If you think regular fantasy drafting is stressful, I implore you to try an October Mock draft. The ADP’s haven’t come out yet, a huge chunk of fantasy viable players are free agents, only about 1/3 of the teams have closers—it’s a disastrous, high-stress, beautiful mess that I now want to do each and every season.
I tried to keep things as realistic as possible in this draft, while also targeting players that I really want to highlight and discuss their fantasy value both in this post and in the subsequent podcast. I think I did a good job of helping to give readers an accurate look at player values at this point as the offseason is just getting started.
Otherwise, I tried to adopt fantasy strategies that have served me well in the past, hoping to get a glimpse of how those strategies will play out in 2020. Here is what I learned:
Round 1 (6): Trevor Story (SS, Colorado Rockies)
Story gives my team an instant five category contributor, with two straight seasons displaying the ability to hit for a high average with over 35 home runs and 23 stolen bases.
Steals are without a doubt the market inefficiency at the moment, as nearly anyone can hit 25+ home runs. Story’s ability to also nab me steals is critical, and while many would go with Lindor here, Story has actually stolen more bases in each of the last two seasons while also adding more home runs and hitting for a higher average. No-brainer if you ask me.
Round 2 (19): Rafael Devers (3B, Boston Red Sox)
The breakout that so many were expecting from Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers finally happened last year, as the 22-year-old blasted 32 home runs with 115 RBI, 54 doubles, 129 runs scored, eight stolen bases and a .311/.361/.555 slash line.
Devers is very close to being a five-category contributor, with eight steals in 16 attempts, but the rest of his numbers are extremely elite and he is a borderline first-round pick. His statcast numbers are elite as well, with a 92.1 mile per hour average exit velocity and a 47.5 percent hard hit rate, both among the top ten percent in the league.
There’s little reason to suspect his numbers won’t remain elite again next season, and I’m happy to snag him in the second round.
Round 3 (30): Bryce Harper (OF, Philadelphia Phillies)
Few players have had as good a career as Bryce Harper has while simultaneously being considered overrated or not living up to expectations. Harper’s first season in Philadelphia was roundly criticized last year, despite him blasting 35 home runs with 114 RBI, 98 runs scored, 15 stolen bases and a .260/.372/.510 slash line.
Most people will take those kinds of numbers on their fantasy team any day of the week, and I’m more than happy to get them in the third round.
Harper is definitely more valuable in OBP formats than BA, but his statcast data is still near the top of the league, and there’s absolutely no reason, barring an injury, he won’t return top-30 value next season even in batting average leagues.
Round 4 (43): Clayton Kershaw (SP, Los Angeles Dodgers)
There’s no doubt that Clayton Kershaw is regressing. His 3.03 ERA was his highest since his rookie season in 2008 (which is ridiculous) and his 1.04 WHIP is his highest since 2010 (I mean, what?).
However, as it turns out, a 3.03 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP is still pretty darn good, and so is a 9.54 K/9 and a 16-5 record. If that’s the worst of the decade for him, well I can deal with that.
Of course, Kershaw’s decline may continue, so even expecting those numbers again is potentially foolish. After all, he did have a 3.77 SIERA and a 3.86 FIP last year.
I don’t expect Kershaw to decline dramatically next year—he’s just too good and too competitive for that to happen, plus his fastball spin rate and many of his other statcast numbers don’t suggest a dramatic decline is on the horizon.
I expect numbers that are similar to what he posted in 2019, and I’ll happily take that as my SP1.
Round 5 (54): Patrick Corbin (SP, Washington Nationals)
Back-to-back left-handed starters for me in rounds 4-5, as I went with Nationals starter Patrick Corbin. Corbin’s first season in Washington looked a lot like his final season with the Diamondbacks, as he posted a 14-7 record with a 3.25 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and a 10.60 K/9. His FIP came up about a full run however, and his walk rate jumped quite a bit as well—two concerning trends.
Despite that, I still see a pitcher who has thrown over 189 innings in each of the last three seasons, who consistently posts high strikeout totals, should be able to keep his ERA below 3.50 and will get plenty of run support in a strong Nationals offense. All of these things make him a valuable SP2 and one worth targeting in the 4-6 round range.
Round 6 (67): Paul Goldschmidt (1B, St. Louis Cardinals)
Sure, Paul Goldschmidt fell off a little last year. And sure, no one wants to be left holding the bag, and at age 32 there is some concern that Goldschmidt is in his decline, and that it could happen fast. After all, look at what happened to Joey Votto.
However, Goldschmidt still has plenty going for him, enough that him falling into the sixth round is pretty unheard of.
Goldschmidt still blasted 34 home runs with 97 RBI and a .260/.346/.476 slash line in 2019, his first year with the Cardinals. Plus, his strikeout and walk numbers remained basically unchanged, as did his exit velocity and hard hit rate.
The biggest difference is the speed, which likely contributed to his drop in BABIP (which was still .303) and his stolen base numbers, which went from 18 to 7 to 3 in the last few seasons. Frankly, the days of Goldy adding 15 or even 10 stolen bases are probably over, and his average may take a slight dip because of his footspeed.
However, he’s still capable of contributing 100/35/100 with a batting average around .260 to .270, and that makes him worth a pick in the 4-6 round range. In OBP formats he’s even more valuable with a sterling 11.4% walk rate.
Round 7 (78): Marcell Ozuna (OF, St. Louis Cardinals)
His actual, raw data was solid as well, with 29 home runs, 89 RBI and 12 stolen bases, along with a .243/.330/.474 slash line. The 12 stolen bases were a career-high by a considerable margin, and at age 28 I’m not super confident he’s all the sudden an above average base-stealer, but if he can get 8-10 again next season he’ll have some nice value.
The power, as it always has been, is very real. Just take a look:
That’s 93rd and 96th percentile on the exit velocity and hard hit rate, respectively, along with 91st on xwOBA, 88th on xBA and 90th in xSLG. xBA had Ozuna with a .284 batting average, which is drastically different than the actual .243 that he hit.
xStats aren’t necessarily predictive, but if Ozuna stings the ball just as hard next year it’s not unreasonable to expect his average to crawl up closer to his .273 career mark, which would increase his value even more. He makes a great No. 2 outfielder in 12-teamers, although as a free agent, his new team will certainly impact his value as well.
Round 8 (91): Jeff McNeil (2B/OF, New York Mets)
In case Ozuna’s batting average doesn’t come up, and as protection for Harper and potentially Goldschmidt, I went with a batting average safety net in Round 8: Mets infielder Jeff McNeil. McNeil his .318 last year, among the best marks in the league. He hit .329 in his big league cameo in 2018 as well, and xStats support him as a high-average hitter which gives him a fairly safe floor.
He hit 23 home runs last year, primarily because nearly everyone hit 23 home runs or so last year, but as long as the ball is still juiced and he’s playing every day, he should provide a decent amount of power as well.
He’s not much of a stolen base threat yet, but he does have 12 career steals in 196 games, so swiping 8-10 next season is reasonable.
Basically, McNeil’s floor is a solid contributor at batting average and a good amount of runs scored, with a ceiling that could include 20 home runs and 10 stolen bases. I’ll take that in Round 8, especially when it comes with the added bonus of positional flexibility.
Round 9 (102): James Paxton (SP, New York Yankees)
I feel pretty good about snagging James Paxton—who Nick has ranked No. 30 in his first iteration of The List this offseason—as my No. 3 starting pitcher. Last year the pitching market was so dearth of talent that it seemed imperative to grab three top 25 arms, but this year it seems there is more talent spread out in the 30-40 range, and I feel more than content having Paxton behind Kershaw and Corbin in my rotation.
Paxton’s first year in New York was solid, as the big left-hander posted a 3.82 ERA (3.86 FIP) with a 1.28 WHIP and a 11.11 K/9. His numbers dipped slightly from 2018, his final year in Seattle, but not enough for me to sound the alarms.
Paxton’s cutter was a big issue for him last year, posting a -2.1 pVAL, so if the new Yankees pitching coach convinces him to stick with the four-seamer and his curveball, perhaps we’ll once again see the Paxton with a 2.98 ERA from 2017 again.
Even if not, his strikeout totals and good opportunities for wins on a talented Yankees squad make him a top-30 arm and one worth pursuing in the top-1o rounds.
Round 10 (115): Luis Robert (OF, Chicago White Sox)
So my ‘title’ at PitcherList, for those of you who don’t know, is the dynasty manager, meaning I manage all of the sites new and improved prospect content! Sorry, little self-promotion there. Anyway, I felt like I should at least take one player who is still prospect eligible, and who better than White Sox uber-stud Luis Robert.
Robert cemented himself as a top-three prospect in all of baseball by blasting 36 home runs and swiping 32 bases across three levels of the minor leagues last year while slashing a combined .328/.376/.624. That included slashing .297/.341/.634 at Triple-A with 16 home runs and seven steals in 223 plate appearances. Think he’s ready for the big leagues?
The White Sox were aggressive with Eloy Jimenez last year, and while he struggled at times, he ended up proving he belonged in the big leagues.
A 20/20 season from Robert seems entirely possible, even if he doesn’t get promoted until after the Super II deadline.
Round 11 (126): Hyun-Jin Ryu (SP, Los Angeles Dodgers)
It’s not often that a potential Cy Young candidate is available in the 11th round the following year, but that’s where I was able to snag Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu. Ryu was dominant last year, throwing to a 2.32 ERA (3.10 FIP) with an 8.03 K/9 and an excellent 1.18 BB/9.
Ryu is likely due for some regression next year, and he’s very clearly an injury risk, but anyone who is capable of posting an ERA under 3.00, which he has done in three of his five seasons as a starter, is worth a look in the 11th round as an SP4.
Round 12 (139): Edwin Diaz (RP, New York Mets)
Never pay for saves remains my primary objective in fantasy leagues, so it may seem strange—downright insane even—that I’m using a relatively high 12th round pick on a closer who last year proved exactly why I never pay for saves.
Edwin Diaz was coming off a 1.96 ERA, 15.22 K/9, 57 save season in 2018 and was going in the 5-7 round range last year, his first with the Mets. For those who drafted him, you got a reliever who did get 26 saves and a 15.36 K/9, but also a disastrous 5.59 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP, far and away the worst marks of his career.
So why am I taking him in the 12th? Well, I think a lot of what happened to him last year was flukey and a product of small sample size, and there’s reason to believe he’ll bounce back to be one of the best, if not the best, closer in baseball next season.
Diaz’s primary issue last year was dingers. He went from a 10.6 HR/FB rate in 2018 to a ridiculous 26.8 rate last year, ballooning his HR/9 from 0.61 to 2.33. Very little changed in his profile otherwise, including his velocity, pitch mix, zone rate, swinging strike rate, etc.
Obviously the ball probably had something to do with it, and potentially his new home park, but I see a spiked HR rate that was more of an anomaly than anything, and a pitcher who still struck out 39.0(!) percent of the batters he faced. If he can get that ERA back in the 3.25 range with a K/9 over 15, he should approach 35-40 saves and will be a top closer in the league, well worthy of a 12th round pick.
Round 13 (150): Andrew Heaney (SP, Los Angeles Angels)
I went risky in Round 12 with Diaz so why not try it again in Round 13? Andrew Heaney is my SP5 (and my fifth left-hander) and while he doesn’t have nearly as good production as my other four starters, he has the potential to be extremely productive next season, and to well out-perform this ADP.
Of course, he has serious injury issues and is coming off a season with a 4.91 ERA, so the downside here is rather large.
Still, I can’t resist his outstanding strikeout to walk ratio over 95.1 innings last season – 118/30. It was the highest strikeout ratio of his career—save for a 21.2 inning sample in 2017—and while it wasn’t his best walk ratio, it was still solid.
Heaney sports one of the best spin rates in the league on his heater, and while he’s by no means perfect, he’s a very solid SP5 option and one that could pay very handsomely if he can put everything together.
Round 14 (163): Aristides Aquino (OF, Cincinnati Reds)
Reds outfielder Aristides Aquino lit the baseball world on fire this season, blasting home run after home run when he first came up, breaking all sorts of records for fastest player to X career home runs. He finished the season with 19 round-trippers, seven steals and a .259/.316/.576 slash line in just 225 plate appearances, giving him a full-season pace of close to 50 home runs and 25 stolen bases.
Is he going to reach that this season? Almost certainly not, and the strikeout rate (26.7%) and relatively pedestrian slash line is concerning, but as a 14th round pick I’m chasing upside here, and it’s clear the power and speed are real. Even though his statcast data is rather meh (39.0 percent hard hit rate but a 13.6 percent barrel rate) 30/10 seems easily attainable if he stays healthy, and while he’ll probably drag the batting average and rack up the K’s, I’m willing to deal with that for the other stuff.
Round 15 (174): Cavan Biggio (2B, Toronto Blue Jays)
Few players intrigued me more than Blue Jays infielder Cavan Biggio last year. Biggio did a little bit of everything. He hit home runs (16) he stole bases (14) he scored runs (66) he drew walks (elite 16.5% walk rate) and he struck out (28.6%)—a lot.
It’s hard to not be tantalized by the power/speed combination, which seems very likely to result in a 20/20 season at some point, possibly as soon as—ha—2020. But the strikeouts are definitely an issue, and his .234 batting average certainly isn’t going to help anyone.
Biggio also had rather uninspiring statcast data, with a 88.7 mile per hour exit velocity and a 40.1% hard hit rate. That’s not bad, but doesn’t scream superstar. Still, the combination of speed and Toronto’s home park should make him a 20/20 threat, and hitting atop a batting order that features Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero should be a lot of fun for fans and fantasy owners alike.
Round 16 (187): Yandy Diaz (1B/3B, Tampa Bay Rays)
Why not pile on three straight high-risk, high-reward, young hitters? I went with slugger Yandy Diaz from the Rays in Round 16. At 28, Diaz is much older than Biggio and Aquino, but his statcast data has always supported an eventual breakout at the plate.
His 14 home runs in 347 plate appearances, not to mention his two bombs in the Wild Card game, definitely help back that data up.
For now, Diaz’s ridiculous statcast chart is missing one key thing: launch angle. He hits far, far too many ground balls to be a legitimate power threat, and unless that changes his value will be seriously capped. If he is able to lift the ball with more consistency, and he can stay healthy (two big ifs) he has easy 35-40 home run potential.
Round 17 (198): Raisel Iglesias (RP, Cincinnati Reds)
I’ve continued to subscribe to the “never pay for saves” adage, and finding a potential top-10 closer in Raisel Iglesias in the 17th round helped prove my point. Iglesias had a career-high 4.16 ERA and 1.22 WHIP last year, but otherwise his numbers were all extremely solid: 34 saves (career-high) 11.96 K/9 (also a career-high) and a 2.82 BB/9 —nearly a career-low.
Plus, Iglesias’ 4.16 ERA was not supported by the peripherals, as he had a 3.22 SIERA, a 3.92 FIP and a 3.72 xFIP.
Iglesias probably won’t be the low-2.00 ERA closer again, but an ERA in the mid-3.00’s with over 30 saves, which he has topped two years in a row, is certainly attainable and is worth chasing in the 17th round.
Round 18 (211): Lorenzo Cain (OF, Milwaukee Brewers)
I started thinking about Lorenzo Cain in Round 11, and started seriously considering him in Round 14, but held out until Round 18 where it seemed like he is almost certainly going to outperform this draft spot.
Cain had a down year last year, without a doubt, only hitting .260 with 11 home runs and 18 stolen bases. However, his plate discipline numbers stayed roughly the same (8 percent walk rate, 17 percent strikeout rate) and his xBA of .289 was one of the best in the league and well above his .260 batting average, so perhaps he got a little unlucky?
It would be nice to get over 20 stolen bases again next season, but even if he is in the 15-20 range with a batting average around .290 and double-digit home runs would make him an easy steal in Round 18.
Round 19 (222): Miguel Sano (1B/3B, Minnesota Twins)
Miguel Sano struck out 36 percent of the time last year, has yet to play over 116 games in a season and has only hit over .250 once, so I definitely get the hesitation.
However, he’s only 26-years-old, he’s in a very solid offense, and the dude. can. mash. Don’t believe me?
Those exit velocity and hard hit rates are literally in the 100th percentile. Hard to beat that. Plus, Sano had the counting stats to be relevant last year; 34 home runs, 79 RBI and a .247/.346/.576 slash line.
My team doesn’t really need more corner infielder/DH types, but honestly, Sano probably should not have fallen to the 19th round and I felt like I had to snatch him up here.
Round 20 (235): Wilson Ramos (C, New York Mets)
Nobody ignores catchers quite like the staff at PitcherList. I remembered this from last year, and decided to wait on catcher until the final few rounds—a strategy I frequently employ in regular drafts as well. It worked well here, as I was able to get the seventh catcher off the board in Round 20, veteran Mets backstop Wilson Ramos.
Ramos hit 14 home runs last year, giving him seven consecutive seasons with double-digit dingers. He also slashed a quietly excellent .288/.351/.416 with 73 RBI and, somehow, a stolen base.
While there won’t be any more steals on the horizon, Ramos did post the second highest walk rate (8.4 percent) of his career while lowering his strikeout rate to an excellent 13.2 percent.
Ramos is as consistent as they come, and while he probably won’t blast 20 home runs, he will provide some pop and a decent batting average, which is still more than most will get out of their catcher position next season.
Round 21 (246): Luis Arraez (2B, Minnesota Twins)
After taking known batting average killers like Sano, Biggio and Harper, I felt like snatching someone who could help boost me in that category – even though he probably won’t contribute much anywhere else.
That’s how I landed on Twins second baseman Luis Arraez, who hit a blistering .334 last year in 366 plate appearances. He did little else, with just four home runs and two stolen bases, but if he gets a starting job in 2020, and hits near the top of a solid Twins batting order, he should hit in the .300’s (xBA had him at .286, among the top marks in the league) with 80 or so runs scored, which is nice value out of a bench bat.
Round 22 (259): Cole Hamels (SP, Chicago Cubs)
Because this is a fake draft, most people went chasing super high upside in the final rounds so they could talk about it on the podcast and hopefully be right in a year or so. I get the sentiment, but I decided to zig while everyone else zagged and I went with my final starting pitcher—and yes, he’s a left-hander—in Cole Hamels.
Hamels is 35 and yeah, he’s a pretty boring fantasy asset. But in 2019 he posted a 3.81 ERA with a 9.08 K/9, his highest strikeout rate since 2015. Hamels has routinely been a high-3.00 ERA guy, but if he can continue to post decent strikeout numbers there’s little reason to believe he won’t be a serviceable back of the rotation starter in fantasy formats next season.
Round 23 (270): Erik Swanson (SP/RP, Seattle Mariners)
This one will raise some eyebrows, and it’s easy to see why. Erik Swanson is a 26-year-old who made his big league debut last year and tossed 58 innings of 5.74 ERA ball with a 5.96 FIP and a ridiculous 2.64 HR/9 rate.
He started eight games and was in relief the other 19, and it’s hard to know exactly where to profile him going forward. So why am I talking about him?
Well, when the Mariners finally accepted that Swanson wasn’t ready to be a big league starter, his numbers out of the bullpen were actually pretty good. Swanson posted a 3.28 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and a 9.85 K/9 rate. His walk numbers did come up a bit, and his 4.75 FIP in relief is concerning, but Swanson certainly fits the mold of a “failed starter turned successful reliever”.
He has a 60-grade fastball that ticked up out of the bullpen, and a solid slider that grades out as potentially plus. This issue was his changeup, a pitch he threw about 15 percent of the time as a starter but less than three percent of the time in relief. Considering that pitch had a -3.9 pVAL on the year, this is great news.
I have no idea if the Mariners will let Swanson close next year, and until it’s clear that is a possibility, he probably shouldn’t be drafted in ‘real’ leagues. However, he’s an intriguing arm worth monitoring if he does end up in a high-leverage relief role for Seattle going forward.
Favorite Pick: Miguel Sano
Easy 30-home run pop and some of the league’s best exit velocity numbers is reason enough to take a guy in Round 19, but his status as a middle of the order slugger in one of the best lineups in baseball should make him a serious threat for 90/30/90, assuming he can stay healthy. While that’s no guarantee, it’s hard not to like the value here.
Sleeper Pick: Cavan Biggio
Biggio has the potential to post big-time home run and stolen base numbers, and while the drag on your average is no good he’s definitely a sleeper to keep an eye on in the middle rounds.
Potential Bust: Lorenzo Cain
I started considering Cain way earlier, but I let him fall to 18 because there’s a lot of concerning trends. Those could easily make him unrosterable by the end of the 2020 campaign.
Best Value Pick: J.D. Davis, 18th round, Daniel Port
It’s not hard to imagine Davis, if he gets consistent playing time, being a top-75 hitter next season and easily out-producing his 18th round selection, making it a nice pick by Daniel Port.
(Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire)