It’s time, once again, for another season of baseball, so it’s time, once again, to build the most fun fantasy team fake money can buy. After Robert Mays began this exercise for fantasy football, we’ve applied the idea to baseball for two years now, and to impressive results: Last year, this team would have won leagues with a lineup that included Rhys Hoskins, Javier Báez, Francisco Lindor, Adrián Beltré, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Joey Gallo, Ozzie Albies, and Ronald Acuña Jr.
As always, we’re aiming to build a team that can both compete in fantasy categories and supply a giant helping of fun besides—so home runs, steals, and (for pitchers) strikeouts are at a premium, and a high ceiling is more important than a respectable floor. (All dollar prices represent the average auction value in Yahoo drafts, and we’ll use the standard Yahoo roster size for a head-to-head league.)
C: Willians Astudillo, Minnesota ($2)
As a person writing about baseball online, I’m contractually obligated to start any list that involves a “most fun” component with Astudillo, the internet sensation who creates new highlights every time he hits, runs, and fields. He’s more than mere meme, though; Astudillo can hit, too, and projects as a top-five catcher by OPS this season. He’s a goshdarn baseball delight. All he needs is a place to play in Minnesota’s crowded lineup.
1B: Luke Voit, Yankees ($2)
One theme of this year’s team is novelties. Including Voit, five members have been traded since last July, and the full group’s average age is just 25.2, with only two players in their 30s. Voit is on the older side of that group, as he didn’t reach the majors until he was 26, but he displayed tantalizing potential down the stretch with New York after an under-the-radar midseason trade from the Cardinals. His rate of 14 homers in 132 at-bats is unsustainable by itself, but Voit’s overall production might not have been a fluke: Baseball Prospectus’s new advanced batting metric, DRC+, rated Voit as the fourth-best hitter in baseball last year, behind only Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and J.D. Martinez.
2B: Jurickson Profar, Oakland ($5)
Profar was the no. 1 prospect in baseball so long ago that it’s hard to remember he’s only 26 years old. His career careened off course after he missed all of the 2014 season and all of 2015 due to injury, yet he broke out last year by posting a better-than-average batting line in Texas and completing a 20-homer, 10-steal campaign. Now he’s in Oakland, where he’ll play every day in a potent offense and should continue to amass copious counting stats for a baseball public that’s been waiting for this kind of production for a while.
SS: Francisco Lindor, Cleveland ($36)
For the third year in a row, Lindor easily qualifies for this team. The sport is full of dazzling shortstops at the moment, but none combine a bat, glove, and effervescent personality quite like Cleveland’s star.
3B: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto ($22)
Which member of the Most Fun Fantasy Team will inspire more conversation on Baseball Twitter this year: Astudillo or young Vlad? Once he surmounts obstacles like a minor quad injury and the Blue Jays’ service-time shenanigans, Vlad will receive a promotion to the majors and then he presumably won’t stop bashing homers for a decade or two.
OF: Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta ($41); Aaron Judge, Yankees ($38); Joey Gallo, Texas ($12)
The splurge for higher-priced players extends to the outfield, where Acuña, Judge, and Gallo all return to the Most Fun Fantasy Team for a second consecutive season. And why not? All three remain must-watch hitters in every at-bat for the majestic highlights they can produce. Acuña adds speed to a team that could use some more (at least until we reach the next player on the roster), while these three outfielders are a threat to bash 120 combined homers.
UT: Adalberto Mondesi, Kansas City ($19); Eloy Jimenez, White Sox ($10)
Unlike those outfielders, these two young players are new to the team and serve as most welcome additions. Mondesi hit 11 homers and stole 24 bases in August and September alone, and on a Royals team that looks poised to run more than any in recent history, Mondesi should receive plenty of opportunity to try to extrapolate those numbers over 162 games.
Jimenez, meanwhile, was set to start the season in the minors due to egregious service-time manipulation, but after signing an extension earlier this week, he’ll be hitting in the heart of Chicago’s order on Opening Day. If not for Guerrero, he’d be the most anticipated hitting prospect who will reach the majors this year—so why not combine his and Guerrero’s powers in one fantasy lineup?
SP: Walker Buehler, Dodgers ($24); German Márquez, Colorado ($12)
Buehler probably would not have made this team were it not for his 2018 playoff run, but, well, did you watch his 2018 playoff run? The 24-year-old Dodger might be L.A.’s best pitcher now that Clayton Kershaw is suffering more frequent injuries, and he could contend for this year’s Cy Young Award as he builds on an electric rookie campaign.
Division rival Márquez, meanwhile, managed the following line in his final 13 starts last season: 88 innings, 2.25 ERA, 12.1 K/9 vs. 1.7 BB/9, .204 batting average allowed. He was easily a top-10 overall pitcher down the stretch—as, too, was Buehler—and while selecting a Coors Field pitcher is always a risky fantasy proposition, a proven high-strikeout arm like Márquez might just be positioned to succeed despite his surroundings.
RP: Sean Doolittle, Washington ($10); Jordan Hicks, St. Louis ($3)
Doolittle returns to the team as the first relief pitcher. He provides an ideal balance of effective closing experience and shrewd Twitter commentary. Hicks, meanwhile, averages 101 miles per hour with his fastball. He hit 105 last year. He could close games in St. Louis, and, regardless, his velocity makes him an easy choice for this team.
Utility P: Yu Darvish, Cubs ($6); Tyler Glasnow, Tampa Bay ($3); Nathan Eovaldi, Boston ($2); Josh James, Houston ($1)
After a forgettable 2018 season marred by injury and poor performance, Darvish looks underpriced for a pitcher who had been a prized fantasy—and real-life—pitcher every year of his career before then, and who is a prime bounce-back candidate this year. He’s this team’s elder statesman, at 32 years old (one month older than Doolittle), but there’s sufficient upside to incentivize gambling on his health.
Glasnow joins him in the rotation because of a promising two-month stint in St. Petersburg following last July’s Chris Archer trade. A post-hype prospect like Profar, Glasnow never mastered consistency in Pittsburgh, but he struck out 28.8 percent of hitters after being moved to the Rays rotation, which slots him just behind Corey Kluber, Aaron Nola, Jack Flaherty, and Rich Hill in that span.
Speaking of long-limbed, hard-throwing right-handers, Eovaldi makes this team as well, as Glasnow’s spiritual older brother. The World Series hero re-signed with the Red Sox this offseason, and his stretch of unprecedented success in Boston even before crafting his October legacy makes him a worthwhile bet—especially at this price—to produce over the full 2019 season.
The final member of the active pitching staff is James, who won’t make Houston’s rotation to start the year after missing some time this spring due to injury, but is healthy enough to make the Astros’ Opening Day roster as a multi-inning reliever. With a fastball that touches triple digits and strong secondary offerings, James is sufficiently talented that he’ll probably receive a call to the rotation at some point, and his unique story—a 34th-round draft pick, he basically became a viable prospect after a roommate’s complaints about snoring led to a diagnosis of and treatment for sleep apnea—is worth a spot on this team.
Bench: Shohei Ohtani, Angels ($4); Byron Buxton, Minnesota ($2); Jorge Alfaro, Miami ($1); Chris Paddack, San Diego ($3); Alex Reyes, St. Louis ($2)
This bench is high-risk, high-reward, as befits any fantasy bench and especially one constructed for this exercise. The first player is Ohtani—the hitting version, for those playing on sites like Yahoo that split him into two for fantasy purposes—who is still wildly fun when he’s occupying just one position instead of two. Ohtani probably won’t see MLB action until May as he recuperates from Tommy John surgery, but he’s such a talented hitter that he’ll still supply dazzling fantasy numbers from that time on—and come on, it’s Shohei Ohtani, of course he’s making a team for the sport’s most fun players.
It’s impossible to quit Byron Buxton, even after he hit .156/.183/.200 with no home runs in 94 plate appearances last season. The former no. 1 prospect, like Profar, could be due for a post-(post-post-)hype breakout, and his performance this spring—.438/.472/.906 with just five strikeouts in 36 PA—offers enough reason for optimism that he’s worth a pick. If Buxton can manage to be just an average hitter, his combination of power and speed will make him a top fantasy play.
Alfaro is a necessary addition for a team that can’t count on Astudillo to play from day one. The former Phillie, who decamped for Miami in the J.T. Realmuto trade, has a low floor because of a career 35 percent strikeout rate, but he also hits the ball harder than any other catcher when he does make contact, and the potential for double-digit homers makes him both a viable fantasy candidate and a fit for this team.
The final two bench members are pitchers. Like with Guerrero and Jimenez, Paddack appeared on our list of prospects to draft this year, and the young Padre has only added to his burgeoning legend this spring as he’s struck out 20 batters in just 12 2/3 innings.
For those that missed it, these were the first three pitches Chris Paddack threw to strikeout Orlando Arcia.— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) February 26, 2019
Good morning, good afternoon, good night. pic.twitter.com/nx0RkXb0JT
And finally, perhaps the highest-risk, highest-reward player on the board comes to the team in the form of Reyes, the former top-10 prospect who didn’t pitch at all in 2017 due to Tommy John surgery and threw just four MLB innings in 2018 before being shut down again due to lat surgery. Reyes will likely see more time in relief this season because of fear about his innings total alone, but he oozes talent every time he takes the mound and should be in line for a larger role as the year progresses.