Pitcher List’s 2019 Early Mock Draft Recap: Rick Graham’s Picks
Happy Thanksgiving y’all! This has been my second year participating in a PitcherList early mock and I have to say, it really does wonders towards prepping for 2019. I was for the most part happy with how this team winded up, with a good mix of steady production and upside in the first 9 rounds. The middle and late rounds were filled with potential bounce-back candidates (maybe we could just coin them BBC’s?) which will be the general theme from rounds 10 on. One of my perennial strategies with late round picks is to go after the forgotten guys who are still fairly young and have proven they can produce at this level. I’d rather take a chance with a younger guy that’s proven himself before over an inexperienced guy who’s yet to have to say 500 MLB AB’s. Once I got deeper into the draft, I must admit it started to feel like my picks were kind of blah, which typically happens to be my most successful teams. Overall, I feel despite this team being considered injury prone, I still think it has both a great floor and ceiling foundation.
1.5: Nolan Arenado (3B, Colorado Rockies)
My first choice at 5 really came down to two options, Arenado or Manny Machado. Despite the added SS eligibility Machado delivers, I went with the more stable option in my opinion with Arenado. Arenado has been one of the top 2 or 3 most consistent early-round fantasy assets over the past 4 seasons all while raising various stats such as OBP and wRC+ in each season. Whereas Machado is heading into free agency and will likely join a new team after signing a huge contract where he’ll have high expectations to live up to in his new city, Arenado, still only 27, is heading into a contract year and should thrive, like always, in Colorado.
2.20: Ronald Acuna (OF, Atlanta Braves)
I was dead set on drafting Acuna if he made it to me here to pair with Arenado as the perfect high upside/high floor combo to start the draft. Even with Acuna’s tantalizing ceiling, I think there’s a steadier floor than we may like to admit. Sure the BABIP was high for the NL Rookie of the Year, but it always had been in the minors thanks to his ability to make hard contact combined with his speed. As he matures, expect to see him improve on his plate discipline, even further boosting his value. There aren’t many players right now who you can consider legitimate 30/30 threats, but Acuna is certainly one of them.
With Blake Snell going the pick prior as the 8th pitcher of the board, I decided to take the most dominant pitcher over the past 10 years in Kershaw. I have my doubts about his future as much as anyone, as a decline in velocity paired with sharp declines in K rate and SwStr% are never a good sign from a pitcher over the age of 30, but it’s still important to remember how generally effective he still happened to be. Even if he can’t get back to his old ways of striking out over a batter an inning, I’m fine with an ERA and WHIP in the 2.75, 1.00 range for my first starter off the board while shopping for strikeouts later…
Bauer seemed like a good match with Kershaw, with Bauers 11.34 K/9 rate being 4th among qualified starters last year and the best left on the board at 44. Bauers has impressively been able to improve both his K and BB rates over the past three years while also upping his fastball velocity. Tweaking his slider this season was the probably the biggest factor in his breakout campaign, as the new pitch helped boost his SwStr% a full 4 points from last year with hitters chasing outside the zone more often. Still only 27 years old, Bauer should continue to grow as a pitcher and has legitimate top-ten upside.
5.53: Xander Bogaerts (SS, Boston Red Sox)
With the rest of the elite, SS’s off the board already, I was more than happy to snag X here at 53. After a wildly disappointing 2017, Bogaerts regained the 20 HR power stroke he found in 2016 to finish with a career-high 23 in just 136 games. That power surge led to a .522 SLG% which ranked 4th among SS while a .358 xwOBA was the 3rd best. Going into a contract year and still only 26, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see a top 3 finish from him at the SS position this upcoming season while hitting in the middle of that stacked Red Sox lineup.
6.68: Justin Upton (OF, Los Angeles Angels)
Even in what was a somewhat down year for him, Upton was still able to put together 30 HR, 80 R, and 80 RBI for the third consecutive year. The swing and miss tendencies with him are still as frustrating as ever, and he runs hot or cold way too often, but he finished the year off strong with a .844 OPS over the second half and could be in for another 100+ RBI season if he hits behind Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani all season.
I’ll admit to being skeptical about this pick when I made it, but after seeing Price dominate over his past 3 postseason starts, couldn’t be more happy with the pick. He was truly a different pitcher from the first half to the second as his 4.42 and 2.25 1st/2nd half ERA numbers prove. We may not see a sub 3 ERA from Price ever again, but I’d expect that number to float around that mark while adding a K per inning and sub 1.20 WHIP. Not bad from the third option in the pitching staff, with all three likely to help in the wins column as well.
8.92: Blake Treinen (RP, Oakland Athletics)
With Edwin Diaz the only reliever off the board to this point, I felt like it was my duty as the resident relief pitcher guy to end the slide of closers by taking Treinen at 92. Treinen held an absurd .78 ERA and .83 WHIP, with his filthy stuff earning him an 18.2 SwStr% as well as a league-leading 42.8 O-Swing%. It was a year full of career numbers for the 30-year-old Treinen, but there’s no reason to think he can’t dominate again in 2019.
9.101: Jesus Aguilar (1B, Milwaukee Brewers)
Last season was a tale of two halves with Aguilar, but I think we can at least expect similar numbers when all is said and done. He was clearly better in the 1st half (.995 OPS) than the 2nd (.760 OPS) but that’s more due to bad ball luck and a high September GB rate than pitchers getting him to swing and miss more. He was actually able to slightly improve his K% in the second half and his BABIP was about right considering his past numbers. The GB rate isn’t a concern yet, and his hard hit rate and not so terrible contact skills should keep him mashing to a tune of something like a .270, .340, .520 line for 2019.
10.116: Dee Gordon (2B/OF, Seattle Mariners)
Coming off a wildly disappointing season, it is fair to wonder just how much Gordon can bounce back, now going on his age 31 season. He should still be a safe bet to get you 30+ steals and has multiposition eligibility (2B/OF and possibly SS if you play on Yahoo or Segura gets moved?). Last year was also his lowest BABIP since 2013, so I guess we could expect his average to trend upwards some, but the real big concern for me is a 1.5% BB rate. How can you steal 60 bases if you can’t get on base (see: Hamilton, Billy)? The other issue now is where exactly does he fit into the lineup now that the Mariners have added…
11.125: Mallex Smith (OF, Seattle Mariners)
…Mallex Smith who I love for the fact he has that combination of great speed as well as on-base skills. That combo along with slightly more pop than Gordon, should make him the favorite to hit at the top of the Mariners order. I do admit I liked him better in Tampa, but he should be a fine fantasy asset in Seattle as long as he is hitting 1st or 2nd. I originally had drafted him since he fell to this spot and felt he was good OF Gordon insurance but now he I see him as outproducing Gordon, who could find himself wasting away in the 9 spot in Seattle this season.
There was a run on pitchers leading up to this pick, and I felt like Darvish far and away had the highest upside of any starter left on the board here. Coming off injury, I would be totally fine if he could hit his steamer projections although I’d like to see 150+ innings. The K’s should still come in bunches though and as long as he can get his walk rate back to a normal rate, I’d only have injuries to worry about. Still only 32 years old and with something to prove, Yu just needs to stay healthy to provide value at this point of the draft.
13.149: Ken Giles (RP, Toronto Blue Jays)
As Nick pointed out in our recent podcast, Giles seems to always be my guy, but here I’d argue it was based on how closers were going off the board for the past 50-60 picks. I will also admit I can’t seem to quit Giles as even though my eyes tell me I should, I see the underlying numbers and found myself reeled back in time and time again. But look, he flourished in Toronto once becoming closer there (2 ER over last 16 innings in with a 16/3 K/BB rate) and despite a dip in K rate, he held an elite BB rate while having a 16% SwStr and 37% O-Swing. He was around the plate too much a la Shane Bieber perhaps but I think if he were able to find a happy medium between his 2018 and 2017/2016 K/BB rate and the Jays use him strictly in save situations, he could be in for a huge comeback year in 2019.
14.164: Jonathan Villar (2B, Baltimore Orioles)
My 2B Gordon insurance I took Villar here partly to make sure I can win steals each week but mostly because I couldn’t let him slide any further. He has huge upside this late in the draft and perhaps more than either of the Seattle guys as he can potentially get to 20 HR’s if stays locked into the leadoff role in Baltimore all year. With a chance to possibly add SS eligibility as well (already has it in Yahoo), Villar was my favorite pick of the draft and should be a big-time sleeper this draft season. For those obsessed with Adalberto Mondesi for 2019, instead, consider taking Villar 100 picks later.
15.173: Adam Ottavino (RP, Free Agent)
We know how good the stuff is with Ottavino as he and Blake Treinen were featured almost daily on the nastiest pitches section here at Pitcher List but the success of this pick will ultimately come down to where he winds up. The hope is that he’ll get a chance to close out games, as there are should be enough teams out there looking for a potential 9th inning man. His 12.98 K/9 last season is superb but the 4.17 BB/9 could definitely use some work, especially if he wants to finish out games.
16.188: Cody Allen (RP, Free Agent)
Just as I mentioned above, the success of this pick will likely come down to where Allen winds up in free agency as I’m hedging my bets by taking the two back to back. If he winds up getting a closing job somewhere, he should be a strong bounce-back candidate coming off his first down year in 6 seasons. Prior to last season, Allen had 5 straight seasons with a sub 3 ERA while working 67+ innings in each of them. The K/9 was still over 10 as usual, but that BB rate jumped way up to 4.43 this year which along with his dip in velocity are the biggest concerns. Still only 30, I’ll take a chance on Allen regaining his 2013-2017 form with a change of scenery.
I’ll admit this pick might be a little early, but I really like the potential here and just fell in love with his September. In his last 7 starts of the year, he allowed just 7 runs, while striking out 48 over 45.2 innings. He can be frustrating at times and completely blow up when his secondary stuff isn’t working, but I think he can take a step forward as an innings eater with K upside that can hopefully build off of those last 7 starts.
18.212: Eric Hosmer (1B, San Diego Padres)
As far as 1B goes, if I don’t get one in the first 4 rounds, I don’t mind waiting to grab whatever is left of the Max Muncy, Joey Gallo, Jesus Aguilar, Matt Olson group in the 9th/10th round while grabbing someone like Hosmer or Carlos Santana later for insurance. Hosmer is another #bouncebackcandidate who despite having a limited ceiling, can be a safe option in that thin 1B group. A lot of guys seem to struggle in their first year after signing a huge contract with a new team, with Hosmer posting career lows across the board. Still, he is only 29 and the Padres should improve from last season as their prospect pool starts to break through to the MLB level.
19.221: Kyle Schwarber (OF, Chicago Cubs)
Despite failing to get to 30 HR’s again, 2018 was, for the most part, an improvement for Schwarber. Sure his average will still hurt you some, but he did improve his plate discipline while still totaling 43 XBH’s. The real make or break factor for his career is how he handles left-handed pitching, and if he is able to work his way into the lineup and hold his own against them, 30 HR’s should be a lock, which is rare to find in the 19th round. He is still only 26 years old next season and continues to carry significant offensive upside.
Godley’s could be considered a bounce-back candidate for 2019, but then again, maybe 2017 was just a fluke. I still think he can figure things out, as frustrating as he was last year, as he still at least showed glimpses of 2017 at times. He just never could really get it going for extended periods and was just blah for the most part. There’s at least a Toby with better than average K potential here, and he’s someone I’d rather take a chance on than say, Rick Porcello.
21.245: Miguel Sano (3B, Minnesota Twins)
Maybe the ultimate bounce-back candidate this season, Sano just needs to get his head right and clean some things up to get back to being an impact player again. He’s basically schwarber with bigger concerns but more overall upside as a guy who should be hitting 40 HR’s regularly if given 500+ AB’s. There’s also a chance he shifts to 1B which would be a big boost considering that 1B market mentioned earlier.
22.260: Danny Jansen (C, Toronto Blue Jays)
Catchers are such a black hole now, Jansen’s a fine option late in drafts as he at least was a top prospect currently in a good situation. He should be the regular in Toronto next year and was able to hold his own with a .779 OPS in 95 PA this season. His plate discipline and power combination in minors are a big plus, especially given the position, and playing in the AL East could help amplify his power potential even more.
23.269: Trevor May (RP, Minnesota Twins)
May has been forgotten by most since being a top prospect year ago but was able to stay healthy for 25+ innings last year, where he was able to post elite numbers. As of now, he should be considered the inhouse favorite to close next year but I do imagine the Twins will look to add someone to the mix in free agency. As I wrote in my closer outlook for next season, he features a rare 4 pitch mix for a late-inning reliever, he was able to finish the year with a sub 2 SIERA, a 16.4% SwStr and 32.8 K-BB%. He just needs to stay healthy for 50+ innings now to be an impact reliever and ultimate RP sleeper pick in 2019 drafts.