds? Am I crazy?

We hoped you liked reading Musings on Drafting in the Early Rounds by Chris Cwik!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs

Chris is a blogger for He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

newest oldest most voted
Chad Lewis
Chad Lewis

I’ve never worried about filling my UTIL spot early. Their stats count the same. I’m not sure why I should pass up someone I like more, that I can start every day, for someone I like less… just because they slot into a UTIL spot? I get the counter argument, that I can’t use a hot FA hitter there. Wouldn’t the response be that it’s nice that I’m starting a hitter everyday that is better then a hot FA hitter? I don’t know. I’m just not sure why it matters. BPA in the first few rounds for me.

Tramps Like Us
Tramps Like Us

It might not matter…but I’ve missed out on good values late in drafts simply because I didn’t have an opening for the player in my lineup. Flexibility is a good thing to have!


I like to fill the UTIL slot really, really late, with the assumption that some interesting player will become available in free agency at some point during the season and I want to be able to capitalize.