(Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire)
If you think regular fantasy drafting is stressful, I implore you to try an October Mock draft. The ADP’s haven’t come out yet, a huge chunk of fantasy viable players are free agents, only about 1/3 of the teams have closers – it’s a disastrous, high-stress, beautiful mess that I now want to do each and every season.
I went into this mock knowing two things: 1) I was drafting alongside some of the smartest fantasy baseball minds on planet earth and 2) I’d need to grab some pitching, and fast. After all, the site is called pitcherlist for a reason.
Otherwise, I tried to adopt fantasy strategies that have served me well in the past, hoping to get a glimpse of how those strategies will play out in 2019. Here is what I learned:
Round 1 (4): Manny Machado (SS, Free Agent)
I assumed the top three would be Trout, Betts and J-Ram, and I knew I wanted to pounce on an elite middle infielder early. In hindsight that probably wasn’t necessary, as the middle infield depth is better than it ever has been. It was tough between Machado and Francisco Lindor, but ultimately I loved the .297|37|14 that Machado put up last year. His spot in the first round come March will be greatly determined by where he ends up. If he’s in the AL East, I could see a 40|15 season with a batting average around .300. That’s hard to pass up at No. 4 overall.
Round 2 (21): Javier Baez (2B, Chicago Cubs)
Again I jumped early on middle infield depth, grabbing Javy Baez with my second pick. I’m used to playing OBP leagues so I was hesitant at first, but Baez’s abysmal walk rate can’t hurt me here. His 34 home runs and 21 steals will be a huge addition to my team, and gives me an elite middle infield combination. And while I am aware that his HR/FB rate was exceptionally high, his high rate of line drives and career-high hard hit rate give me relief – I think another 30/20 season is certainly possible for Baez and I’m happy with him in the later part of the second round.
Round 3 (28): Justin Verlander (SP, Houston Astros)
I’ve historically been hesitant to grab starting pitching in the early rounds, but that’s because I typically can find sneaky value in the later rounds. Going up against 11 pitching focused fantasy owners, I figured that wouldn’t be the case here. So instead, I grabbed one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball last year with my pick in the third round. Verlander posted a career-high 12.20 K/9, a career-low 1.56 BB/9, a 2.52 ERA (with a career-low 2.78 FIP) and a 0.90 WHIP – which as you might have guessed is also a career-low. Yes, age and wear and tear is a concern. But Verlander has not given me, or anyone else, any reason to not trust him again in 2019. Another season with a sub-3.00 ERA and 200+ strikeouts should be counted on from JV, and will be a very nice anchor for my rotation.
Round 4 (45): Carlos Carrasco (SP, Cleveland Indians)
I’ve been playing fantasy baseball for well over a decade and I don’t think I’ve ever taken two starting pitchers in the first five rounds. But as Nick pointed out, starting pitching takes a big drop-off after about SP25 or so, and I wanted to make sure I had three elite starters. Hitting talent is spread out more than it ever has been, so reaching for starters and building a foundation of hitting in the later rounds is a strategy I plan to adopt next season. Carrasco has made 30 starts in three of the last four years, and has been extremely consistent with high strikeout totals and solid peripherals. Nothing in his profile leads me to believe that will change.
Round 5 (52): Joey Votto (1B, Cincinnati Reds)
I’ve always believed in the fantasy concept PPOBY, which stands for proven player off a bad year. Votto fits that mold perfectly, after hitting just .284 with 12 home runs last season. A closer look reveals that his exit velocity and hard hit rate were both higher in 2018 than they were in 2017, when he hit 36 home runs. While his launch angle did drop somewhat, it’s certainly easy to buy into the fact that Votto’s low home run total was a tad flukey. I’m super happy to get an elite first baseman in Round 5, and fully believe in Votto as a bounceback candidate in 2019.
Round 6 (69): Justin Upton (OF, Los Angeles Angels)
Upton quietly posted another 30 home run season in 2018. Upton has now posted at least 80 runs, 25 home runs, 80 RBI and eight steals in each of the last four seasons. His walk and strikeout numbers have remained quite consistent, and while he doesn’t contribute much in the batting average department his solid consistency, raw power and production around Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani make me feel very good about him as my first outfielder.
Round 7 (76): Miles Mikolas (SP, St. Louis Cardinals)
Like I said before, having three pitchers in the top 25 is key for 2019 – and I managed to snag Mikolas to round out the top of my rotation. Mikolas carries a decent amount of risk, as his 6.55 K/9 and 3.93 SIERA indicate. Still, he has absolutely nasty stuff and managed to post a 2.83 ERA and 1.07 WHIP last season. I expect some regression away from that, but I still think he will contribute well in my rotation.
Round 8 (93): A.J. Pollock (OF, Free Agent)
Pollock hit a career-high 21 home runs in just 113 games last season. That was supported by a career-high hard hit rate and an exceptional 10.0% barrel rate. With more home runs comes more strikeouts however, and Pollock did limp to a less than stellar .245 average. Still, the speed is still there and I think Pollock has a decent chance of a 20/20 season. Always an injury risk, I think the potential payoff is worth a gamble in the eighth round.
Round 9 (100): Michael Conforto (OF, New York Mets)
Upton, Pollock and Conforto round out my outfield. Conforto got off to a supremely slow start last season. However, from August 1 on he slashed .261/.345/.514 with 14 home runs, 43 RBI and a 134 wRC+. Sure he had an elevated HR/FB rate, but Conforto has all the tools to be a 30 home run threat, and I’m happy to snag him 100th overall.
Round 10 (117): Lance McCullers (SP, Houston Astros)
One of my riskier picks, McCullers has all the tools in the world to be an elite fantasy starting pitcher. His 9.96 K/9, 3.86 ERA and 1.17 WHIP were big examples of that. However, his rotation spot is not necessarily guaranteed, not after he returned from a late season injury and was placed in the bullpen. His 128.1 innings last season was a career-high, so it’s unfair to count on more than 160 innings. Still, he has the potential to post 175+ strikeouts and a mid-3.00 ERA, which I’ll happily take from my No. 4 starter.
Round 11 (124): Rafael Devers (3B, Boston Red Sox)
Historically, third base has had a plethora of viable fantasy talent. I went into this draft with that preconceived notion in my head, and quickly realized that it’s no longer true. By Round 11 there wasn’t a ton of 3B talent remaining, so I grabbed the highest upside that I could find in Devers. Of course, he also comes with considerable risk after a disappointing 2018 campaign where he hit just .240 with 21 home runs. His .284 BA from 2017 was held up by an unsustainable .342 BABIP, so it’s not surprising his average dropped. However, his hard hit rate was 77th in the league, and I think as he matures he has the potential to be a 30 home run hitter. I’m banking on it happening in 2019.
Round 12 (141): Willson Contreras (C, Chicago Cubs)
If there is ever a year to wait on catcher, it’s 2019. In hindsight I would do the same here, as I fail to see how Contreras is worth a 12th round pick. Catcher is a barren wasteland, and it’s best to avoid until the last rounds if possible. Contreras’ plate discipline numbers (9.7% walk rate and 22.9% strikeout rate) weren’t bad last year, but when he did make contact he struggled to hit the ball hard, and hit way too many ground balls to have much success. I do expect that he will show better power numbers next season, but I’d rather stack my deck elsewhere – especially after seeing Danny Jansen and Francisco Mejia go in the last round.
Round 13 (148): Tyler Skaggs (SP, Los Angeles Angels)
Through his first 19 starts of 2018, Tyler Skaggs posted a magnificent 2.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and a 9.41 K/9. That was supported by a 2.94 FIP as well. Skaggs had quietly dominated the first three quarters of the season. An arm injury limited him to just five starts after that – and they could not have been more disastrous. He posted a 14.09 ERA and a 2.35 WHIP, raising his season ERA to 4.02 (3.63 FIP). Skaggs probably isn’t a 2.65 ERA type of guy, but as my No. 5 starter I’m intrigued by that 19 game sample.
Round 14 (165): Brian Dozier (2B, Free Agent)
Remember when we were all waiting for that second half surge that Dozier always has? And we kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting… well apparently I’m banking on it happening in 2019. Even after a down season, Dozier hit 21 home runs and stole 12 bases. He’s posted at least those totals for each of the last five seasons. That, coupled with a hideous .196 BABIP, leads me to believe that there is still some life in Dozier’s bat – enough for me to grab him in the 14th round.
Round 15 (172): Seranthony Dominguez (RP, Philadelphia Phillies)
One of my biggest fantasy baseball mantras is never pay for saves. I’ve almost always waited until the last few rounds to grab a few low-end closers. From there, I just wait for the dominos to fall. Last season I ended up with Blake Treinen, Will Smith, Jose LeClerc, Keone Kela, A.J. Minter, Brad Boxberger, etc. all off the waiver wire. For this mock draft, I knew it would be harder to do because we don’t know a lot of the closer situations. I decided to reach higher than I usually do to grab Dominguez, who I think has the stuff to not only close in Philly next season, but to be one of the better closers in the game. At the very least, his high strikeout totals will help my ratios.
