Ben Pernick’s 2EarlyMock Draft Review
For those of you experiencing fantasy baseball withdrawal, do I have something for you! This draft was started about a month ago, but with all the championships decided, I figure now is the best time to look to 2020. Just remember that because the picks were made in September before the season was over, things changed, so don’t take this as gospel for what to expect regarding player ADPs in March. But it’s a first snapshot, which is worth something. I will say I wish I could roll out this team in more than just a mock as I think I did pretty well.
Feel free to share your thoughts, good luck to your playoff teams and enjoy!
Round 1, Pick 13
Trevor Story (SS, Colorado Rockies)
Trevor Story has been a fantastic five-tool fantasy contributor for the second straight year and is now no longer considered a high-risk pick. He’s hit .294 with 35 home runs, 111 runs, 85 RBI, and 23 stolen bases over 588 at-bats. He still has elite sprint speed even though he hasn’t been quite as aggressive on the base paths as last year, and he’s managed to cut his strikeout rate while allowing his high fly-ball rate and Coors to make the magic happen. Even with how deep shortstop is, with a second straight elite year and no signs of slowing down, the 26-year-old deserves to be a top-10 pick and I’d take him high as No. 6.
Round 2, Pick 18
Anthony Rendon (3B, Washington Nationals)
I predicted he would have a breakout in my bold 2019 predictions, and I may as well double down. This is a pick that looks good, though I do have some reservations that perhaps I’m “buying high” on his big 2019, and he has been losing steam down the homestretch. Still, it’s hard to have any doubts as he’s managed to stay mostly healthy for the fourth straight year and has been a galvanizing offensive force when on the field, hitting .319 with 34 home runs, 117 runs, and 126 RBI and five stolen bases in 545 at-bats. I love his combination of elite contact and on-base ability that should make him a run-production machine and a safe pick here.
Round 3, Pick 43
Ketel Marte (2B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks)
On the one hand, it does feel too bold to use a third-round pick on a player who until this year was merely a late-round sleeper, especially when his breakout came on the power front when we all were expecting speed. But it’s hard to argue with the elite production, as he denied concerns about looming regression by continuing to be one of the league’s most consistent mashers all season, hitting .329 with 32 home runs, 97 runs, 92 RBI, and 10 stolen bases in 569 at-bats. Of course, I drafted Marte before his season-ending back injury, and while it doesn’t require surgery, hype could be muted unless he surges in spring training. Still, with handy 2B/OF dual eligibility, I think the 25-year-old (yes, he’s still only 25) is a breakout worth believing in.
Round 4, Pick 48
Chris Sale (SP, Boston Red Sox)
At this point, I’d essentially be punting starting pitching by going with another hitter, and with pitching going fast, I figure I may as well bet on the last guy on the board with actual ace ability. Sale had a messy season with velocity issues early on and home run problems all around, as his 4.40 ERA and 6-11 record are in contrast with his elite 1.086 WHIP and fantastic 281?37 K/BB ratio in just 147.1 innings. While the season-ending shelving casts doubt on his 2020, he will steadily climb up draft boards if he shows indicators of health in spring training, and I’m going to bank on the 30-year-old’s lengthy history of being a top-three starting pitcher to assume he’ll be a value, though there’s always a chance he pulls a Luis Severino. But hey, what pitcher isn’t an injury risk? He says he’ll enter 2020 spring training healthy. We’ll have to wait and see, but for now, I’m optimistic.
Round 5, Pick 73
J.T. Realmuto (C, Philadelphia Phillies)
Looking back, I think this was perhaps too aggressive as catcher is surprisingly deep on the back end. Roberto Perez hit 23 home runs this season, and he didn’t even end up getting drafted at all! That being said, I drafted Realmuto before his injury news, and aside from perhaps Gary Sanchez (also health pending), Realmuto is the top fantasy catcher after hitting .275 with 25 home runs with nine stolen bases in 538 at-bats. I’m concerned about his season-ending knee surgery, but I still am holding out hope that he can have a Ketel Marte-like breakout as I believe more in sluggers with contact skills and a well-rounded game. Perhaps in his second year in Philly, his hitting will benefit more from his move from Miami as he needs to focus less on learning his new pitchers and game-calling and can focus more on hitting. He may not be flashy, but at catcher, he’s as safe as they come.
Round 6, Pick 78
Yasiel Puig (OF, Cincinnati Reds)
It seems every year, Puig is a tale of two seasons, though this one is perhaps the happiest of those stories. In Cincinnati, he hit 22 of his 24 home runs and had 14 of his 18 stolen bases, but in Cleveland, he has hit .300 and raised his batting average from the .240s to .267. While he didn’t have quite the 30/30 breakout some hoped for in the preseason, he set a career high in RBI (84) and stolen bases (18), and I think a true star-level breakout is still not out of the question for the energetic yet enigmatic 28-year-old.
Round 7, Pick 103
Marcell Ozuna (OF, St. Louis Cardinals)
I was feeling like I was on Cloud 9 with this pick, but right now, he’s burning me and ripping a hole in the Ozuna layer. His batting average has been cratering from the .270s all the way down to just .243 with 29 home runs and 12 stolen bases with 80 runs and 89 RBI in 485 at-bats. Considering that his 2019 season was looking like a triumphant return before it was marred by health problems, some folks may not realize he was on pace for another 35-plus home run season, and I believe the average will improve as his K/BB rate has improved for the third straight year. Even if it doesn’t, his 12 stolen bases were an unexpected surprise, and given his high stolen base success rate (86%), I expect that to continue, raising his floor. I’m still buying him after pick 110-120 based on power/speed needs, and I recommend you don’t Marcell him short.
Round 8, Pick 108
Sonny Gray (SP, Cincinnati Reds)
This was hands down my favorite pitcher selection of the draft as I think he was largely overlooked in this draft, but as he’s continued to surge to the finish line, I doubt you’ll be able to snag him this late. He’s been an underrated ace when on the field, going 11-7 with a 2.80 ERA, 1.086 WHIP and 199 strikeouts in 170.1 innings and has been just as good if not better since returning from his injury. The preseason theory about changing his pitching approach in Cincy proved to be more correct than anyone could reasonably expect. Some regression is to be expected given his history of yo-yoing from good to bad, and he’s not a good bet to surpass 200 innings as the undersized righty never has done so in his career. Still, given his success in the crazy home run environment (especially in Cincy), I think the 29-year-old will still be a strong No. 2 starter or elite No. 3 starter for your fantasy squad.
Round 9, Pick 133
Jeff McNeil (2B/3B/OF, New York Mets)
I was thrilled to land McNeil this late, and it goes to show how batting average often is overlooked in drafts. He’s been elite in that category all season but massively tapped into his power stroke with 16 tates in the second half, raising his line to .318 with 23 home runs, 83 runs, 75 RBI and five stolen bases (six caught stealing) in 510 at-bats. While many doubters felt his 2018 breakout was smoke and mirrors (I admit some skepticism myself), this year, he has backed up his performance with significant skill improvement as his exit velocity jumped from 85 mph in 2018 to an above-average 88 mph in 2019 while maintaining a strong BB/K ratio. While I don’t expect much on the stolen base front, given his second half, I would not be surprised to see him surpass 30 home runs next year with a .290-.300 average. In average leagues, especially considering his super-useful 2B/3B/OF eligibility, I think he belongs in the discussion as a top-100 pick if not top 75.
Round 10, Pick 138
Carlos Santana (1B/3B, Cleveland Indians)
I’ll be honest: When I saw his name still listed here, I thought it must be a mistake. In the too early mocks, I believe I snagged him later than anyone. Oh, if only this weren’t a mock. Despite being 33 and coming off a yawn-inducing 2018, he was an elite producer at first base, hitting a fantastic .281 with 34 home runs, 110 runs, 93 RBI, and four stolen bases with a .397 OBP in 573 at-bats. When you consider he came 120 picks later than Rendon, it’s surprising how close he comes to that level of production. While he’s been inconsistent year to year, there’s zero risk here, and his elite BB/K of 108:108 gives him a high floor. And I’m not banking on an age-related decline with him setting a career best in exit velocity of 92 mph. He should go right around Pick 100, and I wouldn’t let him slip. Push him far higher in OBP formats, obviously.
Round 11, Pick 163
Matthew Boyd (SP, Detroit Tigers)
I understand the hesitation toward taking him considering his homer-fueled plummet from grace, but this late, I felt like he was unaboydable. Yet again, I’m banking on the baseball regression gods to save him, as he’s arguably been the second half’s most tater-plagued pitcher but has still been a beast in the strikeout department, with 238 strikeouts in 185.1 Innings. Statcast believes he’s been unlucky, as his wOBA of .324 is a fair deal higher than his xwOBA of .297, though it’s fair to point out that the Tigers’ horrendous infield and outfield is at least partly to blame. I’m betting on his elite K/BB ratio, hopefully helped by a spacious Tigers home park (assuming he’s not traded) and perhaps better pitch-calling by Jake Rogers, who is strong defensively. I still hold out hope his changeup can blossom into a third viable weapon, though that may be wishful thinking at this point. Still, as long as you can make up for his likely lack of wins, his strikeout ability alone makes him worth betting on after Pick 150.
Round 12, Pick 168
Franmil Reyes (OF, Cleveland Indians)
I needed to balance out my power/speed and average focus with one true masher, and Franmil was the last good one left. It says something about this year that a player on pace for 40 home runs isn’t considered a top-150 player. He hit .249 with 37 tates yet was a mediocre run producer with only 69 runs and 81 RBI. I was perhaps too bullish on Framil early in the season as I really thought he’d combine a better average and OBP with his massive power, and I was wrong again when I figured the move out of Petco would turn around his slump. But he’s still young and relatively inexperienced in the majors, and over his 755 career at-bats, he has still hit 53 home runs. That sets a pretty good power floor for the massive 6’5″ slugger, and I’m banking on a bigger 2020 breakout for the 24-year-old.
Round 13, Pick 193
J.D. Davis (3B/OF, New York Mets)
I had thought J.D. had dashed my hopes of being a 2020 sleeper, but getting him here in this draft gives me new hope. Davis went from being a Dallas McPherson-esque power-only slugger to a truly well-rounded hitter by cutting his strikeout rate down to just 21%, while posting an excellent season line of .305/.367/.520 with 21 home runs and five stolen bases over 406 at-bats. Statcast validated his season throughout, with an excellent .307 xBA and .531 xSLG, along with an excellent 91.3 mph exit velocity and 11.2 barrel per batted-ball event, rates very close to a more high-profile J.D. (Martinez: xBA .305, xSLG .563, exit velocity 91.4 mph, barrels/BBE 12%). The one thing holding down his value is playing time, as even during his surge, he was often seated against righties, although he had a still-excellent 2019 line of .302/.364/.509 with 13 home runs in 265 at-bats. In 2020, with Todd Frazier a year older, I expect him to finally earn the playing time he’s deserved all year. I expect his ADP to climb closer to 160 or even 150 if he’s getting regular reps in spring training, but even then, I’d still target him.
Round 14, Pick 198
Andrew Heaney (SP, Los Angeles Angels)
It’s hard to tell if Heaney is underrated or overhyped, and you could make a convincing case for either. On the one hand, since his arrival to the majors in 2014, he has only eclipsed 106 innings once, and he’s only posted an ERA below 4 in one of those seasons (and not the full 180-inning season). On the other hand, he’s managed to develop into a high-strikeout, low-walk pitcher when on the field, with a career-best 14.1% swinging-strike rate and over 11 K/9 while staying below three walks per nine innings. He was done in by the long ball, with an ugly 18% HR/FB, which is especially damaging considering he allowed 44% fly-ball rate, good for 1.89 HR/9. The good news is that he at least finished 2019 healthy, and the pitching pool was thin enough at this point that it’s worth a gamble on a guy who can be a No. 2 starter if he can just stay healthy and have some better batted-ball luck.
Round 15, Pick 223
Casey Mize (SP, Detroit Tigers)
I’m keeping Mize on the prize. Considering he was nearly called up to the majors this year, I think he’s a gift to snag this late. Despite his injury scare pumping light brakes on his runaway hype train, he’s absolutely displayed ace ability in his climb up every level of the minors. While he will likely miss the first month or two of the season, he’s the kind of pitcher who can quickly make up for lost time with his elite command and ability to pitch deep into games. The biggest knock against him is that thus far he hasn’t displayed an elite strikeout rate, falling short of a strikeout an inning in the minors. Then again, he’s 21, and even without elite velocity, there’s no doubting his pitch quality and elite makeup. He’s exactly the kind of high-upside gamble you should look at here in the draft, though you may need to take him around Pick 175 to secure him.
Round 16, Pick 228
Jose Leclerc (RP, Texas Rangers)
I’m going to say I wasn’t so proud of this pick, especially after seeing Emilio Pagan taken after him. But the bright side with Leclerc is that the Rangers seem committed to having him as their closer, and it’s not like he has much competition. While his season line looks messy, it’s worth commending how well he bounced back from a terrible start to the season, with an 8.44 ERA in March/April but an ERA no higher than 4.50 in any other month. He also struggled with lefties, with a .267 batting average against and .483 slugging percentage allowed vs. lefties compared with a .158 batting average against and .278 slugging percentage allowed vs. righties. Still, he’s only 25, and I have hope his 2020 will fall somewhere in between his unreal 2018 and too real 2019. Perhaps you can wait later on him, but I wouldn’t let him slip past 250 if you need saves.
Round 17, Pick 253
Danny Santana (1B/OF, Texas Rangers)
Look, I get that at the time of this draft, he was mired in a dreadful slump, but I think him falling this late is nothing short of ridiculous. Despite the journeyman being called up as a midseason depth addition, he was a largely unheralded fantasy monster this year, hitting .283 with 28 home runs, 81 RBI, 81 runs, and 21 stolen bases in just 474 at-bats. Sure, it’s easy to be skeptical of a player who hardly hit for power with a below-average career exit velocity of 85 mph, but he actually started hitting for higher exit velocity last year at 89 mph before it blossomed into his 2019 breakout. Even though he’s not a youngster at 28, he still has impressive speed and high success rate (78%), giving him a high floor with a stolen base category that can get tricky late. I do express the batting average and power to regress some but believe he can still easily go .260 20-20 over a full-season with excellent multi-position eligibility. I’ll assume the draft room slept on him, and I’d recommend targeting him well ahead of Pick 200, perhaps even Pick 175.
Round 18, Pick 258
Aaron Civale (SP, Cleveland Indians)
Civale ended up being perhaps the most slept-on second-half savior, and I’m skeptical it’s smoke and mirrors. He succeeded against weak teams and monster offenses alike, with a 3-4 record belying his 2.34 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 46 strikeouts in 57.2 innings. While the 24-year-old lacks a high-speed fastball, prospect pedigree, or strikeout rate of many other starters, I believe in Cleveland making the most out of a pitcher like him. He reminds me of early-career Corey Kluber, with a very high-spin curveball (Civale’s fastball is also high-spin), and Statcast said he was hardly lucky with his outstanding .272 wOBA with a still-excellent .278 xwOBA. I am perhaps more bullish on his 2020 outlook than most, but I think he can become a household name in 2020, provided your house likes fantasy baseball.
Round 19, Pick 283
Mitch Keller (SP, Pittsburgh Pirates)
In this mock draft, I suppose I really had a bit of an extreme strategy of targeting fallen high K/BB starters, with Gray and Civale the two exceptions. Keller definitely presented some hittability issues, but I think 2020 will be kinder to the 23-year-old. In Keller’s case, I’m betting on bad batted-ball luck playing a role in his struggles, as his terrible wOBA of .397 was a country mile above his xwOBA of a league-average .307. His 29% strikeout and 7% walk rate are a great foundation for a young starter, and I hope he’ll be willing to even give up more walks to avoid the meatballs. He presents as a higher-risk version of pre-2019 Shane Bieber, although Keller has a better fastball. He’s a great late-round safety/upside counterweight with Civale, and I’d be happy with him anywhere after Pick 250.
Round 20, Pick 288
Kyle Lewis (OF, Seattle Mariners)
At this point, I had already drafted five outfielders. Perhaps there were better options for my utility slot, but I was gunning for upside here. Even though he cooled off after his rip-roaring start, there is a lot to like in his profile. He finished the year with the highest barrel per plate appearance rate of any hitter with 40-plus batted-ball events, with an excellent FB/LD velocity of 98 mph. While the power is great to see, he was really hacking for the fences with a 39% strikeout rate and 4% walk rate. It’ll be interesting to see how much offseason hype he generates if he lands a starting role, but you could probably wait until the 300s to roll the dice on him. Although I’ve heard the comp of Jermaine Dye tossed around, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were more of a Teoscar Hernandez type, who you can wait to snag with your final picks.
Round 21, Pick 313
Matt Barnes (RP, Boston Red Sox)
I feel like most Red Sox fans will be the last to draft Barnes. Although he was maddening and perhaps too in love with his fickle curveball, there’s a fair argument to be made that he’ll be among the most underrated relievers heading into 2020. He finished the season strong and tallied a ho-hum 3.78 ERA and 1.38 WHIP with a 5-4 record, four saves, and 110 strikeouts in just 64.1 innings, numbers that would look pretty good if you compare him with other relievers. But my optimism in Barnes in rooted in his Statcast numbers, with a surprisingly excellent .196 xBA and .299 xSLG, and his wOBA of .295 was higher than his xwOBA of .276. He probably is done being a closer, but I’d expect him to land some saves and have the potential to be a high-strikeout, high-WHIP relief ace.
Round 22, Pick 318
Howie Kendrick (1B/2B, Washington Nationals)
This is one of my favorite picks of the late rounds, and I have ageism to thank. Yes, I’ve been steered wrong betting on old hitters with newfound exit velocity (see Miguel Cabrera), but the performance is worth betting on this late in the draft. The 36-year-old managed to hit for both power and average in 2019, hitting an astounding .334 with 17 home runs, 61 runs, 62 RBI, and two stolen bases in just 334 at-bats, pacing for 25-plus home runs over a full season. Of course, what’s holding him down is that he didn’t play a full season, and it’s not clear if health was the reason or just that the Nationals only saw him as a part-time player. If the latter is true, he could impress again in 2020 with perhaps more playing time, as his incredible .405 wOBA was actually below his expected wOBA of .418, with his xBA of .328 compensated for by a fantastic .594 xSLG. I believe this was an approach change more than luck, with career highs in exit velocity (92 mph), launch angle (11 degrees) and barrel rate (11.4%), but somehow he did that while also cutting his strikeout rate to just 13%. Even if he’s a part-time player, he’ll likely outproduce many other players before him, and I’ll scoop him up around Pick 300 wherever I can.
Round 23, Pick 343
Mike Yastrzemski (OF, San Francisco Giants)
He’s now a lot more than just a feel-good story. The 28-year-old journeyman made a big splash in the second half, with a .272 average, 55 RBI, 64 runs, and two stolen bases in just 371 at-bats, surpassing his wildest expectations. It’s hard to know if that was a career year as he won’t have more projection at 29 next year, but he is still capable of hitting .260 with 30 home runs in the heart of the lineup. If he comes this cheap, I’ll have more shares of him for sure.
Round 24, Pick 348
Kole Calhoun (OF, Los Angeles Angels)
This was probably as unsexy a pick as I could make, and had I been managing my autodraft queue, I probably would not have taken an eighth outfielder. But Calhoun probably is not getting enough respect based on what he’s done this year combined with his ability to stay healthy even if not exactly reliable, sort of like a poor man’s Shin-Soo Choo. The past two years, he’s averaged 25 home runs, and he was an unheralded late-round cog of many championship machines with his run production. This just shows how easy it is to get power late from the outfield position and perhaps still a fine late-round boring value find.
Round 25, Pick 373
Aaron Bummer (RP, Chicago White Sox)
Given that I waited until very late to act on closers, getting Bummer here makes me feel better about that gamble. He did cool off from his hot start and never ran away with the closer role as many had hoped, but I think he’s shown enough to vie for the role and succeed in 2020. His fastball and curveball both excel in spin rate, and his impressive rookie stats were not aided by luck. The White Sox will be unlikely to garner many more save opportunities in 2020 barring a major shakeup, but this late in the draft, I’m fine with betting on the talent and letting the chips fall where they may.
Round 26, Pick 378
Adrian Houser (SP/RP, Milwaukee Brewers)
This pick probably looks bad now given how drastically he fell apart toward the end of the season, and I somewhat regret not targeting a utility hitter here. That being said, he’s still only 24 and for a good long moment showed plenty of strikeout promise. Seeing as the Brewers have a pretty messy rotation averaging a 4.40 ERA, which is worst among playoff contenders, I think next year he won’t have a hard time working his way back into the rotation conversation, and if he lasts there all year he could post a solid 4.00 ERA and 1.30 WHIP with plenty of wins and 170-180 strikeouts. I doubt I’ll target him here in other drafts, but he’s worth keeping an eye on next year if he’s on your waiver wire.
Round 27, Pick 403
Wade Miley (SP, Houston Astros)
Getting Miley after Pick 400, I think I can safely say that the hate has gone too far. This pick was made shortly after his back-to-back monster shellings, but even with those factored in, what he accomplished this season should not be overlooked. He still managed to rack up a ton of wins and keep an ERA below 4 in a homer-happy environment, and at age 31, it’s not like age-related decline will send him off a cliff. I would not be surprised if he outproduced some flashier names on this list, as his success was more than Dakota Hudson-esque smoke and mirrors. He should probably be taken before Pick 350 just based on the team he plays for (and the magic they’re capable of).
Round 28, Pick 408
James Karinchak (RP, Cleveland Indians)
It blew my mind that Roberto Perez was still on the board—and he was likely the better pick—but I really wanted to highlight Karinchak’s intrigue as a relief prospect. Although most of his success has been in small samples and his stuff on the surface doesn’t appear to be eye-popping, he’s managed a fantastic strikeout rate through the minors (above 15 K/9), and that certainly gives me hope that he can be a high-leverage bullpen arm for Cleveland in 2020 with the ability to vulture some saves. Even without saves, he seems like he could rack up 100 strikeouts from a bullpen slot, and I’m happy to roll the dice on that upside with my last pick. He may start 2020 in the minors, but don’t forget about him.
(Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire)