The icy chill of January has given way to the moderate chill of February, which means mock draft season is officially underway. I took the #2 selection in the most recent Pitcher List mock draft to build a team around Red Sox star Mookie Betts. 12 teams, 23 rounds, and 60 seconds to think about each pick.
Pick 1.02 – Mookie Betts (OF – Boston Red Sox)
Mookie Betts is in a tier all by himself after Mike Trout comes off the board. Betts went 32/30 with a .346 batting average that was backed up by elite 14.8% and 13.2% strikeout and walk rates. He’s elite by Statcast metrics too, with a 14.1% barrel rate and 92.3 mph average exit velocity. The only blemish on Betts’ track record is a .264 batting average in 2017, though it was dragged down by a .268 BABIP and he still hit 24 HR with 26 SB. Batting at the top of the elite Red Sox lineup, Betts is a safe option to contribute in all five standard categories.
Pick 2.23 – Giancarlo Stanton (OF – New York Yankees)
The second round is when picking from the #2 spot starts to get interesting. Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt were my top two targets here, but both were selected in the three picks before me, so I settled on Giancarlo Stanton. When healthy, as he’s been for two consecutive seasons now, Stanton is still one of the premier power hitters in baseball. He’s got a great shot at approaching 40 HR again in Yankee Stadium with 100+ runs and RBI each and a respectable batting average.
Pick 3.26 – Kris Bryant (3B – Chicago Cubs)
A shoulder injury sapped Kris Bryant‘s power in 2018, and he ended the season with a career-low 13 HR in 457 PA. In the previous three seasons, he’s been one of the best hitters in fantasy, so I’m betting on a bounce-back season with clean health in 2019. Dr. Mike Tanner wrote a great article on Fangraphs last week about why Bryant struggled throughout the whole season as a result of the injury, though his 2019 prospects are optimistic.
Pick 4.47 – Clayton Kershaw (SP – Los Angeles Dodgers)
I wasn’t explicitly targeting Kershaw in this draft. but 14 pitchers ended up going before him here, so I thought he was a great value pick as my first pitcher. In a down season, he still had a 2.73 ERA and 3.19 FIP over 161.1 innings. Kershaw’s back issues are certainly compounding, but he’s still an excellent pitcher when he’s not on the Injured List. Maybe 2019 is when everything falls apart, but I’d rather gamble on Kershaw’s track record over several of the pitchers drafted before him.
Pick 5.50 – Corey Seager (SS – Los Angeles Dodgers)
2018 was a lost season for Corey Seager, as he struggled through a hip injury before eventually also spraining his UCL and undergoing Tommy John surgery. He’s on track to return by opening day fully recovered from both. From 2016-17, Seager batted .302 and averaged 24 HR per season and I don’t see why he can’t return to that production if the early reports on his recovery are accurate.
Pick 6.71 – Joey Votto (1B – Cincinnati Reds)
I didn’t plan on going with four straight bounce-back candidates in the early rounds, but they kept falling to spots I liked. Joey Votto is just one year removed from a 36-HR, .320 AVG campaign, though his home run production tanked to just 12 HR in 2018. Votto still maintained his trademark elite plate discipline with a 16.2% strikeout rate and 17.3% walk rate and hit .284. His average exit velocity was actually 0.6 mph higher in 2018 than 2017, and he only needs to recover a few of those HR to again be one of the top first basemen.
Pick 7.74 – Tommy Pham (OF – Tampa Bay Rays)
Jack Flaherty was at the top of my board here and would have been a nice #2 pitcher behind Kershaw, but Nick sniped him one pick ahead of me. I didn’t love the other pitchers around here, so I added to my lineup with Tommy Pham. He followed up a breakout 2017 season with disappointing production for the Cardinals, but went on a tear after a trade to the Rays and ended up with a solid final line of 21/15 with a .275 AVG. With the Rays attempting steals at a higher rate than the Cardinals, Pham is capable of going 20/20 and providing five-category production.
Pick 8.95 – Josh Donaldson (3B – Atlanta Braves)
Like many of my other picks, Josh Donaldson isn’t far removed from elite performance. He attempted to play through several injuries early in the season but was shut down after 159 PA until a trade to Cleveland. In 60 PA for the Indians, he finally looked healthy and slashed .280/.400/.520 with 3 HR. Donaldson is a higher risk pick than some of the other bounce-back candidates on my roster at 33 years old, but that glimmer of a return to form at the end of the season provides some hope.
Pick 9.98 – Robbie Ray (SP – Arizona Diamondbacks)
I don’t absolutely love Robbie Ray, but I felt obligated to take a second pitcher here and Ray has some great things going for him. The good: a 31.4% strikeout rate and a pitcher-friendly home stadium. The bad: a 13.3% walk rate and rebuilding team. Ray wasn’t healthy for the whole year, but his velocity climbed back as the season went on and he pitched to a 2.65 ERA and 3.84 FIP in the final two months. I expect him to put up a mid-high 3’s ERA with a ton of strikeouts.
Pick 10.119 – Felipe Vazquez (SP – Pittsburgh Pirates)
In hindsight, a safer SP like Kyle Hendricks (who Nick took with the next pick) to complement Kershaw and Ray might have been a better pick, but I had Felipe Vazquez as the last available elite RP left. Over the past two seasons, he’s put up a 2.17 ERA with a 2.45 FIP and 29.7% strikeout rate. There are few safer options to put up high-end ratios and hold a closing job all year.
Pick 11.122 – Chris Archer (SP – Pittsburgh Pirates)
There’s not a lot of hype for Chris Archer anymore, as his NFBC ADP is 132.13, the 48th pitcher taken on average. Archer’s 2018 looked similar to previous years with a 4.31 ERA despite promising peripherals. However, he has a few things going for him now that he didn’t have before. For one, pitching for the Pirates is a much more pitcher-friendly environment than the AL East, even though that didn’t materialize into better results in his brief Pirates tenure last season. Additionally, the Pirates seemed to toy with developing Archer’s sinker or changeup into the third pitch he’s been missing for years. I think Archer is in a great position to finally deliver on repeating the results he showcased early in his career, and now is the time he’s going late enough in drafts to be a bargain.
Pick 12.143 – Yusei Kikuchi (SP – Seattle Mariners)
With my lineup mostly set, at this point in the draft I’m mostly focused on adding to my pitching depth. Yusei Kikuchi is somewhat of an unknown as a 27-year-old set to make his MLB debut this season. He has a deep arsenal of quality pitches, though none appear to be dominant. Still, pitching in Safeco Field could help to play up his expected mid-rotation value.
Pick 13.146 – Yoan Moncada (2B – Chicago White Sox)
Betts and Pham were the only sources of 10+ stolen bases I had so far, so I liked Yoan Moncada here as a source of power and speed to fill the 2B spot. Moncada’s 33.4% strikeout rate caps his value for now, but he does also possess a very good 23.3% O-Swing rate and merely below average 12.2% swinging strike rate, so I see some upside to bring his strikeout rate below 30%. There’s still tremendous raw ability here, and Moncada could be an interesting post-hype breakout candidate.
Pick 14.167 – Will Smith (RP – San Francisco Giants)
Will Smith was quietly one of the best relievers in baseball last season, putting up a 33.8% strikeout rate and 7.1% walk rate with a 2.55 ERA and 2.07 FIP. He looks like the Giants’ closer for now, but it’s possible he’ll have competition for the job. Smith’s stock should climb if he’s outright named the closer, so it’s a situation to monitor as we get closer to the season.
Pick 15.170 – Jimmy Nelson (SP – Milwaukee Brewers)
Before suffering a freak shoulder injury diving back to first base, Jimmy Nelson was one of the breakout stories of 2017. He increased his strikeout rate to 27.3% through a change in his mechanics and posted a 3.49 ERA and 3.05 FIP. It’s a gamble that he’ll come back completely from shoulder reconstruction, but there are few pitchers available this late in the draft with his upside.
Pick 16.191 – Kenta Maeda (SP – Los Angeles Dodgers)
Kenta Maeda can be great when he pitches. But mostly due to the Dodgers having a surplus of good pitching, he hasn’t exceeded 135 innings in either of the past two seasons. Among qualified pitchers over the past three seasons, Maeda ranks 18th in K-BB% at 19.1%, just behind Gerrit Cole and Aaron Nola. He’s another late upside play to round out my pitching staff.
Pick 17.194 – Adam Eaton (OF – Washington Nationals)
Adam Eaton is usually productive when he’s on the field, batting .301 with good run production in 370 PA last season. He’s not a huge stolen base threat, but still stole nine last season and should reach double digits if he can stay healthy. I was happy to pick him up with the 194th selection since he helps out a bit in every category with plus skills in runs and batting average.
Pick 18.215 – Byron Buxton (OF – Minnesota Twins)
I wouldn’t blame you for souring on Byron Buxton if you picked him in the top 75 last season. I think it’s too early to completely give up on him based on 94 terrible PA in 2018 though. Buxton is still a threat to steal 30+ bases with consistent playing time and the Twins have already said he’s their starting CF. Like Moncada, he’s a hugely talented player with significant contact issues, but I’ll take the chance he figures it out this late in the draft.
Pick 19.218 – Francisco Cervelli (C – Pittsburgh Pirates)
Francisco Cervelli quietly joined the flyball revolution last year, increasing his flyball rate to 41.7% from a 31.1% career average. He still hit just 12 HR, but also maintained a respectable .259 batting average. Yadier Molina was another option I was targeting, but Kevin took him six picks before me in round 18. Cervelli isn’t particularly exciting, but he’s a serviceable option as one of the last starting catchers.
Pick 20.239 – Mychal Givens (RP – Baltimore Orioles)
After serving as a setup man from 2015-17, a series of trades left Mychal Givens as the Orioles closer at the end of 2018. He’s been one of the better relief pitchers in baseball over the past four seasons, compiling a 3.12 ERA and 3.18 FIP. Givens’ ERA spiked to 3.99 last season, but he still maintained a 3.07 FIP. Baltimore won’t be good, but save opportunities don’t actually correlate that closely to wins, so Givens could be a sneaky source of saves with good rates going late in drafts.
Pick 21.242 – Sonny Gray (SP – Cincinnati Reds)
Sonny Gray‘s tenure with the Yankees wasn’t great, but he gets a fresh start in Cincinnati in 2019. He still held a 4.17 FIP last season and was one of the more productive pitchers in the league in 2018 with a 3.55 ERA and 3.90 FIP. Great American Ballpark won’t help his high HR/FB%, but the skills are still there for Gray to be a solid back-end fantasy pitcher.
Pick 22.263 – DJ LeMahieu (2B – New York Yankees)
DJ LeMahieu hits the ball hard. 91.1 mph on average, to be exact. That ranked him 32/332 among players with at least 150 batted ball events last season, one spot behind Mike Trout. LeMahieu doesn’t hit many home runs because he doesn’t hit the ball in the air much, though he did increase his flyball rate slightly last season. He’s a candidate to break out if the Yankees can get him to adjust his swing to generate more flyballs. Playing time might be somewhat inconsistent since the Yankees have said he’ll be in a super-utility role, but that should also help him gain eligibility throughout the infield, which makes him a versatile bench option in fantasy as well.
Pick 23.266 – Chris Paddack (SP – San Diego Padres)
With my last pick, I went for a spicy one with a player who might not be in the major leagues for at least half of the season. Those who follow prospects probably already know Chris Paddack because he’s been one of the most dominant pitchers in the minor leagues at every stop. Steamer already projects that he’d put up a 3.52 ERA and 3.48 FIP if he was in the major leagues now. He could be hard to keep on the bench if you don’t have an NA slot, but Paddack has top of the rotation potential that could be on display as soon as midseason.
(Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire)
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a riskier team than this one. This team with amazing luck could win but with even a small amount of bad luck it is the worst in the league. Is this your normal drafting style or just how things happened to fall here? You picked 23 players and 18 of them are high risk, how is that even possible.