If you’re an old-school college basketball fan like me, you might have flashbacks to the great NCAA teams of the ’80s and early ’90s at this time of year as March Madness starts to form on the horizon.
As the second Pitcher List mock draft got underway on the evening of February 11, I immediately felt like I was in one of those old-time UNLV fast breaks, with Mark Wade or Greg Anthony sprinting up the court.
A “fast draft” with a 60-second shot clock. Decisions coming at me rapid fire, bang-bang. It quickly reminded me of a quote I heard about a decade ago during the first week of a new job. “Transition is like drinking water from a fire hose.” It didn’t have the chewed up Tark Towel (with a nod to the late Jerry Tarkanian), but “The Mock” had everything else.
As a rookie to this format, my first “fast draft” was one to remember. The highs brought fun-filled adrenaline, and the conviction that I was in charge of the ’27 Yankees. The lows, most of them coming the next day as I made discoveries on review, made me glad it was just a mock draft. Yikes!!
The standard NFL coaching sound bite “I need to look at the tape,” when a tough question is postponed at the Sunday postgame press conference, I get it now! I made some definite and real first-time mistakes, which will be visited here in all of their full glory.
Round 1.4 – Ronald Acuna
Purely by random draw, I was slotted into the #4 pick in the first round. It won’t shock you that Mike Trout and Mookie Betts went 1-2. Jose Ramirez was plucked third, and, at the speed of light, it was my turn. I had my finger on the ‘Select’ key for Manny Machado. I couldn’t quite do it. Not because he doesn’t have a home right now, that will sort out.
Ultimately, the five-tool skillset of Acuna overrode positive feelings about both Machado and Nolan Arenado. Could it have been volatile in a real-life league at #4 overall? Absolutely. But all of the “eye test” factors plus the comps to Hall of Famers came into my head at a critical moment. I went all in on the 21-year-old who carries a minimum 20-20 HR-SB season in at least five different projection systems that I’ve looked at so far this winter.
Round 2.21 – Blake Snell
I made an uncomplicated decision to start my pitching staff with an ace (Reminder: This roster was assembled from scratch, no holdovers). Most Pitcher List readers are familiar with Blake Snell, so I’ll hold off on deep analysis. The heightened value of a bona fide #1 starter in this current pitching environment has come into sharp focus this winter. When you see one, grab one. Scherzer-Sale-De Grom had all been plucked before my turn came around again.
Round 3.28 – Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
I started eyeing him a few picks prior to my spot, holding out hope that he would be available. When it came to my turn, the 80-grade scouting report on Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s hit tool came into my head. Kris Bryant had been selected two picks prior, he certainly offers more safety and more track record than Guerrero Jr. There were “second aces” out there, including Luis Severino, Corey Kluber, Aaron Nola, and Trevor Bauer. But I had to take a shot here, as I was unsure if Vladdy Junior would be around at my next turn. I swung from the heels again and took the soon to be 20-year old (March 16), who has yet to debut in the major leagues.
Round 4.45 – Jameson Taillon
I now became cognizant of the need to start building out arms behind Snell. The top tier arms were flying off the board, but I saw an opportunity to take a shot at Jameson Taillon. He has been touted on the Pitcher List platform on multiple occasions this off-season. I liked the chance to take a run at a National League arm, remember you’re running into more outs at the bottom of the order than is usually the case for an American League pitcher. I will be completely honest here and tell you that my laptop screen was jumping around a bit, the pick clock was running at warp speed, and I was not aware that Clayton Kershaw was still available. But, given Kershaw’s durability issues the past few seasons, I’m not sure it would have mattered to me. I still like the pick. In The Mock setting, I became “Taillowned.”
Round 5.52 – James Paxton
I was pleasantly surprised to find James Paxton still there and quickly grabbed him. When I took Taillon, I felt as if I was passing on Paxton and had prepared mentally to move on without him. Wins matter in most leagues and the new Yankee will be going to battle with an outstanding lineup and elite bullpen corps.
Round 6.69 – Edwin Diaz
With so many bullpen situations up in the air, only one team was even in spring training camp on Monday evening, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t late to the party on a lockdown closer. There is no controversy in Flushing, Edwin Diaz is the Mets closer. He was there and I drafted the owner of 91 saves over the past two seasons. Diaz was the first closer off the board in Mock Draft #2.
Round 7.76 – Matt Olson
I felt like it was time to get over to the other corner, opposite Guerrero. Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt & Anthony Rizzo were of course long gone, but a first baseman that I’ve liked sat on the board. Matt Olson became Pick #76, a player that was considered by some to be a mild disappointment last year, but still put up a 29HR/84 RBI/85 R season while playing in all 162 regular season games for a playoff team (3.4 WAR).
Round 8.93 – Blake Treinen
I saw a chance to double down and really lock up my saves category in this fictional 5 X 5 league. Saves are going to be a factor in standard category leagues, so I jumped in to follow up on the great 2018 season put up by Blake Treinen. I passed on Craig Kimbrel, because I don’t see a clear cut destination for him right now. He was grabbed on the very next pick by Ben Pernick.
Round 9.100 – Eloy Jimenez
The interminable wait is almost over on the South Side of Chicago. Like Guerrero Jr., Eloy Jimenez has yet to play in the major leagues. But I didn’t think he’d be available in Round 9, and I passed on Aaron Hicks, and other notables, to play the big Upside Card yet again. Jimenez should be up from Charlotte around Tax Time, as his service time sentence expires.
Round 10.117 – Victor Robles
As the owner of Acuna and Jimenez, perhaps it behooved me to go get a ‘high floor’ outfielder to fill my third and final standard outfield slot. But, I just could not pass up Victor Robles. Hicks and Michael Brantley were gone, and I kept telling myself what we may have seen last year if Robles had been healthy. He finished the year strong, and, even if Bryce Harper were to return to Washington, the 21-year old centerfielder is going to be a fixture in the Nationals lineup.
Round 11.124 – Josh James
I needed to get back to my pitching staff. As the halfway point of the draft approached, I decided to take an upside arm for my Starter #4 slot. With the turnover in Houston, Josh James has a rotation spot right now and will cement it with a strong spring training. I thought about Alex Reyes, but I’m not sure of his role right now. I passed on veterans Charlie Morton and J.A. Happ, and took the righthander who turns 26 on March 8.
Round 12.141 – Wilson Ramos
It was a one catcher format, and I thought to myself, don’t get stuck with Crash Davis. Time to get behind the plate. I was trying to lay in the weeds for Yasmani Grandal, but he was sniped by Ben Ruppert one pick prior to me at 140. Good play, Ben! I didn’t think Wilson Ramos would be there next time around, so I took the new Mets backstop whose only major obstacle has been health. An underrated floor that might be higher than people realize with double-digit HR pop in all but one season since 2011. Remember, this is the catcher spot.
Round 13.148 – Reynaldo Lopez
It was getting harder and harder to find pitching at this juncture. Three straight starters were grabbed in Picks 143-145, including the latest Japanese arrival, Yusei Kikuchi. Reynaldo Lopez produced a mixed bag of results in 2018. With Snell and Paxton anchoring the front end of the rotation, and Taillon forming a potential ace triumvirate, I decided to give Lopez a look here. In a clubhouse where expectations are rising, I’m excited to see if Lopez can harness what he has in ’19 and produce more return value from the 2016 Adam Eaton trade.
Round 14.165 – Cesar Hernandez
Cesar Hernandez might bat atop the Phillies lineup and score 100 runs with solid contributions elsewhere. Or, according to Roster Resource, he might not. If the stars align, the leadoff job, a signing of Harper or Machado, Hernandez might be a real find. Or, he might find himself down the order. Many second basemen were gone, but Jurickson Profar, Garrett Hampson, and Jonathan Schoop were still available. Not sure if I needed a second baseman just yet.
Round 15.172 – Brandon Nimmo
My laptop screen froze up at an inopportune time, as I hoped to grab Jon Gray to slot his strikeouts and a potential bounceback into my pitching spot. I had never used CouchManagers, our draft site, and as I tried to toggle through the player queue, the 60-second pick clock expired and the system ‘auto drafted’ Brandon Nimmo. Another curveball I wasn’t expecting, I initially assumed I would just be forfeiting the pick.
It’s nice to have Nimmo, still available there, but my outfield was already full, and I was trying to target other needs. It also consumed a critical utility spot, which I’ll expand upon at the end.
Round 16.189 – Matthew Boyd
When my turn came around again, several other starting pitchers were gone, including Gray. Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, Dallas Keuchel & Joe Musgrove were also plucked in that cluster.
While I haven’t studied him closely, some low level “glance through” research on Matthew Boyd came into my head. I decided to take him as a #6 starter. There seems to be a divided pool of opinion on him in the fantasy community. He won’t be backed by a good team, but the stuff is interesting.
Round 17.196 – Jorge Polanco
On Tuesday morning, I didn’t like this pick very much, as I saw Paul DeJong going two picks later at #198. Fernando Tatis Jr. went shortly thereafter at #203. My research on Jorge Polanco jumped into my head and I took a shot.
As I sit here at the keyboard and review a few projection systems, I’m starting to like the pick a lot better. Polanco is projected as the Minnesota leadoff man at RosterResource. Because of the PED suspension last year, I don’t think we’ve gotten a full look at who Polanco truly is and what he can do. While DeJong’s power is interesting to me, and most people are interested in Tatis, a Mock is a Mock. Live, learn, and move on.
Round 18.213 – Arodys Vizcaino
In a 5 X 5, I will typically deploy a third closer. While he carries health-injury risks, this was a #3 closer in the 18th round. You don’t get the Malibu Pier in this spot. Arodys Vizcaino will have to hold off A.J. Minter, but he returned to the closer chair in September. He projects as a 30-save candidate if the Braves continue to contend in a tough NL East.
Round 19.220 – Joc Pedersen
Not a good pick here, a mistake due to format, not Joc Pedersen. As he approaches Age 27 in April, Pedersen projects as the left fielder in a (somewhat) less crowded Dodger outfield. This was my second utility spot, with Nimmo, an outfielder, already secure in the first UTL position. Even if Pedersen breaks out in 2019, I handicapped myself. I didn’t need a fifth outfielder, this was a spot to potentially shore up 3B with Guerrero projected to start the year in the minors. Outfield depth could have been addressed in a bench spot. Fast clock, not much time to choose, options dwindling, bad pick.
Round 20.237 – Forrest Whitley
I do like this pick here, as the pitching cupboard was getting pretty bare. A pitching staff is always evolving; you can’t line up your arms in the spring and put it on auto-pilot for six months. Forrest Whitley does not project to be around on Opening Day but will almost certainly be in Houston soon. Grabbing the consensus top pitching prospect in baseball with a Reserve Round pick? Sign me up!
Round 21.244 – Jose Martinez
A chance to draft skills, not a role. I see Jose Martinez re-emerging in the playing time jumble for St. Louis. It might not happen right away, but the bat plays. Martinez’ outfield eligibility enables him to cover for Jimenez as the latter is projected to open the season at Class AAA Charlotte.
Round 22.261 – Luis Urias
This was another chance missed in real time. I was not yet grasping the need to cover for Guerrero and line up a 3B option on a bench spot. Maikel Franco, Miguel Sano, and Brian Anderson all went undrafted on Monday night.
Round 23.268 – Ryan Yarbrough
I didn’t realize until the off-season just how good Ryan Yarbrough was last year, in a unique role carved out by the Tampa Bay Rays. He figures to once again be a huge part of their opener strategy for a team that many see as a dark horse contender in 2019. Yarbrough’s stuff plays up in middle-inning stints and he seemed to be around at the right time to cash wins, posting 16 victories in 2018. Will he open? The second man in? Who knows? I saw him as a depth arm if I needed to sit a closer in a tough week. I also took him as a hedge against potential struggles from Lopez or Boyd. A minor league stint for James at some point can also not be completely ruled out.
If you’re playing in a “fast draft,” whether it’s Mock or the real thing, take the time to log on to the host website well in advance and familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of the site. This was definitely something I wish I had built into my plan. Review your roster specifications, because there’s very little time to do that on a 60-second running clock. When the pick in front of you is made, the automated clock is running instantaneously, boom! A “fast draft” goes fast. I finished my picks in two hours and change.
I fell in love with glittering, exciting names, Acuna, Vladdy, Eloy, Robles. I only own one of those players anywhere else that I play. But, by not taking real-life roster decisions into account, I would have opened up on March 28 with no third baseman. None of my bench-utility spots are held by an extra third baseman and no one can move. I would have been penalized in some way, perhaps by “playing short” with an empty spot not posting stats.
I had Martinez to cover for Jimenez, but if Victor Robles were to falter this spring, I would also be short an outfielder with Nimmo and Pedersen pinned down in their spots. In the big picture, it was probably not necessary to draft Luis Urias and spend a bench spot there with Hernandez and Polanco in place.
(Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire)