It’s not necessarily that I think I defended my players poorly, but rather that I gave a poor accounting of how I think about valuing players, team composition, and overall draft strategies, leading the listening audience to feel I’m some dum-dum who only drafted first and second baseman.
Wait…Didn’t I just hear someone say “Hey Nicklaus, where did you fail the most during your appearance on the On the Corner Podcast with Nick Pollack?” Oh, no one asked that? That’s OK, forget I said anything. Anyway, I’d like to blame my performance on my children for eating an extra amount of my brains that morning—and to be fair, I am kind of a dum-dum—but the truth is I was flummoxed by having my normal Nick-Energy thrown off by trying to deal with the bedeviling handsomeness of Nick-Prime at nine in the morning. With that in mind, let’s rewind the tape and go over my draft for Pitcher List’s Mock Draft No. 2.
Quiet on the set. Take
1.11 – Freddie Freeman (1B, Atlanta Braves)
Starting things off with the most boring of all fantasy picks, I went with steady Freddie Freeman with my first pick, as I was pretty set on taking a hitter here, and Nathan Mills had just unceremoniously sniped Juan Soto from me a pick prior. Now over a month after the fact, I probably would’ve taken Trea Turner or Nolan Arenado here, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love banking the fantasy-metronome that Freeman is, as his steady performance will form the backbone of my offense. In 2019, Freeman batted .295 with 34 home runs, set career highs with 113 runs and 121 RBI, and even threw in six stolen bases. A pessimist could point to 23.6% HR/FB that was also a career high and speculate that some regression is in order, but an optimist might bring up that his .318 BABIP was the lowest he’s run since 2012 and that his numbers should’ve been even higher given that he was dealing with an elbow injury over the last part of the season that was sucking his power. In the first half of 2019, Freeman carried a .403 wOBA and a .275 ISO but dropped to a .365 wOBA and .224 ISO during September; even though Freeman claimed the injury wasn’t hindering him, he underwent arthroscopic surgery almost as soon as his season ended. Selecting Freeman and contributions in 4.5 categories gives me a strong start on offense and sets me up to take pitchers with my next few picks, as was my plan going in.
2.15 – Justin Verlander (SP, Houston Astros)
I’ll get into more later about my reasons for taking so few pitchers and subsequently chilling Nick Pollack to his bones, but for now, let’s talk about Justin Verlander. I knew I was going to take a pitcher with my next couple of picks and took JV here for the following reasons:
2018: 214 IP, 290 K, 0.90 WHIP, 2.52 ERA, 2.63 SIERA
2019: 223 IP, 300 K, 0.80 WHIP, 2.58 ERA, 2.95 SIERA
It may not be quite as shiny, and it may not be over 223 innings again, but I don’t see a reason to expect a ton less in 2020 from the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner. How’s that for hard-hitting analysis?
3.35 – Jack Flaherty (SP, St. Louis Cardinals)
Short of all of my targets being picked ahead of me, I knew I’d be going pitcher again in Round 3, and I landed on my hometown favorite, Jack Flaherty. I wanted pitchers for my next two picks and ideally, they’d be Flaherty and Mike Clevinger. Perhaps I would’ve had a better shot at getting both if I had taken Clevinger first, but while I often forgo need in favor of value, there are also a few of “my guys” in any given draft who I’ll usually be aggressive in rostering. Flaherty is one of those guys in 2020, and there just wasn’t any way I wasn’t getting him in a Pitcher List staff mock. And regardless of any jokes I made about my St. Louis biases on the podcast with Nick, I chose Flaherty here over more established choices for reasons other than the team he pitches for. Namely, I believe in his performance over the second half of 2019 and believe we’re going to see much of the same in 2020. Flaherty’s last 100+ innings were so insane that even baking even some regression leaves you with an ace:
Start of Season-July 2: 85.2 IP, 97 K, 4.73 ERA, 1.26 WHIP
July 7-End of Season: 106.1 IP, 130 K, 0.96 ERA, 0.70 WHIP
While it’s easy to assume Flaherty is somewhere in the middle of the two halves, I have reasons to believe he’ll skew much more toward the latter. Mostly because even in the bad first half—and certainly in the second half—Flaherty kept or improved many of the aspects from his breakout in 2018; namely an increasing fastball velocity, decreasing walk rate, and a sometimes-elite strikeout rate that seems to ebb and flow with the usage rate of his nasty slidepiece.
Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs recently talked about the “Holy Grail of increased projection” as having a higher strikeout rate caused by a change in pitch mix and/or an increase in fastball velocity. The reason I’m the conductor of the Flaherty hype train is that he seems to be checking those boxes, along with a steadily decreasing walk rate. Choo-choo.
4.38 – Pete Alonso (1B, New York Mets)
Ahh, the first time I chilled Nick Pollack to the bones, taking another first baseman for my second hitter. Maybe it was because I was on tilt from Colin Charles taking Clevinger, or perhaps I was seduced by the prospect of another 50 home runs. Taking Alonso here was probably a little too aggressive in chasing what I saw as great value, and in hindsight I probably would’ve taken Blake Snell. More than Pete Alonso’s actual value, however, I love his perceived value in a “normal” league that isn’t composed of a bunch of super-sharp Pitcher Listers. Most leagues will have plenty of owners who will only see a 24-year-old who hit 53 home runs and was just named the NL ROY. I find that the longer a player has been a top performer, the harder it is to get more than market value for them in a trade. For example, it would probably be difficult to get someone to overpay for Freeman, but Alonso has the combination of flashy production and overall steam that could allow me to fetch a prime price in order to fill other needs if necessary.
5.59 – Charlie Morton (SP, Tampa Bay Rays)
After passing on one in the fourth round, I got the third starter I desired to form the core of my staff, picking Charlie Morton and his Uncle Charlie in the fifth. One of the reasons I passed on a pitcher in the fourth was because even with a likely run on pitching coming, I thought I’d be able to get a pitcher here who I loved. And with the exception of Snell, I had issues with every other pitcher taken between my picks in the fourth and fifth rounds.
While there is cause for concern that Morton will be able to duplicate the career-high 194.2 innings he pitched in 2019, his numbers will still play even if the innings drop back down to around 175. To pair with the aforementioned Verlander and Flaherty, I add a third starter who struck out 240 batters with a 3.05 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP.
6.62 – Whit Merrifield (2B/OF, Kansas City Royals)
Let the flood of second basemen commence! Now that I had my pitchers, I wanted to carry out my predraft strategy of addressing speed early and often. Even though Whit Merrifield had dropped from 45 stolen bases in 2018 to only 20 in 2019, I still loved the value he represented as he was still a top-40 batter this past season after being a top-20 batter in 2018. If I get even a small bounceback in stolen bases from Merrifield, then I think I’m looking at a good chunk of profit; and if he only earns around the $20.40 that he did in 2019, I think I’m still happy with the balance he gives to my offense when paired with Freeman.
7.83 – Tyler Glasnow (SP, Tampa Bay Rays)
I drafted my final major league starter inexplicably in the seventh round, grabbing Glasnow and his 60 innings pitched in 2019. Given the confidence I have in my previous three pitching selections, I was comfortable grabbing the risk of Tyler Glasnow, betting (but not banking) on a 60-inning sample from last year that came with a 33.3% K rate, a 1.78 ERA, and a 0.89 WHIP. With the 83rd pick, I’m OK rolling the dice on his questionable health and betting on how much value could be had if he were to reach 150 innings.
8. 86 – Bo Bichette (SS, Toronto Blue Jays)
Following in the footsteps of Alonso, the next member of my all-steam team was picked because of my belief in his value but also what I think is value could rise to eventually. Not only did Bichette produce in his 212 plate appearances in 2019, hitting 11 home runs with 32 runs scored and four stolen bases, with a .311 average and a 142 wRC+, but he now carries the type of recognition that could jump his perceived value even more as he gets touted more the closer we get to spring. And if he happens to start spring or the regular season on a heater, then that value could skyrocket. Welcome to the team, Not-Dante!
9.107 – Roberto Osuna (RP, Houston Astros)
10.110 – Kenley Jansen (RP, Los Angeles Dodgers)
The rare (for me anyway) double-closer maneuver! As I discussed on the podcast, paying for closers has never been my jam, with my preference always being to find them late and on the wire; but after failing in this strategy miserably last season, I decided to see how things went if I addressed it early in this mock. I completely trust about five closers this year, and with the first three (Josh Hader, Kirby Yates, Aroldis Chapman) off of the board, I took the last two. With Osuna and Jansen I get the safety of two top relievers with secure jobs on two of baseball’s best teams while avoiding what I considered to be a pile of muck remaining in the reliever pool. I’d love to say I trust Brad Hand, but he had some troubling numbers in the second half of this past season and will also likely have the flame-throwing James Karinchak breathing down his neck. And I’m probably going to let others trust the second-most famous Liam from Australia because I’m conditioned to never trust the Oakland bullpen situation. Anyone want to guess what the Venn diagram of people who used a premium pick on Blake Treinen in 2019 and those who will take Liam Hendricks in 2020, looks like? Two circles, nine feet apart. After those two are a big glob of guys who are as likely to not end 2020 as their team’s closer as they are to finish in the top 10. No thanks.
11.131 – Jorge Polanco (SS, Minnesota Twins)
I consider getting Jorge Polanco in the 11th round probably the best value of my draft, as Polanco earned $17.60 in Yahoo standard leagues in 2019, making him the No. 46 hitter, right ahead of Max Muncy and right behind Yoan Moncada, Kris Bryant, and Josh Donaldson. Last year, the 26-year-old switch-hitter slashed .295/.356/.485 with 22 home rusn, 79 RBI, and 107 runs scored in 704 plate appearances. Getting Polanco at this stage in the draft is not only a treat but also goes to show you how deep shortstop is.
12.134 – Danny Santana (1B/2B/OF, Texas Rangers)
Speaking of value, it was time to start implementing my All-2B strategy, so I grabbed the high-risk/high-reward of what I hope is Javier Baez-light. Santana broke through as a fantasy contributor in 2019 like the Kool-Aid man breaks through brick walls, earning $21.10 (or $1.60 more than Baez, in 50 fewer PA) by posting a .283 average in 511 plate appearances, hitting 28 home runs, with 81 RBI, 81 runs, and 21 stolen bases. Sure there are signs of trouble, like a .353 BABIP, a 24.3% HR/FB, and an almost 30% K rate but given his speed potential, I’m willing to chance that his increased hard-hit rate and launch angle carry over to success in 2020.
13.155 – Willie Calhoun (OF, Texas Rangers)
My man, Groundskeeper Willie! As he’s another one of “my guys,” my rosters in 2020 will be seeing a lot of Willie Calhoun, who hit 21 home runs in his 337 plate appearances after being called up for good by Texas following Joey Gallo’s hamate injury. With a .256 ISO and a 7.2% swinging-strike rate, the 25-year-old leftie has a combination of plate discipline and power that I think could create a lot of fantasy dollars.
14.158 – Bryan Reynolds (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates)
Hidden way out in Pittsburgh, Bryan Reynolds ended up as the No. 80 hitter in Yahoo standard leagues, carried by a .314 batting average that tied him for the 10th-highest in baseball and the seventh-highest in the National League. Besides the average, Reynolds also chipped in 16 homers, 68 RBI, and 83 runs scored in just 546 plate appearances and should be the Pirates’ leadoff hitter for 2020, likely hitting in front of Starling Marte, Josh Bell, and whomever they use after Gregory Polanco inevitably has season-ending surgery.
15.179 – Cavan Biggio (2B, Toronto Blue Jays)
Good lord, is that another second baseman? Why yes, it is; but the difference with Cavan Biggio is that he’ll actually be used as my second baseman. One of my favorite players for the 2020 season, Biggio got overshadowed by his uber-prospect teammates but ended the season with 16 home runs, 48 RBI, 66 runs, and 14 steals in 430 plate appearances. While his slash line of .234/.364/.429 isn’t exactly inspiring, the 20/20-potential and what should be a prime lineup spot in between Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., are enough to make me love getting Biggio in the 15th, but how he ended his season makes me even more optimistic for 2020.
After coming up and starting hot in his first taste of the big leagues, Biggio struggled through the summer months, hitting just .207 in July and August. Starting toward the end of August, however, Biggio turned the tide and finished with a very strong September, slashing .300/.424/.563 with four home runs, five stolen bases, and a .160 wRC+ in his final 99 plate appearances.
16.182 – Garrett Hampson (2B/OF, Colorado Rockies)
17. 203 – Ryan McMahon (1B/2B/3B, Colorado Rockies)
Anyone who tells you they know exactly how Colorado will set its lineup is either a liar, a psychic, or Scott Bakula from Quantum Leap—none of whom can be trusted. I like Garrett Hampson and I like Ryan McMahon, but I wasn’t going to guess about if one or both of them would be starting from jump street, so I took both.
After being president of the All-Steam team in 2019, Hampson flopped on and off rosters and the waiver wire for most of the season, as Colorado did predictable Colorado things with his playing time and usage. Hampson also didn’t help his case for playing time with an April that saw him slash .182/.200/.273 with just one stolen base in 81 plate appearances. However, September brought better news for him and his production, as he slashed .318/.368/.534 with nine stolen bases. At this point in the draft, Hampson goes to my bench; if he earns a job and plays more like he did last September as opposed to in April, I have a steal. If he has a bad spring or flounders early, I can cut him and not stress too much.
Given McMahon is my only third baseman, more of my team’s success will be affected by his having a successful year. But seeing that I pretty much view Alonso as a trade chip, if McMahon falters, I will have a backup plan to fill what I see as my biggest weakness. McMahon hit 24 home runs in 539 plate appearances with 17 of them coming in his 242 plate appearances in the second half. My best scenario is him being good enough early that I can staple him to Alonso for a premium third baseman.
18.206 – Nick Anderson (RP, Tampa Bay Rays)
The final pitcher on whom I’m counting on for yearlong production, as streaming pitching would be a big part of my plan in a league this shallow, Nick Anderson is a guy I will probably reach on in 2020, relatively speaking. After putting up a 3.92 ERA in 43.2 innings for the Marlins, Anderson was traded to the Rays and just went nuts in his final 21.1 innings for Tampa Bay:
As good as Anderson was for the Marlins, he was even better for the Rays. Is it a coincidence that he also dropped 13 percentage points off his slider for more of his fastball as a Ray, and saw his K rate jump on both pitches? Regardless, even in a small sample, it’s hard to ignore a 50 K-BB% and I trust Tampa to get the best use out of Anderson. If that’s at closer, then I’ll be over the moon; but even if he only collects a handful of random saves all year, I think I’ll still be happy with the ratios and strikeouts that will come with a likely 60+ innings of this kind of filthy:
19.227 – Forrest Whitley (SP, Houston Astros)
Chilling Nick Pollack to his bones one last time, I took Forrest Whitley as my final pitcher. At this point in the draft, I consider all of these final picks expendable and was drafting them for their possibilities of trade value, as much as their possible production. I know with only four bench spots I’m going to churn the bottom quarter of my picks a ton so I’m not going to stress too much about picks at this stage being busts or not. With that in mind, I’m OK with drafting a classic post-hype breakout candidate in Whitley, who just came off a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League. He’s the type of player who could build up a head of fantasy steam between now and Opening Day, and it will only get hotter if he has a strong spring. And if he has a poor spring and it looks like he’ll start in the minors, then I’ll drop him without remorse.
20.230 – Brandon Nimmo (OF, New York Mets)
After finishing 2018 with a 148 wRC+ over 535 plate appearances, Brandon Nimmo entered 2019 with a 187 ADP in NFBC leagues but quickly fell on his face to start the season, posting a .200 batting average with just three home runs over his first 43 games. He then hit the injured list with a shoulder injury on May 20 and was quickly dropped and forgotten, not returning until September 1. However, over the 93 plate appearances in his final month of the season, Nimmo slashed .261/.430/.565 with five home runs, 15 RBI, and 14 runs scored. Wrapping up, that’s a 26-year-old who struggled after breaking out the previous year, was forgotten after getting hurt and then came back to immediately start hitting as he did in 2018. That is exactly the kind of 20th-round draft pick I’m looking for.
21.251 – Sean Murphy (C, Oakland Athletics)
Well, I had to pick a catcher eventually, I guess. I grabbed Sean Murphy over someone like Carson Kelly because while Kelly may have a higher floor, I’d rather chase a high ceiling in this type of catching environment. Since I’m usually unlikely to ever draft a top catcher, I’m more likely to take a shot on a lottery ticket like Murphy and if it doesn’t work out, then I’ll start sifting through the wire without hesitation.
A September call-up, Murphy shined in his 60 plate appearances, hitting four home runs and scoring 14 runs while slashing .245/.333/.556 with a .370 wOBA. While those numbers aren’t off the chart, I’m happy to take the small chance that Murphy breaks out as a top-10 catcher.
22.254 – Luis Urias (2B, Milwaukee Brewers)
Well, this pick certainly looks better after the recent trade of Luis Urias from San Diego to Milwaukee. I grabbed Urias even without a sure path to playing time in San Diego for the same reasons as the players mentioned above; I just don’t worry too much about these highly churnable roster spots. Urias, Whitley, Nimmo are all guys who will quickly get dropped for pitchers if they don’t earn jobs in spring or simply underperform. Urias has always been a personal favorite of mine, and now that he’s in Milwaukee we’ll get an even better look at whether his 65-grade hit tool will play in the majors. It didn’t last year, with Urias only slashing .223/.329/.326 in 249 plate appearances, but we’ll see what a change of scenery will do.
23.275 – Shin-Soo Choo (OF, Texas Rangers)
Unlike the lottery tickets previously mentioned, I’m pretty confident about the production I’ll be getting from Old Man Choo:
I’m going to assume that Shin-Soo Choo will give me production near that bottom row until he shows me otherwise. Getting that in the last round as a backup plan to Calhoun or Reynolds not working out is just fine by me.
While I don’t completely love this team, this is a roster tailored to my playing style, where I’m comfortable being unbalanced positionally and being relatively short on pitching. Or am I short on pitching and positionally challenged, given the quality of the few pitchers that I have and the multi-eligibility most of my players carry? While I’ll have problems at third base if McMahon doesn’t pan out, I think the amount of surplus I’ll have will be enough to fix any needs I have in-season. And I’m not going to just put 2019’s numbers on repeat and assume I’ll get the same thing in 2020, but I also won’t pretend that I didn’t draft my pitchers with last year’s numbers in mind. And the over 850 innings that my staff put up last year were pretty, pretty, good:
(Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire)