The fine folks at Pitcher List invited the new kid to Monday’s mock draft, and I can’t think of a better icebreaker than silently cursing my new boss for poaching Anthony Rizzo in the second round.
I went into the 12-team, head-to-head practice run with the intricate strategy of no strategy whatsoever. As a creature of habit in every other facet of life, it’s a minor miracle that I can take whatever road a draft drives me down with the ultimate goal of stockpiling value.
If you don’t like my picks, well, it’s my first day.
Pitcher List is live streaming a staff mock draft every week leading into opening day. Check out the 2/19 stream on Twitter and the final draft board here.
Round 1: Nolan Arenado (3B, Colorado Rockies) – Drawing pick No. 3, I would have taken Paul Goldschmidt if not for Arizona planning to install a humidor at Chase Field this season. Although I’m not dropping him out of my top 10, I easily pivoted to Nolan Arenado. I love safety to start my draft, and the Rockies third baseman has batted .287 or better with at least 37 home runs and 130 RBI in each of the last three seasons. Even though Trea Turner would have perfectly complemented my next few picks, I’d rather the elite, reliable four-category stud anchoring my offense.
Round 2: Aaron Judge (OF, New York Yankees) – I thought I was an Aaron Judge pessimist by ranking him No. 20, but the room shared those same regression fears. In the late second round, I’ll bite. He registered the highest average exit velocity and barrels per plate appearance among all hitters, so don’t assume batting average regression will turn him into Joey Gallo solely because of a .357 BABIP. When a rookie hits 52 home runs with a 35.6 % fly-ball rate, the reasonable observer will assume a decline. Here’s the crazy thing: his xStats estimated even more long balls (53.9) based on his absurd batted-ball profile. Even if he drops 30 points in average to a workable .254, Judge should still crush 40-45 long balls with triple-digit runs and RBI in Murderer’s Row 2.0. It’s possible we’ll are kick ourselves for not trusting a transcendent slugger.
Round 3: George Springer (OF, Houston Astros) – Like Judge, George Springer benefits from prominent placement in a ridiculously loaded lineup. After scoring 112 runs in 140 games last year, only Charlie Blackmon and Kris Bryant have crossed home plate more times in the last two years. Springer also progressed from an elite compiler to simply elite by setting career highs in batting average (.283), slugging percentage (.522), and wOBA (.376) while continuing a heartening trend of improving his contact and strikeout rates every season. Although he hit just seven home runs after the All-Star break, an epic postseason should assuage any power concerns. The one problem: He has stolen 14 bases in 31 opportunities over the last two years, so the Astros should give him a red light on the basepaths. I gave serious thought to pairing Arenado and Judge with Dee Gordon, but ultimately took the best player available.
Round 4: Justin Verlander (SP, Houston Astros) – I wanted an ace with either my fourth- or fifth-round selection. For all his ups and downs, Justin Verlander has recorded a 3.24 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 9.30 K/9 over the last three seasons. His durability is a double-edged sword. I want an anchor who has logged at least 200 innings all but once in an 11-year career, but that workload (including 36.2 postseason frames) could catch up to the 35-year-old. It was either him or Yu Darvish, who hasn’t reached 200 innings since 2013, so I’ll take my chances on Verlander maintaining his Houston revival. Counting the playoffs, he recorded a 1.66 ERA, 81 strikeouts, and 13 walks in 70.2 innings for the World Series champions.
Round 5: Nelson Cruz (DH, Seattle Mariners) – Getting a steals source like Starling Marte represented the prudent choice, but I couldn’t pass up Nelson Cruz in Round 5. Granted, he is is slowing down. After clubbing 40 or more homers in three straight seasons, he plummeted to a measly 39 last season. His wRC+ also dipped from 147 to a paltry 146. That may have matched Kris Bryant, but nobody wants a scrub with a worse wRC+than Tommy Pham, am I right? I’ve done two drafts this winter, and I scooped up Cruz in the fifth round each time. I’ll happily take him in every fifth round of every draft every year until he retires or stops hitting like a second-round caliber stud.
Round 6: Chris Archer (SP, Tampa Bay Rays) – I didn’t expect to take another starter here, mostly because I had no designs on Chris Archer falling to the late sixth round. His ERA has hovered above 4.00 in consecutive seasons, but I’m a sucker for strikeouts. In the last three years, only Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, and Corey Kluber have amassed more punchouts than Archer, who nearly accomplished a bounce-back 2017 with a 3.66 ERA entering September. While I no longer trust him to anchor a staff, I naively still envision the Cy Young Award upside that has me giddy to grab him at No. 70 overall. Wins will certainly be an issue if he’s not traded from the tanking Rays, so I can only hope he follows their lineup out the door and into a decent pitcher’s park.
Round 7: Xander Bogaerts (SS, Boston Red Sox) – This is the first of many bounce-back candidates I grabbed at a discount following a rough 2017 campaign. I thought I was out on Xander Bogaerts when starting my draft prep, but this is a 25-year-old shortstop who batted .321 in 2015 and .294 with 21 homers, 13 steals, and 115 runs scored the following year. He hit .232 after getting plucked in the hand by a pitch in July and recently admitted that he should have gone on the disabled list. Given my Herculean power nucleus, I don’t need him to overcome a bloated ground-ball rate to tally more than 15 long balls. Just give me the high average with triple-digit runs (or RBI depending on where he bats in a Red Sox lineup now featuring J.D. Martinez) and double-digit steals. I probably would have drafted Jonathan Schoop here if not for already loading up on sluggers with limited or no speed.
Round 8: Masahiro Tanaka (SP, New York Yankees) – Another case of a starter I like falling into my lap. Masahiro Tanaka’s 15.1 % swinging-strike rate ranked third among all qualified starters behind Kluber and Scherzer. His home-run woes admittedly make him a poor pairing with Archer–another high-K hurler who could do more harm than good in ERA–but I think Tanaka can shave a full run off last year’s 4.74 ERA while producing 200-plus punchouts. I would have been fine with him as my No. 2 to Verlander.
Round 9: Rougned Odor (2B, Texas Rangers) – Oh look, another guy who stunk in 2017. Rougned Odor had the worst 30-homer season ever. But hey, he still blasted 30 dingers and stole double-digit bags for the second straight year. And he’s only 24! His MLB-worst .224 BABIP feels harsh considering his 36.8 hard-hit % and passable 75.4 % contact rate. He batted .271 in 2016, but I just need him to steer closer to his .247 career batting average. A bad real-life player and poor investment in OBP/OPS formats, Odor will deliver in the standard fantasy categories.
Round 10: Ian Desmond (1B/OF, Colorado Rockies) – In consecutive picks, I have drafted two players who each recorded a lower wRC+ than Erick Aybar last season. So I got that going for me. Ian Desmond produced four 20/20 campaigns in five seasons before joining the Rockies, so it was baffling to see him go deep twice in 182 plate appearances at Coors Field. Perhaps I’m paying too much for the bounce-back potential in the 10th round, but a return to 20/20 with a Coors-inflated average seems well within the realm of possibility. I’ve gradually accumulated speed with my last three picks, albeit at the cost of forgoing other values. This would have otherwise been a great spot to instead give Miguel Cabrera a mulligan.
Round 11: Cody Allen (RP, Cleveland Indians) – I’d rather not pay top dollar for an elite closer, but I want one sturdy reliever with job security, steady peripherals, and a high strikeout rate. Having notched 30 or more saves with a sub-3.00 ERA and at least 87 strikeouts in each of the last three seasons, Cody Allen checks all of those boxes. I was eyeing Ken Giles, but lost him by waiting the extra round to grab Desmond. No worries. I’m perfectly fine with Allen anchoring my bullpen.
Round 12: Gregory Polanco (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates) – I addressed Odor and Desmond’s offensive deficiencies by grabbing Gregory Polanco, who procured a robust 81 wRC+ in 2017. Much better. This is another instance where I’m buying a young, talented player following an injury-plagued season that derailed his climb to stardom. He stole 27 bases in 2015 and clubbed 21 homers in 2016, so I just need him the 26-year-old outfielder to piece all of those skills together for the breakout we’ve anticipated for years. In hindsight, however, taking him this soon in a head-to-head, three-outfield format was not necessary.
Round 13: Garrett Richards (SP, Los Angeles Angels) – I’ve built up enough steady innings and strikeouts to take a high-risk, high-reward flier. Given his career 3.53 ERA buoyed by a 52.8 % ground-ball rate, Garrett Richards stood out as the perfect gamble to augment Verlander, Archer, and Tanaka. I’m not as hopeful as others that he’ll even work 160 innings, but 20 high-end starts would help my team at this spot.
Round 14: Salvador Perez (C, Kansas City Royals) – This is probably the first time I’ve ever drafted Salvador Perez. In the past, I have scoffed at taking an overpriced catcher who routine deposits an on-base percentage below .300. But here we were in Round 14 at pick No. 166. J.T. Realmuto went five rounds earlier, and Evan Gattis was selected five picks before my turn. I’m not going to pass up a value because the book says not to take a catcher early. Perez also isn’t getting enough credit for upping his slugging percentage and homer tally in each of the last three seasons. I feel like Ben Wyatt standing on the table and declaring to his stunned Parks and Recreation coworkers that he likes Jerry/Larry/Terry/Garry Gergich. Perez is my friend now, and I don’t care who knows it.
Round 15: Arodys Vizcaino (RP, Atlanta Braves) – Closers went flying off the board, so I didn’t want to risk another run siphoning my options before Round 16. The walks scare me, but Arodys Vizcaino should keep piling up the strikeouts with his 14.7 swinging-strike % and 35.2 % outside swing rate. A.J. Minter is the only Braves’ reliever who worries me as a potential ninth-inning usurper, but that’s still a long shot (in 2018 at least) after just 15 big league innings. I’m having a little buyer’s remorse since I could have snagged Blake Treinen, but Vizcaino makes a decent second closer.
