Pitcher List’s 2019 Early Mock Draft – Reviewing Andrew Gould’s Picks
(Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)
They say everyone eventually turns into their parents. I didn’t believe them until realizing I now draft like my dad.
With scarce ADP data available and little time to digest 2018’s results, an October mock becomes a minefield of reaches. Everyone wants to attach their name to shiny sleepers before the crowd jumps on board in spring. This wasn’t my plan entering our staff mock draft, but I simply took all the old, boring leftover values.
A bunch of these picks will induce yawns. It’s more fun talking about a 24-year-old breakout candidate than a 34-year-old who lasted a couple of rounds later than I deemed appropriate. Somewhere along the way, I stopped chasing upside at every turn—for better and worse—and learned to take what the room gave me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to sign this team up for an AARP membership.
1.1: Mike Trout (OF, Los Angeles Angels)
I’m sure some analysts will endorse Mookie Betts for the first pick a la Jose Altuve in 2018. Don’t overthink this. We may have the joy of witnessing the best baseball player of all time, and he’s getting better. Trout set career highs in wOBA (.447) and wRC (191) by drawing a personal and MLB-high 20.1 % walk rate. He has batted above .300 and stolen over 20 bases in each of the last three seasons. He also slugged .629 and .628 in 2017 and 2018, respectively. If you get the chance to take Trout, do it.
2.24: Trea Turner (SS, Washington Nationals)
Turner garnered a 9.7 ADP in Justin Mason’s nine early mock drafts. He went eighth in the other Pitcher List simulation. He’s a guy I’d like to get at the end-of-first turn, so seeing him fall all the way to 24 was a pleasant surprise. One of the biggest indictments against making him a top-five pick was the shortstop never playing a full season. He alleviated those concerns in resounding fashion as one of seven players to partake in all 162 games. His homers rose accordingly (19), but the steals stalled to 43. That was still good for second behind Whit Merrifield’s 45. Perhaps he fell because of a meandering .271 batting average. He’s a career .289 hitter who improved his walk (9.3 %), contact (81.3 %) and swinging-strike (8.1 %) rates, so expect a spike in 2019. Those extra hits will yield more base-stealing opportunities, which will make Washington’s shortstop a first-round talent.
Only 13 starters pitched 200 innings in 2018. With more teams spreading out their workloads, I’m more willing than usual to invest premium draft capital on a durable ace. There’s admittedly some risk to Kluber, who turns 33 in April and just yielded the highest hard-hit rate (36.6 %) of his career. He has tossed over 200 frames in each of the last five seasons, averaging 245.6 strikeouts a season with a 2.85 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. If I’m going to spend big on a pitcher, I want a reliable stud without the health hazards. That’s why I couldn’t muster the courage to grab Clayton Kershaw.
4.48: Cody Bellinger (1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Bellinger hardly made me pay for my fear of a sophomore letdown. While he remained a useful compiler, the reigning Rookie of the Year belted just 25 homers in 632 plate appearances. Yet he also swiped 14 of 15 bags, and my worries of a batting-average basement went unfounded (.260). A 16.5 % pop-up rate and .297 wOBA against southpaws—he was nonetheless the one lefty the Dodgers didn’t bench against same-handed pitchers—are ugly, so perhaps I’ll reconsider my stance by the spring. My thinking here is that he possesses too much raw power to not at least hit 30 bombs if he again plays every game.
5.49: Matt Carpenter (1B/3B, St. Louis Cardinals)
I was looking for something to talk me out of this pick, but I instead left more convinced of Carpenter’s legitimacy. His 49.0 % hard-hit rate led all qualified hitters. Baseball Savant credited him with a .387 xwOBA above his actual (and still excellent) .376 clip. The xStats are even giddier, prescribing him a .285 expected average with 39.2 homers. I’m buying the power spike and not freaking out about a poor September. Wait, woah, he was really bad (.170/.313/.245) in September.
6.72: Nelson Cruz (UT, Free Agent)
Cruz really fell off a cliff this year. He only hit 37 home runs. That’s his lowest tally since 2013. He also posted his worst average (.256) in over a decade, but a career-high 42.3 % hard-hit rate and .284 xBA suggest the only real difference was a career .305 BABIP dipping to .265. Maybe Father Time claims another victim, but that’s a risk I’ll gladly take for a star slugger at pick No. 72. We’re playing with two utility spots, so I don’t particularly care about his DH-only status. (He played just four games at outfielder.) Here’s to this being a David Ortiz situation rather than the baseball equivalent of my Larry Fitzgerald infatuation in fantasy football.
Pitchers went flying faster than candy on Halloween when left unintended outside a house door. I needed a second starter to keep pace, and I was initially set on David Price. Then I saw the 4.02 FIP, diminished velocity, and 9.6 % swinging-strike rate. No thanks. My other options, Michael Clevinger, Jameson Taillon, and Zack Wheeler all went in quick order after I decided to roll the dice on Flaherty. Taking a stable (as far as pitchers go) ace made me more comfortable gambling on the 22-year-old’s immense talent and 29.6 % K rate. It feels a bit early for someone with such a light track record, but he might have gone closer to Walker Buehler (51) and German Marquez (58) if not for a sloppy September (5.34 ERA, 18 walks) derailing the hype. Maybe I chicken out and draft one of those other three hurlers in March. There’s a good chance I at least end up ranking Wheeler higher.
8.96: Craig Kimbrel (RP, Free Agent)
Ignored for longer than usual, a closer run broke out right before my eighth- and ninth-round selections. Given the decreasing amoung of decisive ninth-inning situations, I decided I would pounce on Blake Treinen, Kenley Jansen, or Craig Kimbrel if either elite stopper slipped. I settled for my third choice, who recorded a 2.74 ERA, 96 strikeouts, and 42 saves despite a troubling 12.6 % walk rate. It’s hard to imagine one of the decade’s premier relievers signing anywhere where he’s not guaranteed the closer gig. I’m typically not one to spend big at the position, but this is a fair price to solidify an elite source of saves and strikeouts.
I wanted Nicholas Castellanos or Michael Conforto, but the starting-pitching pool dried out in a hurry. It seemed far more likely I’d find hitters I liked at the next turn. I targeted Tanaka around the same area in 2018, and he delivered a relatively reasonable return on investment as the 36th starter on ESPN’s Player Rater. His ebbs and flows are frustrating to manage, but a 3.75 ERA is good enough to support his 25.0 K% and 1.13 WHIP. Among starters who tossed at least 100 innings, he placed ninth in both first-pitch strike (68.2 %) and swinging-strike (14.1 %) rates. Durability and inconsistency are definitely concerns, but that’s true for everyone available beyond the top-25 options.
10.121: Wil Myers (3B/OF, San Diego Padres)
I was right about finding more hitting at the 10/11 turn. Given a tough choice between Myers or Edwin Encarnacion, I took both. After seemingly squashing the injury-prone label by missing 12 combined games in 2016 and 2017, Myers missed roughly half the season with multiple DL stints. His ISO dipped to .192, but he boasted a 46.2 % hard-hit rate with 11 homers and 13 steals in 14 opportunities. This is a 27-year-old who went 28-28 and 30-20 in two healthy seasons and gained 3B eligibility. It’s a steal if his body holds up for a full 2019 grind.
11.122: Edwin Encarnacion (1B, Cleveland Indians)
Sure, Encarnacion is a bit redundant after already drafting Cruz, but I’m not going to not take him in the 11th round. He played 23 games at first base, so I’m not saddled with two DH-only players. Like Cruz, his decline still yielded plenty of production (32 homers and 107 RBIs). A rising strikeout (22.8 %) and declining walk rate (10.9 %) are both concerning, but it’s reflected in his .246 average and cheap price. I’ll take a 2018 encore while holding out hope for a bounce-back at a clearance cost.
12.144: J.A. Happ (SP, Free Agent)
Happ was my favorite “boring depth” pick to bolster the back of my rotation this year. I assumed he would travel all the way into overvalued territory after recording a 3.65 ERA and 193 strikeouts. Guess not. I kept searching for flashier selections (Andrew Heaney, Shane Bieber, Jon Gray) before realizing the southpaw had fallen back into a bargain. Everyone must be assuming regression, a fair expectation in the strikeout column considering his 26.3 % K rate soared above his career 20.9 clip. Wins obviously don’t stick on a yearly basis, so taking the under on 17 victories is the smart bet. The ERA, however, was his worst mark since 2014. He holds a 3.49 ERA and 22.6 K% during the last four years. Not too shabby from my fourth starter. Since he spent that entire time in the AL East, I’m not overly concerned about a new location (or a familiar one in the Yankees or Blue Jays) damaging his value.
13.145: Aaron Hicks (OF, New York Yankees)
Like Myers, this is a steal if Hicks stays healthy. His inability to stay on the field all year, of course, is why he was available after posting 27 homers, 11 steals, and a .360 wOBA (same as Giancarlo Stanton) in a stacked Yankees lineup. Despite a couple of short DL stints, he scored 90 runs in a career-high 137 games. It was the first time he even logged more than 400 plate appearances in a single season. While we can’t ignore the elevated risk of missed time, it’s more than baked into a round-13 price tag. I doubt my fellow drafters passed because of a .248 batting average; his xStats yield a .266 xAVG. Besides, .248 would be perfectly manageable if he plays long enough to reach his 30/15 ceiling. At this price, I’d happily sign up or another 130-140 games. It’s far easier to replace that lost time in a three-outfielder format.
Stripling entered the All-Star break with the same K-BB % (24.5) as Jacob deGrom, the only starter with a lower ERA (1.68) than his 2.08. Injuries halted his hot hand, and he could not rediscover the magic while ceding nine runs in a dozen September frames. If he had instead stumbled in June and closed the season strong, there’s no chance I’m securing someone with a 3.02 ERA, 3.42 FIP, and 22.7 K-BB % as my fifth starter. Might as well take a mid-draft flier in hopes of him finding a fraction of 2018’s early dominance.
15.169: Will Smith (RP, San Francisco Giants)
Frankly, most reliever selections tell us nothing about their spring value. We’ll have no idea about a handful of closer situations in late March, so we’re especially working blind in October. That’s why I chose Kimbrel and tried to just wait out the tier of unknowns. When this tactic cost me some of my top secondary targets (Jose Leclerc, Ken Giles, Kirby Yates), I reluctantly dipped my feet back into the water. I have no idea if Smith will close. I have no idea how many teams will realize a designated closer is an antiquated role that hardly matters outside this silly game of ours. I do know he posted a 2.55 ERA, 2.07 FIP, and 26.7 K-B% with a 14.8 % swinging-strike rate in his return from Tommy John surgery. Those numbers will certainly work if given the job in San Francisco.
16.192: Rougned Odor (2B, Texas Rangers)
I took Odor 102 picks earlier in the 2 Early Mocks. Then I realized my overzealousness when seeing his ADP settle to 126 and listening to Paul Sporer scratch his head over the reach on The Sleeper and the Bust. So I waited this time. Since other enticing options (Jose Peraza, Robinson Cano, Brian Dozier) kept slipping, I played chicken with the second-base slot longer than I anticipated. With those other three off the board, I decided a 24-year-old with two 30-homer campaigns fell far enough. He hardly lit the world on fire (.253/.326/.424), and it’s fair to wonder if the Rangers will keep giving him a green light after getting caught on half of his 24 stolen-base attempts. Let’s focus on the positives. After batting .204 in 2017, I was among the forgiving drafters who figured they’d land a cheap stud if he could just hit around .250. He did just that, improving the average with a career-high 45.2 % hard-hit rate. He even mounted a career-high 8.0 % walk rate. Throw in defensive improvements, and his fWAR jumped from -1.2 to 2.5. So we no longer need to ask why Texas is sticking with him. With a bit more volume and consistency, Odor could deliver a 25/15 line with a passable average.
I’m not going to tell you 2018 was a fluke and Quintana is just fine. This cost, however, accounts for his decay. Over 50 starters already went off the board, and I preferred someone with career 3.60 ERA and 3.63 FIP to some low-probability dart throw. Maybe he rediscovers his White Sox form, in which case I get a second or third starter at a fifth-starter cost. If he doesn’t, it’s hardly the end of the world to play the matchups on my 17th-round pick or drop him entirely.
18.216: Andrew McCutchen (OF, Free Agent)
All aboard the Boring Value Train. The next stop is McCutchen, who was still good for 20 bombs, 14 steals, and a 120 wRC+ in a down year. That home-run count represents his lowest tally since 2010, but let’s not forget that he spent five months in San Francisco. His .408 slugging percentage spiked 30 points on the road, and the power looked fine in September when he circled the bases five times in pinstripes. A .255 average also marked the career nadir for a .287 hitter, so there’s a steady floor with little bust potential if healthy. McCutchen may not be all that far off from Hicks as a fantasy performer in the right setting. His chances of re-upping with the Yankees, however, took a hit when they retained Brett Gardner.
19.217: Yadier Molina (C, St. Louis Cardinals)
Catcher is always bad, but it’s especially ugly now. Yan Gomes finished sixth on ESPN’s Player Rater at the position simply by hitting .266 with 16 homers in 112 games. Molina, meanwhile, slid into the second spot behind J.T. Realmuto—selected in the fourth round of this mock—despite missing a month with a pelvic injury. The nine-time All-Star is far more likely to get overdrafted in a casual league’s ill-advised catcher run, but I was able to get a top-shelf option after filling all of my other starting hitter slots. This seems like a case of a smart room out-thinking itself. Sure, the 36-year-old will fall off eventually. If it happens in 2019, I didn’t lose much by taking him three rounds ahead of Gomes, Francisco Cervelli, or some other placeholder.
20.240: David Robertson (RP, Free Agent)
Robertson has registered a K/9 above 10.5 in all 11 seasons. His FIP has dipped below 3.00 in seven of his last eight campaigns. He’s a free agent. If signing a big-name reliever to close is something teams still do, he’s a top candidate to snag a ninth-inning gig. That’s far from a certainty, as he has expressed a willingness to stay with the Yankees. In that case, he’s a nice source of strikeouts anyway.
21.241: Freddy Peralta (SP, Milwaukee Brewers)
I needed some upside, so Peralta was my “What the heck?” flier. He teased flashes of brilliance by boasting double-digit strikeouts in two of his first four career starts. Although he transitioned from unhittable to atrocious, he compiled 96 punchouts over 78.1 frames with a curveball that yielded a .223 wOBA. He might walk his way back to the minors, but I’ll gamble on his strikeout ceiling after locking down a bunch of boring veterans.
22.264: Cesar Hernandez (2B, Philadelphia Phillies)
Hernandez was my fall-back plan if Odor didn’t make it back to me. Honestly, I wouldn’t have minded grabbing him six rounds earlier. After swiping 19 bags in 2018. he joins Altuve and Dee Gordon as the only second basemen with at least 15 steals in each of the past four seasons. While his strikeout rate bumped to 21.9 %, he also upped his walk rate (13.4 %) and home runs (15) for the second straight year. He’s better suited for leagues where he can be deployed as a middle infielder, and perhaps I should have grabbed a fun upside pick. (Kyle Tucker, Nick Senzel, and Byron Buxton went undrafted.) I ultimately just grabbed a nice value who could easily score 100 runs if the Phillies sign Manny Machado and/or Bryce Harper.
23.265: Zach Britton (RP, Free Agent)
Like his temporary teammate, Britton is a free agent with past closing pedigree. While he collected 34 strikeouts and 21 walks in 40.2 sloppy innings, he momentarily returned to past glory by submitting a .142 wOBA in 9.2 scoreless September frames. He also posted a ground-ball rate above 70 percent (72.6) for the fifth straight season, so it’s hardly farfetched to picture someone signing him to work the ninth. Remember when he recorded a 0.54 ERA two years ago?
Favorite Pick: Trea Turner – This is just the dumb luck of a snake draft, but I still can’t believe I got Turner at the end of the second.
Sleeper Pick: Rougned Odor – He’s going to be 25 on Opening Day. He has already displayed immense HR/SB production and made vital plate improvements in 2018.
Potential Bust: Jack Flaherty – The more I look it over, the more likely I am to rank Wheeler and/or Taillon higher. It was a bit early for an unproven pitcher with a 57.2 % first-pitch strike rate who hit a wall in September.
Best Value Pick (of any team): Amed Rosario – It’s resounding how quickly we give up on a prospect who isn’t immediately Francisco Lindor. After enduring some growing pains, Rosario started putting the pieces together by batting .284 with five homers and 15 steals over the final two months. He turns 23 this month. Ben Pernick got a potential top-50 hitter in the 21st round.