#2EarlyMocks: Mark McElroy’s Picks

I was lucky enough to be a part of Justin Mason’s #2EarlyMocks. I drafted in league #5 with a lot of talented players including Pitcher List’s Ben Pernick, and David Fenko. I had the 14th pick in the draft. I don’t like being on the ends of drafts, because I don’t like waiting a long time between picks. It often forces the manager to push players they really want because they are afraid that the player won’t make it back. I was also concerned about my third-round pick. There is enough elite talent in the second round that all managers will be able to draft a first-round talent in the second round. Early drafters on the board should also get an elite talent in the third, but what about those managers drafting at the end of the third? Would there be a significant talent drop-off?

The draft began as expected with Trout and Yelich starting off. Ronald Acuna fell to fifth after Betts and Arenado. Scherzer went ninth and Gerrit Cole was off the board at 12. To see the entire draft list, click here (Justin Mason’s #2EarlyMocks) and go to the “Leagues and Teams” tab. Select “League 5” for the whole draft and use “Select Team” to pick a specific manager’s roster.

 

General Impressions

There was a ton of value in this draft. Managers favored speed, pitching, youth, and players on strong teams. Great value, therefore, could be found in power and in older, established players. Strong players on weak teams were pushed down, while weaker players on stronger teams were more highly valued. I took the value that was given and often drafted players at, or close to, their low pick.

By drafting pitching and speed early in the draft, the middle rounds of the draft became much simpler and more relaxing. Because I had a strong base of power-speed players and bona fide aces, I was never desperately searching for one-category players and having to settle for a player just to satisfy one category. When I needed power, there were a lot of great players; I can’t say the same about speed.

 

1.14 Justin Verlander

I had the choice between Trea Turner, Justin Verlander, and Jacob deGrom. I was leaning towards Turner for the speed, but I worried that the next drafter, Brendan Bruckman, would double-tap pitchers at the turn and nab the last of the top tier. It was a real toss-up between Verlander and deGrom, and I went with JV because it’s Houston. I hoped that Turner would get back to me, but I knew that if he didn’t, I would get my speed in Adalberto Mondesi or Jose Ramirez.

 

2.17 Jose Ramirez

This was an easy pick. Trevor Story, Adalberto Mondesi, and Trea Turner were gone, and even when Ramirez struggled in the early season, he still contributed in stolen bases. Remember when J-Ram fouled a ball off his leg late in Spring Training? He writhed on the ground and we worried that he had broken his leg. He took a few days off and everyone  forgot about it. He struggled at the start of the season and we all wondered, “How can this guy be so bad?” Too often we overlook injuries, but in my experience, injuries take a long time to heal and it takes a long time to rebuild strength, especially if you have to continue to work while healing. Ramirez’s booming second half showed me that he was healthy and that he made adjustments to deal with his early-season issues at the plate.

 

3.44 Jonathan Villar

This was a difficult pick because I really wanted Pete Alonso here. He was taken four picks earlier, so I had decided to go to a backup plan. I really considered Charlie Blackmon here, but I hoped he would fall past the wheel to me. As soon as I made the pick, I regretted it. I expect that Villar would have fallen to my next pick since Team 15 already had Mondesi and Turner. I chose Villar because I worry about Blackmon’s stolen bases as he plays his age-34 season in 2020.

Stolen bases are an early draft priority for me this season because they are so rare and so hard to find late in drafts without sacrificing power. In my experience, trying to find late draft speed is tough because it requires too much sacrifice to other categories, mainly power and batting average. Ramirez and Villar should both be good SB contributors without draining production in other categories. Their power-speed combination should meet my power targets per roster spot, and put me near the top of the stolen bases category.

 

4.47 Gleyber Torres

This was a difficult choice and one that might be a key moment of my draft. I was really hoping that I could have chosen Pete Alonso in the third-round, and I could have taken Villar here. I was also frustrated to not have taken Blackmon with my last pick. I drafted Torres in an important league last year but had to drop him due to a roster crunch. I then watched him succeed on another manager’s team. I considered a second pitcher but didn’t feel like it was necessary to push a pitcher after drafting Verlander.

Torres should provide power counting categories in a strong Yankees lineup that should only get better next season; all while hitting for a great batting average. This was the first moment of the draft where I realized the benefit of choosing balanced power-speed in the first three rounds. I no longer needed to worry about stolen bases at all, and it provided a drafting opportunity to focus on the other categories.

 

5.74 Zack Greinke

I was surprised that Greinke fell to 74th overall. Sure, it’s not a sexy pick, but year-after-year, Greinke overperforms his draft position. He went 59 in last year’s NFBC Main Event leagues and is number four on the ESPN player rater for pitchers this year (fifth on Razzball). He will turn 36 in October, but I am expecting him to perform as an Astro next year, and am happy to take a risk on age at this price.

 

6.77 Nelson Cruz

Speaking of age risks. Nelson Cruz has defied typical age-related decline and has proven that he is an elite power hitter at any age. I needed to focus on power and Cruz fits the bill here. I did not hesitate because Cruz is UT-only. Cruz will likely be in Minnesota next season and should be a powerful bat in an excellent lineup that won’t lose many big bats this off-season, which should help Cruz put up triple-digit RBI and excellent runs and a high batting average. Even at 40, Cruz may be old and boring, but he is as consistent as they get and should be a stable presence in any roster.

 

7.104 Max Kepler

I was shocked that I had a chance to nab Kepler here. Sign me up for Kepler’s power in a strong Minnesota lineup. This season Kepler is just shy of 40 bombs and would have had over 100 runs and RBI if it were not for a late-season shoulder injury. Post 100? Come on. I doubt that Kepler goes anywhere around this point in March drafts. The fact that Kepler is an option at 100 goes to show just how deep the hitting is in the early rounds. Pitchers are going for a premium pushing strong hitters like Kepler post 100. This is why drafting pitching early is a valid option. I will continue to prioritize premium pitchers and stolen bases early precisely because players like Cruz and Kepler are available in the sixth and seventh rounds.

 

8.107 Michael Brantley

You might be sensing a theme here: old and boring. Give me Houston’s Michael Brantley post-100 all day. I don’t care one iota how boring my picks are because guys like Brantley, Cruz, and Greinke are safe. Brantley won’t top the home run leaderboard, but easily will get me the 20+ home runs that I need for my outfield roster spot. My stolen bases are not a concern with Villar and Ramirez, but batting average is. Michael Brantley should be top-5 in the league in average and will approach 100/100 in a strong Astros lineup. You should also be sensing a theme here: the Astros are good and it is a good idea to roster them whenever possible.

 

9.134 Brad Hand

Ordinarily, in stand-alone leagues, I punt saves in drafts. I would rather pick saves up on the waiver wire in the form of players like Hansel Robles, Ian Kennedy, and Liam Hendriks. In an overall competition, I want to secure a top closer with a secure role. Terry Francona is an old-school manager who will name a closer and stick with him through thick and thin. This loyalty is a gift for a fantasy manager. Hand has 34 saves on the season, and should be Cleveland’s saves leader next year. I will draft stability for saves and Hand and I am happy to take him as the sixth closer off the board. I considered Osuna in this spot, but there is the, you know, ickiness-factor that I wanted to avoid. With a stable saves source, I can look for RP value later in the draft, or be aggressive early in FAAB if an unexpected closer assumes the role.

 

10.137 Zac Gallen

This was a pick that I was particularly proud of. I have Gallen in a ton of spots this year and loved his move to Arizona at the trade deadline. This was one of the spots of the draft where I was prepared to push Gallen higher because I knew that he would not get back to me. I would have preferred him at his high 169, obviously, but I didn’t think that was going to be an option when I had to wait 27 picks. I was third-highest on Gallen (his low was 129), but I would have taken Gallen before many other pitchers who went earlier in my draft.

 

11.164 Zack Wheeler

Zack Wheeler might look like an ugly pick. When touts examine the ADP and find that it is 139.3, they will critique it. I agree that 139 is much too high. At 164, however, Wheeler was the 50th starting pitcher off the board in my draft, and I was pleased to get him as the penultimate #2EarlyMock low.

Still, I deliberated over this pick for a long time, because I was very seriously considering Jesus Luzardo. He had been in my queue for a few rounds and I really wanted to draft him here. Luzardo will be a big target for me in the spring, but I hoped that he would make it back to me in the next round. I also wanted to leave him in the pool to see if/when he would be taken. I knew that I should have trusted my instincts because he was taken a few picks later. I suspect that Luzardo will be drafted before Wheeler in the spring unless Wheeler signs in a particularly favorable pitching environment this off-season.

 

12.167 Edwin Encarnacion

With Wheeler bumping Luzardo in the great game of draft chicken, I put up the high pick for Edwin Encarnacion. Again, old and boring, but safe and secure. I needed power and a first baseman, and felt that Edwin had dropped too far. If he can put up a season without injury, he should earn well above this draft position. He missed time this season only playing 111 games, but still put up 34 home runs, 81 runs and 86 RBI. I’ll take that at 167.

 

13.194 Nomar Mazara

Fantasy kryptonite alert. I can’t quit this guy. I only had two outfielders at this point in the draft and I just won’t let Mazara go. Dude is just 24 years old and has 2,189 MLB plate appearances. Sure, I probably should believe that with that much experience, this is who he is, but I just can’t escape the idea that Mazara will have a breakout season. I have suffered through all of his .261/.320/.435 career slash line and I want to be a part of the season that hits big. This is what fantasy kryptonite looks like.

 

14.197 Will Smith (RP)

I am not a big Will Smith backer, but it’s hard to deny what he has done this year as San Francisco’s closer. There is little reason to believe that Smith will return to the Giants, as he becomes a free agent at season’s end. With San Fran staring down the barrel of a rebuild, it is unlikely that management will spend money on a closer. Added to the situation is Bruce Bochy’s retirement. We don’t know what a new manager’s bullpen philosophy will be, or if Smith will be a part of it even if he returns. Still, Smith has put up a 2.76 ERA and a 1.3 WHIP with 96 strikeouts in just 65.1 innings. He has proven that he can handle a closers’ responsibilities and has nabbed 34 saves (4 blown) and could get the role wherever he signs. Even if he doesn’t close, he should put up excellent ratios and strikeouts. At 197, it was worth the risk for saves. I wouldn’t take him any earlier until we know what his team and role will be.

 

15.224 Miguel Andujar

It seems that I haven’t learned my lesson after drafting Luis Severino in 2019. I should know better than to draft injured players, but Miguel Andujar dropped so far that I could put him in as a corner infielder and take a chance on his healthy return. He was drafted as high as 130, and I got him at his low. Yandy Diaz was another option at this spot, but I felt that Andujar’s upside in New York was valuable enough to grab at this spot. I did not expect Andujar to make it back to me, whereas I thought Diaz might.

The question, of course, is will Andujar even be in New York in April. Has Gio Urshela pipped him out of his job? The nice thing about drafting him at 224 is that I can afford to find out. If he ends up in a bad situation, it isn’t going to hurt to drop him.

 

16.227 Ryan Yarbrough

I don’t see Tampa Bay abandoning their opener strategy next season, especially because it has worked so well for Yarbrough. He struggled in his final few games in 2019, but went 11-6 this season with a 4.13 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. He won’t get a ton of strikeouts (7.43K/9), but he doesn’t offer many free passes (1.27 BB/9) or home runs (0.95 HR/9). He should be a good ratios stabilizer and put up opener-aided wins.

 

17.254 Sean Manaea

Manaea has looked great since his return from shoulder surgery at the end of last season. He has upped his K/9 from 6.05 in 2017 to 9.01 K/9 in his short-sample in 2019 which indicates that he is healthy and feeling strong. I don’t expect him to maintain anything close to this, but getting a healthy number 1 or number 2 starter in cavernous Oakland after the 250th pick is worth a shot. I expect that this ADP will rise drastically.

Pitchers like Yarbrough and Manaea show that there is a lot of upside later in the pitching pool. It would worry me if I was relying on these guys as my SP3, but establishing pitching early allows a manager to take a chance in the mid-late rounds of the draft knowing that they will slot in as an SP5 or SP6. As an SP5, Manaea looks amazing.

 

18.257 Kevin Pillar

I was still in search of outfielders and wanted to grab one before the long wait until the next round. Pillar won’t be a free agent until 2021, so he should secure regular playing time in center with his strong defense. He has become a replacement level hitter posting a .259/.287/.432 and has 21 home runs with 80+ runs and RBI. The real appeal here is the stolen base contribution. I expect Pillar to swipe 10-15 bases annually, and playing time is king.

 

19.284 Yonny Chirinos

See Ryan Yarborough above. The opener is spectacular fantasy fodder and I don’t really know why they are ignored so frequently. Like it or not, quality starts are not a category and wins are, so I would love it if all my pitchers had openers. Chirinos should help my ratios (3.85 ERA and 1.05 WHIP) and get some cheap wins, but won’t do much for strikeouts (7.70 K/9). The hope is that he stays healthy and Tampa Bay continues to deploy him with an opener.

 

20.287 Jesse Winker

As with Pillar, I needed an outfielder and felt like I should grab one before the pick-gap. Winker is another fantasy kryptonite candidate. I liked his hit tool in the minors, but it hasn’t translated quite so well in the majors. He puts the ball in play, but hasn’t tapped into his power; I expect that injuries have been the culprit. I would like to see the Reds give him regular playing time and stop platooning him, but a healthy season with good results at the plate should alleviate the pressure to sit him against lefties. There is a ton of potential here and I am not willing to quit Winker yet, especially in the 20th round.

 

21.314 Hanser Alberto

I had Alberto as a late batting average option. I missed out on Jeff McNeil, Bryan Reynolds, and Kevin Newman for batting average, and felt like I needed a boost in BA here. Luis Arraez was my other option here and I went with Alberto because he plays for Baltimore. Fringe players on contending teams worry me because their playing time can disappear quickly with an off-season signing, poor defense, or a cold-stretch at the plate. Also, batting order placement can shift easily. Baltimore, on the other hand, should play Alberto regularly and put him at the top of the lineup. This should secure regular and frequent at-bats with favorable runs and RBI potential.

 

22.317 Carson Kelly

I had Carson Kelly at the top of my queue for days. This is a one-catcher league and so I didn’t bother making it a priority. I was willing to take anyone who fell to me but was pleasantly surprised that Kelly made it this deep. I would expect him to be in the top 10 of most pundits’ catcher ranks in draft season, and I took him as the 12th off the board. There were three other teams who didn’t have catchers so I decided just to grab him. Letting him go wouldn’t have been an issue as Omar Narvaez, Christian Vasquez, and Jorge Alfaro were also valid options. In one-catcher leagues, there are a ton of options so don’t sweat it if you miss out on Gary Sanchez and J.T. Realmuto.

 

23.344 Anthony Santander (reserve round)

I pan for gold on rebuilding teams at this point in the draft. Santander should get regular playing time in Baltimore as a switch-hitter in the heart of the order. Hitting mostly at the number three spot, he should contribute counting stats and makes an excellent piece for my first reserve spot. Santander turns 25 in October and has shown improvements at the plate in each of his seasons in Baltimore, and it’s hard to complain at his 21.2 K% in a season when strikeouts in the league are at an all-time high. I could see his 15.6% HR/FB increase if he can get more ground balls (39.2 GB%) into the air (43.2 FB%).

 

24.347 Johnny Cueto

A boring and risky pick, but one that I still think could overperform this 347th overall pick. It is nice to see Cueto back in 2019 and he pitched well in his return from TJS. The ballpark helps relieve any concerns with his injury and age. Don’t plan for Cueto to get anywhere near the innings he pitched in his younger years, but a dart-throw on a player who has the experience of being one of the top pitchers in the Majors seems safe, albeit boring. I expect Cueto to be the Giants’ number one pitcher in 2020 and with a $20M+ salary until the end of 2021, the Giants will try to get as much out of him as they can.

 

25.374 Ryan Mountcastle

I have so many Orioles, why not add another? I expect that Mountcastle will be a contributor this season and should hit in the heart of the order. He could play at third, first, or the outfield. At this point, we need to consider Chris Davis and what the Orioles are going to do with his contract and his .179/.276/.326 slash-line this season. In the late rounds, I will take chances on players with upside and potential playing time. There is a significant risk in a Baltimore stack, but my safety and stability at the start of the draft should balance this risk.

 

26.377 Garrett Richards

It was heart-breaking when Richards went down with an elbow injury that required TJS. He worked so hard to build his strength after a knee injury in 2014. He pitched to a 3.65 ERA in 2015 and showed his upside as a fantasy contributor racking up 207.1 innings pitched. He has been mostly injured from 2016 to 2018, pitching only 138.2 innings total in those three seasons. The Padres believed in Richards enough to sign him to a contract while he was recovering from Tommy John, and he should be a part of their rotation in 2020 and if, and that’s a big if, he can stay healthy, he should be a sneaky good late-round option.

 

27.404 Drew Waters

Waters is one of the top prospects in the game. If we look at the Braves’ outfield depth chart, we know that Acuna is secure, but Nick Markakis and Matt Joyce are the current starters who will be free agents at season’s end. Ender Inciarte will be 29 next season and should have a spot when he is healthy, but he has played just 65 this season. Austin Riley is an outfield option but must improve his plate discipline to avoid falling into prolonged slumps. Riley is better suited to be slotted into Josh Donaldson’s vacated third base position, anyway. That is all to say that I expect that Waters will be a big part of the Braves next season. I expect Atlanta to make some off-season signings, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Waters takes a long-term contract, as Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies did. From a team-construction perspective, Waters is a good upside play considering the lack of draft capital I invested in my outfield slots.

 

28.407 Jordan Lyles

My final pick of the draft. As has been the case with most players, Lyles has been excellent since leaving Pittsburgh. He has gone 7-1 in eleven starts with the Brewers posting a 2.45 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. His K/9 has dropped to 8.59 in Milwaukee, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lyles re-sign. He is a free-agent at the end of the season, but the turnaround after the trade should help Lyles assure a contract and a rotation spot. At pick 407, there is upside if Lyles signs with a team with a strong coaching staff and/or a pitcher-friendly home park.

 

Closing Thoughts

I feel like my speed and pitching early strategy is one that can build a balanced team. My weakness is in the outfield, but there is enough established playing time and upside that it could surprise. Perhaps, a more established OF1 in the early rounds would be a better strategy; I guess I am still steaming over missing out on Blackmon.

These mocks were a lot of fun, but my overall impression is that most of these picks will be pushed up in 2020 drafts. There was far too much value for players like Kepler, Manaea, Wheeler, Encarnacion, Santander, Cueto, etc. My advice is to use these mocks as a way to build your positional rankings and look for value. It always surprises me when my competitors take players that I rank low and they pass on players that I prefer. After establishing a solid base in rare categories, look for, and take, the value that is given.

Incidentally, since this draft happened during the season, the Fantrax hosting software plugs players into the roster spots and creates season standings based on the results. This team, as is, would have finished first with 118 points, eight points above second place. It doesn’t mean much, but it’s a nice gauge to compare stats and standings with other teams.

Mark McElroy

When I am not watching baseball or writing about fantasy baseball, I can usually be found cycling in and around Victoria, BC. I contribute at Pitcher List and Creative Sports and can be found on Twitter @markmcelroybb.

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