Nothing like a fantasy baseball draft in October, am I right? Given the uncertain nature of last season’s statistics, mock drafting becomes even more important as we try to gauge each player’s value heading into 2021.
As far as my personal strategy goes, I tend to favor hitting early in rotisserie looking for runs scored and stolen bases toward the top of the draft. Not that it’s set in stone, but I find those are the two most difficult categories to play catch-up with. I am also worried about the durability of pitchers across the league next season. Ramping up may be difficult after most starters threw around 50 to 60 in 2020. Who knows what workloads are going to look like?
I also tried not to weigh the most recent results too heavily, but without a full offseason to flesh out some thorough rankings, it became difficult to fight recency bias. So, I ended up taking lots of both breakouts and busts from 2020 to try and strike a reasonable balance. Enough intro, let’s get to the picks.
Note: This was done as if drafting for a standard, 5×5 league. You can view the entire board here!
1.4 Fernando Tatís Jr. (SS, San Diego Padres)
In 5×5, I feel there are three players separate from the pack in Mookie Betts, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Tatís due to their proclivity to steal bases. Lucky for me, I had the option to choose either Acuña or Tatís and decided on the latter. The margins here are razor-thin, but where Acuña made his seismic leap during the 2019 season, Tatís still has at least one more wrung to climb.
After an electric rookie season, the prevailing thought was that his general free-swinging nature would keep him from reaching top-tier production. Tatís responded by making serious plate discipline gains across the board.
Doing so is impressive, doing so while seriously improving his power metrics (100th percentile in Avg Exit Velo, Hard Hit%, and Barrel%) is why Tatís may be the best overall player in fantasy next season.
2.21 Anthony Rendon (3B, Los Angeles Angels)
In retrospect, I reached on Rendon here. Based on Justin Mason and Smada’s 2EarlyMocks (which I will refer to here from time to time), I jumped up and took him 10 picks ahead of his ADP. In doing so, passing on (apparent) better values in Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. With Machado, I did not want my first two picks to come from the same team for no statistical reason whatsoever other than the sake of diversification. With Harper, I am concerned with the talent that will be surrounding him in Philadelphia in the near future. Nevertheless, Rendon could conceivably be favored over each when looking at the last three seasons.
Rendon: 334 G, 67 HR, 234 R, 249 RBI, 7 SB, 11.7 BB%, 13.5 K%, .310/.397/.557, 148 wRC+
Harper: 374 G, 82 HR, 242 R, 247 RBI, 36 SB, 17.1 BB%, 24.1 K%, .257/.388/.509, 133 wRC+
Machado: 378 G, 85 HR, 209 R, 239 RBI, 25 SB, 9.9 BB%, 16.6 K%, .281/.354/.514, 128 wRC+
Of course, Rendon will scarcely contribute SBs compared to the other two, but his per-game production in terms of HRs, R, and RBIs along with a substantially higher BA tipped the scales in his favor. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he will be hitting behind or between Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani next season.
3.28 Trevor Bauer (SP, Free Agent)
Truthfully, I was not expecting Bauer to be available with this pick. The 10th SP to come off the board, Bauer has arguably been the best pitcher in baseball for two out of the last three seasons. His stuff was so good this past season it was up there with the game’s best relievers. His 4-seamer had more vertical movement than James Karinchak‘s, his curve more drop than Seth Lugo‘s, and his slider more slide than Adam Ottavino‘s. Of course, there is some unsavory speculation as to how Bauer’s stuff was able to take such a leap based simply on his spike in spin rate across his pitches.
Personally, I don’t see the use of a foreign substance as an issue when valuing Bauer. As Eno Sarris has pointed out, almost every single pitcher across baseball uses such to enhance their grip. Whatever Trevor allegedly did, there is little doubt he will be able to continue allegedly doing it. I’m confident that he will be able to anchor my staff and allow me to set my sights back on some hitters.
4.42 José Abreu (1B, Chicago White Sox)
This pick is brought to you by the ‘Meat & Potatoes’ section of the draft. Abreu is a consummate power hitter who is coming off the best year (aka 60 games) of his career. The reigning AL MVP set career bests in xBA, xSLG, wOBA, xwOBA, xwOBAcon, Barrel%, Avg Exit Velo, Hard Hit%, and BB% in what was the best lineup he has ever been a part of. As the White Sox continue to ascend, Abreu will be a strong source of counting stats.
5.49 Cavan Biggio (2B/3B/OF, Toronto Blue Jays)
Full disclosure, this was a weird point in the draft and I still do not love this pick. I contemplated other 2Bs such as Whit Merrifield or Ketel Marte but settled on the young Blue Jay. On one hand, Biggio’s production since his call-up has been unbelievable. In 159 career games, he has 24 HRs, 107 R, 76 RBIs, 20 SBs, and a .250 BA. Strikeouts were an issue for him as a rookie and he cut them down significantly last season from 28.6% to 23.0%. This was the 12th greatest reduction of K% of all qualified hitters from 2019 to 2020.
Additionally, I feel like his athleticism was underrated during the prospect evaluation process. Guys like Biggio who are a bit older and not twitchy routinely get passed over on Top-100 lists. Check him out, stretching a bunt base hit into a double in a game vs the Rays:
From 2008-20 bunts into fair territory produced a batting average of .397. The Twins had the most(313) & the Red Sox had the fewest(118) Attached is a bunt double by Cavan Biggio vs. the Ray’s shift with four outfielders. IMO an under developed & utilized skill. pic.twitter.com/i2g2OqTpMc
— Jerry Weinstein (@JWonCATCHING) November 1, 2020
On the other hand, advanced stats are not kind to Biggio. All of his expected stats ranked in the bottom third of the league along with his Barrel%. His max exit velocity of 103.6 MPH was the second-worst in all of baseball. This is certainly concerning, but less so after taking a look at his exit velocity on fly balls and line drives. At 91.6 MPH, it is actually higher than either Merrifield or Marte. Given Biggio’s likely eligibility at three positions (2B, 3B, and OF), reduction in K%, and place atop the Jays potent lineup, I felt he was the best option considered.
6.63 Michael Conforto (OF, New York Mets)
Back to your regularly scheduled meat and potatoes, I made Conforto my first OF here in the 6th. Since a scary shoulder injury cut short his 2017 campaign, Conforto has gone from a possible superstar to just boringly above-average. At the time of said injury, he had 27 HRs in just 109 games along with a .279/.384/.555 slash during his age 24 campaign. In the two seasons that immediately followed, both his power and average fell off (304 games, 61 HRs, .250/.356/.471 slash) as Conforto looked mildly uncomfortable at times and developed a pull-happy approach. This past season, Conforto rediscovered the all-fields approach that made him so successful earlier in his career.
The power was still nothing to write home about (54 games, 9 HRs), but his swing mechanics felt right for the first time in a while en route to a ridiculously high .322 BA. That number will certainly come down, but settling in the .270-.280 would do wonders for Conforto’s fantasy stock.
7.70 Trent Grisham (OF, San Diego Padres)
Only 6 players totaled both 10 HRs and 10 SBs in 2o2o: Tatís, Mookie Betts, José Ramírez, Trea Turner, Trevor Story, and Grisham. The former 1st round pick sputtered in his first stint in the majors with the Brewers in 2019 before a trade to the Padres last winter. With an expanded role in San Diego, the power-speed threat was the 13th overall OF and 36th overall player per Razzball. Not making it past pick 65 in any of the 2EarlyMocks and with an ADP of 56.4, Grisham was an absolute steal at 70.
8.84 Zack Wheeler (SP, Philadelphia Phillies)
Finally ready to grab my 2nd pitcher, Wheeler was my guy. While I probably would trade him for Babe Ruth, he fit the bill here. The flamethrower who was once known for chasing strikeouts and constant arm trouble has quietly become a true contact-oriented work-horse. Wheeler once struggled working deep into games but averaged greater than 6 IP per start for the first time in his career last season. Of course, he has done so at the expense of seeking strikeouts, punching out just 18.4% of batters in 2020.
In exchange, Wheeler’s ability to limit any type of dangerous contact was astounding. Opposing hitters barreled him up just 3.8% of the time. They put the ball in the air at a paltry 37.8% clip (10.8 FB%, 26.9 LD%). In turn, his HR/9 was near league-best at 0.38. I expect some regression there, but Wheeler has now put multiple years together of being pleasantly steady. He is one of three pitchers in all of baseball to have a FIP below 3.50 in each of the last three seasons along with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer. That’s great company for someone who has basically become a 100 mph Kyle Hendricks.
9.91 Kyle Hendricks (SP, Chicago Cubs)
Speak of the devil, enter Hendricks! I guess this can be referred to as my pitching meat and potatoes because Hendricks continues to get it done without the hint of a thrill involved. ‘The Professor’ earned his lowest FIP (3.55) since 2016 last season while also cutting his already minuscule BB% down (4.4% to 2.5%). Hendricks is a safe arm who will be out there every five days and helps to raise my pitching floor after I neglected it early. I am confident with these three as a base.
10.105 Sandy Alcántara (SP, Miami Marlins)
With three reasonably safe arms, I felt it was time to take a shot on someone with a wider range of outcomes. For a team flush with young pitching assets, Alcántara can safely be called one of the Marlins’ cornerstones. Even after a bout with Covid resulting in a layoff of more than a month and getting hammered by the Rays for 8 R (5 ER) in his first start back, Alcántara found his stride in September. He struck out 23.8% of opposing batters (19.2% for his career), walked just 8.7% (10.5% for his career), and lasted at least six innings in every start.
For as eye-popping as Alcántara’s stuff is, he has never been able to sustain a K% to match, until this stretch. An adjustment to his four-seam usage may have been a key reason for the uptick in punch outs. He threw it less often than years past and focused its location more in the upper third of the zone.
Putting an emphasis on attacking with the 100 mph offering, Alcántara threw it more when ahead in the count than years past. In turn, the fastball earned more whiffs, hitters chased it more often, and it generated way more strikeouts.
This adjustment seems like it could be incredibly beneficial and help Alcántara begin to realize his full potential.
11.112 Ian Happ (OF, Chicago Cubs)
In what has been a year filled with despair for the Cubbies, Happ represented one of their few bright spots. Usurping the CF job (for lack of better options), the former first-round pick put together a strong offensive season. Perceived as a breakout, Happ’s four years in the league have actually been largely consistent with one another besides for relegation to the bench in 2019.
Certainly, there were some marked improvements last year. His HH% jumped up to 48.5% from its previous high of 40.5%. Happ may have been able to more consistently make hard contact due to the tightening of his launch angle. Found using Alex Chamberlain’s Pitch Leaderboard, LA tightness (technically the standard deviation of one’s launch angle, or sdLA) shows the breadth of LAs on a hitter’s balls in play. The lower the number, the narrower the distribution. More research is being done by Chamberlain and Connor Kurcon, but (weak) evidence shows a correlation between LA tightness and more consistent EV. Happ tightened his LA to a career-best figure in 2020 and the results benefitted him.
12.126 Ramón Laureano (OF, Oakland Athletics)
One of the darlings of the 2019 season, Laureano was a hot name on 2020 draft boards. FantasyPros listed his cumulative ADP of 105.6 and his average in NFBC leagues was 77th! If last season simply did not exist, Laureano is not available this late. However, it truly did exist, and that’s an issue for Laureano. His season had a weird feel due to his early season
brawl incident with Astros Coach Alex Cintrón and impending appeal/suspension. Ramping up and then back down is hard enough. Getting all the way back and then having to sit yourself down again could cause one’s head to spin.
Nevertheless, Laureano regressed tremendously. His quality of contact fell dramatically and his power with it. A .521 SLG in 2019 sunk to just .366 last season along with serious dips in his EV and HH%. Despite the other pullbacks, his Barrel% remained steady at 9.4% (9.7% in 2019). Much less aggressive than in 2019, Laureano swung at pitches in the zone 9.1% less often in 2020. That passivity may have seriously contributed to his pitfalls, but I’m willing to bet a full offseason and Spring will help to get his mind right.
13.133 Michael Brantley (OF/Util, Free Agent)
You didn’t think I was done saying ‘meat and potatoes’, did you? Brantley is as ‘meat and potatoey’ as it gets. No flash, no frills, not that much hard contact, just an all fields approach that yields a high BA, Runs, and RBIs. Over the last 3 seasons, only nine players have at least a .300 BA, 200 R, and 180 RBIs: Christian Yelich, Betts, Rendon, JD Martinez, Charlie Blackmon, Xander Bogaerts, DJ LeMahieu, and Brantley. His landing spot is not yet known, but I am confident he will be able to produce for whatever team is lucky enough to sign him.
14.147 Willson Contreras (C, Chicago Cubs)
Catcher does not feel like the bottomless pit it has been in recent memory (at least in one C leagues). After JT Realmuto and Yasmani Grandal, there is a real glut of players who can make a case for the #3 spot. With those two off the board along with Gary Sánchez (YUCK), I decided on Contreras. All things considered, his playing time feels more certain than Will Smith‘s (if there really is no DH in the NL), his track record is more reliable than Travis d’Arnaud’s, and his current profile is more indicative of future offensive success than Salvador Pérez’s. Contreras brings a solid Barrel%, HH%, and a defined role into 2021. He is my third Cub though, which I do not love, but what can you do.
15.154 José Urquidy (SP, Houston Astros)
I loooooooved Urquidy heading into last season. A seven-start, 40 inning sample with a 19.8 K-BB% and 3.68 FIP was enough to get me very excited about his potential. 2020 was not as kind: a bout with Covid held him out for almost the entire season and when he did finally take the mound, the strikeouts disappeared. A drop in K% from 24.0% to 14.7% is enough to make any drafter quiver.
Although, his role in the Astros rotation feels guaranteed given their lack of SP depth. Additionally, Urquidy started three playoff games this season, a clear indication that the organization still trusts him. Steamer and ZIPS trust him far less, but I remain optimistic. As SP56, I’m happy to add him to my squad only a mere 69 picks higher than his 2Early ADP.
16.168 Michael Kopech (SP, Chicago White Sox)
Back-to-back reaches, I again went for upside over security trying to elevate my pitching staff. There may not be a player in baseball with a wider range of outcomes this upcoming season than Kopech. His tantalizing potential is offset by the unknown surrounding his health. Apart from Tommy John surgery that has held him out since September 2018, Kopech has spoken about his struggles with mental health. This is paramount and we all hope he is in the right place, the upcoming season notwithstanding.
That being said, his potential as a pitcher is still sky-high. He dazzled throughout 2018, first at AAA, where he struck out 170 batters in 126 1/3 innings, and then briefly at the major league level before a torn UCL put him on the shelf. His fastball was still sitting right around 100 mph and his offspeed stuff was sharp last spring before the stoppage, so there is no doubt his arm has fully recovered.
Michael Kopech painting 101mph on the corner for the strikeout after showcasing a stellar curveball and slider.
I can't wait for his 2020 MLB debut. pic.twitter.com/7MGGIaZbAx
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) March 10, 2020
As long as he is mentally in the right place, he could explode in 2021.
17.175 Giovanny Gallegos (RP, St. Louis Cardinals)
Ah, time for a reliever I guess? Truth be told, I am much more of a find-saves-as-I-go-along type of fantasy player. And that goes for both drafting and in-season roster management. The amount of closers who top even 30 saves in a season has been shrinking and I do not love spending serious capital for saves, so I like to target guys with electric stuff in undefined roles and hope lightning strikes.
Gallegos’ stuff is certainly electric: a nasty slider plays off his mid 90s fastball to keep hitters uncomfortable. His Whiff%, K%, xwOBA, xERA, xBA, and xSLG were all in the top 10% of qualified pitchers in 2019. Yet, he only wound up with one save. Nowadays, the Cardinals’ once-vaunted bullpen is less crowded with 9th inning options. Andrew Miller is not the pitcher he once was, Jordan Hicks is an unknown, Carlos Martínez is somehow even a bigger unknown, and Alex Reyes is the biggest unknown of all! Ryan Hesley remains effective, but Gallegos was called upon more often to close last season. All in all, Gallegos feels like a worthwhile flier.
18.189 Tyler Mahle (SP, Cincinnati Reds)
Speaking this into existence: there is NO CHANCE Mahle is not a full-time SP for the Reds in 2021. Bauer is gone and Sonny Gray is probably on his way out too. That leaves one, possibly two open spots in the rotation. The Reds have (somehow) dropped Michael Lorenzen‘s name when discussing potential replacements so Mahle must be ahead of him in the pecking order right? This is just my brain refusing to forget the short period of time last summer when the Reds gave Wade Miley starts over Mahle, but you can never be too careful.
With a certain role, Mahle is a bonafide breakout candidate. Working with ‘Driveline Midwest’, Mahle developed a slider before 2020 that became his outpitch. It generated a 41.5 Whiff% and held hitters to just a .233 xwOBA. It was a weapon against both righties:
Tyler Mahle, Filthy 86mph Slider. 😷 pic.twitter.com/1VC7q4j3qZ
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 28, 2020
Tyler Mahle, Wicked 85mph Slider…and Rizzo bends the knee. pic.twitter.com/325cZi7uoq
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 28, 2020
This a great spot for him and I really hope the hype machine doesn’t drive his price up by draft season.
19.196 Paul DeJong (SS, St. Louis Cardinals)
An unheralded fantasy hero, steady producers like DeJong do not get the recognition they deserve. This blind player profile was stolen from The Athletic’s Derek Van Riper, but since the start of 2019:
DeJong- 204 G, 33 HR, 114 R, 103 RBI, 10 SB, .237/.319/.424, 2Early ADP 266
Player B- 197 G, 37 HR, 116 R, 109 RBI, 14 SB, .258/.293/.481, 2Early ADP 81.2
3…2…1… Player B is Javy Báez! Of course, this is has been a disastrous collection of seasons for Báez, but it goes to show how sneakily productive deJong is. The best part is that he absolutely still has another gear. If he could ever just improve his plate discipline and lower his mammoth K% (he has shown absolutely no sign that this could/might improve, he would enter a completely new echelon. He’s only 27, the floor remains stable, and it’s possible!
20.210 Nick Solak (2B, OF)
Here is another pre-2020 draft darling on a substantial discount. He had the role everyone envisioned, but could not deliver on his hype. His Barrel% dropped in the limited sample while he swung at more pitches outside of the strike zone, possibly an outcome of pressing. Despite his struggles, the Rangers are absolutely devoid of talent and want to get one of their most exciting young players in the lineup every day. All indications are the 2B job is his to lose, and a set role could help him settle down a little bit after playing multiple games at three different positions in 2020 (2B, LF, and CF). Moreover, Steamer projects him for 19 HR, 10 SBs, and a .264/.334/.423 slash. Pretty good option to finish off my bats this late!
21.217 Spencer Turnbull (SP, Detroit Tigers)
Some are still high on Turnbull, I’m comfortably meh. He really outran all his estimators last season, pitching worse than his xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA indicate while striking out less and walking more batters. Despite this, I still think the stuff is at least above average.
His mid 90s fastball has a decent spin rate, but no ride. Its 30.6% CSW since the start of 2019 is pretty good, too. The slider is also a weapon, checking in with a 35.3 Whiff% over the same period. Then comes his sinker and changeup. Both primarily used against lefties, neither have been effective nor missed any bats. He may be well served to bump up the usage of his fastball and slider in favor of the former. Also, he all but scrapped his curveball in 2020 despite its 32.3 Whiff% and .238 xwOBA in 2019 (12.1% usage rate). There may very well be an effective pitcher inside of Turnbull, it is anyone’s guess as to whether it will come to fruition.
22.231 Elieser Hernandez (SP, Miami Marlins)
I’d like to crown myself as proprietor and part-time spokesperson for the ‘Elieser Hernandez Fan Club’. Still accepting new applicants through the 2021 season, I have been banging the drum since late 2019. All he did to reward my optimism was strike out 32.1% (!!) of opposing hitters before a lat injury cut his campaign short after just 25 2/3 innings.
Hernandez’s slider is his bread and butter, generating an astounding 37.7 Whiff% since the start of 2019. His key shortcoming is the lack of a consistent 3rd pitch. He has worked with a changeup but used it less than 10% of the time over the past two seasons with mixed results. In what is suddenly a very crowded and competitive Marlins rotation, Hernandez may eventually be pushed to the pen if he is unable to add something else to the repertoire.
23.238 Kendall Graveman (RP, Seattle Mariners)
One last-ditch effort to scrounge up some saves, word from the Mariners is Graveman is all-in on becoming a reliever ahead of the 2021 season.
Just got off the video call with Kendall Graveman. He's all in. Changing training as a reliever, talking w/ #Mariners analysts, working on a slider, bought a Rapsodo.
Message to team "I believe if we all give everything we have, we are a playoff team. Let's go win."
— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) October 29, 2020
Unfortunately, the original move to the bullpen was not entirely his to make. After missing the entire 2019 season with an injury, Graveman entered 2020 with increased velocity and a spot in the M’s starting rotation. After leaving a start with back pain, doctors found a benign tumor in his spine. The pain was too great for him to pitch more than an inning or two at a time and surgery was not an option, so Graveman reverted to the bullpen full-time. Once there, he thrived. In 10 innings of relief work, Graveman’s sinker velocity ticked up to 96.2 mph and topped out above 99. The Mariners’ closer role has been a revolving door since Edwin Diaz was traded and Graveman can be first in line for saves with a strong spring.
Photos by Andrew Dieb, Larry Radloff, and George Walker/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)