For me, like so many others out there, a huge part of the allure of fantasy baseball is the draft itself. Luckily, that need, that physical need to draft a new team can be fulfilled with mocks like this recent 20-team dynasty start-up, rather than ending up with 25 new leagues come Opening Day.
My strategy heading into the draft was to start out leaning on batters with the first few picks, then hopefully add some younger pitchers by the time I was nearing round 10. It’s always hard to stick to a strict plan, but I believe an important part of any draft is the ability to react to what’s happening and let your strategy build as you go. All I was hoping for going in was to get a top 10 pick and to see where the draft brought me from there.
Round 1 (Pick 6): Mookie Betts, OF, BOS
I was hoping for a pick near the backside of the top 10, ideally 6-8, and was ecstatic to see it happen. Coming into this one I just wanted to go with simply the best batter available, and that’s exactly what I did here with Mookie. If you like the color red, I’d suggest checking out the Statcast page for Betts: In 2019, he was in the 84th percentile or better in everything other than sprint speed, where he was in the 73rd percentile. While Mookie may not remain entrenched in the Red Sox lineup much longer, the 27-year-old can be the foundation of any fantasy squad for years to come.
Round 2 (Pick 27): Jose Ramirez, 3B, CLE
Last year was a tale of two seasons for JoRam. Going into 2019 he was a consensus first-round pick and then put up a putrid .218/.308/.344 triple slash with only seven homers in 317 at bats before the All-Star break. In the second half, despite dealing with an injury, he went off for a .327/.365/.739 line and 16 home runs in fewer than half the at-bats. I’m firmly in the camp that we saw his floor in 2019, and it was still a very productive 20/20 season. There is easily first-round upside here at the end of the second, and I was happy to lock down another 27-year-old batter who is going to help my team across the board.
Round 3 (Pick 38): Ozzie Albies, 2B, ATL
Leading up to this pick, I wanted to go with another batter, specifically either Jose Altuve or Ozzie Albies to lock down a stud at second base, one of the shallowest positions in fantasy. Keston Hiura and Altuve went in two of the three picks before me, so a lot of this pick was about the impending cliff at 2B. With that said, Albies just turned 23 and has already proven himself to be durable, playing all but six games of the last two seasons combined. He also should be hitting near the top of a strong lineup, has above-average xwOBA, xSLG, and sprint speed with an elite (90th percentile) xBA. My first three picks have given me a core of young batters that help to build a safe floor in every category.
Round 4 (Pick 59): Aaron Nola, SP, PHI
This was more of a reactionary pick than I would’ve liked but there was a run of starting pitchers going off the board and I felt that I needed something to help stabilize my rotation. I fully plan on taking risks on starters moving forward so it made sense to go for Nola, who’s not only young (26 years old) but also a workhorse. He was in the top 10 in the National League in innings pitched each of the last two seasons and, even in an inconsistent 2019, he still finished above average in xwOBA, xSLG, xBA, and K%. I’m very happy to take Nola here and love the opportunities that will open up later in the draft knowing the safe floor I’ve already locked down.
Round 5 (Pick 70): J.D. Martinez, OF/DH, BOS
At some point, current production needs to outweigh youth. Each dynasty owner will have some different tipping points, but, for me, J.D. Martinez in the fifth round was it. With the batters I already had I felt the only thing I was lacking was a true power hitter and I locked that up with this pick.
Martinez is simply elite. 2019 was a down year compared to his 2018 campaign, and he still finished in the 89th percentile for exit velocity and hard-hit percentage, 96th percentile in xwOBA and xSLG, and 97th percentile in xBA. It doesn’t get much better in terms of finding an all-around slugger.
Round 6 (Pick 91): Rhys Hoskins, 1B, PHI
Rhys Hoskins disappointed a lot of fantasy owners last year, but I think it was a matter of expectation more so than lack of performance. He isn’t a high batting average guy (it dropped 20 points down to a woeful .226 last year), but he also led the league in walks and was able to raise his OBP to .364. He doesn’t have the elite ceiling of some other first basemen, but that’s not why I drafted him. He’s going to be a very solid contributor in homers, should give at least 160 combined runs and RBI (he’s been over 170 in each of his full seasons), and, in a dynasty league that has OPS as a category, a 26-year-old with incredible on-base skills is a player I’m very comfortable owning.
Round 7 (Pick 102): Zac Gallen, SP, ARI
Oh boy, these next five picks make for my favorite stretch of the draft. I wanted to take a few more pitchers with a focus on youth and upside. I might have had to reach a little bit for Gallen, but I wanted so many pitchers in this glob and felt safe with my batting core. With that said, I don’t think this is an outlandish pick, at all. Gallen has legit stuff — a good fastball that can be paired with his Money Pitch slider, and a changeup with good drop on it that induced a nice .04 ISO last year. At only 24 years old, I feel great about adding this sort of upside to my rotation.
Round 8 (Pick 123): Jonathan Villar, 2B/SS, MIA
I fully intended on going with another pitcher here, but this is exactly why I don’t like locking myself into a strategy before the draft. This pick was a matter of value and at the time of our mock draft, Villar’s ADP in National Fantasy Baseball Championship drafts was 31. I understand that this is a dynasty setting, so it’s not a straight comparison, but he’s only 28 and should absolutely still have a green light in Miami. The Statcast data isn’t particularly pretty for Villar and bit of regression is due, but I will still gladly take that near 100-pick drop and run with it.
Round 9 (Pick 134): Julio Urias, SP, LAD
Try to guess which pitcher, with a minimum of 75 innings pitched, led all of baseball in average exit velocity allowed. Perhaps one of the Cy Young contenders? Maybe a lock-down closer? As it turns out, 23-year-old Julio Urias took that crown in 2019. He was also 90th percentile or better in hard-hit percentage, xwOBA, xSLG, and xBA.
It feels as though Urias has been around forever. After debuting at age 19 he spent 2018 recovering from the injury that ended his 2017 season but bounced back in 2019 with a sparkling 2.49 ERA and 1.08 WHIP to go along with a 26.1 K%. The Dodgers always seem to find ways to limit the innings on their pitchers, but, at some point, the reins are going to come off and Urias is going to be a fantasy stud. If he’s not a full-time starter (I’m just hoping for a modest 140 innings), I still feel confident that I’m getting stellar contributions in all my ratios out of the pen.
Round 10 (Pick 155): Griffin Canning, SP, LAA
I wanted to continue my trend of drafting young starters with upside, and the next to fit that bill was Canning. I think he has the potential for three plus pitches to go along with plus control, and, while that wasn’t always present in his debut, we did see some very solid starts. In 2019, the xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA for his fastball, slider, and curve were all better than the actual results we saw. It’s far from guaranteed, but there are lots of areas where regression would be positive here. He should start the season in the rotation despite being only 23 and, hopefully, continue to improve moving forward.
Round 11 (Pick 166): Mitch Keller, SP, PIT
Man, that was fun! I love Mitch Keller. I think he has filthy pitches and got very unlucky with how his debut went last season. Full disclosure, I talked myself out of taking him in the eighth, ninth, and 10th, so for him to still be here in the 11th absolutely made my draft. His slider is an excellent pitch (.179 xBA, .295 xSLG), his curveball is also a plus offering (.149 xBA, .133 xSLG) and if he dials back the fastball usage a little bit to take advantage of his better off-speed options, he could put together a very nice season. Keller should also have no problem accumulating innings next year, and I think it’s reasonable to expect a mid-to-high 3s ERA with a 24-25% K rate in essentially a full season of starts, with the potential to improve going forward. I think this was a steal at 166th overall.
Round 12 (Pick 187): Miguel Sano, 3B/1B, MIN
After my run of pitchers, I needed to go back and add another power hitter to bolster my lineup. That’s exactly what I did here with Sano. I’m a bit less enthusiastic about this pick after the Twins signed Josh Donaldson to man third base, but the fact remains that Sano has absolutely elite power. In fact, in 2019 he was in the 100th percentile in both exit velocity and hard-hit percentage. For those curious, Sano had the highest hard-hit percentage in baseball, and he and Aaron Judge were the only two batters with an average exit velocity above 94 mph. His barrel-% ranked second in baseball and his xISO ranked eighth.
He’s lost some of the prospect shine he had back in 2015 and 2016, but I think the underlying skill set is still there. Last year, in only 105 games, he managed 34 homers and 155 combined R+RBI with a .923 OPS. Even if he doesn’t get a full season of at-bats, I think those numbers are reachable again.
Round 13 (Pick 198): Amed Rosario, SS, NYM
This was just another value pick. He won’t be starting for me, but I think there’s a reasonable path to a solid fantasy contributor across the board. From 2018 to 2019, he was able to improve on his barrel-%, add 2 mph to his average exit velocity, improve his launch angle a bit, and cut down on his strikeout rate. Still only 24, I think those trends are something worth taking a shot on in a dynasty league.
Round 14 (Pick 219): Evan White, 1B, SEA
Evan White is my first minor leaguer selected, and he might be in the majors to start the season, anyway. I’m not sure if this was the most reasonable pick, but I do love White and the skills he brings to my team. Always a good hitter (a .296 career batter in the minors), last season saw him add more power to his game, and, in Double-A, we know it wasn’t just a product of the happy fun ball. I like the upside ,and I like that he will see the big leagues in 2020.
Round 15 (Pick 230): Lance Lynn, SP, TEX
This is exactly what I was hoping for with this pick. I took on a lot of risk in my rotation and adding a guy like Lynn will help to mitigate some of that. He threw his fastball more in 2019 (a touch over 52% of the time) and batters only managed to hit .218 off it. He’s the epitome of a solid veteran pitcher, he’s going to pitch a large volume of high-quality innings and should be a very safe floor in every pitching category.
Round 16 (Pick 251): Riley Greene, OF, DET
I loved Greene coming out of the draft last year, and with no one standing out in the 16th round, I decided it would be a great time to take a prospect I’m high on. FanGraphs gave both his hit tool and power 60-grade potential, which is certainly a winning combination. In his first taste of professional baseball, he moved from rookie ball to Low-A and ended his season at A-ball. Already entrenched as a top-100 prospect, I wouldn’t be shocked to see his stock continue to rise. Even though he’s a couple of years away, I expect him to be integral to the Tigers’ rebuilding efforts.
Round 17 (Pick 262): Eduardo Escobar, 3B, ARI
Eduardo Escobar is a prime regression candidate following his career year, but there’s nothing wrong with drafting a guy who put up 35 homers and 212 R+RBI last year as a backup. He hovered around league average in xwOBA, xSLG, and xBA and, despite his HR output, he was below average in average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage. His ADP in NFBC is currently at 115, so even if Escobar comes back down to Earth, he should still be a very solid contributor and a steal at pick 262. Between JoRam, Sano, and Escobar, I was able to take advantage of a deep position and should get a huge impact from 3B/UT.
Round 18 (Pick 283): Danny Santana, UTIL, TEX
I don’t love Danny Santana, but I can’t ignore the fact that he hits the ball hard (90th percentile exit velocity), he’s fast (70th percentile sprint speed), and he’s eligible nearly everywhere. Even though he’s currently a starting outfielder for me, the roster flexibility of being able to slot him into literally every batting position other than catcher will be very valuable.
Round 19 (Pick 294): Alek Thomas, OF, ARI
Alek Thomas flew up rankings last season and, entering 2020, has positioned himself squarely in the top 50-75 prospects in baseball. Thomas has the potential to contribute everywhere and has already showcased his above-average hit tool, power, and speed in his first full season of professional baseball. I think another strong season could see him end up within the top 25 prospects, which would either give me some exciting youth coming up in the farm or a nice trade chip moving forward.
Round 20 (Pick 315): Justin Upton, OF, LAA
I wanted one more veteran outfielder that could help my team for this season and decided Justin Upton in the 20th round seemed like good enough value to fill that role. 2019 was a lost year for Upton, but that was the first year since 2009 (yes, a full decade ago) that Upton had fewer than 570 plate appearances in a season. Despite being around for 13 seasons already, Upton is only 32, and I have faith that he can bounce back from the injury and put up a solid — albeit not overly exciting — stat line in 2020.
Round 21 (Pick 326): Jordan Groshans, 3B/SS, TOR
Groshans has only played a total of 71 games across two seasons, but the tools he possesses are exciting. He’s already a decent fielder with a strong arm that should let him stick at third base and perhaps bump Vladimir Guerrero Jr. over to first. The hit tool is going to be the deciding factor for Groshans, as his raw power is certainly real and there’s enough speed to potentially contribute in stolen bases, as well. Likely starting the season in A-ball, Groshans is a few years away but should be an exciting part of the young core of the Blue Jays’ future.
Round 22 (Pick 347): Kenley Jansen, RP, LAD
At this point, I realized I didn’t have a closer yet, and since I’ve built my team to hopefully compete immediately, I wanted to make sure I had someone who would contribute saves. Saves are hard to predict year to year, but Kenley has had 30 or more in each of the past six seasons, and he’s paired that with an above average strikeout rate and good ratios. Despite seeing his ERA jump up to 3.71 last year, he still finished in the 85th percentile or better in hard-hit percentage, xBA, exit velocity, xwOBA, and xSLG. Kenley is as close to set-and-forget as you can get from a relief pitcher.
Round 23 (Pick 358): Brennen Davis, OF, CHC
I clearly have a type when it comes to prospects, and Brennen Davis fits right in. Davis is another great stash candidate who has the potential to contribute everywhere. Similar to Groshans, the hit tool is a question mark, but the power and speed both have 60-grade potential. In a 50-game sample from 2019, Davis had a 33/8/30/4/.305 line which was good for a 160 wRC+ in A-ball. The skills are definitely there, and a strong 2020 could skyrocket Davis’ stock.
Round 24 (Pick 379): Brayan Rocchio, SS, CLE
While I do love Rocchio, I don’t necessarily love this pick. In hindsight I think I could’ve waited — Hunter Bishop and Greg Jones both went a few picks later, and I would’ve rather taken them here and circled back to Rocchio later.
Rocchio is a long way away but possesses good bat-to-ball skills: He posted a 10.8% K-rate as a 17-year-old and a 13.6% as an 18-year-old in rookie ball and Low-A, respectively. He’s also an above-average runner who should be able to contribute in steals as he gets a better feel for when to go (he has 13 steals and has been caught eight times in his two seasons). He’s not a big guy, but given that he’s only just turned 19, there’s both time and room to add muscle. If he pairs that with his already quick swing, we could see some burgeoning power.
Round 25 (Pick 390): Domingo Santana, OF, Unsigned
It seems to me like the industry as a whole has forgotten about Domingo Santana and I’m not sure exactly why. In the three drafts I’ve done so far this year, I’ve taken Santana as a late-round flier in all of them, and, if this is the range he stays in, I expect I will continue to have more shares going forward. There’s certainly a concern for what his playing time will look like, since he’s still a free agent, but he’s proven himself to be an capable hitter, and that should be enough to find him at-bats somewhere. His fielding is atrocious — second percentile in outfielder jump and first percentile in Statcast’s outs above average — but he was a very nice 69th percentile in hard-hit percentage and xwOBA, and, in fantasy, that’s where I’m focused.
Round 26 (Pick 411): Omar Narvaez, C, MIL
I firmly believe in waiting on catchers, and this is exactly why. Narvaez is a quality offensive catcher who has a relatively safe floor (at least among catchers) in leagues that factor in OBP or OPS because of his above-average walk rate. He moved from Seattle to Milwaukee which should help both in terms of park factor and lineup, and, despite being a very bad defensive catcher, he shouldn’t lose many starts to Manny Pina.
Round 27 (Pick 422): Hector Neris, RP, PHI
Neris is another relief pitcher who appears to have a secure closing role entering the season. He isn’t particularly exciting but was another guy who landed in the 90th percentile or better in K%, xBA, and xSLG last season. Between him and Kenley, I’ve built myself (hopefully) a safe floor for saves.
Round 28 (Pick 443): Framber Valdez, SP/RP, HOU
Despite not putting up very good numbers in the majors last season, Valdez had an absurd 14.01 K/9 in AAA with an extremely impressive 2.98 FIP and 2.57 xFIP. He looks like a two-pitch pitcher, but one of them is an excellent curveball that had a ridiculous .114 xBA, .178 xSLG, and .179 xwOBA allowed last year (in an admittedly small sample size). While I expect to see him coming out of the pen in 2020, I trust Houston to get the most out of him.
Round 29 (Pick 454): Kyle Freeland, SP, COL
2020 can’t be as bad as 2019 for Kyle Freeland, right? He was in the 10th percentile or worse in xwOBA, xSLG, K%, and xBA which were 70, 130, 4, and 50 points worse than 2018, respectively. It’s not the direction you want to see a pitcher go, but I thought it would be worth taking a chance on him here. In a worst-case I have no qualms about dropping my 29th-round pick but in a best-case scenario, he bounces back to at least a serviceable seventh starter on a fantasy team and that’s all I need him to be.
Round 30 (Pick 475): Homer Bailey, SP, MIN
After a very strong end to the season, I’m at least intrigued by Bailey going into 2020. The Twins have shown they understand how to best use a starter, and, despite the injuries that have ravaged Bailey’s career, I can at least see a path to him being a serviceable starter here with the last pick in my draft.
Graphic by Michael Haas (@digitalHaas on Twitter)