To be completely frank, I had a down season in fantasy baseball. Take it from me: It’s a bad look to lose when you write about fantasy baseball in your spare time.
That made me even more excited, however, to participate in this 2020 mock draft and put the ugliness of 2019 behind me. The draft was for a standard 12-team, 5×5, head-to-head with three outfielders and two utility spots. I picked out of the No. 8 spot. For your reference, you can find the draft board here.
I approach drafts basically the same way each year. I make rankings, and then I hunt for value based on those rankings. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to go through the rigmarole of creating rankings in advance of this mock draft, so I was eyeballing value for the most part. Generally, I try not to reach for players I like, and if value falls to me, I’ll take it. I avoid pitchers with my first pick because there are more hitter slots to fill, and I want speed early. I also like to fill my roster with players who have high floors in the early rounds and shoot my shots later.
1.08 – Trevor Story (SS, Colorado Rockies)
That doesn’t mean Story was a bad pick, though. I do think he was the best remaining player on the board. As explained above, I wasn’t going to take Gerrit Cole, and I like Story more than Juan Soto, Freddie Freeman, and Nolan Arenado because, unlike those guys, Story will run at a nice clip. Stolen bases are becoming somewhat of a fantasy baseball unicorn, and Story isn’t lacking in them, with 23 and 27 over the last two seasons. Considering he hit .239 as recently as 2017, I’m not convinced Story is the .290+ hitter he has been for the past two years. He relies heavily on an elevated BABIP given his high strikeout rates, and while the vast confines of Coors Field certainly help, I’m not comfortable expecting another .361 BABIP.
But the power is obvious and right on par with, if not better than, the guys who went immediately after this pick. In my view, if Story hits for 20 or 30 fewer points in batting average but steals 20 more bases than them, with all else equal, he’s the more valuable pick.
2.17 – J.D. Martinez (OF, Boston Red Sox)
Sniped again. This time, I wanted Trea Turner. But I happen to like former first-round players who have fallen out of the first round and therefore represent—you guessed it—potential value. After back-to-back seasons with at least 40 home runs, J.D. Martinez hit 36, with 98 runs, 105 RBI, two stolen bases, and a .304 batting average.
It was strange to see Martinez lose homers in the season with the most home runs hit of all time. However, as I found recently, Fenway Park was the worst place to barrel the ball last season. Put differently, barrels resulted in the fewest home runs there relative to all other ballparks. That explains why Martinez’s 31 barrels at home produced only 15 home runs, far below the MLB average 59.59 HR/Brl%. He fared only slightly better in 2018, with 23 home runs on 44 barrels. The real difference is actually that he had 53 barrels in 2019, down from the 69 barrels from 2018. His exit velocity on flies and liners, as well as hit hard-hit rate, were both down last season, explaining the decline in barrels.
So where does that leave us? He may never be 2017-18 Martinez again, but I expect him to hit .300 again with 35 home runs and a nice complement of runs and RBI. That’s pretty much on par with Arenado, Freeman, and Soto, give or take a few home runs and stolen bases here or there. And I’ll happily select Martinez several picks later.
3.32 – Jose Altuve (2B, Houston Astros)
This time I got the guy I had my eye on. Another former first-rounder falling far out of the first round? That’s value. Namely, Jose Altuve has a top-three overall ceiling going in the third round. What’s with the discount, you ask? Two down seasons due to injury. Brian Murray of Climbing Tal’s Hill noted that in 2018,
prior to his knee injury, Altuve was playing like his old self, slashing .329/.392/.464 with an .857 OPS. The rest of the year, after he returned from the DL, he slashed .276/.366/.409 and had an OPS of .775.
In 2019, his bottom line was again impacted by injury:
Except for a couple of weeks in April when he had a sudden power surge, he really never seemed to be himself. There were even times when it looked like he was favoring his knee or being a little timid running the bases. He then ended up on the Injured List in May and missed over a month nursing a hamstring injury.
The first part of this season, up until his hamstring injury, he was hitting .243/.329/.472. The slugging percentage was up there, but his average and on-base percentage were way below his career numbers. He still wasn’t quite the old Altuve yet.
As is evident from both years, when Altuve tries to play through an injury, he does not put up his expected numbers. What happened after his return from the IL last season? From June 19 on, in just 384 plate appearances, Altuve hit .320 with 22 home runs, 68 runs, 53 RBI, and five stolen bases.
Maybe the steals never fully return, but Altuve’s showing he can do enough with his bat to contend with the best of them when healthy. That pace is much closer to early second-rounders Martinez, Arenado, Freeman, and Soto than you might think. Of course, I’m putting my faith in Altuve remaining healthy, which is no given considering his injuries each of the last two seasons. But the upside is too great to ignore at this discount.
4.41 – Charlie Blackmon (OF, Colorado Rockies)
I was ready to take a pitcher here, but I was sniped again. I had my eye on Stephen Strasburg and Chris Sale, who went immediately before me. Still, I didn’t take the next pitcher because I felt the difference between them and the next-best guys, Aaron Nola and Blake Snell, was larger than the difference between Nola and Snell and the pitchers to follow. Rather than feel like I spent too high of a pick on Nola or Snell, I decided to wait a bit and get a pitcher from the same tier, just a round later (more on that soon).
Seasons come and go, but Charlie Blackmon remains an excellent fantasy baseball option. Consistency and floor are key in the early rounds, and that’s what makes Blackmon so valuable. He now has four straight seasons with at least 600 plate appearances, 29 homers, 111 runs, and a .291 batting average. The stolen bases have disappeared, but so long as he remains in Coors, Blackmon will likely be an elite source of batting average, home runs, and runs.
5.56 – Corey Kluber (SP, Cleveland Indians)
I acknowledge taking Corey Kluber was a risk here. However, we’re getting to the point in the draft where taking risks becomes more appropriate. Plus, at least in my view, I’m still getting a nice price for Kluber. He entered 2019 drafts with an NFBC ADP of 26.7. A 30-pick discount reflects both the risk and reward inherent in selecting Kluber.
First, the risk. Kluber threw just 35.2 innings in 2019 with a 5.80 ERA. His season ended prematurely after being struck in his throwing arm by a comebacker. I’m inclined to toss that small sample out, however, in light of the magnitude of Kluber’s pre-2019 body of work. Indeed, in each of the prior five seasons, Kluber had at least 203.2 innings, 222 Ks, a sub-3.49 ERA (four seasons under 3.14), and a sub-1.09 WHIP. In the previous three seasons, he had at least 18 wins. There’s no doubt that, when he’s right, Kluber is one of the best pitchers in baseball.
It remains to be seen whether Kluber will be right this season. Ultimately, however, I felt more comfortable selecting him several picks later than any of Nola, Snell, Clayton Kershaw, Luis Severino, or Luis Castillo, who all either carried a similar level of risk or a much smaller sample of success at such a high level.
6.65 – Zack Greinke (SP, Houston Astros)
Considering I had selected hitters with my first four picks, I decided to lend some balance to my roster by picking another starting pitcher. No, Greinke isn’t a sexy, high-ceiling rookie who throws 99 mph. But pitching for the Astros gives him the chance to win 20 games. And I don’t really need to give you numbers to show how consistently excellent Greinke has been over his career.
He has figured out a way to pitch effectively at the highest level without velocity. If losing velocity is of no moment, then I am not worried about his age. He can just rely on command to outsmart hitters, as he has for the better part of five years. That also means he likely won’t throw out his arm anytime soon. Indeed, there’s something to be said for throwing at least 200 innings five of the last six seasons. And based on his last three seasons, I can reasonably expect 18 wins, a 3.20 ERA, a 1.05 WHIP, and about 190 strikeouts. That’s great value at the 65th pick, and I’m more than happy anchoring my staff with both Kluber and Greinke.
7.80 – Nelson Cruz (DH, Minnesota Twins)
I actually had my eye on Nelson Cruz when I was picking Kluber and Greinke, but hoped that people would overlook him as they always do. And here we are. You may not have noticed, but Cruz basically had his best season ever last year. In arguing that Cruz is a top-24 fantasy baseball talent, I wrote about it a couple months ago:
In one more plate appearance, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit exactly 19 fewer home runs than Cruz.
While Cruz hit 34 home runs, Nolan Arenado, J.D. Martinez and Josh Bell each hit one more home run with an additional 130 plate appearances. Likewise, Cruz hit more homers than Charlie Blackmon, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Kris Bryant in far fewer plate appearances.
Even regressing his BABIP and batting average, he’d still hit for a similar average to Bregman, Bell, Springer, Bryant and Guerrero Jr.
Cruz bests them all in Barrels/PA%.
He actually only played in 120 games but somehow still hit 41 homers, scored 81 runs, knocked in 108 RBI, and hit .311. If he does that again, I’m essentially getting early second-round value late in the seventh. No one can be sure when the cliff is coming for Cruz, but it certainly wasn’t last year, and selecting him 80th overall more than reflects that risk.
8.89 – Carlos Carrasco (SP, Cleveland Indians)
Carlos Carrasco overcame cancer midseason to pitch a few innings for the Indians at the end of the year. Impressive as that was, like Kluber, Carrasco is a perennial early-round pick going at a discount because of an injury-plagued season. But Carrasco’s skills don’t seem to have eroded despite the 5.29 ERA in 80 innings last season. He posted a 24 K-BB% with a 15.3 swinging-strike percentage in 2018, and followed that up with a similarly elite 23.5 K-BB% and 14.9 swinging-strike rate last year. This is also reflected in his ERA indicators: a 3.53 SIERA and 3.50 xFIP. The only real difference appears to be his home run rate more than doubled last season.
That feels anomalous, especially in such a small sample. Who knows given the state of the baseball, but I’ll bet on Carrasco’s larger body of work. In any of the last five years, starting a draft with a bunch of elite hitters and still getting Kluber, Greinke, and Carrasco would be a steal.
9.104 – Mallex Smith (OF, Seattle Mariners)
To this point, Story is basically the only player who will steal more than 10 bases for me. I knew I was going to need to catch up quickly, and what better way than by drafting Mallex Smith. Finally, we’re comfortable with the knowledge that Smith—and not Dee Gordon—will lead off for the Mariners. And yet Smith is still going in the same round as last season.
Of course, Smith was a total dud in three of five categories. And normally I don’t like to draft speed-specialists based on their flaws. They’re such poor hitters that they often lose their jobs (e.g., Billy Hamilton) or their leadoff roles. Look no further than Smith himself, who was demoted to Triple-A last year after an abysmal start to the season. But Smith appears to have the leadoff role and a starting gig for the Mariners locked down, and having drafted him, I shouldn’t have to worry about stolen bases going forward.
10.113 – Brad Hand (RP, Cleveland Indians)
As with starting pitching, I typically like to anchor my closers with one who’s likely both to get me strikeouts and keep his job. I’m neither interested in blowing a high draft pick on one nor following up the one early closer I take with any other great closers. There are two reasons. First, closers lose their jobs so frequently—by virtue of injury, small sample performance in high-leverage spots, or trade deadline deals—that it’s not worth investing too much draft capital in one (or more). Second, because so many lose their jobs, others will always be available on the waiver wire at various times throughout the season.
Unfortunately, I wanted one of the elite closers, but they all went immediately before me: Kirby Yates, Roberto Osuna and Kenley Jansen. I think Hand is basically as good as Jansen and carries a similar amount of risk, so I’m OK with him here. He was tied for fifth in 2019 with 34 saves, and had an excellent strikeout rate and ERA. Going into only his age-30 season, pitching for a good team, performing at an elite level in four straight seasons and securing at least 30 saves in each of the last two, Hand felt like a reasonably safe option.
11.128 – Yasmani Grandal (C, Chicago White Sox)
Every year I tell myself not to take a catcher early, and every year I do it anyway. This time, though, I felt the value was too good to pass up. This is basically where Yasmani Grandal went in 2019 drafts, but he was even better last year. Cementing himself as an extremely consistent option at a shallow position, Grandal hit a career-high 28 homers with 79 runs, 77 RBI, a .246 batting average, and actually stole five bases. He is also one of the few catchers who consistently plays a full season. Last year he played 153 games and 140 the year before.
Having recently signed with the White Sox, Grandal again finds himself in an impressive lineup and a hitter-friendly ballpark. He’s now had four straight seasons with 20+ home runs, and a strong argument can be made that he is the best overall catcher in baseball. And yet, I got him a full five rounds after Gary Sanchez and J.T. Realmuto.
12.137 – Justin Turner (3B, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Justin Turner quietly had another nice season, hitting .290 with 27 homers in only 549 plate appearances. As per usual, I expect he’ll miss more time in 2020 with either a real or phantom injury given he plays for the Dodgers. But with his characteristically long swing and excellent eye at the plate, Turner maximizes each and every plate appearance by pulling a ton of fly balls.
Turner is nothing if not consistent, and I think he’ll post another great batting average with a nice home run total to match. Batting average is the other hitting category that is harder to come by in the later rounds, so I like to target it in the early and middle rounds to the extent possible. With Story, Martinez, Altuve, Blackmon, Cruz, and now Turner, I have a great batting average floor that allows me to take shots on power or speed-first bats like Grandal and Smith.
13.152 – Max Fried (SP, Atlanta Braves)
Having foregone selecting a starting pitcher for the last four rounds, I figured it was time to get back into the fray. Here, I selected young Max Fried. At this point in the draft, picks are more a matter of preference than anything else. Generally, I like to select pitchers with high-strikeout and win potential. Those guys still give you something even when they pitch poorly.
Fried fits that bill. He racked up a whopping 17 wins last season with the Braves in just 165.2 innings. He struck out more than a batter per frame. To the extent he remains healthy and the Braves ease his innings cap, he will be incredibly valuable at this point in the draft. He’s also actually a unique MLB talent. Among pitchers with 250 batted-ball events, Fried had the third-lowest average launch angle in baseball. Pairing a lot of ground balls with a lot of strikeouts is a rare feat and speaks to Fried’s unique skill set.
While Fried posted a 4.02 ERA in 2019, his peripherals were better: 3.72 FIP, 3.32 xFIP, and 3.83 SIERA. To that point, in a lamely named article, Fried Out Of Luck, I wrote about how Fried was one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball last year. The short of it is that he gave up a lot of home runs on one of the lowest barrel rates, exit velocities on flies and liners, and average launch angles among all starting pitchers. A bunch of those home runs, however, were hit relatively short distances. In other words, with similar skills next season, I expect even better results. With all that said, I love Fried’s value at this point in the draft and am excited to see what he can do next year.
14.161 – Mike Minor (SP, Texas Rangers)
While Mike Minor doesn’t represent the sexiest pick, he certainly makes for a nice value in the 14th round. With a career year in 2019, Minor had 200 strikeouts in 208.1 innings, 14 wins, a 3.59 ERA, and a 1.24 WHIP. Frankly, the WHIP belies the relatively low ERA, as do his 4.25 FIP, 4.60 FIP, and 4.51 SIERA. Those peripherals indicate Minor got lucky last season, a notion supported by his 80.3% strand rate, .287 BABIP, and 12.9 HR/FB%.
Minor also got off to a hot start and then cooled down considerably in the second half. A larger sample is better to look at in general (i.e., the entire season), but I’d prefer the halves were reversed, such that his most recent body of work was better. So maybe there’s ERA regression in his future. Say he pitches to a 4.00 ERA with 180 strikeouts and 13 wins. That’s perfectly fine for my fifth pitcher, and of course, there’s upside for more. Indeed, at one point last year, he was looking more like an ace than a No. 5. Hopefully, he recaptures some of that magic in 2020.
15.176 – Taylor Rogers (RP, Minnesota Twins)
There’s not a whole lot to say here that I didn’t already say for Hand. I basically just want three competent closers. They’re a volatile bunch, so it’s possible Taylor Rogers even outperforms Hand next season if the opportunities are right. For the better part of 2019, Rogers was the Twins’ primary closer, which enabled him to rack up 30 saves. He earned those saves too, with an excellent 2.61 ERA, three matching ERA indicators, and a devastating 28.4 K-BB%. Job security is always a risk, but I could do worse than getting Rogers this late in the draft.
16.185 – J.D. Davis (3B/OF, New York Mets)
You may have noticed that I already have three outfielders and a third baseman. But don’t worry, we have utility slots precisely to draft players like J.D. Davis. In fact, I’m pretty sure I added him everywhere late last season and started him in my utility slots down the stretch. You may not have noticed, but:
Davis is a Statcast darling. Based on his excellent quality of contact, he ranks in the 90th percentile for exit velocity, 97th percentile for xBA, 91st percentile for both hard hit% and xSLG, and 92nd percentile for xwOBA. These peripherals are reflected in his bottom line too:
In two-thirds of a season, Davis basically put up a full season of stats. He’s one of my favorite breakout players this season, and will be a popular sleeper pick for many fantasy analysts. And for good reason too.
17.200 – Mike Foltynewicz (SP, Atlanta Braves)
There are no two ways about it: Mike Foltynewicz‘s 2019 was awful. In a season derailed by injury, he had just 117 innings pitched and put up a 4.54 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 13.8 K-BB%. His ERA indicators suggest these results were largely deserved. This pick is largely a flier in the hopes that he returns to his 2018 form. That season, Foltynewicz posted a 2.85 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and an elite 27.2 K%. And believe it or not, Foltynewicz just turned 28 years old.
My only hope is that he figured something out in the second half that he can carry over into this season. In that time, Foltynewicz pitched to a 2.65 ERA, 3.77 FIP, and 4.19 xFIP with an improved 16.5 K-BB%. He somehow also had eight wins last season despite his poor performance and low innings total. That’s what makes him intriguing in my view. Foltynewicz could pitch to his 4.19 second-half xFIP, but if he gets 14 wins and 180 strikeouts, he’ll still be a valuable No. 6 starter.
18.209 – Nate Lowe (1B, Tampa Bay Rays)
At this point, I have no first baseman and I’m panicking. There really hasn’t been a first baseman selected since Yuli Gurriel went in Round 12. That’s how steep a cliff there is at the position.
So, in hindsight, I made a mistake not getting one sooner. I decided to take two first basemen to compensate, one with extremely high upside and another with a nice floor. Nate Lowe is obviously the upside play. With 65-grade raw power, Lowe could be a boon to fantasy owners if he wins the Rays’ first base job. After he shuttled back and forth between Triple-A and the majors last season, that’s no guarantee. But at this point in the draft, it’s important to take shots because if they don’t pay off, it hurts less to drop them.
19.224 – Ian Kennedy (RP, Kansas City Royals)
Did you know that Ian Kennedy had 30 saves, a 3.41 ERA, and a 10.37 K/9 out of the pen last year? I sure didn’t, that is, until I dug a little deeper to justify this pick. His velocity actually went up in the pen, jumping from 92.4 mph on his fastball in 2018 to 94.8 mph last year. He was basically as valuable as both Hand and Rogers, so while the Royals may not win many games next year, so long as they have trouble scoring runs and win by a few runs or less in the games they do win, Kennedy could be an excellent late-round closing option. He rounds out my closers and, between all three, I have 90 saves on lock to the extent they stay healthy and keep their jobs.
20.233 – Dallas Keuchel (SP, Free Agent)
It remains to be seen where Dallas Keuchel will land. Hopefully, he winds up with a contender and can earn me some wins. Still, believe it or not, Keuchel is only 31 years old. He’s clearly got more left in the tank, but you know what you’re getting at this point.
A ground-ball machine, Keuchel gets out of at-bats quickly by letting hitters put the ball into play and inducing weak contact. He’ll likely carry a poor strikeout rate and a high-three ERA, an inflated WHIP, and the ability to pitch deep into games. This gives Keuchel the opportunity to earn wins without destroying your ratios. Essentially, the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner is now a back-of-the-rotation arm, but nevertheless a fine option to round out my rotation and provide some stability to what is likely the weakest part of my roster.
21.248 – C.J. Cron (1B, Minnesota Twins)
Here’s my other first baseman, the safer one. With back-to-back seasons of at least 25 home runs and exactly a .253 batting average, C.J. Cron is a safe, if not uninspiring option to fill my first base slot until either Lowe gets the call or I find something better on the waiver wire.
That’s not to say Cron couldn’t be something more than just a .253-average, 25-homer guy. My pHR metric has Cron with 31 pHRs, as opposed to the 25 actual home runs he hit in 2019. Those six lost home runs were the fourth-most for any player last season, so maybe Cron can hit another 30 next year as he did in 2018. There’s a reason pHR likes Cron. His 10.6 Brls/PA% was seventh-best among all players with at least 50 batted-ball events. That’s excellent and portends more success on Cron’s fly balls going forward. Who knows, maybe he just remains my starting first baseman all season?
22.257 – Alex Reyes (SP, St. Louis Cardinals)
Alex Reyes is one of the most disappointing prospects in recent memory. After an exciting debut in 2016 in which the flamethrower had 1.3 fWAR in just 46 innings, Reyes caught the injury bug and has not made a meaningful contribution since.
The sky is the limit for Reyes, who carries a 70-grade fastball, extremely high strikeout rates throughout his time in the minor leagues, and potentially a shot at the Cardinals rotation. Indeed, he’s finally healthy this offseason, and hopefully will not reinjure himself. He’s gone much higher in prior drafts, and I was excited to get him this late here.
23.272 – Alex Kirilloff (OF, Minnesota Twins)
One thing I look for when drafting hitting prospects is plate discipline. Is a guy striking out more than 20% of the time? Can he hit for average? If so, particularly in the levels below Triple-A, then the power might flash at the Triple-A and major league levels. Especially considering the state of the ball in MLB and Triple-A.
Twins prospect Alex Kirilloff checks that box. In a little over 1,000 plate appearances, he has never had a strikeout rate over 18.5%. In 2018, he hit .348 with 20 home runs in 561 plate appearances. MLB’s No. 15 overall prospect, Kirilloff could be a difference-maker in 2020 fantasy leagues, which is exactly why I took a flier on him with my last pick.
I stuck to my draft mantra: look for value with every pick, go for floor early and ceiling late. That’s reflected in the younger players on my team. You’ll notice I don’t have many expensive young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but I do have several young, cheaper breakout candidates, including J.D. Davis, Nate Lowe, Alex Reyes, and Alex Kirilloff.
In the end, I think my lineup is excellent and nicely balanced. My rotation is definitely riskier, but I usually draft that way. I’m also very happy with my closers. This was a lot of fun, and I hope you took away a thing or two from my draft strategy.
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire