Pitcher List’s 2019 Early Mock Draft – Reviewing Ben Palmer’s Picks
In case you’re a fantasy baseball-only kind of guy (and trust me, I totally get it), I run Pitcher List’s fantasy football sister site QB List, and when our staff had this baseball mock draft, I was knee deep into football. Drafting in March is tough, doing a mock draft in October is harder, and doing a mock draft in October when 90% of your brain is dedicated to fantasy football is even crazier.
All this is to say, how I drafted in this draft is likely not going to be remotely close to how I’ll advise anyone to draft in March. It’s insanely early, but baseball is fun and we all miss it, so we dove head-first into a mock draft in early-October just for fun.
Here, I’ll review my picks in that draft and the logic behind them. If you want to see the whole draft board and other writers’ reviews, check them out here. For reference, I had the second-overall pick in the draft, which was operated in standard snake format.
Round 1: Mookie Betts (OF, Boston Red Sox)
Obviously, Mike Trout was the first pick of the draft, and in the second spot, I really mulled over whether to pick Mookie or Jose Ramirez. Honestly, this high in the draft, you’re just nitpicking between the two, but I decided to go with Mookie just because of how ridiculous of a season he had (.346/.438/.640 ain’t no joke). He’s also been one of my favorite players in baseball for like five years now, despite the fact that he plays on the Red Sox. I think had I gone with JoRam here, that would’ve been fine too, I just love what Mookie does. While JoRam had more home runs and comparable steals, we’re looking at a .272 average vs. a .346 average. Like I said, you have to nitpick this high, and the average broke the tie for me.
Round 2: Trevor Story (SS, Colorado Rockies)
Trevor Story had himself a year last season, slashing .291/.348/.567 with 37 home runs and 27 steals. So the question is, how legit was that? We’ve known he has great power, but he had 24 home runs with a .239 average last year and 27 home runs with a .272 average the year before? Which is the real Trevor Story? I don’t think he’s a .290s hitter, and I think his .345 BABIP definitely signals some regression. That being said, I do think he can hit in the .270s, as supported by his .277 xAVG last year. But the big key is the steals. Almost 30 steals last year is huge for his value (he was that close to a 30/30 year). If he keeps that up and keeps up his 12.7% barrel rate he had last year, he could be extremely valuable, and hitting in Coors Field never hurts either. All of that is to say, I think he’s worthy of a second-round pick.
I generally follow one specific strategy in fantasy baseball drafts—I draft one (preferably two if it works out) stud pitchers somewhat early and then wait until near the end of the draft for any other pitching. I like having an anchor or two I can rely on while toying around with some late-round grabs and streamers. I decided Aaron Nola would be my first stud—the guy was amazing last year, and while he might not have a 2.37 ERA again, his 3.01 FIP suggests he’s not going to regress too much. There’s no doubt he’s a stud, and pitches like this give me chills.
I think I reached here—I feel like round four is early for Stephen Strasburg given his year last year, and in retrospect, I don’t think this was a great pick. He lost about one mile per hour on his fastball last year, and while that’s not a massive concern, it’s not a good sign. What’s more concerning about his fastball, however, is just how horribly ineffective it was. Like, it got pretty bad. In 2017, opposing hitters had a .317 wOBA against his fastball, and a .316 wOBA against it in 2016. Last year, that jumped way up to .373 with a .271 ISO against it. That’s bad enough for a pVAL drop from 11.9 in 2017 to -4.2 last year. Now, I know he was hurt, and he was struggling with injuries all year, which is why I’m hopeful he’ll get some of his mojo back. A guy as good as Stras, I don’t think he just collapses. But I’m not exactly encouraged, and I think if I were to do this draft again, I would’ve waited a bit longer on drafting him—or maybe not have even drafted him at all.
Round 5: Matt Carpenter (1B/2B/3B, St. Louis Cardinals)
I think with this pick, I’m signaling hard that I really believe in what Matt Carpenter did last year. There’s really a lot to like about his season last year from an analytics perspective. A career-high barrel rate of 13.7%, a career-high hard-hit rate of 49% (and a career-high HR/FB rate of 19.1% which, while high, isn’t crazy with that hard-hit rate), and an xStats line that suggests his batting average should’ve been even better. Last year, Carpenter slashed .257/.374/.523 with an xStats slashline of .286/.399/.588. Oh, and those 36 home runs? They came with 39.1 xHRs. Seriously, look at this launch angle chart, it’s a work of art. I want this thing framed.
Basically what I’m trying to say is, Matt Carpenter is legit, and as long as he’s healthy next year, I see no reason he can’t pretty much repeat 2018.
Round 6: Nick Castellanos (3B/OF, Detroit Tigers)
Last year, Nick Castellanos (or I guess it’s Nicholas now?) proved that his 2017 wasn’t a fluke and actually improved on it, with a 26-point increase in batting average. Now, that also came with a .361 BABIP, but given that he also had a .304 xAVG, I think it’s reasonable to assume his average will keep up to an extent. The power is obviously legit, especially with the 47.9% hard-hit rate and 11.2% barrel rate he had last year. I think Castellanos could easily reproduce last year, and in round six, I’ll definitely take that for my starting third baseman (or outfielder).
Round 7: Mitch Haniger (OF, Seattle Mariners)
Given a full season, Mitch Haniger finally showed the world they were justified in being excited about him and I’m 100% here for it. His .285/.366/.493 slashline came with an xStats slashline of .293/.373/.517 and his 26 home runs came with 30.8 xHRs, and with a 37.1% hard-hit rate and a 10.3% barrel rate, I think it’s reasonable to assume he can repeat his performance. I’m especially a fan of the fact that he increased his walk rate from 7.6% in 2017 to 10.2%. I think he easily makes for a solid outfielder in fantasy.
Oh boy Luis Castillo. Yea, I took the plunge again. After massive expectations this year, Castillo mostly disappointed—so why am I investing him again? Well first, I think the eighth round is reasonable to take a risk on a guy like Castillo, and second, I still believe in his upside. Also, let’s not forget how good he was in the second half. The first half of the season saw Castillo putting up a 5.49 ERA with a .341 wOBA against, an 8.36 K/9, and a 7.9% walk rate. In the second half, he was a different pitcher, with a 2.44 ERA, .268 wOBA against, 9.36 K/9, and 5.3% walk rate. So what changed? Well, clearly his control got better, but more importantly, his velocity got better. His fastball went from 95.4 MPH on average to 96.7, his slider went from 82.7 MPH to 84.8, and his changeup went from 85.7 MPH to 87.1. He also stopped relying on his fastball so much and started relying on his offspeed stuff more. This all clearly worked, and if he can keep that up in 2019, he could be a really nice post-hype sleeper.
Round 9: Max Muncy (3B/1B/2B, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Everyone’s favorite out-of-nowhere breakout player, Max Muncy went ham last year with 35 home runs and a ridiculous .319 ISO. Much ink has and will continue to be spilled on how legitimate Muncy’s breakout was, but suffice to say, I’m a Muncy believer. He very clearly made some noticeable changes to his approach that resulted in a massive increase in hard-hit rate (47.4%), barrel rate (16.9%), and launch angle (17.8 degrees). Now, I could see the power regressing a bit, his 35 home runs came with 31.7 xHRs, and that doesn’t totally shock me. Even with a hard-hit rate as high as Muncy’s, it’s going to be hard to keep up his 29.4% HR/FB rate. But all the quality of contact improvements he made plus a 16.4% walk rate make me optimistic that he can be really good again. It’s also worth noting that his .263 average came with a .274 xAVG, so even if his power regresses, his average could get slightly better, and that would be pretty cool. I really think another 30+ home run, high-.260s or even low-.270s average year could be in the cards, and in round nine? I’ll absolutely take that.
Round 10: Adam Eaton (OF, Washington Nationals)
Ugh. I was really hoping for an injury-free year from Adam Eaton, but it just wasn’t to be. Still, when he was out there, he was awesome, slashing .301/.394/.411. If you pace out his numbers to a full season, you’re looking at a year in which Eaton logs eight home runs, 14 steals, 87 runs, and 52 RBI. While the runs and power are a little low, that’s not all that far off from his number back when he was with the Chicago White Sox. All this is to say, if he can stay healthy (and that’s a massive if), he could easily be the Adam Eaton he’s been in the past. I’m willing to take a chance on that upside in the 10th round.
This is another risk/reward pitching pick, but I really like Tyler Glasnow‘s potential. Once he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, he started looking pretty solid. Now, he had a 4.20 ERA during that time and an 8.4% walk rate, so obviously there’s work to be done, but he also logged an awesome 10.35 K/9 and had a handful of starts where he looked fantastic (including his four-inning, nine-strikeout performance against the Baltimore Orioles—though yes, it wasn’t hard to make the Orioles look bad last year I AM AWARE OF THAT THANK YOU). So why bother drafting him? Well first, it’s the 11th round, so I feel like this is the time to draft upside guys and take a risk. Second, look at this slider, it’s beautiful:
That work of art logged a 28.6% whiff rate last year. Third, his fastball got noticeably better last year, with about a two mile per hour velocity gain and a pVAL increase from -8.1 in 2017 to 3.6 last year. And fourth, personally, I just trust the Rays’ ability to develop pitchers. Glasnow will get an opportunity and I think the Rays are a team that’s really good at developing pitchers. I think a change of scenery might be exactly what Glasnow needs. He’s still just 25, so he could easily make some adjustments and be a solid starter.
Another pitcher who had some flashes of brilliance but ultimately put together a rough season, I’m a Nick Pivetta believer this year. Yes, he had a 4.77 ERA, but he also had a 3.51 SIERA and a 3.86 bbFIP. Essentially what I’m saying is, I think he pitched better than his stats show (though a 10.32 K/9 is quite sexy). Plus, he’s got a great repertoire, including a Money Pitch in his curveball, which logged a 41.5% chase rate, 43.7% zone rate, and 15.4% whiff rate last year. It’s a gorgeous pitch.
And that’s not all he’s got—his slider was nearly a Money Pitch last year, with a 35.5% chase rate, 39.8% zone rate, and 16.2% whiff rate. In fact, of the six pitches he throws, five of them (including his fastball) had double-digit whiff rates. I think the upside on Pivetta is pretty significant, and based on his year last year, I think you can get him cheap.
Round 13: Ken Giles (RP, Toronto Blue Jays)
Every draft, I struggle with when to grab a closer. Personally, I don’t like paying for saves, and I think you can usually scoot by with a mediocre closer, but here if I’m being honest, I dropped the ball and I probably should’ve grabbed a closer a little earlier. Still, I don’t think Ken Giles is a bad choice for a closer at all. He had a rough year last year with a 4.65 ERA, but it came with a 2.96 SIERA and he’s just a year removed from his 2.30 ERA, 34-save season. If he’s the guy in Toronto next year, I don’t see any reason he can’t be successful. Still, I am a bit concerned about his fastball being that he lost a tick on it, but his slider was still a Money Pitch, so I think he can be good.
Round 14: Salvador Perez (C, Kansas City Royals)
Personally, I believe that if you don’t draft one of the early stud catchers, you should wait on catcher. It’s a garbage position that drops off fast, and a lot of the lower-tier guys are all the same. Still, I was actually kind of surprised I was able to grab Salvador Perez in the 14th round. I realize he only hit .235 last year, however I think he’s in for some positive regression, as that average came with a .245 BABIP and a .262 xAVG. The power was legit, again, with another 27 home runs and a career-best 45.9% hard-hit rate, so if he can get the average up to even the .250s, I’m very happy with him as my catcher.
Round 15: Jonathan Schoop (2B, Minnesota Twins)
Last year was awful for Jonathan Schoop after a year that was awesome and earned him an All-Star nomination. So which is the real Schoop? Honestly, I’m ready to basically write off last year entirely. For a lot of the year, Schoop was hurt, and I think the injury affected him most of the season (which would explain why his hard-hit rate dropped from 36.1% in 2017 to 27.8% last year). And if you’ll allow me to put on my Alex “Think” Fast hat, I really think last year took an emotional toll on Schoop. Not only was he traded from the Baltimore Orioles, the team that drafted him, to the Milwaukee Brewers, but for the first time in a very long time, he no longer had his best friend, Manny Machado, as his teammate. That very clearly emotionally affected Schoop, he even said as much, and I think the confluence of events that resulted in Machado and Schoop both leaving really hit him hard. In the 15th round, I’m more than willing to take a chance on Schoop returning to his former glory.
Round 16: Elvis Andrus (SS, Texas Rangers)
After a 2017 that saw him go 20/20 for the first time in his career and shocked everyone, Elvis Andrus was plagued by injuries and turned in a pretty bad 2018. Now, I believe in the changes Andrus made in 2017 that led to him hitting 20 home runs. I’m not saying I expect he’ll do it again this year, but if he’s healthy, I don’t see why he can’t hit double-digit home runs and steal about 20 bases. If he’s able to have an average even close to his 2016 and 2017, then that’s a great deal this late in the draft. It’s a risk for sure, we’ve got to see how his health looks, but it’s one worth taking in my mind.
Round 17: Shane Greene (RP, Detroit Tigers)
Another example of me not caring about closers enough, Shane Greene is a guy I figured I could grab late in the draft and take a chance at him nabbing 30+ saves again, even if his ERA is going to be bad. He’s probably still the closer, and even if the Tigers don’t have a ton of save situations, he could still be useful. Plus, I firmly believe you can find saves on the waiver wire, so if need be, I could find someone to replace Greene pretty easily.
I was in love with the 2017 season Jimmy Nelson was turning in until a torn rotator cuff sat him out for all of 2018 (isn’t it great that pitchers hit in the National League? Definitely worth the injury risk. Totally). What’s he going to look like coming into 2019 after recovering from his injury? I don’t know. But what I do know is that he looked great in 2017, and if he can recapture that magic, an 18th round pick will look like a steal. The key, I believe, will be his sinker, which he improved on significantly in 2017, posting a 15.7 pVAL compared to -18.8 the year before. Also if his curveball keep being great (which it was in both 2017 and 2016), that, alongside his sinker and a pretty good slider, could make him really effective. Don’t forget he exists, he’s one of my favorite draft targets.
Round 19: Kole Calhoun (OF, Los Angeles Angels)
Kole Calhoun slashed .208/.283/.369 last year with 19 home runs, so if your immediate question is “Why the eff would you want to draft this guy,” I completely understand. Here’s the thing—from May through August, Calhoun was sporting a .243/.313/.457 slashline with a .214 ISO and 110 wRC+. “But Ben, you’re just isolating some stats to support your argument,” you say, and yes, I am in a way. But in the 19th round, I’m willing to take a risk with Calhoun and hope he can capture what was going on in those months. Here are some Kole Calhoun stats I find encouraging—from May through the end of the year he had a 45.8% hard-hit rate, and his .208 average on the year came with a .243 xAVG. He also pretty clearly made a change in his swing, and while that success obviously didn’t stick for September, if he can keep up that hard-hit rate with an average in the .240s/.250s, I’m perfectly happy with that.
Caleb Smith was a little off-and-on throughout the year last year, but a 10.24 K/9 is nothing to sneeze at. That all comes from a nasty slider that has the makings of a Money Pitch (if he can up the chase rate and zone rate juuuuuust slightly), as well as a solid fastball and a changeup that logged a nice 16.8% whiff rate. Smith is far from perfect, he’s got work to do, and he’s coming off a lat injury, but I like his potential and I think he’s worth a shot late in the draft.
Round 21: Nick Kingham (SP, Pittsburgh Pirates)
Ahhhh Nick Kingham. I know Nick loved this guy and I’ll be honest, after a seven-inning, nine-strikeout one-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals, it was hard not to be a bit infatuated with him. Unfortunately, his success didn’t really stick and he was ultimately sent to the bullpen, but he’s got some potential. Specifically, he’s got a near-Money Pitch (I’ll just go ahead and call it a Money Pitch) in his slider, which logged a 38.6% chase rate, 45.3% zone rate, and 22.4% whiff rate (yes, 22.4%). Not only that, he’s sporting a changeup that saw a 20.6% whiff rate (and a 40.7% chase rate) and a curveball that got a 13.5% whiff rate. Honestly, Kingham’s biggest problem was his sinker, which opposing hitters had a .447 wOBA and .238 ISO against, followed by his fastball which opposing hitters had a .360 wOBA and .271 ISO against. If he’s able to refine those pitches some, he’s got the makings of a really solid starting pitcher.
Round 22: Willie Calhoun (OF, Texas Rangers)
I really expected to see Willie Calhoun up at some point last year before the September call-ups, but it just wasn’t to be. Still, he logged a great season in Triple-A, slashing .294/.351/.431. The guy has looked really good in the minors both last year and in 2017, and I’m hopeful that success will translate to the majors. He wasn’t great after he was called up, slashing just .222/.269/.333, but I think with some playing time, he could be a really solid outfielder. He was a lottery ticket pick for me—easily droppable if need be.
Maybe I picked Dylan Bundy because I’m an Orioles fan and can’t help myself, maybe I was infatuated with his March/April with a 2.97 ERA and his June with a 1.98 ERA, yes yes, all of this is true. Look, Bundy’s got some great pitches. I mean, this slider is just magical:
And not only that, it logged a 47.9% chase rate and a 25.5% whiff rate (which is nuts). Not only that, but his changeup saw a 15.3% whiff rate, though he was prone to making mistakes with it, as opposing hitters had a .372 ISO against it (you read that right). In fact, he was murdered by home runs last year, giving up a 17.8% HR/FB rate. Even in Camden Yards, that’s a pretty insane HR/FB rate. The peripherals look alright, with a 3.76 kwFIP and a 3.94 SIERA, but they’re not great. But with the Orioles under new ownership with a new, analytics-focused approach, perhaps Bundy can recapture some magic and become the starter he has the potential to be. Or am I just being overly optimistic? We lost 115 games just give me something.