Pitcher List’s 2019 Early Mock Draft Recap: Dave Cherman’s Picks
Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire
It’s my turn to detail my round-by-round thoughts as we continue our coverage of the Pitcher List 2019 Way Too Early Mock Draft. Let’s do it.
I decided to take a unique approach to this draft- every other writer will tell you that pitching is incredibly thin and you should take three pitchers in the first seven rounds because of how quickly it dries up after the top 25. So I wanted to see just how decent of a team I could build if I completely ignored that advice and waited on pitching. In building my offense, I saw two main areas of struggle last year- batting average and stolen bases. The former was difficult to find and the latter, if you found it, you did so at the expense of every other category. Therefore, I tried to build around those two categories, figuring that HRs and RBI are easier to find. It didn’t quite turn out that way, as halfway through I abandoned the offensive side of the strategy and just started taking guys where I felt they should go. I feel the real benefit of this exercise for all of you is to see where players’ should go, not necessarily whether we built the best teams possible.
To read the analysis of other teams in the draft, head to our Mock Draft hub page here.
Round 1, Pick 6: Nolan Arenado (3B, Colorado Rockies) – I don’t believe this pick requires much explanation. Four straight seasons of a minimum of .287 AVG, 37 HRs, 97 R, and 110 RBI is about as good of a floor as you can ask for with the sixth pick. Sure, he doesn’t steal bases, but there are enough guys who steal bases later in the draft. His decreased FB% is a bit of a concern, but I see it as a one-year blip on the radar.
Round 2, Pick 19: Freddie Freeman (1B, Atlanta Braves) – Speaking of guys who steal bases… Freddie doesn’t really. But he did reach a career high of 10 in 2018… but that’s not why I drafted him. Freeman was a force in the Braves lineup, hitting .309 and driving in 98 runs, scoring 98 himself. Most will focus on his 23 home runs and how disappointing it was, but turning a few of his line drives into homers in 2019 could help correct that issue, as he was able to knock 62 out of the yard in 275 games between 2016 and 2017. He’s still a three-category star with the potential to be a HR star as well. Not to mention, he was one of only seven players to play every single game in 2018. It’s nice to never have to worry about even a backup at 1B.
Round 3, Pick 30: Whit Merrifield (2B/OF, Kansas City Royals) – Speaking of guys who steal bases… this time it’s actually right! Quiz time!
Player A: .271 AVG, 19 HRs, 103 R, 73 RBI, 43 SBs
Player B: .304 AVG, 12 HRs, 88 R, 60 RBI, 45 SBs
Player C: .300 AVG, 16 HRs, 103 R, 67 RBI, 63 SBs
Player A is Trea Turner, who went 8th. Merrifield went 22 picks later, likely due to the belief that his SBs were a fluke and his depressed counting stats as a result of playing for the Royals. However, that average is legit. In the first 3 rounds, I picked up 3 hitters who could all hit .300, which allows me to take some risks later on. The counterargument to Merrifield is that 16 of his 45 SBs came in September, whereas Turner’s were more evenly distributed throughout the year (although Turner entered September just 5 steals ahead of Merrifield). Regardless, Merrifield finished 15th on ESPN’s player rater and every non-closer who finished ahead of him was already taken in this draft. Oh, Player C? That’s Merrifield’s 2nd half of 2018 pro-rated to 150 games. Prorating is a dangerous game and it burned me this past year with Byron Buxton, but the upside is just so alluring. This pick is likely my biggest reach of the draft, though my pick two rounds later could contend for that. I think Merrifield should go around here, seeing as he led the majors in SBs this year when SBs are becoming harder to find than ever. He also had a 3 point drop in HR/FB%, which, if corrected to the mean, means someone who could push for 20 HRs as well. Sign. Me. Up.
Round 4, Pick 43: George Springer (OF, Houston Astros) – Just like my second pick, I went with a player coming off a disappointing season- Springer hit just 22 HRs and stole only 6 bases, showing us that he may never return to double-digit steals and will never be the 20-20 threat we saw in the minors. It’s important to remember Springer battled injuries for most of the year that sapped his power, meaning a return to 30 HRs is not out of the question whatsoever. However, the more I think about it, this pick is likely the one I’d take back. Yes, Springer will be among the league leaders in runs scored because he plays in the Astros offense, but batting near the top of the order means he won’t have many runs to drive in, and he hit just .265 this past year, exactly his career mark. So he’s only a lock to help you in one category. That’s not what I want to buy into in the 4th round. I would’ve much preferred Khris Davis, who got taken one pick earlier.
Round 5, Pick 54: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3B, Toronto Blue Jays) – It was just a matter of time before Vladito came off the board and I decided to be bold and get him in the 5th round. This seems like a reach for a player who has never played a Major League game before, but his early projections are off the charts for someone of his age. Even more so when you look at his Steamer projections. His stats don’t need repeating, but I’m going to anyway. He exceeded all expectations with an astounding .402/.449/.671 slash in AA with 14 HRs in 61 games and followed it up with a .336/.414/.564 line in 128 PAs at AAA. He should follow the Kris Bryant and Ronald Acuna call-up clock, joining the Jays after they gain an additional year of service time, IE roughly two weeks into the season. After that point, it would not surprise me at all to see Vladito hit .290 with 25 HRs and 80 RBI. Maybe this was too early, but when it comes to Vlad, I would rather be early than late. He did have some concerning GB/FB numbers at AAA, but that was in a very small sample size.
Round 6, Pick 67: David Price (SP, Boston Red Sox) – This was a mistake. There’s no way around it. I was trying to see how long I could wait and accumulate talent on offense before diving into pitching. This was too long. It’s not all bad, however, and I think I still put together a very serviceable pitching staff, but I’d have liked a better ace on top. That being said, Price improved greatly as the season moved along. He moved from the 3rd base side of the rubber to the 1st base side in July, which was likely a move to create further deception, and it worked- over his last 11 starts, Price posted an impressive 2.25 ERA to a 3.43 FIP, while striking out a batter per inning and allowing less than 1 baserunner per inning. Very impressive, and not too bad for the sixth round.
Round 7, Pick 78: Josh Donaldson (3B, Free Agent) – This is incredible value for Josh Donaldson and totally bakes in the injury risk. He’s two years removed from a full season but has a whole offseason to recover. The biggest criticism of this pick is likely that it’s my 3rd 3B in 7 picks with only 1 starter- I get that. But value is value and I highly doubt all 3 of these players will stay on my roster all season.
Round 8, Pick 91: Mike Foltynewicz (SP, Atlanta Braves) – Considering his success this year and the furious run on pitching in this draft, I am surprised Folty was sitting there this late. Despite entering the year with a ton of question marks, Folytnewicz solidified his slider, the missing piece that allowed him to finally start reaching the potential he showed in the 2013 season in AA for Houston. He won’t come close to that dominance from 2018 largely because of his .251 BABIP and career-high 77% LOB, but he’s a decent SP2/3. I’d advocate he be your 3rd rather than 2nd, however.
Round 9, Pick 102: Mallex Smith (OF, Tampa Bay Rays) – One of my goals in this draft was to build a team that could win steals without sacrificing other categories, notably batting average. To a certain extent, that’s what Mallex Smith represents. He will be a non-factor in both HRs and RBI, but along with Merrifield, would help me lock down SBs each week while carrying a near .300 AVG and enough runs to justify playing him. Smith’s .296 AVG in 2018 was the highest we’ve ever seen from him, as was his .366 BABIP, but his low fly ball and pop up rates, along with game-breaking speed (14th best sprint speed in baseball in 2018 at 29.8 ft/s), should allow him to sustain a higher than average BABIP, and thus, average. Not necessarily a .366 BABIP like this past year, but maybe .340, resulting in a .280ish average. In a time where steals are dying, Smith is rising up draft boards- he could stay down because he’ll only help you in 3 categories, but AVG and steals can be the hardest to find elite production from anymore. He finished 2018 as #50 on ESPN’s player rater and I think there’s still room to improve.
Round 10, Pick 115: Michael Brantley (OF, Free Agent) – While we’re referencing the player rater, I was able to snag the 40th ranked player for 2017 in the 10th round. Nobody expected the career renaissance that Brantley displayed in 2018. Setting aside the 2016 season, in which he played just 11 games, he’s hit at least .299 every season since 2014 and if healthy in 2019, he’s a lock for 150 R+RBI, depending on where he ends up as a free agent. “If he’s healthy” is a big question mark that is undoubtedly the reason he fell so far, but I’m willing to bet on it after a 143 game season with over 600 PAs. Few players in baseball swing the stick as well as Brantley, who struck out just 9.5% of the time and will finish 2019 with double digit HRs and steals again while putting up above average counting stats. This was my favorite pick of the draft.
Round 11, Pick 126: J.A. Happ (SP, Free Agent) – Speaking of career renaissances, Happ had a phenomenal season with the Yankees and Jays. With the Yanks, Happ posted a phenomenal 7-0 record with a 2.69 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over 11 starts. This was better than any Yankee fan could have expected and even an improvement over Happ’s successful first half. Happ’s biggest improvement in 2018 was his strikeout rate, deriving from his willingness to pound fastballs above the zone, which became a trend around baseball. He’s not a superstar, but he’s able to be a reliable #3 while being drafted as a number 4 or 5, depending on where he ends up this off-season.
Round 12, Pick 139: Kyle Freeland (SP, Colorado Rockies) – Everyone will say that you need to grab pitching early, and for the most part, they’re right. But how often can you get a Cy Young contender in the 12th round? Freeland changed up his pitch mix, throwing fewer fastballs in exchange for more change-ups and cutters. The success was somewhat confounding, as his change was worth negative pVAL. I’m inclined to think that throwing the fastball a little less often made it more effective because hitters weren’t seeing it more 3 out of every 5 pitches anymore. It was more than that though, it’s that his command is among the best in the league and, as Nick put it, he’s doing with his cutter exactly what Jon Lester should be doing. The Rockies should be very good again, which will lead to a lot of wins for the young lefty and the peripherals support his success. His big warts are pitching in Coors, his 83% LOB, and his low strikeout numbers. Surprisingly, Freeland was better at home than on the road, pitching to a stellar 2.40 ERA in Coors, though he took his licks, giving up 11 long balls vs just six on the road. Freeland grew up in Denver, so pitching in this atmosphere is nothing new to him. In fact, he might be the perfect pitcher to succeed in this ballpark in the long term. With respect to the Ks, that’s just something you have to accept. 7.7 K/9 is why he’s not going six rounds earlier, but he’ll help with everything else. If there is a bright spot in the K%, it’s that he posted a 24% mark over his last 10 starts, which included the Dodgers three times and the Braves.
Round 13, Pick 150: Jose Quintana (SP, Chicago Cubs) – In his four full seasons with the White Sox from 2013-16, Quintana was one of the most undervalued pitchers in baseball, regularly posting an ERA in the low 3’s, but he hasn’t lived up to that production with the Cubs, as his HR/9 has shot up, as has his walk rate. Quintana never walked more than 2.52 per 9 in those four years but walked 3.51 this past year. He never allowed more than 1.04 homers per 9 but allowed 1.29 this year. However, over his last 9 starts in 2018, Quintana allowed just a 2.92 ERA with a 3.38 FIP, 2.37 BB/9, and 0.91 HR/9. In case you are afraid he wasn’t facing strong competition in that time because of September call-ups, three of those starts came against the Brewers. In fact, Quintana gave up just 3 ER over his 18.1 IP against the Brew Crew. Beating the Brewers is not a tell-all for fantasy success, but this production suggests there may still be some success in the tank for the soon-to-be 30-year-old if he can get his secondary pitches going to support his fastball.
Round 14, Pick 163: Jose Peraza (SS, Cincinnati Reds) – Peraza struggled to find his stroke in 2017, failing to follow up on his elite play in 2016. However, Peraza came alive in 2018, batting an impressive .288 with 14 HRs, 143 R+RBI, and 23 SBs. When coming up in the minors, Peraza billed as a high-average and steals guy, hitting a career high of 3 HRs in the minors before getting called up. The 14 HRs came as a surprise and were not supported by xStats, which gave him 7.4 xHR, but Peraza hit more fly balls than ever before and thus, could reach double digits again. You’re not drafting Peraza for his homers though, you’re drafting him for the same reason you’re drafting Mallex Smith, though the steals are notably lower. This is where he should be going in drafts- don’t let him fall too much further.
Round 15, Pick 174: Kevin Gausman (SP, Atlanta Braves) – Sometimes, all it takes is a change of scenery or a move to a new analytics department (or a team that even has an analytics team) to unlock a pitcher’s potential. Gausman came alive after the all-star break with his shift to Atlanta, posting a superb 2.87 ERA with a 1.14 WHIP (both would be career highs over a full season), despite a less than stellar 6.6 K/9. The splitter is the key to Gausman’s success and the Braves will help him maximize it, as he’s got two more years with the team before becoming a free agent. You could do much worse in the 15th round.
Round 16, Pick 187: Cody Allen (RP, Free Agent) – I don’t recommend you do what I did. I waited until the 16th round to take someone who will likely not even be a closer next year, but I decided to draft him on the off chance he latches on with a team without an established back-end guy, allowing Allen to snatch the job. Allen’s ADP entirely depends on where he ends up and in what role- and if we’re being frank, his ADP shouldn’t rise too much higher than this even if he has a defined closing role because he was flat out bad in 2018. However, it was his first year with a 3.00 or above ERA or SIERA since he threw just 29 innings in 2012. It’s entirely possible this was a blip on the radar and he rediscovers his elite fastball-curveball combo (particularly the latter) in 2019.
Couch Managers was not updated for 2018 yet, which caused some names to fall, and honestly, I’d have taken Julio Urias, Jimmy Nelson, or Nathan Eovaldi here over Chacin. However, my tinfoil hat belief is that Chacin started reading Pitcher List and noticed how much trash Nick would talk about him, inspiring him to a quietly dominant season. After getting lit up on 6/24 against St. Louis, Chacin cruised to 9 wins in 18 starts with a 3.22 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. Granted, it came with a 4.03 FIP and a 4.22 SIERA, suggesting that Nick’s saying of Jhoulys will do well when Jhoulyst expect it is likely still true, but perhaps there’s more under the hood here because 2018 was his 2nd straight season under a 4.00 ERA. I’m certainly willing to take a chance on a 3.50 ERA and 1.16 WHIP (good enough to finish as the #28 SP) in the 17th round because a repeat of that stat line would make this a home run pick. Let’s take a snapshot now of my rotation, which you’ll recall I waited until the sixth round to start building: David Price, Mike Foltyniewicz, JA Happ, Kyle Freeland, Jose Quintana, Kevin Gausman, Jhoulys Chacin. Sure, the elite upside is nowhere to be found. But I think I still put together a solid stable of arms who can post low ERAs albeit without high-end strikeout numbers.
Round 18, Pick 211: Hunter Renfroe (OF, San Diego Padres) – As we get into the late rounds, we’re mostly playing the lottery. I try to take a mix of dart throws at potential high-end guys as well as some stable back-end guys in case some of my earlier picks don’t pan out. Renfroe is the former- I’ve got high hopes for him after his 19-homer second half. He didn’t hit for a high average, nor did he draw many walks, but that power is worth drooling over. That’s 48 homer power over the course of a 150 game season. Is Renfroe going to do that all year? No. But he’s got 70-grade power and should have a lineup spot with Myers pushed to 3B. Then again, someone from Cordero, Margot, Renfroe, and Reyes has to sit- I just doubt it’ll be Renfroe. There’s decent bust potential because of a high HR/FB% but that’s baked into his 18th round price.
Round 19, Pick 222: Steven Matz (SP, New York Mets) – Another year, another disappointing season from Steven Matz. Yes, he posted a 3.97 ERA but it came with a 4.62 FIP and 4.10 SIERA, as he struggled to stay on the field again, racking up just 154 innings. Granted that was a career high for Matz, but he clearly wasn’t right, as he walked 3.4 batters per 9, a full walk above his career mark entering 2018. The tools are all still there of the guy that Nick fell in love with all those years ago and the 19th round is where I feel comfortable taking the risk that we can get the guy from 2016 again. You know, the one who posted a 3.40 ERA and 3.39 FIP over 132.1, striking out almost a batter per inning with a pristine walk rate. Here’s hoping.
Round 20, Pick 235: Andrelton Simmons (SS, Los Angeles Angels) – Year in and year out, Simmons is among the most undervalued fantasy assets, as he’s viewed as a glove-only type player. While he does flash some elite leather, he can also swing a pretty sweet stick. In his seven major league seasons, Simmons has struck out over 10% of the time just three times (and only one of those was above 10.4%). He’s a great bet to hit in the high 200s, finishing at .292 this past season, steal double-digit bases (39 over the last 3 seasons), and put up solid counting stats (143 R+RBI in 2018). Why he’s going in the 20th round is beyond me. In a deep group of shortstops, he’s starter worthy.
Round 21, Pick 246: Andrew Miller (RP, Free Agent) – This is not based even remotely on anything recent. But Miller is still a stud when healthy (when is he ever healthy?) and he’s a free agent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him land with a team like Boston, LA, or the Cubs, where he serves his traditional multi-inning reliever role, but he could also close in the event of injury. Prior to his injury-riddled 2018, Miller posted 4 straight years of 2.04 ERA or below with the Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees, and Indians. He’ll get a job and even if he doesn’t close, he’ll give me great ratios and elite strikeout numbers for a reliever (2018 was his first year below 13.5 K/9 since 2012). If he does close, I just got a massive steal in the 21st round.
Round 22, Pick 259: CC Sabathia (SP, Free Agent) – He says he wants to pitch, we just don’t know where yet. CC has completely reinvented himself as a starter, becoming the king of soft contact, finishing 4th in that category among starters with 150 or more innings in 2018. He also ranks #1 in that stat since 2016 at 24.4% (min 450 IP). Despite his age, he now has 3 straight seasons below a 4.00 ERA pitching in one of the better hitters’ parks in baseball despite less than stellar FIPs and SIERAs. He’ll get a job somewhere and provide solid innings at the back end of the rotation- he ain’t done yet.
Round 23, Pick 270: Austin Hedges (C, San Diego Padres) – Definitely a risky pick, as he may not even be the starting catcher, depending on what the team wants to do with Francisco Mejia. I decided to take a chance on Hedges mostly due to his .466 SLG in the second half, which came with 10 HRs in 52 games. If he keeps that pace, he’s a 20 HR guy at a .230ish average, which my team can take, given the amount of high-average guys at my disposal. Given this pick again, I may take Tucker Barnhart or Danny Jansen, but I’d probably just pick a different position and stream throughout the year. Ideally, at catcher, I want Wilson Ramos, Willians Astudillo, or Welington Castillo, or Yadier Molina based on value.