Round 16 (189): Miguel Cabrera (1B, Detroit Tigers)
It’s been two years removed since Miggy blasted 38 home runs, and since then he has only played in 168 games and hit 19 round-trippers. However, I see Cabrera as Detroit’s full-time DH next season, which should hopefully keep him healthy for the entire season. It’s easy to forget that in the 38 games that Miggy played last season, he slashed a tidy .299/.395/.448 with a 94.4 MPH exit velocity and a 54.6%(!) hard hit rate. The oomph is still in Miggy’s bat, and if he can stay healthy and hit the ball in the air more, there’s no reason he can’t get me 25 home runs and a .300 batting average in the 1B/3B spot. Not bad for the 16th round.
Round 17 (196): Nomar Mazara (OF, Texas Rangers)
For the third consecutive season, Mazara hit exactly 20 home runs for the Rangers. He has hit between .253 and .266 each season as well, showing a model of consistency. Most expected a breakout by now, which is why his draft stock has taken a big hit. However, he’s still just 23 and he showed some small hints of a power surge heading into 2019. His hard hit rate, exit velocity and barrel rate were all career highs. If he can start putting more balls in the air, he should finally cross over into the 30 home run territory. Not a bad gamble for the 17th round.
Round 18 (213): Jake Arrieta (SP, Philadelphia Phillies)
It’s certainly clear that Arrieta is not the pitcher that he once was. However, he’s a reliable innings-eater who has made 30+ starts in the last four seasons. His K/9 dropped to 7.19 and his ERA rose to 3.96, but ultimately he’s still a viable mid-tier starting pitcher in all fantasy formats.
Round 19 (220): Blake Parker (RP, Los Angeles Angels)
Parker is by no means an elite closer. In fact, with new management eventually taking over the Halos it is entirely possible he doesn’t even hold onto the job by spring training. However, he’s the closer for now and after a season with 14 saves and a 3.26 ERA , he’s worth a gamble. If he does have the job by 2019, he’ll be a lower end closing option. In a league where closers went faster than I usually care to select them, I had to scrape from the bottom.
Round 20 (237): Chris Taylor (OF/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Taylor responded to his breakout 2017 season with a solid but unspectacular .254 average, 17 home runs and nine stolen bases last season. His strikeout rate climbed to a precarious 29.5%, but his high walk rate and solid HR/SB combo make him a solid late-round target. In particular, his dual eligibility at shortstop and the outfield make him a nice bench piece in 12-teamers.
Round 21 (244): Adam Ottavino (RP, Free Agent)
I have no idea if Adam Ottavino will be a closer in 2019. I do know, after writing over 50 different nastiest pitches article this year, that Ottavino has some of the nastiest stuff in all of baseball. As a free agent, there’s always a chance he’ll land somewhere where he can close out games. His 12.98 K/9 and 2.43 ERA from last season make him a nice reliever to own – regardless.
Round 22 (261): Christin Stewart (OF, Detroit Tigers)
Stewart is probably not worth drafting at this point, but he’s an outfielder worth keeping an eye on in all fantasy formats. Stewart was called up to Detroit in early September, and proceeded to mash two home runs and drive in 10 runs in just 17 games. His .267/.375/.417 is unlikely to hold up over a full season, but Stewart has mashed 30 home runs in each of the last three seasons and there’s no reason he can’t do it again in the big leagues. With virtually no other options, Stewart will likely be Detroit’s starting left fielder and clean up hitter.
Round 23 (268): Kyle Seager (3B, Seattle Mariners)
I’m not particularly thrilled about Rafael Devers as my only third baseman, so I went with another potential bounceback candidate in Kyle Seager. Seager’s sudden spike in strikeouts is no doubt a big concern, but he still boasts 20 home run power. Plus, his xSlash of .250/.288/.420, while not great, is better than the .221/273/.400 that he actually produced. Seager is probably a .260ish hitter with 25 home run pop, which I’ll take at a position I need a safety net at.
Favorite Pick: Joey Votto
I have a hard time imagining that Votto’s power is just gone, and I think he’ll return great value in Round 5.
Sleeper Pick: Christin Stewart
Stewart is likely going to be available in the last round of most fantasy drafts, and is worth a gamble for those in need of power.
Potential Bust: Brian Dozier
Dozier hit .215 last year. It’s entirely possible he’s done.
Best Value Pick: Nicholas Castellanos
Castellanos has improved every big league season, and has the potential to post .300|30|100 next season. Not bad for a sixth rounder.