Some of us are having a fantastic season this year. Baseball is back and we have drafted Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Shohei Ohtani, and Jacob deGrom (someone reading this actually rosters all three of those players and I’m jealous). However, some of us are essentially out of contention after drafting the likes of Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Luis Robert. For those ready for 2021 to come to a close, I offer you a far too early look into next year’s future.
I gathered twelve Pitcher List staffers and we drafted the first six rounds of a hypothetical 2022 league. We drafted with the agreement of a 5×5 head-to-head categories league, where Shohei Ohtani counts as one player.
With that, I’ll leave it to the rest of the staff to break down their draft selections.
My TGFBI team is a dumpster fire in need of an exorcism. There were only two things that went right, one was Shohei Ohtani. I considered him first overall but went with Fernando Tatís Jr. Over his last two seasons (596 PA) he’s totaled 46 home runs and 33 SB along with a .408 wOBA. The other thing that went right was the Fantasy Gods taking pity on my soul and gifting me Carlos Rodon for $14 FAAB dollars prior to the start of the season. He’s been one of the most amazing stories of the year. His 29.8% K-BB% trails only Burnes and deGrom (min 70 IP). And his 0.90 WHIP is tied for sixth with Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta. Excluding Ohtani, Rodon was the 15th pitcher off the board and I like that spot for him.
I probably made a mistake letting Cody Bellinger go by in the third round. He’s an easy buy there, but I have long had an Aaron Judge addiction that I can’t shake. He leads qualifiers with a .433 xwOBA (Max Muncy is just behind him at .432) and is tied with Ronald Acuña Jr. for third among qualifiers with a 12.2% barrels/PA rate. Then Corbin Burnes trails only Jacob deGrom in both K-BB% at 33% and xwOBA allowed at .206 (among qualifiers). The Brewers will probably try to manage his innings but as it stands, Burnes has to be considered a top three pitcher. Also Anthony Tucker 100% sniped me on Byron Buxton in the sixth round. Instead, I had to settle with Eloy Jiménez for the final pick. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but could you imagine a full season of Buxton? We can continue to dream and I hope we see it. The BAT X is a believer, having him pegged for a .374 wOBA the rest of the way. Similar to Judge and Muncy, Buxton’s xwOBA this season is .432.
As most of my 2021 fantasy teams continue to underperform through July, I was excited to participate in the Pitcher List 2022 mock draft and begin to look forward to next year. With the second overall pick, I was fortunate enough to choose between a few generational talents. If Ronald Acuña Jr. were healthy, he’d likely be my pick here. I was also tempted by Vlad Jr. for his elite four-category production. At the end of the day, the opportunity to take the league leader in home runs, who also happens to have 11.69 K/9 seemed like a no-brainer. Fantasy baseball is meant to be fun and it doesn’t get much more fun than rostering a one-player version of Shohei Ohtani.
My favorite pick was Corey Seager, a potential second-round caliber hitter who fell to me in the fifth. I suspect if the Dodgers’ shortstop returns off the IL and rakes in August and September, he’ll be much higher on draft boards next spring. While my first five picks carry what I believe to be a solid floor, I wanted to take a big swing with my last pick. Byron Buxton has league-winning potential; I’d be willing to take on the well-documented injury risk for a player with a rare power-speed combo.
I came away from the mock with a few takeaways. The first was the depth of the player pool. Alex Bregman, Starling Marte, Ketel Marte, J.T. Realmuto, and Carlos Correa are just a few hitters you may have expected to see in the top 75 who were all available as the draft ended. This makes me think I’ll be focused even more on picking the best player available regardless of positional need in the top-100 picks of next year’s drafts. Another takeaway was that, after a couple of years of drafting pitchers heavily, I felt pretty comfortable that I’d be able to find pitching later on if this draft was longer. I may go into 2022’s drafts looking to lock down an ace with one of my first three picks and then sit on the sidelines until the middle rounds. With the SPs who have emerged this year from the end of drafts and off the wire, I’m more confident I can wait to fill out the bulk of my pitching staff.
They say one of the best ways to get better at something is by going up against people who are better than you. So when a no-stakes opportunity came to go up against some of the best in the biz, I took it. And I’m pretty excited about my team.
Vladimir Guererro Jr. seemed like an excellent pick for #3. I would have picked Tatís and Ohtani 1-2 if I had one of those picks, especially since Ohtani counts as a hitter and a pitcher. Trout is hurt, Betts is still Betts but having a down year, and deGrom had been nicked up here and there, before his most recent IL trip. Vlad seems to have everything clicking for him and seems like a safe bet to be a top 3-4 player in baseball the rest of the way. I wanted to go pitching next and was really happy with Walker Buehler being available. Along with Joe Musgrove, they’re a solid 1-2 for my rotation. Kris Bryant and Trent Grisham are pretty safe picks, especially for where they were selected. I think Bryant, if healthy, could be a late steal, especially if he gets traded to a contender.
Joey Gallo was the wildcard pick, and I got some flack for the pick when I made it. I think if he gets traded to the Yankees or Padres, he could be a really, really big game-changer. He’s got outstanding numbers but is doing it for a Texas team going nowhere. Put him on a winning team and you’ll see the RBI’s and Runs come up significantly. For me, it was a risk worth taking.
My favorite pick was my first-round pick, Mike Trout. He’s one of those guys that I always get excited to draft, regardless of the round or pick. I will gladly take the best player on the planet, even if he’s becoming less of an SB contributor each year. It was tough to pass on deGrom and Acuña, especially because Acuña was being picked in the top-3 picks in virtually every TGFBI league and, when fully healthy, should be a top-3 pick. Plus, deGrom is deGrom.
I didn’t see myself waiting on my SP1 until the 5th round of the draft. I wasn’t enamored with many of the higher-drafted pitching options when I was up to pick and a handful of pitchers, unfortunately, did not fall to me when I was looking for them. I was salivating when Kevin Gausman hadn’t been picked by the end of Round 3. I got more and more excited as the picks went up and Gausman fell further, but alas, I was sniped by Kevin Hastings.
My most embarrassing miss? Grabbing Lance Lynn when Clayton Frickin’ Kershaw was still on the board. Nothing against Mr. Lynn, but Kershaw continues to age gracefully and maintain an elite form well into his 30’s and does it a little better than Lynn. If I had to do it again, I would’ve grabbed Kershaw in a heartbeat. My one concern for my team is the lack of guaranteed stolen bases. Ozzie Albies has racked up 13 in 2021, but neither Springer, Trout, nor Bogaerts are big stolen base threats. I’d probably have to target that stat later in the draft.
If you believe, as I do, that if we know who the number one fantasy starting pitcher will be, that pitcher is the number one overall fantasy player, it’s a gift for Jacob deGrom to be available as the fifth pick in any format. He’s in a tier all alone, and maybe two tiers above anyone else at his position. Am I concerned about his most recent (current) IL stint? Unless we’re being completely lied to about there not being any structural damage, for 2022 no, or at least no more than I am about injury for any other player.
If Brandon Woodruff had fallen, I’d have gone pocket aces here; and I considered Corbin Burnes, but I ultimately decided to go with the power/speed combo in Kyle Tucker in the second round. His K% has improved each of the past two seasons, he’s already on a 30+ HR / 15-20 SB pace, and he should continue to navigate his way to the top third of the Astros lineup. The other hitter I considered, Tim Anderson, was still available in the third making for an easy decision. This gives me a nice BA foundation with a realistic expectation of 50 HR, 170 RBI, 200 R, and 40 SB.
My final three picks most likely will not be taken in these spots in 2022. In the fourth, I paired Kevin Gausman with deGrom. I’m not sure this will be possible in a few months, as where Gausman signs will move him up or down from here. I couldn’t let Adalberto Mondesí fall any further, and if he is healthy during draft season he’ll go much earlier – the prospect of 40, 50, or even more SB will be too enticing for someone in every league. Adolis García in the sixth may be a stretch, especially with Eloy still on the board, but I really don’t like to take a zero in the SB category this early.
If this draft at all resembles the reality we face next spring (which is wildly unlikely), I’m going to really be looking to be in the middle of the draft. The drop-off between the first and second pick versus the sixth and seventh pick seems pretty darn light. Obviously, updates to Ronald Acuña Jr.’s recovery will heavily impact his ADP, but even if he only plays 120-130 games, I think this pick works great. In a 12-teamer, the replacement level at OF is pretty darn good (especially in 3 OF leagues), so Acuña + whoever I use for the first month could easily be a top-five overall player due to how dynamic Acuña can be.
To be safe though, I did draft two more OF-eligibile players in Bryce Harper and Whit Merrifield, though the latter might have been a bit of a reach. Steals can be tough to come by, though, and in the event Acuña doesn’t run like he did this season, Merrifield can pick up the slack. Harper is a pretty safe pick due to his floor that comes with a fun upside too.
I closed out my picks with back-to-back risky pitchers, but with Aaron Nola being Nola in 2021, I felt like I could afford the potential 150-160 IP seasons from Freddy Peralta and Clayton Kershaw. There are more than a few possible universes where the three of them are all top-15 starters in 2022, and here’s to hoping the 2022 we experience is one of them!
My early drafting strategy will always revolve around making sure I leave the first three rounds with a five-category contributor and my ace starting pitcher and I get the first right away in José Ramirez. Honestly, once you get past Tatís, Ohtani, and Acuña, Ramirez might be the only sure thing five-category contributor left. We don’t know where Trevor Story is going to end up or if Francisco Lindor is going to bounce back next year, but on the other hand, José Ramirez has the third-best wRC+ since 2017 behind only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts while playing in more games than them. Even during his worst season he still gave you a 24 HR/20 SB season. He’s a stud first-rounder for me and the perfect first building block.
I honestly could have grabbed Bryce Harper here but I’m really happy getting Matt Olson too. He’s made huge leaps in terms of his K% without losing the walks or power. He’s on pace for 44 HRs with 220+ combined runs and RBI and while I don’t necessarily know if the .288 average is here to stay but if it does he jumps from a 2nd round value to the first.
I wanted an ace in the first three rounds and I cannot believe Shane Bieber fell that far. He’s dealt with injuries this season and missed a ton of time but it’s the first major injury of his career and when healthy he’s a top 5 pitcher easily.
Marcus Semien has been a top 2B in fantasy this year and shores up a weak position for me while giving me a great starting base in HR and SB. This brings up another part of my strategy early on, which is to make sure I’m covered at 1B and 2B before the well dries up at those fairly shallow positions. I feel really good about this foundation for my hitting.
Taking Francisco Lindor here is my big risk but I think it’s a fair one on a guy who was producing at a first-round value just a few years ago and has 5 category production potential. With the new team and seeing new pitchers I’m willing to give him some leeway for his struggles this season and I understand he’s been declining for a few years now but I’m absolutely willing to bet on the bounceback in 2021.
Finally, I really wanted to max out my power and so I took another shot with Jared Walsh. He’s been incredible over the last season or so worth of playing time and I have a hard time seeing anything in his numbers that say it isn’t sustainable.
Let me preface all of this by saying that I was really happy with how this draft turned out for me. For my first pick at eighth overall, I was ecstatic to end up with Juan Soto. He’ll still be just 23 years old at the start of next season, and he realistically has the potential to be the top overall player in fantasy baseball. He’s definitely in my top five overall, so to get him at eight was a great start. Plus, I tend to always like my teams better at the end of a draft when I start with an elite outfielder. Don’t know why, but that’s just how it usually goes. I was equally excited about my second pick, as Bo Bichette is another young superstar with a ridiculously high ceiling. Turning 24 next March, I gave myself two elite young stars who are already top-tier players with even more room to grow.
My other two hitters taken in this draft were J.D. Martinez in round four, and José Abreu in round six. Both of these guys are extremely consistent hitters with both a high floor and ceiling, who can do everything at an elite level except steal bases. Outside of a strange, COVID-shortened 2020 season, Martinez has batted over .300 in every season since 2017 while simultaneously crushing 36 or more homers each year, and he’s on pace to achieve both feats again this season. Getting him in the fourth was a huge steal in my opinion. And getting last season’s MVP, who previously topped 30 homers in four of six seasons while batting over .280 in four of his last five, in the sixth round, is as consistent as it gets once you get past the first couple of rounds.
Now one thing about the way I typically draft is that I almost never take starting pitchers early. I only jump for a starter if I think he’s worth a lot more than the current draft position. And that happened twice in this draft. Yu Darvish in round three, and Tyler Glasnow in round five. Darvish was a top-15 overall pick in most drafts heading into this season, and he was the proud owner of a 2.44 ERA and 0.94 WHIP through June, at which point he had two rough starts before hitting the IL. Based on that, I think he should still be a top-20 pick at the very least, and I got him at 32. Then with Glasnow, he’s a guy with some of the nastiest stuff in baseball, and he finally put it all together this season to currently hold a 2.66 ERA and 0.93 WHIP with 123 strikeouts in 88 innings! Entering his prime at age 28 for the start of next season, his ceiling is the Cy Young award, and he came at a price of the 56th overall pick, as my second starter. If you still couldn’t tell, I absolutely loved how this six-round draft turned out for me.
It’s Christmas in July, folks. Not only did I have a ton of fun with this, I think this team has a great foundation going into 2022. This is a two 3B league right? Right??
I was saddled with the 9th pick, so any hope of the mega-stars was slim. I decided to go shortstop, and while Bo Bichette and Trevor Story jumped out at me I went with Trea Turner. Turner’s combo of power, speed, and average is a huge get even at a pretty deep position. When the turn came back I pounced on Rafael Devers. Devers has had an excellent bounceback after a down year in 2020. While I strongly considered Bryce Harper here, I think Devers will be well worth a 2nd rounder in 2022.
My next pick wasn’t as predictable, but this is a mock draft nearly 9 months in advance, let’s have some fun. I went with Jesse Winker to start off my OF. Winker was a force in the early days of the season and has since slowed down, but I am still loving what I am seeing from the Reds’ outfielder. While this may have been a bit of a reach, I still preferred him over the likes of Randy Arozarena or Joey Gallo (in an AVG league).
At this point, I need some pitching. All of the big-time aces are long gone and it appears my draft mates may have forgotten about the currently injured Jack Flaherty. Before the oblique put him on the IL, Flaherty was much similar to the pitcher he had been in 2018-19. He should be back on the mound in a few weeks and will most likely rise on 2022 draft boards by next Spring.
Pick 5 I was kind of at a loss. I wasn’t in love with any of the outfielders on the board and I still felt it too early to go for a catcher. I spied the also injured Tyler Glasnow but was mercilessly sniped in the previous pick by draftmate Kyle Frank. So I threw caution to the wind and took another 3B – Nolan Arenado. Yeah, this move wasn’t the smartest with Devers already on the roster but a guy with Arenado’s pedigree in the 5th round?? Sign me up. Lastly, I needed some more strength at SP and snatched up Pablo López. López has been excellent in Miami, and while his innings may be capped this year, I think the Marlins will fully let him off the leash come next year.
The strategy heading into this ridiculously early draft was fairly similar to that which I employ year in and year out – hammer the discounted veterans. Taking that approach mid-season requires a bit of a leap of faith as the stat sheet continues to look so bare, but Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, and Anthony Rendon fit that mold. All three have been banged up, all have proved to be studs when healthy.
Looking through my squad, Chris Sale is my favorite pick given his current positive momentum towards a second-half return to a surging Red Sox team. The recovery from Tommy John is rarely such a smooth one, but Sale continues to check all the boxes and this guy is an unquestioned top-30 pick when healthy.
Amongst the other picks in the draft Matt Olson as a second-round pick jumps out to me — but he’s really just been that good. It’s fun to see Cedric Mullins taken just ONE SPOT behind Christian Yelich.. and scary to think how much further Yelich could fall if his second half looks anything like his first one. Aside from my own Chris Sale pick, Lance Lynn at 5.4, José Altuve at 5.8, and Shohei Ohtani at 1.2 are some of my favorite value picks in the draft.
Austin Bristow II
I was unlucky enough to get the eleventh slot in the draft, which may be the worst place for the first two rounds. Once Jose Ramírez, Juan Soto, Trea Turner, and Mookie Betts were all taken, I felt as if my choices were lackluster in comparison. I decided to draft Trevor Story the future shortstop of REDACTED. While he hasn’t been worth a first-round pick thus far in 2021, he has the highest power-speed upside of anyone still available at 11 overall. He is on pace for 23 homers and 32 steals, which certainly helps make up for his .245 batting average. Hopefully, a change of scenery boosts his second-half numbers.
With my second pick, I felt GIDDY to draft Mr. Sticky Fingers himself, Gerrit Cole. Cole may not be the untouchable, dominant ace he was in Houston, but he is still a surefire top 10 starter and could easily be top 5. I was surprised to see Brandon Woodruff and Zack Wheeler both taken ahead of Cole, but I’ll leave Alex Drennan to discuss his first two picks.
My third and fourth round picks were two exciting outfielders, Nick Castellanos and Cedric Mullins. It’s hard to pass up the NL batting average leader at 35th overall, especially when he is also on pace for 32 home runs! As for Mullins, this was the boldest of my picks. 38th overall, the beginning of the fourth round is certainly early for a guy who has only shown us half a season of all-star level performance. However, with a .313 batting average and a 26-26 HR SB pace, there is a lot to like from Mullins’ profile. I think we should expect his batting average to fall a bit; his .358 BABIP and .274 xBA certainly indicate he’s overperforming there. However, his plate discipline is actually quite impressive. He sports a 7.6% swinging-strike rate, placing him between Justin Turner and José Altuve on the leaderboard. While he’s no Juan Soto, Mullins will still take his walks. I see him as a very exciting option to provide power, speed, and batting average, even if his supporting cast may leave him lagging behind in R and RBI.
My last two picks covered second base (perhaps the weakest position outside of catcher) and bolstered my pitching staff. José Altuve brings a very stable floor to my infield. He provides a strong batting average and … wait. Altuve is on pace for 42 home runs?! Whoa. I really, really like this pick now! I finished off my draft by picking up Trevor Rogers. His breakout this year (which now seems to be on pause due to lower back spasms) has been so fun to watch. Anyone who was able to grab him off waivers early has to love every moment of his starts! There’s very little not to like; 29% K rate, 8.6% walk rate, and 31% CSW are all great and I hope he can finish the year healthy and be a new ace for years to come.
While I normally don’t like picking at the turn, I thought it would be fun for this exercise. If this were a real draft, I likely would have taken Bo Bichette over Brandon Woodruff with my second pick. However, since this was a mock draft, I wanted to plant my flag on a couple of things:
- Zack Wheeler is a first-round caliber pitcher
- While unorthodox, it is okay to draft both Wheeler and Woodruff ahead of Gerrit Cole
My favorite pick of the draft was Manny Machado. With 2019 seeming to be the exception rather than the rule, Machado has put together three top 20 hitting seasons since 2018, and his 2021 actuals are underperforming his xStats. As long as he continues to slot in third or fourth in this potent Padres lineup, the top-line fantasy production should come easily.
While I enjoyed employing the pocket aces strategy, I realized that this draft strategy is probably more suitable for Head-to-Head Categories rather than Roto because of how thin the five-tool hitter pool is, at least from the 12th slot. For me, the other key takeaway from this mock draft is that four category studs like Mitch Haniger and Justin Turner, are being drafted below their current production value would dictate they should. Sure, hot young talent like Adolis García have ceilings that Haniger and Turner can never reach, but there is a lot more uncertainty and volatility with these kinds of players, and fantasy baseball is a game of risk management. Sometimes it’s better to bet on black than on columns.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Jacob Roy (@jmrgraphics3 on IG)