Eleven of our top writers (and Trevor Hooth) drafted the 144 rookie-eligible players who are most likely to play in 2021. This is no mock draft. These picks matter! We will be keeping track of each writer’s roster to figure out whose picks recorded the most games played + innings pitched. First place is a Cadillac El Dorado (not really). Second place is a set of steak knives (maybe). Third place is you’re fired (probably). Fourth place and below are fine (definitely).
Why This is Important to You
An annual exercise, the Draft/Stash Challenge is designed to provide fantasy baseball managers with a hierarchy of rookie-eligible players that combines skill level, minor league level, organization philosophy, roster need, and precognition. All factors that will contribute to whether a rookie is playing in the majors in 2020 are taken into consideration as each of us tries to accumulate the most service time through our picks. There is no waiver wire so everybody who is picked will remain on their roster throughout the season.
Not only will this be helpful if you want to know the likelihood of a prospect being called up, but how much our writers are expect these players to play. Simply put: if a rookie is going to play a lot, he will be picked very high.
Don’t Get Confused
One thing this exercise is not going to tell you is how good a rookie will be when he is in the majors. At least not directly. The object is to accumulate the most GP + IP, but if we expect a player is going to play all season, it is likely for two reasons: (1) that he is very good or (2) his team doesn’t have any other choice at that position. Now, both could be true for a single player, but in most cases, it’s one or the other. The difference between this draft and probably all of the other drafts you’ll read about on Pitcher List is we don’t care why a player is playing.
Now, we covered why we are doing this, how one of us wins and what you can get out of it. Now let’s talk about the rules. First of all, there aren’t many:
- All players drafted must have rookie eligibility as of Opening Day of 2021.
- Each manager can draft any 10 players (positions don’t matter).
- The highest total of GP + IP will win.
- Only regular-season totals count (no playoffs).
One caveat: a player can earn both GP and IP — but only one at a time. For example, if Brendan McKay pitches six innings and moves to DH after, we will count his innings and not his game played.
There was a debate as to whether to use Plate Appearances vs. IP as a scoring system, however, if a hitter plays all season, that is like 600 PAs compared to at most 180 innings pitched for a rookie pitcher. This is too much of a disparity and would make relief pitchers virtually worthless, which is something we know is not true. Relievers should count and if a rookie happens to accumulate a full season in the bullpen and gets 50-60 innings, that is half of what a rookie starter would get — at most. That said, there were four rookie starters who pitched more than 162 innings, making them the top of the market. I can live with that.
The draft can be found here.
I’ll talk about my draft first. With all of the uncertainty over inning limits for starter pitchers this season, I wanted to get my fair share of pitching prospects. At some point, most teams are going to be bringing up starters. Even if their entire rotations are healthy all season, youngsters will be needed in order to fill innings and bridge the gap from the 60-80 IP starters threw in 2020 to the 140-160 they’ll throw in 2021 when they normally throw 180-200.
I started with Arozarena because I wanted someone who already had a starting job and Arozrena fit that bill. There are a number of rookies with starting jobs this year, but I’m betting Arozarena has the bat to keep his job all season, netting me 140 games played. In hindsight, I should have grabbed Alejandro Kirk here, but I was gambling that Deivi Garcia would earn the 5th spot in that Yanks’ rotation. He still has a good chance to rack up the innings. With injury-prone arms like Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber, they’ll be resting arms at worst and be needing replacements at best.
Trevor Rogers was a no-brainer in the third round. He had a job locked up, was great in spring, and has the kind of stuff teams will work with. Shane McClanahan will likely get his shot soon, either as a high-leverage reliever or a starter/opener for Tampa. Mickey Moniak has seen a resurgence in his post-hype career. He could see time anytime and almost won the starting CF job out of spring.
Once we get past the fifth round, there aren’t many options to get you games played or innings pitched from Day 1. I grabbed a mix of relievers and guys with multi-position eligibility.
This was admittedly the hardest draft I’ve ever been a part of. I used to follow prospects much more than I currently do, and my lack of research really stuck out like a sore thumb in this one. I thought I would have time to use this as an opportunity to do some research and find some real diamonds in the rough, but the draft occurred at the same time as four others were going on, and in the midst of a job change for me, so I did not have the time to devote to it that I anticipated.
With that said, I still enjoyed it. The rules were simple enough that I think I did enough to not come in last place, as I anticipate Kelenic, Dalbec, Gilbert, and Bart to all get a good amount of playing time in 2021. With the scoring criteria being GP + IP I felt that it was more important to secure position players who are more likely to play 4-5 games per week over the course of the season as opposed to pitchers who may throw 50 innings. Rodriguez, Downs, Rutschman, and Waters are all certainly dart throws that would require an injury or two at the major league level to happen, but who knows? I do think my Monte Harrison pick in the 11th round could be sneaky value – he played a good chunk of time in 2020 and the Marlins have shown in the past with Lewis Brinson that they have no problem playing a guy who’s hitting below the Mendoza line. My success may ultimately come down to that, as my team is mostly made up of guys who probably won’t play much if at all in the majors this season. I’m really just hoping to not come in last place.
I went into this draft like everyone else, simply focused on playing time. It didn’t matter to me how they would perform, unless the performance took them off the field. So the majority of my draft revolved around players that at least got a taste of the bigs already. For most that also meant players that are expected to break camp on the team and many with regular jobs.
Nick Madrigal ended up being the only regular hitter I ended up drafting and he should earn that first-round value as the everyday player at the keystone for the White Sox. I stretched it out with my Bobby Witt Jr pick in the second, riding the hype train at the time, hoping the Kansas City clubhouse would make the team’s decision a lot like San Diego did with another young Junior a season prior. Now I’ll just hope Witt can rake early on and force their hand with enough time to garner 100 games or so in Kansas City. Jose Garcia, Isaac Paredes, and Lewin Diaz all saw time in the majors in 2020 and though they’ll start 2021 in the minors I am expecting them to be “the first man up” when their respective teams need an extra bat due to their experience and clock already running. Taylor Walls was the only positional player I picked without any MLB service as of yet, but I said at one point this offseason, I believe the Rays will utilize Walls more than they will Wander Franco in 2021. His positional flexibility will help him move up to Tropicana as soon as there’s a need.
Michael Kopech and Kyle Cody represent major pieces of their teams’ respective bullpens, and could end up spot starting throughout the season, whereas Wil Crowe looks to be a rotation piece in Pittsburgh, and has a chance to break the 100 inning mark, pending performance and barring injury of course. Getting a potential 100 point pitcher in the 8th round felt pretty good. Corbin Martin will start in AA but has already tasted Major League action and should make his way to Arizona early in the season as he fights his way back from Tommy John. Jhoan Duran represents my “Bobby Witt Jr” stretch on the pitching side, as he very well might not make his way to Minnesota until the second half of the season, but at this point in the draft you take any shot you can find. My favorite pick in the entire draft was my last as I scooped up Ryan Weathers, who made his MLB debut during the 2020 playoffs for San Diego. Weathers is slated to open the season with San Diego as a member of their bullpen, but should be available for spot starts or even as a filler if the Padres find themselves thinner than they would like due to injury or lack of days off.
In the first half of the draft, I was planning on going for the guys I knew already had major league experience or were more than likely going to get major league experience. Sixto was a no-brainer, considering he is going to be a fixture in the Marlins’ rotation this season. Looking back, I’m not so thrilled with how I spent a top-20 pick on a guy who was just optioned to Triple-A to start the season (nor am I thrilled that Phillies management seems to want to move him to the bullpen). However, I think he presents the best upside of anyone not already in the starting rotation, so I’m hoping that Dombrowski sees the light soon and calls up the best pitcher to wear #48 in the NL East.
In the latter half of the draft, I went for guys that I think could be injury replacements or could be called upon to start later in the season. I was deciding between Chris Rodriguez and Detmers and ultimately went with Detmers. Overall, I went a little bit pitcher-heavy in the draft, in part because I am a little more comfortable with pitchers from dynasty research but also because by the end of the draft, I was Googling “top rookies for every MLB team 2021” and pitchers seemed to come up a little more.
I was lucky enough to have the third overall pick so I knew going in I was going to get an upper-tier guy and that guy was Andrew Vaughn. After the first round, I tried to pick players who did not have a job out of spring but could quickly find their way to majority playing time. It was unfortunate that Josh Jung injured his foot after I selected him because he was going to see plenty of ABs in Texas.
After most of the better hitters and starters were selected, I focused on some higher upside relief arms so I could boost my IP totals. Some of my favorites selected were Emmanuel Clase and David Bednar. Honestly, both of them have a path to the closer’s role and will give me plenty of strikeouts.
This was a very fun draft and different from anything else I have done in the past. While I play in a few dynasty leagues, I found it more challenging trying to find ready to contribute rookies as opposed to prospect flyers. I tried to keep the number of hitters and pitchers I selected balanced, as I wound up with six apiece. For the most part, I tried to target players on teams with clearer paths to playing time. The one exception to this strategy that stands out is Zach McKinstry, but I am trusting in his ability to play multiple positions to get him a good bit of playing time this year. At the end of the draft I targeted relief arms who can sneakily pile up innings for me over the course of the season. All in all it was a very fun draft where I could test my knowledge against a lot of really smart and savvy minds in the fantasy baseball community.
With this being my second year doing this, I went in with a similar strategy as last year – pouring over Roster Resource and trying to find position players who had an easily visible path to regular or at least semi-regular playing time. However, last year I didn’t really see the value in looking for pitchers, particularly relievers, but I made a better effort to target those players later in the draft, and think I came away with a group that should get playing time from top to bottom.
Triston McKenzie and Ha-Seong Kim were no-brainer top two picks, since they both have very easy paths to playing time. Even if Kim isn’t an everyday starter, he’ll play in a ton of games thanks to his versatility and his place in the NL, where he will get pinch-hit opportunities.
Jonathan India looks on track to potentially win the second base job out of camp in Cincinnati, which would be a huge win for me in the third round, and while Luis Patino won’t break camp with Tampa Bay, I think he’ll throw plenty of innings before the year is up.
Jared Oliva and Jahmai Jones look like prime candidates for early season call-ups by Pittsburgh and Baltimore, respectively, while both Clarke Schmidt and Zack Burdi should see time in the bullpen in New York and Chicago. Schmidt could even step into a rotation spot if injuries befell others in New York’s rotation, which is a distinct possibility.
Yusniel Diaz and Chas McCormick have murkier paths to playing time, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see either in the big leagues for most, if not all, of the season – although likely in bench roles.
Finally, I rounded things out with a pair of Detroit relievers, Beau Burrows and Alex Lange. Burrows already has big league experience and Lange is a prime candidate to make the team out of camp, which could give me a combined 120 or so innings from my final two picks.
This was my first experience with this type of draft. My overall strategy was to focus on pitching, especially in the early rounds. The idea behind this was to try to maximize my “count” by obtaining innings. A position player is theoretically capped by 162 games, but a pitcher? There isn’t a known ceiling. In 2019, 62(!!) pitchers exceeded 162 innings. It felt like a good choice, value wise, to attempt to grab some arms that could log innings.
Of all of the rookie-eligible pitchers, Ian Anderson felt the safest to me, so I took him with the fourth overall pick. He’s locked into a rotation spot and he went at least six innings in half of his starts in 2020. Pitchers come with more injury risk, so this strategy could blow up in my face, but I was comfortable enough with the upside to roll the dice. I spent my next two picks on Detroit pitchers that have since been named to the rotation in Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize. Both pitchers struggled in 2020 but I’m crossing my fingers that the Tigers will give them each a long lease and not have them bounce between the majors and minors too often. From there, I went with some position players (Tyler Stephenson and Jazz Chisholm) that should at least split time to open the season before focusing on some potential relief arms (Bryan Abreu, Connor Brogdon, Johan Oviedo) later on.
Overall, I’m excited to keep tabs on this throughout the season and see if my strategy pays off.
With my first pick I chose Rangers righty Kohei Arihara. Arihara was the most obvious pick for me because while he’s technically a rookie, but has an extensive professional track record pitching in Japan. Because he’s really a rookie on technicality, he shouldn’t be on any sort of innings limit (like many of the other rookie pitchers will be). Though pitchers in Japan typically pitch every 6 days, he could still lead the Rangers in innings given that he’s the only pitcher coming off a full season’s workload. There was probably more thought put into this pick than the rest of my picks combined.
For the most part I looked at opportunity. I wasn’t aiming for the top-prospects oozing with talent, I was aiming for the guys atop a depth chart. This meant a lot of players on bad teams. I doubled down on the Rangers and took Leody Taveras with my second pick. After debuting last season, he will likely be the Rangers starting CF and hit leadoff. I wanted Dean Kremer with my third pick, but settled for fellow O’s starter Keegan Akin. Ryan Jeffers was a sneaky pick in the 4th because he played well in a small sample last season and the Twins lack catching depth.
As much as I like Mitch Garver, I could see Jeffers taking over as starter at some point. Now rapid fire on my dart throws: Merryweather I expect to be a multi-inning reliever for the Jays, the only question is health. I really like Daulton Jefferies this year as a breakout candidate, the knock on him is a lack of secondaries, but that shouldn’t keep him from eating innings if given the chance. Akil Baddoo is the Tigers’ rule 5 pick, which looks smart unless he gets returned to the Twins early in the season and isn’t called up again.
As I’ve mentioned in the Prospect Roundup, Bruce Zimmerman is another young O’s pitcher who I expect to get 50-100 innings. Drew Strotman could easily do the same for the Rays, and the Rays are a good bet to use every pitcher on their 40-man. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Rockies are never a good bet to play young players — but Colton Welker has looked good this spring and has a role with Brendan Rodgers on the shelf. Lastly, Humberto Mejia was decent in a small sample for the Marlins last year and the Dbacks rotation is currently being held together with hot glue and duct tape. If he pitches more than 30 innings, I’d call that a win. In summary, I looked for players that either already have or are very close to a major league opening and threw semi-educated darts accordingly.
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis