In 2013, when 10 intrepid members of the ESPN fantasy staff decided to start up a fantasy baseball dynasty league, I opted to select Jose Altuve in Round 5. This pick resulted in a heaping helping of snickering and ridicule when it was made. After all, the Houston second baseman was coming off a fairly lackluster second season in the majors, with a not-so-exciting second-half stat line of a .274 batting average, 2 homers, 10 RBIs and 18 stolen bases.
As we get ready for the 2018 season, I'm the only one laughing. Altuve has won four consecutive Silver Slugger awards, has stolen 30-plus bases in six straight seasons and is the proud recipient of the 2017 AL MVP. So, what kind of sorcery helped me to see what my colleagues didn't? It's actually not that complicated.
When you're looking to draft a team for a one-and-done league where you throw back all (or nearly all) players into the pool each and every October, all you need to do is come up with a system to properly determine fantasy value for the upcoming season. In a dynasty format, however, your best course of action is to factor in each player's age in order to add a factor of longevity, but without leaning too heavily on the future. After all, the vast majority of "can't-miss rookies" actually do miss, and you don't want to sacrifice your chances of winning today for the promise of winning tomorrow that might never be realized.
To that end, I've compiled a list of five players, age 25 or under, who are currently being taken (on average) in Round 3 or later of ESPN drafts, who have the best chance of joining the likes of Altuve, Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado, Mookie Betts and Bryce Harper as top-10 pick mainstays -- perhaps as soon as 2019. Don't be afraid to grab these guys well ahead of their ADP. Even if they don't quite peak as high in 2018 as we might hope, their futures are still looking very bright.
Jose Ramirez, 2B, Cleveland Indians (ADP: 24.8): Ramirez is currently the No. 2 2B being taken off the board, well behind Altuve and in a mini-tier with Brian Dozier and Dee Gordon. Maybe the power surge from 11 HRs in 2016 to 29 in 2017 was a mirage, but the only real difference between the two years in terms of underlying stats were better hard-hit and pull percentages. That seems to me to be more a function of increased experience, rather than luck. I'm buying in.
Cody Bellinger, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP: 27.5): In a dynasty league, he'd be my first 1B off the board -- yes, even ahead of Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo. Sure, recommending the NL Rookie of the Year may seem too obvious, but in part because of the position he plays, he's going a full round after his AL Rookie of the Year counterpart, Aaron Judge. Quite frankly, given what I feel is a much greater risk of Judge going into a prolonged slump, I'd much rather take my chances with 22-year-old Bellinger.
Rhys Hoskins, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies (ADP: 52.6): In a re-draft league, it's a close call as to whether I trust Hoskins and his 170 career at-bats to be included in my top 10 at first base. However, when you factor in his age (25), and the fact he calls Citizens Bank Park -- far and away the best stadium for home runs last season -- his home, along with an OBP of .396, and I'd give him a very realistic chance at finishing in the top five at his position in 2018. He's got far more years in his prime ahead of himself than most of his 1B peers, which makes him an intriguing inclusion on this list.
Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox (ADP: 126.0): There's an absolute hard line between the top three 3B -- Arenado, Manny Machado and Kris Bryant -- and the rest of the position. In a start-up dynasty draft, however, Devers would be the next hot corner resident on my list. He hit 30 HRs last season, across three levels of play, and that's not including the pair of round-trippers he swatted in the ALDS against the Astros. Potentially batting between J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts could well yield you sixth-round value from a 21-year-old you might be able to keep on your roster for the next decade.
Ozzie Albies, 2B, Atlanta Braves (ADP: 160.1): Brandon Phillips didn't fall on his face for the Braves last season, which kept Albies at Triple-A until August. Although he started slowly, over the final 28 games of the season, Albies hit .301 with 4 HR, 16 RBI and 6 SB. Given his 30-SB potential and a projected No. 2 spot in the batting order ahead of Freddie Freeman, I wouldn't be surprised to see him generate top-five value at second base in 2018. Maybe he's not going to have Trea Turner-sized buzz surrounding him, but I think he very well could end up in the same neighborhood on the Player Rater if everything falls just right.