Back at the beginning of October, right after the season ended, my focus shifted from the 2019 season. My Mets weren’t in the playoffs, so all I could think about was looking ahead to the 2020 fantasy season. Along with 11 other Pitcher List writers, I participated in an early mock draft, by far the earliest I have ever taken part in.
The draft was for a standard 12-team, 5×5, head-to-head with three outfielders and two utility spots. I had the 12th pick in this snake draft, so that meant back-to-back picks with a lot of thinking in between. Here is the draft board for reference.
I also sat down with Nick on episode 160 of the On the Corner podcast. Give that a listen here.
The last pick in the first round allows for a lot of freedom. I get two picks back to back at Nos. 12 and 13, and this year there is an abundance of players to choose from at this slot, especially if a few pitchers are selected in the first round. Only one pitcher was selected, so I decided to go with the young and talented the Childish Bambino, Juan Soto. His great eye at the plate at such a young age (he turned 21 in October) is what stands out to me, plus his consistent low-140s wRC+ he’s held on to since arriving in the big leagues as a teenager. He’ll provide plenty of home runs plus a little extra speed. If last season’s three-year ZiPS projections is any indicator of his success, he may be the best hitter in the league this year.
With only one pitcher off the board in Gerrit Cole, I felt I could pick any of the other three top starters with the 13th selection to kick off my pitching staff. It came down to Jacob deGrom and Verlander. I ultimately selected Verlander due to the dominance he has achieved since moving to the Houston Astros. Since the move, he’s bumped his K% to about 35% and has sported ERAs in the 2.50s with over 214 innings each of the two seasons. I am slightly concerned about the low BABIP at a league-leading .218, but I’m also optimistic that his HR/FB rate will drop back down to the levels he’d seen previously as it was up nearly five percentage points last year.
With the next two picks at 36 and 37, I wanted to focus on solidifying my offense now that I had a stalwart pitcher. I selected Pete Alonso as my first baseman to bring in some more power. He finished last season with 53 home runs and a .583 slugging percentage including 120 RBI. What surprises me most about his season is he nearly broke 700 plate appearances. Do I think he will break 50 home runs again next year? No. Do I think he’ll break 40? Yes. Are 40 home runs and about 100 RBI plus a .260ish batting average enough for a first baseman with the 36th pick? Definitely.
Here is the first of a few picks that I may have jumped the gun on but that could pay off mightily by the end of the year. I went with Alonso’s Home Run Derby rival, Vlad Jr., to be my third baseman. To say his rookie season underwhelmed would be an understatement. He had a 105 wRC+ with only 15 home runs over 514 plate appearances. One upside is that he kept his strikeout rate under 20%, a solid feat as a rookie. Where did he stumble in 2019? He hit a lot of ground balls with a nearly 50% rate. And his fly balls were not productive, with a 12.1% HR/FB rate. From someone so big who showed off how he could swat dingers in the Derby, I am confident he will improve greatly upon his mediocre start.
With two power bats in the bag, I was desperate to find someone who could swipe a bag or two. That is when I noticed Keston Hiura. Sure I took him earlier than he will most likely go in drafts, but I feel that if you like a player and you don’t believe you’ll be able to draft him on your next time on the clock (plus no one else is blowing you away), it is time to snag him. Would he have been around at pick 84? I didn’t want to risk it. Why? Take a look at Fernando Tatis Jr.’s(pick 27) stat line from 2019 and compare it to Hiura’s. Same amount of games played, nearly the same home runs, average, BABIP, K%, and BB%. He doesn’t steal as often, but he does hit more fly balls and makes better quality contact. His 50% hard-hit rate and his .493 xwOBACon are both better than Tatis’.
This also was about the time I started looking at another starter, as I was not too fond of what else was available to me at this pick. The starters did look nice here with Lucas Giolito, Charlie Morton, Corey Kluber, and Zack Greinke. I decided on Giolito from this list because of the strides he took last year in becoming an elite starter. For his second season in a row he threw over 170 innings, so it will not be surprising if a healthy year lends itself to closer to 200 innings. And with a 32.3% K rate, I will happily take that for a second starter in the sixth. He had some hiccups throughout the season, but he consistently delivered an elite strikeout rate with an increased velocity and an improved changeup. He also saw that strikeout rate tick up into the second half while he decreased his walk rate. I’ll take that from a young former top prospect than those guys in their mid-30s.
With the Giolito pick I felt I needed to hedge it with another starter. I went with the pitcher with a lot of talent but who has been struggling to find a rhythm in Noah Syndergaard. After the stellar 2016 season, he has not come close to those heights as he had a 2017 end early with an injury. His K% has stayed around 25% since his return in 2018. He has been using his fastball more and his slider less, which may contribute to this as well as his increased HR/FB. Additionally, his O-Contact% was nearly eight percentage points higher than previous seasons, something that could be fixed with a better feel for his breaking stuff.
One pick goes to the power pitcher and the other pick goes to the power bat. After taking two pitchers back to back, I needed to fill in the rest of my offense. I had only taken one outfielder but felt that there were still some solid guys to fill in the remaining slots. At pick 85, I was surprised to find AL home run leader Jorge Soler still available. Soler had a career year and really turned it on in the second half of the season. However, his first half was still strong. He hit .240 with 23 homers in 91 games. Stretch that to 160ish and I’m happy with that for a pick in the 80s. But Soler didn’t stop at the All-Star break. For the second half, he doubled his walk rate, cut his strikeout rate by five points, and nearly hit .300 with a 173 wRC+. He was unstoppable. And if I can get anything in between his first and second halves for 2020, Soler is a steal here.
9.108 – Ramon Laureano (OF, Oakland Athletics)
The march to fill my offense continues on in Rounds 9 and 10. Again, I felt my team was lacking in steals. I already had both home run leaders. I could change the type of player I was looking for. And Ramon Laureano fit perfectly. Batting .288 and finishing with 24 home runs and 13 steals in 123 games, Laureano should balance the slugging side of my team a bit more. If he could play a full season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 25/20 type season with a .270 average. Even though he only played 31 games in the second half of the year, his .358/.411/.679 slash is hopefully a sign of where he can excel at the plate.
Corey Seager used to go in the third or fourth round only a couple of years ago, and he is still only 25. So why is he all the way down in the 10th? He did not display a lot of power last year, with his first season below a 40% hard-hit rate. He did start hitting the ball in the air some more while also maintaining a strikeout rate below 20%. He’s struggled with injuries the past few years but hopefully a full offseason can get him healthy. I do somewhat regret this pick here as I wouldn’t be surprised to have found him available with my next set of picks, as only Tim Anderson and Amed Rosario were taken in between.
My first reliever at 132 is the fifth off the board with Kenley Jansen. There is a lot of discussion revolving around the approach to drafting relievers the past few years as saves are distributed far and wide. However, I wanted to test out a method of drafting two Top 10 guys and plugging in the rest from there. My first Top 10 guy is Jansen. He has had 33 saves or more for the past six seasons on a winning team. He has taken a step back with his K% the past couple of seasons, but his save output should still be stellar.
Now felt about the right time to snag my fourth starter after getting my first reliever and a handful of bats. Frankie Montas was still on the board, and I had hoped he would be forgotten a bit due to his shortened season. His breakout is the real deal. He found a third option to throw, which he hadn’t had in seasons past. This split finger helped him to increase his K% to 26.1% while also increasing his ground-ball rate to 50%. His O-Contact% dropped a bit with an uptick in O-Swing% as well. A perfect combo for strikeouts. With a full season ahead of him, I am glad he’ll be my fourth starter.
What drew me to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. last season was his eligibility almost anywhere and his hard-hit rate. He struggled to stay on the field and struck out at a decent clip (25%) but ended up with 20 homers in 84 games, hitting .277. I’m also just a big fan of what the top of the Blue Jays offense is going to look like next season. Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Vlad Jr., and then Gurriel. Sounds like runs. If Gurriel does indeed hit fourth for a full season, a 30+ home run and close to 100-RBI year is not out of the question.
I wrote the following when Will Smith was still a free agent. I also drafted him when he was still a free agent. Apparently, Mark Melancon is still in line to be the closer, but that seems silly. We’ll see what happens as the offseason progresses, but Smith will should be a bit lower without guaranteed saves.
Ready for another top relief pitcher? At 157, I went with Will Smith. There is a big question with Smith, and it is where will he end up? I do not know for sure he will be in the closer role so this pick is a bit of a risk. Regardless, he’s incredible. His K% jumped up to 37.4% with an increased slider rate, throwing it almost as much as his fastball. He should find a comfortable relief spot with another team this offseason and should be in for a good amount of saves.
With one more utility slot to fill, why not select the ultimate utility player who will be eligible at every fielding position except catcher in Yahoo? Danny Santana isn’t just any utility player though. In 130 games, he crushed 28 home runs with 21 stolen bases plus a .283 average. This power surge came out of nowhere. He combined for two home runs over 160+ games in the 2015 and 2016 seasons. But something clicked this year. He drastically raised his launch angle, hitting far fewer ground balls and increasing his hard-hit rate from the low 30s in 2017 (the last season with a decent amount of playing time) to 43.6%. And he does fit the pattern of my team. A guy with some pop who is prone to the strikeout. He’s always had some speed in his career, so if his power numbers start dwindling, this late pick may still have some value on the basepaths.
With my entire starting offense except catcher set, I turned my eye back to starting pitching. Mike Foltynewicz stood out to me for a couple of reasons. First was his stellar 2018 season. If he could return to form after struggling through the beginning of this year with injuries, I could have a steal here. A 27.2% K rate wasn’t too long ago. However, possibly due to his injuries, his fastball lost a few ticks of velocity. A full offseason may set him right. Second, I was pleased with his final two months of the season. They showed promise with a much better K rate than the beginning of the year. That could be signs of recovery.
At pick 204 I went with my second Will Smith. I was even thinking about taking him at 156/157, but that would have been mostly for the meme. Pick No. 204 seems right, especially as the sixth catcher off the board right after Mitch Garver. In his rookie campaign he hit 15 home runs in 54 games with the Dodgers. That is a fine amount for a catcher in Round 17 if expanded to a full catcher season. I know I will not be getting much of an average out of him as he exclusively hits fly balls (53% fly-ball rate last year). I will project he will have around 25 home runs and an average close to .230. Think: the good version of Mike Zunino playing for the Dodgers.
Why not add another starter here as many have been going? I may have been drawn to Marcus Stroman due to my Mets bias, but I liked the strides he took last year in increasing his K rate while relying more heavily on breaking stuff and less on the sinker. The move to Citi Field may bode well for him as Citi is one of the better pitchers parks, yet the Mets defense can be atrocious. If he keeps up that strikeout rate, a near-200 inning guy with an ERA in the high threes is great for my sixth starter.
19.228 – A.J. Pollock (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Nick’s long lost brother, A.J. Pollock, is the perennial pick of “if he plays a whole season I will win.” But he hasn’t played over 113 games since 2015. That is why I am taking a chance on him in the 19th round. To close the season he hit 13 homers with 34 runs, 33 RBI, .288/.348/.537 and a 131 wRC+ in the final 58 games of the year. If I can get close to that for 120 games of Pollock, this pick will more than pay off.
20.229 – Miguel Andújar (3B, New York Yankees)
These final picks are always ripe for adventure. Miguel Andújar may have stuck around a bit longer or even have gone undrafted, but I couldn’t pass up a potential 30-homer/.300-average guy in the Yankees lineup. However, he comes with a myriad of questions. How did missing a full year affect him? Will he be healthy? Is there an everyday spot for him in the lineup? I will know quickly in to the season the answer to all these questions, and he will be one of the first drops if the answers are against him.
A move to the pen was just what the doctor ordered for Ian Kennedy. He boosted his K rate to 27.4% while saving 30 games for the Royals. He should stay in that role next year for them too as he held his own. This pick is a wrap on my relief pitchers with three solid guys and opportunity to add off the waiver wire through the season.
22.253 – Anthony Desclafani (SP, Cincinatti Reds)
One more starter can’t hurt at the end of the draft. Take a high-upside guy who can be dropped if he doesn’t pan out. Anthony Desclafani started 31 games last year, his first full season since 2015. He bumped up his K rate a few percentage points while also adding some velocity to his fastball and slider. Again, if he emerges as a solid pitcher early I can hold him. If he struggles out of the gate, I’ll drop him for the hot ticket.
With the final pick in the entire draft, I selected Braves slugger Austin Riley. He is the pinnacle of the power hitter prone to the strikeout my team is modeled on. He hit 18 homers over 80 games as a rookie. He started his career on fire but quickly tailed off as he kept striking out, finishing with a 36.4% K rate on the year. If he finds a way to lower his 20.6% swinging-strike rate and gets a full-time spot in the lineup, he will be quite a threat. I can see at least 30 home runs, and if he maintains success, he’ll be hitting amongs some of the league’s best hitters in Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman.
This was fun! Having to draft with little reference to ADP or rankings was something I have never done before. It did lead me to grab the players I am high on instead of relying on ADP a bit too heavily. I know you aren’t all here to listen to my thoughts on the concept of an early mock, so let’s move on. Pitching first. Lots of strikeouts at the top with Verlander, Giolito, and Syndergaard. I also liked where I got Montas. The final three starters I drafted I am not feeling great with, but getting the right deeper starters can be tough while doing a draft with Pitcher List staff. I was very pleased with my relief pitchers until I just got the news about Smith’s signing with the Braves. He is in line to set up for Melancon, which is perfectly fine for the Braves but not for this draft! Also, getting Kennedy so late was a nice bonus. Finally, let’s move on to the offense. Four of my first five hitters drafted could legitimately all hit 40 home runs, while the other (Hiura) could go 30/20. Laureano, Seager, Gurriel, and Santana all provide a mix of speed, power, and average to round out the rest of the starters. My one worry about all these hitters is their lack of proven success. Only Soto has done well for at least two seasons, and he’s just 21. Alonso, Vlad, Hiura were all rookies last year. However, there is plenty of upside across the board.
(Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire)