(Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire)
As I came into this mock draft, I was committed to the strategy of creating a fine balance between risky, high-upside picks, and “safer” picks of known commodities. I generally wait to start mock drafting until closer to the season, when fans are jumping all over Spring Training’s hottest performers. Just as first impressions are the inspiration for many bold picks in drafts as the season approaches, the last impression on the season carries a significant amount of weight in differentiating themselves from the rest of the pack for many players, due to the close proximity of this draft to the end of the regular season. As a result of the timing, many players who failed to meet their lofty expectations in 2018 plummeted past where I would’ve expected them to land.
Drafting immediately after the conclusion of the regular season brings about a wave of uncertainty in many of the picks; some of my early draft decisions were reliant on predicted changes of scenery for my players. This winter figures to be an absolute frenzy, with a star-studded Free Agent class featuring Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, and many more household names gearing up to hit the open market.
Round 1 (12): Bryce Harper (OF, Free Agent)
Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals both probably wish they could erase the 2018 season from their memories. Boasting a .376 wOBA and 135 wRC+, a decent margin above-average in both categories, Harper failed to surmount the MVP-level standard that fans hold him accountable for reaching. This was one of my high-upside picks, as Harper is likely to bid farewell to Washington when he hits the open market, and a change of scenery could serve as a catalyst for the headline-making slugger to improve his numbers to his 2015 MVP-level output. I believe this season’s results for Harper are his floor– contingent on his health. Harper maintained his elite plate discipline and power production, but his total production was stunted by a mere .289 BABIP, 29 points below his career average. There are some red flags here, as teams deployed the shift far more frequently against Harper (in 51.5 % of PA), which has successfully depleted his production (wOBA 52 points lower in PA with Shift than PA with No-Shift). In addition, Harper whiffed at a career-high 31.6 % of pitches in 2018, which I elected to attribute to his ugly mid-season slide, as Harper’s swing-and-miss rates were back to normal in the season’s final two months. On the whole, Harper is the kind of first-round risk that needs to be complemented with a “safe” pick at 13th overall.
Round 2 (13): Jose Altuve (2B, Houston Astros)
I was surprised to see Jose Altuve slide into the 2nd round of this draft. At a thin position like 2B, he consistently separates himself from the rest-of-the-pack with his all-category contributions. It would take an early first round pick to snag the reigning MVP in most 2018 drafts, but the undersized speedster underperformed his ranking. He still provided elite 2B production, but Altuve saw decreases in nearly every relevant category from his prior performance. However, recent reports suggest that Altuve played through an avulsion fracture down the stretch, which is a likely explanation for the decline. Altuve’s exit velocity plummeted in the second half of the season, which is reportedly when he was battling his knee issues, which led to a resultant .269/.358/.393 slash line during this period, significantly lower than his .332/.394/.470 first-half slash. Altuve still managed to perform adequately, but assuming his injury doesn’t linger, he should be back to to his previous levels of production, providing merit to his status as a mid-to-late 1st Round selection.
Round 3 (36): Rhys Hoskins (1B/OF, Philadelphia Phillies)
As the end of Round 3 approached, I was hoping to add a reliable front-line starter to my squad, but the selections of Blake Snell, Clayton Kershaw, and Carlos Carrasco in the subsequent picks leading up to mine thinned the pool of SP fitting this criteria. Ultimately, I decided to use the first of my back-to-back picks to add another power bat to my team, in the form of Phillies 1B/OF Rhys Hoskins. The main appeals to Hoskins are that he brings some positional flexibility, reliable power numbers (.251 ISO in 2018 to back up his historic power showing upon debuting in 2017), and possesses additional upside. Aside from a horrendous May slide, Hoskins was consistently a force to be reckoned with at the center of the Phillies lineup, surpassing the 100-RBI mark. Although he’s only heading into his 2nd full big-league season, I view Hoskins as something of a known commodity; don’t expect the righty slugger to hit for a high average, but do expect elite power and run production from Hoskins in 2019.
Round 4 (37): Noah Syndergaard (SP, New York Mets)
In terms of on-field performance, Noah Syndergaard belongs in the top-tier of SP. However, Syndergaard has struggled to maintain his health over the last few seasons, making just 32 MLB starts in that time frame, due to DL-stints in both campaigns. The hulking right-hander nicknamed “Thor” was dominant in his 154.1 IP this season, pitching to a 3.03 ERA, backed up by a 2.80 FIP. Syndergaard boasted the lowest K/9 of his young career in 2018, but his stuff is still amongst the game’s best, and I’d expect this figure to improve next season, as his whiff rate is still in line with its level from previous seasons. I’m expecting Syndergaard to establish himself as a legitimate ace in 2019.
Round 5 (60): Gleyber Torres (2B/SS, New York Yankees)
Torres burst onto the scene by belting an incredible 14 HR in just 50 games between May and June combined, perhaps leading to unrealistic expectations from fantasy owners for the rest of the campaign. His .321 BABIP is likely to regress slightly, but Torres should be a valuable offensive commodity. Furthermore, an opening at the Yankees SS position was created from the unexpected news that Didi Gregorius needed Tommy John Surgery, and Torres is the most logical in-house option to fill in until he returns around mid-season. The Yankees are expected to be among the most aggressive suitors for Manny Machado’s services this winter, so Torres transitioning back to his natural position at SS isn’t a done deal. Despite missing some time due to a delayed big-league call-up and a hip strain, Torres still managed to accumulate 24 HR and 77 RBI, both impressive feats for a middle infielder.
Round 6 (61): Eugenio Suarez (3B, Cincinnati Reds)
Eugenio Suarez established himself as a prolific middle-of-the-order bat in 2018. The modifications he’s made to his swing over the past few seasons have led to gradual improvements, and he was a top-tier 3B this season. I’m a firm believer in the legitimacy of Suarez’s breakout, as he consistently barrelled balls with much greater frequency this season than in years past (Career High 9.7 % Barrel Rate). I wrote an article in July, titled Eh, Whose He-Nio Suarez, about Suarez unreal first-half production, and the likelihood of his RBI production regressing slightly. I’d expect the Venezuelan slugger to continue to establish himself as one of the game’s best 3B.
Round 7 (84): Jose Berrios (SP, Minnesota Twins)
With Noah Syndergaard already in fold as my best pitcher, I decided to roll the dice on Twins youngster Jose Berrios as my #2 hurler. Still just 24-years-old, Berrios has totaled a respectable 3.86 ERA over the past two seasons, and exhibited reliability at punching batters out, with a 9.1 K/9 in that span. With an electric, sharp-diving curveball that generated a 38.8 % whiff rate in 2018, I envision Berrios taking another leap forward next season. Berrios’ offers the combination of both a respectable floor of a high-end #3 starter and a ceiling of a low-end top of the rotation arm. At 72nd overall, I valued Berrios marginally more than many of the comparable arms that were still on the board.
Round 8 (85): A.J. Pollock (OF, Free Agent)
Pollock was unstoppable through the first 40 games of the season, before a fractured left thumb sidelined him for much of the first half. Still, he mustered a .257/.316/.484 line, and profiles as a likely change of scenery candidate when he’s scheduled to explore the free agent market this winter. His 10.0 % barrel rate was a career-high for the Statcast Era (since 2015), in addition to the career-high in HR he set (21). I held out hope that Eddie Rosario would plunge to this pick, but Max Posner snagged him just picks earlier. Pollock is an adequate consolation prize; if healthy, he brings a dynamic package of above-average power and speed, but that’s a huge “if.”
Round 9 (108): Yoan Moncada (2B, Chicago White Sox)
This was one of the biggest high risk-high reward selections in the draft. There’s no denying Moncada’s loud raw tools: MLB.com dubbed him the #1 overall prospect in 2016 for a reason. Moncada finally began to translate his five-tool potential into in-game execution this season, but his performance still warranted more to be desired from the speedy Cuban. Moncada slots into one of my two utility positions, after my early selection of Jose Altuve, and he’s still an above-average 2B. Moncada has immense upside that should be accompanied by moderate skepticism; his ineptitude at connecting with off-speed pitches has hindered his ability to post offensive numbers that reflect his skill-set. The worst case scenario for Moncada is that he’s unable to minimize his strikeout numbers, and is neutralized to being a roughly average 2B. This pick could end up making me look like an absolute genius or it could end up seriously backfiring, but I was confident enough in the reliability of my previous position player selections to take the flier.
Round 10 (109): Robbie Ray (SP, Arizona Diamondbacks)
Diamondbacks southpaw Robbie Ray is someone who has appeared to be on the precipice of a breakout for years now, as his nasty repertoire is among the best in the league, leading to astronomically high strikeout rates. Ray seemed to deliver on his potential when he dealt to a 2.89 ERA in 2017, but his improved run prevention was largely attributable to slightly tamed control and good fortune in the BABIP and Strand Rate departments. With these metrics regressing to more standard levels in 2018, in addition to him displaying more erratic control, Ray endured a mediocre season, to the tune of a 3.93 ERA/4.31 FIP that indicates fortune was once again on his side this year. There are two main areas of extreme caution with Ray: his alarmingly high 5.09 BB/9 rate, and the drop in opponents whiff rates on his fastball (down 6.2 % from ‘17), which likely results to some degree from his decrease in average fastball velocity (94.2 MPH in ‘17 to 93.6 MPH in ‘18). At age-27, next season is going to be something of a make-or-break campaign for Ray, whose sheer stuff is good enough for the D-Backs to slide him into a multi-inning role in the back-of-the bullpen, where he could emerge as an Andrew Miller/Josh Hader-type shutdown arm. Ray is another risky selection, but with the scarcity of established top-of-the-rotation hurlers, the timing seemed opportune to take a flier on the talented southpaw.
Round 11 (132): Willson Contreras (C, Chicago Cubs)
On the whole, the Catcher position is extremely thin at the top tier of talent, and I was surprised to see Cubs backstop Willson Contreras slide this far in the draft. Contreras disappointed in 2018, compiling a mere average wRC+ of 100. Despite making the All-Star game, his .141 ISO was a significant decline from the power production in Contreras’ first two big league seasons. One of the main glaring sources of deviation from the past few seasons for Contreras was his inability to clobber fastballs this season; he only slugged .393 on heaters in 2018, after destroying the pitch of a slugging percentage exceeding .500 in each of the two prior seasons. Regardless, Contreras’ floor cements him firmly entrenched within the top bunch of offensive catchers, and he has the potential to ascend to the status of being the best hitting catcher in the league.
Round 12 (133): Andrew Miller (RP, Free Agent)
Looking back at my selection of Andrew Miller here, I have some immediate regrets about taking him here; with Miller set to become a free agent, and his projected contract likely outpricing the Indians, his value is dependent on the team he signs with. In addition, Miller is 33-years-old and coming off an injury riddled season. His bread-and-butter offering that enabled his utter dominance of hitters, a late-breaking slider, generated numbers far more pedestrian than he had in recent seasons. However, I believe Miller is still a quality closing option for teams to go after on a short-term deal, but without the guarantee that this is the role he will assume, this pick seemed to be a reach. The stacked relief pitcher free agent market is going to adjust the compositions of many bullpens, and Miller should be a heavily sought after commodity on the open market. As we approach the season, there should be far more clarity to the scenario of many relievers.
Round 13 (156): Carlos Rodon (SP, Chicago White Sox)
Rodon should be placed within a similar category to Robbie Ray: the electric stuff hasn’t yet translated into mirrored results. The wheels really fell off for Rodon in the season’s final month, as he allowed 28 ER in just 27.1 IP during that span. In a combined 62.2 innings in July and August, he compiled a 1.87 ERA, while proving immune to facing the consequences from dishing out 4.45 free passes (BB + HBP) per 9 Innings. I’m banking on Rodon improving his control in his fifth full season (he’s just 25-years-old still), and taking the leap forward to become a frontline starter for the White Sox.
Round 14 (157): Nomar Mazara (OF, Texas Rangers)
Mazara has exhibited the kind of consistency over his first three big league seasons that warrants consideration for owners taking him with a sub-100s pick. I was thrilled to grab Mazara here to complete my OF (CouchManagers slotted Hoskins into OF, but I would move him to 1B, where the Phillies should probably be deploying him), as he contributes significantly in most relevant run production categories. He has clobbered exactly 20 HR in each of his big league seasons thus far, and is a reliable middle-of-the-order bat for the Rangers. Although he’s just 23-years-old, it’s unclear how much untapped potential he has remaining, but Mazara’s relatively high floor merits starting consideration in all formats.
Round 15 (180): Jordan Hicks (RP, St. Louis Cardinals)
Jordan Hicks rapidly ascended to the scene in 2018, transforming from a hard-throwing SP prospect unbeknownst to the majority of the baseball world into an electric 100+ MPH hurling machine of a reliever. Sure, Hicks demonstrated extreme command issues, but his upside greatly outweighs his current weaknesses. I went with Hicks as my 2nd slotted RP, because I view him as the overwhelming favorite to be the Cardinals closer on Opening Day, with Bud Norris hitting free agency this winter. Hicks’ 2018 season was incredibly successful, as he was able to post a respectable 3.59 ERA/3.74 FIP despite his 5.21 BB/9 rate. I full-fledgedly expect Hicks to continue to evolve into an elite RP as he gains more experience pitching– he is only four years removed from being in high school, and is just beginning to reach the surface of his potential.
Round 16 (181): Archie Bradley (RP, Arizona Diamondbacks)
Rounding out my relief pitching corps, I went with Diamondbacks hurler Archie Bradley, whose draft stock likely fell victim to his abomination of a 2nd half to the season. Bradley was dominant with a 1.97 ERA in the first half, but then compiled a 6.58 ERA the rest of the way, which should be somewhat attributed to an unsustainably-high .386 BABIP. I view Bradley as a risky option, but with his track record of dominance, at times, and the general volatility of relievers, I’m comfortable slotting him in as my 3rd RP.
Round 17 (204): Ryan Braun (OF, Milwaukee Brewers)
This pick was entirely motivated by the fact that I thought Braun was the best player on the board, and possesses a legitimate candidacy to bounce back to being a fringe all-star level player. Due to the emergence of fellow Brew Crew outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain as stars in today’s game, Braun has taken somewhat of a back seat in the spotlight. Braun’s production regressed drastically in 2018, to the tune of a .330 wOBA and slightly above league-average 105 wRC+, both career-lows for the former MVP. Looking at many signs of deteriorated skill-sets, Braun lacks the typical red flags (Increased Whiff Rate, Lower Exit Velocity, etc.) of player in the midst of regression. However, these unimpressive numbers stem from a career-low .274 BABIP, 53 points below his career average for this metric. This lower BABIP could be largely attributed to poor luck, as Braun’s 10.8 % Barrel Rate and 49.5 % Hard-Hit Rate were both his highest outputs for these metrics in the Statcast Era (starting in 2015). I wondered if Braun’s low BABIP could’ve been due to opposing teams frequently deploying shifts against him, but he’s only been shifted 9 times this season, according to BaseballSavant. In addition, the Statcast metrics support the notion that Braun was terribly unlucky in 2018, as his X (Statcast Expected Metrics) – Actual all have significantly positive residuals. This signifies that based on the launch parameters of his batted balls, Braun would’ve been expected to have drastically higher production than he experienced in 2018. I’m not making the argument that Braun will come close to reaching the elite levels of his previous production in his prime, but he should be a valuable offensive commodity in 2018.
Round 18 (205): Julio Urias (SP/RP, Los Angeles Dodgers)
I strongly believe that I came out like a bandit by snagging Julio Urias this late in the draft. Urias climbed through the Dodgers system at a lightning quick pace, culminating with his inclusion in the big-league rotation at just age 19. He went from perhaps the brightest pitching prospect in the sport to having a career in jeopardy, when he required early season Anterior Capsule Surgery in his throwing shoulder in 2017. Urias returned to the Dodgers in September of 2018 season, having recently turned just 22. Based on the eye test, Urias’ stuff is the same, and his velocity is consistent with its pre-surgery levels. The Dodgers clearly are also believers that the southpaw has returned to his prior form, as they included him on the roster for the NLCS and World Series, despite him throwing just 4 innings during the regular season. Urias will likely be stretched out as a starter for next season, and judging by his small sampling of performance in 2018, he looks like a likely candidate to breakout as one of the game’s most exciting young hurlers.
Round 19 (228): Marcus Stroman (SP, Toronto Blue Jays)
2018 wasn’t exactly kind to Blue Jays hurler Marcus Stroman, who was perhaps the biggest SP underachiever on the year. Stroman was clobbered for a 5.54 ERA this season, largely resulting from an unlucky combination of a .326 BABIP induced to opposing hitters and just a 60.5 % strand rate. Stroman’s 3.91 FIP was far more encouraging, and at this late juncture in the draft, the undersized right-hander certainly deserves consideration as prime bounceback candidate.
Round 20 (229): Ty Buttrey (RP, Los Angeles Angels)
Acquired at the 2018 Trade Deadline from the Red Sox in exchange for Ian Kinsler, Ty Buttrey emerged in the season’s final weeks down the stretch as a flamethrowing shutdown reliever. He only threw 16.1 IP, but he flashed a nasty repertoire that features a fastball consistently scraping 100 MPH. In addition, Buttrey flashed a slider that generated whiffs 55.9 % of the time it was thrown in that small sampling. I like Buttrey as a breakout relief candidate who could be closing games for the Angels early in the season.
Round 21 (252): Dansby Swanson (SS, Atlanta Braves)
A former #1 overall pick, Swanson hasn’t been overly impressive in his first three seasons at the big league level. I decided to use a late-round flier on Swanson due to his burgeoning power (career high .157 ISO in ‘18) at a position that lacks tremendous depth. Swanson posted a .293 wOBA and 80 wRC+, which was an improvement from last season, but still shouldn’t warrant fantasy relevance yet.
Round 22 (253): Josh Bell (1B/OF, Pittsburgh Pirates)
Bell slots into my roster as the backup 1B and 5th OF, and I pounced on him due to his relatively high ceiling/high floor combination. Bell’s power somewhat disappeared in 2018 (ISO went down from .211 in ‘17 to .150 in ‘18), but his plate discipline improved, leading to a higher wRC+ (112). With the power Bell generates from his titanic 6’4”, 235 lb frame, I’m holding out hope that he continues on the power development trajectory he was on heading into the campaign; even if it never materializes, he’s still at least a viable bench option going forward.
Round 23 (276): Aaron Sanchez (SP, Toronto Blue Jays)
After posting an All-Star caliber 3.8 fWAR and 3.00 ERA in 2016, Sanchez’s stock has seen him tumble off the radar of fantasy relevance over the past two seasons. A major aspect of this “decline” has been his inability to stay on the field, but in his 28 GS during this period, Sanchez struggled mightily with control, but he still attacks hitters with a quality four-pitch repertoire. With the last pick in Mock Draft 2, I dished the “Mr. Irrelevant” title out to Aaron Sanchez, because I think his stuff is eerily similar to the nasty arsenal he dominated with in 2016.
Favorite Pick: Julio Urias
Sleeper Pick: Ty Buttrey
Potential Bust: Yoan Moncada
Best Value Pick: Ryan Braun
Great writeup, Jake.
Funnily enough, I had all the same players as you through the first 11 rounds this year on one of my teams (save for Syndy & Harper).
What is your biggest regret from the draft? Are there any players you regret passing on that in retrospect you would’ve taken instead?
That’s pretty unbelievable that so many of those first 11 picks matched up. I would definitely say that my biggest regret was letting so many “reliable” (this is a relative term, as we’re all aware of how volatile relievers can be) and established relievers go off the board. I’m a huge fan of Ty Buttrey, but his results came in an extremely limited sampling, and I wish I could’ve complemented him with less risky commodities than Andrew Miller and Archie Bradley. If I could re-do this draft, I would pounce on a Tier 2/3 reliever like Sean Doolittle.
One player I was hoping to snag was Eloy Jimenez, who went 112th overall (I passed on him to take Moncada and Ray at 108th and 109th overall, respectively). I envision Jimenez receiving the Kris Bryant treatment for the season’s first few weeks, then making an immediate impact at the big-league level, but I was hoping he would fall one more round than he did, and my team had more pressing needs elsewhere at that time.