Round 16: Michael Wacha (SP, St. Louis Cardinals) – Seriously, why were pitchers so popular in the Pitcher List mock draft? With more exciting starters (i.e. Jon Gray, Dylan Bundy, and Blake Snell) long off the board, Michael Wacha will have to do as my No. 5 option. While I don’t know how many innings I can reasonably expect after he lasted 165.2 frames in 30 starts, his career 3.84 ERA, 3.63 FIP, and 8.00 K/9 stood out amid a diminished player pool. Career highs in ground-ball (48.0 %) and first-pitch strike (65.8 %) rate also offer hope of the 26-year-old discovering an extra gear. If not, he’s still a useful back-end arm.
Round 17: Adam Jones (OF, Baltimore Orioles) – This is a bargain if Adam Jones does what he always does. After taking so many chances on younger hitters rebounding from injuries and/or poor play, I rounded out my starting lineup with the epitome of consistency. In the last seven years, Jones has always belted at least 25 home runs with no lower than a .265 average. I’m getting sleepy just writing about him, and I can’t brag about forecasting a productive season from someone who is always boringly productive. But this is the 17th round. Not even a fantasy writer should be aiming to wow the competition and readers with every pick.
Round 18: Trevor Story (SS, Colorado Rockies) – OK, now back to securing my 2016 fantasy championship. Remember when Trevor Story, a 25-year-old shortstop who calls Coors Field home, went deep 27 times in 97 rookie games? Well, here he is falling outside the 200. After a brutal start, he hit .254/.314/.520 after the All-Star break with help from a 49.4 % hard-hit rate. He also stopped popping up excessively, lowering his 15.0 % first-half infield-fly rate to 4.4. Story’s major league power barrage will likely forever remain his career’s highlight, but I don’t need a superstar from my first reserve choice. Anticipating 25-30 home runs and 10 steals, I rank him behind Bogaerts as my No. 9 shortstop.
Round 19: Aaron Sanchez (SP, Toronto Blue Jays) – Carlos Rodon, Steven Matz, and Eduardo Rodriguez had already gone, so I expected someone to take the plunge on Aaron Sanchez sooner. Even if 2016’s 3.00 ERA was aided by some good fortune, his career 56.1 % ground-ball rate and 26.6 % hard-hit rate make the 25-year-old someone who should prevent runs if healthy. Hopefully one of Richards or Sanchez hits as a low-ERA fourth starter.
Round 20: Fernando Rodney (RP, Minnesota Twins) – I’m not a fan of late-round “Saves are saves” picks, but Fernando Rodney is probably going to keep compiling saves after getting his AARP card. He’s a constant disaster waiting to happen, but a 30-year-old with a 10.57 K/9, 55.2 % ground-ball rate, 3.03 FIP, and firm grasp of a closing gig would be receiving considerable more love than Rodney. Yet it’s probably not a good sign that I hope this pick fails.
Round 21: Addison Reed (RP, Minnesota Twins) – I decided on a whim to handcuff Rodney with Addison Reed, Minnesota’s clear eighth-inning man. Trevor Hildenberger went before both, but Reed has the experience edge most MLB managers prefer. If Rodney stumbles beyond forgiveness, I’ll have a superior closer waiting. If not, I’ll use Reed to help my ratio or dump him for one of April’s new closers. I wanted another skilled middle reliever anyway, so the gambit doesn’t hurt.
Round 22: Jonathan Villar (2B, Milwaukee Brewers) – Who else available in the penultimate round amassed 19 home runs and 62 steals two years ago? Jonathan Villar offers league-winning potential at essentially no cost. People are drafting Turner in the top five (and rightfully so) in hopes of accruing those stats. Drafting him late in a shallow format, I can cut Villar without remorse if the Brewers sign Neil Walker or trade one of their outfielders for a second baseman. I’d be lucky if anyone else on my squad swipes 25 bags, so even a fraction of a resurgence would represent a major boom.
Round 23: Joe Musgrove (SP/RP, Pittsburgh Pirates) – Before excelling in the bullpen, Joe Musgrove posted a 6.12 ERA and .300/.356/.526 opposing slash line as a starter. He gets another chance in a park that suppresses home runs, so I’ll take a last-round flier on the Pirates splashing pixie dust on their latest reclamation project.
This mock reinforced the demand for premium speed, but I’m more willing to sell out for power in a head-to-head league. If anything, the changing landscape means fantasy players should want more elite pop to separate from the pack. It also took me too long to properly adjust my evaluations tailored for a league with five outfielders and corner/middle infielders.
I’m glad I grabbed three high-end starters instead of testing my luck against these savants. Many of my mid-level targets went too soon for my comfort. This of course was not the draft to target Luis Castillo as a middle-round sleeper.
Overall, I like my mix of value picks and high-upside rebound candidates. It wasn’t a cognizant strategy to bank on bounce backs, but rather a trend I only noticed after studying the results. Maybe I’m too confident in swift recoveries, but exploiting recency bias can occasionally yield fantasy glory.