Ace your draft with the safest first-round picks

This kid is the real deal, and he'll prove it again in 2020. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
This kid is the real deal, and he’ll prove it again in 2020. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

For better or worse, no portion of the fantasy draft goes under the microscope to the same degree as the first round does. Fantasy managers obsess over their initial selection, knowing that a bad pick in Rd.1 can sink an otherwise solid club. And with a fear of failure in mind, some will avoid most enticing options and instead focus on the foundational players who are the likeliest to meet expectations.

Among the top-12 average draft picks in Yahoo leagues (click here for full ADP), here are the safest options.

A team- and league-switch won’t cause any hiccups to this ultra-reliable option. Betts has played in more than 135 games in each of the past five seasons while also tallying at least 100 runs scored, 24 homers and 80 RBI in all of the past four campaigns. And with just one season remaining before he hits free agency, the 27-year-old will be highly motivated to flash his plus power and superior speed on a regular basis.

Despite opening 2019 on the IL, Lindor has missed a total of just 29 games the past four seasons. His power is well-established (three straight years with more than 30 homers), and he has averaged 20 steals across the past four campaigns. Although Lindor continues to pop up in trade rumors, he figures to either stay with the Indians or join a contending team with an even better lineup.

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With at least 39 homers in two of his three Major League seasons and a double-digit steals total in each campaign, Bellinger is already well-established as a diverse contributor. The slugger may not match his astonishing 2019 stats, but he was quite consistent monthly last year. And the addition of Betts should only help Bellinger to collect RBI.

Although some managers will be surprised to see Soto ahead of several veterans, his skillset is as solid as any on this list. The youngster has outstanding power skills (34 homers in 2019) and was successful in 12 of his 13 steal attempts last season. And his exceptional plate discipline (career 0.81 BB:K ratio) sets him apart from other young players in terms of reliability.

Ronald Acuna Jr., OF, Atlanta Braves

The consensus top pick in Yahoo drafts, Acuna has the multi-dimensional skill set that managers drool over. The 22-year-old also has youth on his side, and he is so good that he could reach 30-30 in a down year. Only a career 25.9 percent strikeout rate keeps Acuna from sitting atop spot this list.

Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

In terms of skillsets, Trout sits atop this group. Widely accepted as the best player of his generation and arguably the best of all time, the Millville Meteor is highly unlikely to experience an offensive fade during his age-28 season. The knock on Trout in fantasy circles comes from his recent lack of durability, which includes playing in 140 games or fewer in each of the past three campaigns. Additionally, the former speedster could preserve his legs by becoming even more passive on the basepaths.

Gerrit Cole, SP, New York Yankees

Cole is the lone first-round starter to receive my seal of approval. There are undoubtedly some concerns that stem from switching teams during the offseason and dealing with the newfound pressure of an enormous contract, but the 29-year-old was so absurdly good in two years with Houston (2.68 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 602 whiffs) that he should thrive anywhere.

Wondering who missed the list, and why? Here you go:

Christian Yelich (OF, Milwaukee Brewers)

If assessed purely on skill, Yelich would be near the top of this list, but managers cannot ignore the risk that comes with selecting a superstar who is recovering from a fractured kneecap.

Nolan Arenado (3B, Colorado Rockies)

Make no mistake about it: Arenado will be less productive if dealt to any of his rumored offseason suitors. The mere potential of relocation away from Coors Field pushes the 28-year-old off this list.

Jacob deGrom (SP, New York Mets)

deGrom has outstanding skills but is constantly battling his own teammates who tend to play subpar defense and have produced enough offense to earn their ace just 21 wins across the past two seasons. And starting a draft with a hurler tends to be a boom-or-bust decision.

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Justin Verlander (SP, Houston Astros)

Verlander is a generational talent and has been nothing short of amazing during his tenure with the Astros (42-15, 2.45 ERA, 0.84 WHIP), but managers must note the significant risk that comes with making a major investment in a starter who will be 37 by Opening Day.

Trea Turner (SS, Washington Nationals)

Turner has the potential to hit 25 homers and lead the Majors in steals, but he is arguably the biggest health risk in Rd. 1. After all, the 26-year-old has already amassed three career IL stints compared to just one season with at least 125 games played.

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