Pitcher List’s 2019 Early Mock Draft – Reviewing Jonathan Metzelaar’s Picks
Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire
When I was invited to partake in this early mock draft, it very much felt like that moment in your life when you finally get asked to sit at the adult table for Thanksgiving. After spending years watching your little cousin Rufus slap his mashed peas around like they stole his wallet, you finally get that nod of acknowledgment from the grown-ups, that sign of validation that you are now a “Big Boy.” Drafting alongside so many smart dudes (and Dave Cherman) was a treat, and a great opportunity to get an early handle on 2019 player values.
This was easily the earliest mock draft I’ve ever taken part in. At one point in the draft, while I was mulling over one of my picks, my wife peered over my shoulder and said, “What the hell are you doing? I thought you were finally done with this stuff.” Little did she know when she married me that I will never be “done with this stuff.” She can scream that she wants an annulment and that she’s taking half of everything all she wants; fantasy is my one true love.
My draft strategy heading into this was pretty basic and straightforward: avoid offensive specialists (e.g. Dee Gordon, Joey Gallo, etc.), wait as long as possible on closers without also finding myself saddled with the Wily Peraltas of the world, and look for value from starting pitchers who had mediocre overall seasons but finished strong. I think I managed to stick to these principles pretty closely, but let’s dive into my picks and see if you happen to agree.
Round One (8): Trea Turner (SS, Washington Nationals)
I received some flack for taking Turner this early in the draft. Three people slapped this pick with the “bad pick” tag in the Couch Managers software, and I’d like those three people to know this: I will find you, and I will kill you. I definitely see the argument for this being a reach, especially with guys like Alex Bregman, Christian Yelich, and J.D. Martinez still on the board. I have no qualms about grabbing Turner here though, because I think his profile and ceiling are singularly unique among MLB hitters. Over the course of 360 career games to this point, he’s posted 162-game averages of 19.8 homers, 55.8 stolen bases, and a .289/.346/.456 triple slash. There isn’t another player in the game right now that you could peg to put up numbers like those in a given season, primarily because few players possess speed as elite as Turner’s without also featuring glaring holes in other facets of their game (see: Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, etc.). And it’s important to keep in mind that those 162-game averages don’t factor in the growth you’d expect to continue seeing from a 25-year-old. In fact, his contact and walk rates have been trending up significantly for two straight seasons now, and paint the picture of an elite talent who’s only going to get better. Sure, there are concerns about his power being totally legit, but he did smack 19 homers last year despite a 49% groundball rate and not-untenable 11% HR/FB. In the end, I believe Turner is one of the only players you can realistically expect 70 HR+SB from in a given season, and for that reason I was totally okay snagging him here.
Round Two (17): Bryce Harper (OF, Free Agent)
In retrospect, I probably should have taken Aaron Judge here, as his power would have complemented Turner’s speed quite nicely. There’s definitely plenty of risk surrounding Harper, as he’s been all over the map throughout his career, and I consequently have no idea what to expect from him in a given season. He could hit .250 or he could hit. 310. He could pop 50 homers or he could muster only 30. He could swipe 20 bags or give you only five. The range of outcomes is huge, but ultimately I think his floor his relatively high, and he clearly has the ceiling of a top-5 player if/when he finally puts it all together. It’s also worth noting how insanely unlucky Harper was during the first half of last season: he posted a .226 BABIP despite making 41.1% hard contact and hitting liners at a 20.9% clip. That dragged down his overall line, but he did hit .300 with a .412 wOBA in the second half, and finish the year with 103 RBI and 100 runs. It was a reach, but one that I think has potential to return plenty of value.
You may notice a recurring theme in most of these mock draft reviews: several of us were burned by the fact that Couch Managers’ player pool is still using the 2018 preseason rankings. As a result, guys who broke out big-time during the 2018 season were buried way lower than they would normally be on the draft board, and were consequently more prone to being overlooked. Now, sure, I could take responsibility for my own mistakes and just admit that I whiffed here by taking Syndergaard over guys like Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, who I happen to like a little better. But when I have such a ready-made excuse for not picking them here… why wouldn’t I spare my fragile ego and use it? This was maybe a pick or two earlier than I had hoped to spring for my first starting pitcher, but I had to pivot after seeing a bit of a run on aces; Kershaw, Kluber, Nola, Verlander, and Severino all got snagged between my last pick and this one. Syndergaard is so incredibly good at limiting homers (career 0.68 HR/9) and hard contact (career 25.3%), and his stuff is so nasty that I can’t beat myself up too much for taking him here. Aside from his health, there isn’t a single red flag in Syndergaard’s peripherals that concerns me, and I think if he compiles 200 innings in 2019 he ends up a top-10 pitcher.
Round Four (41): Tommy Pham (OF, Tampa Bay Rays)
This pick was probably my biggest regret of the draft. I almost went with Khris Davis, but as I mentioned in the intro, I generally like to avoid players with just one standout tool because A) they often have shortcomings that you end up having to compensate for elsewhere on your roster, and B) they’re much harder to replace if they get injured or underperform. After hitting exactly .247 for four consecutive seasons–an impressive feat in its own right–I knew taking Davis here would have put me in a position where I’d have to make up some of that batting average with my later picks, and I didn’t want to paint myself into that corner this early in the draft, especially with Harper’s average being a bit of a question mark already. Pham obviously had a disappointing encore to his unbelievable 2017 season, but I honestly believe he was hampered by injuries earlier in the year, because upon his return from a DL stint after getting traded to the Rays, he became one of the hottest hitters in the game; he slashed .368/.475/.705 over his final 118 plate appearances with five homers and five steals. Pham also finished fifth in baseball in hard contact last year with an absurd 48.5% rate. While I think his strikeout rate will prevent him from hitting .300 again, I do believe that he’s at least a 20/20 player who will post a decent average as long as he stays on the field. Still, I think he likely would have fallen to me a round or two later, so this was a bit of a misstep.
Round Five (56): Justin Turner (3B, Los Angeles Dodgers)
I was stoked to get Turner here, as I don’t see a huge difference between him and Anthony Rendon in terms of their profiles, and Rendon went 19 picks earlier. The discount likely came as a result of his age (he’s turning 34 this offseason) and injury-riddled 2018, but everything I saw from Turner when he was on the field last year has me confident that he can continue to be an elite bat in 2019. He finished the year strong, hitting .356 with nine homers over his final 237 plate appearances. His 45% hard contact rate and 26.2% line drive rate were god-tier, and he paired those with a truly elite 4.9% whiff rate. I think Turner might end up being severely undervalued in 2019 drafts.
Xander Bogaerts was somehow still on the board at this point in the draft, and I had every intention of grabbing him here… and then I didn’t. I blame Nick Pollack. See, Nick released his early 2019 pitcher rankings right around this point in the draft. And one of the arguments he made was that waiting on pitching might be a risky strategy this year, because starting pitching is looking very top-heavy. After looking over the pitching landscape, I was inclined to agree–there’s a big drop-off in talent once you get outside the top-30 or so. All that to say, Nick’s attempt at waging mental warfare on me worked. Instead of grabbing Bogaerts, I pivoted my strategy to reach for another pitcher earlier than I normally would, and ended up with Taillon. Even though Scott Chu would wisely snag Bogaerts five picks later and get showered in well-deserved praise, I can’t be too mad at second-guessing myself here. Taillon’s second half was incredible thanks to the addition of a new pitch: his slider. Over 85 second-half innings he spun a 2.33 ERA and 1.13 WHIP while posting an 8.05 K/9 and 4.75 K/BB ratio. If the slider is truly as game-changing as these stats would indicate, Taillon might finally blossom into a bonafide ace in 2019.
Once I had pivoted to go more pitching-heavy with my Taillon pick, I decided to double-down in the next round and grab one more upper-tier starter before the floor dropped out under the pitching market. I had my eyes on Mikolas, but he was plucked by Andy Patton four picks before me. Sticking with my strategy of finding value in pitchers who scuffled early but finished strong, I settled on Tanaka. Peep this: Over Tanaka’s final 72.2 innings in the second half, he posted a 2.85 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 9.41 K/9. This performance was backed up by a matching 2.98 FIP and xFIP. Perhaps most encouraging was the fact that he cut over a full home run off his HR/9, dropping it from 1.94 in the first half to 0.87 in the second. As a guy who has been mercilessly plagued by the long ball over the past two seasons, the fact that Tanaka figured out how to keep the ball in the yard is super encouraging, and I think he’s bound to return tons of value this season if he continues to fall this far in drafts.
Round Eight (89): Scooter Gennett (2B, Cincinnati Reds)
Meep, meep. I still contend that that’s the sound any grown man named “Scooter” should be mandated to make upon entering a room. Gennett may be my 2019 poster boy for a phenomenon I refer to as the “Joe Schmo Effect,” which essentially states that players with unsexy names (like “Scooter Gennett” and “Scott Schebler”) get undervalued because they’re not as fun to roster as the Franchy Corderos of the world. I’m honestly not sure what more this guy has to do to get a little love around here: he finished as the #23 hitter on ESPN’s player rater in 2018, and his .310 average ranked him sixth in baseball, sandwiched between Mike Trout and Freddie Freeman. I get the hesitancy to buy in to a guy who spent his first four seasons in the majors not doing much of anything, but this is now two straight years where Gennett has displayed the skills of a legit top-5 second baseman. Allow this man to meep-meep into your hearts and onto your fantasy teams. You won’t regret it.
Round Nine (104): Gary Sanchez (C, New York Yankees)
I was feeling pretty good about where my batting average was at after securing both Justin Turner and Scooter Gennett, so I thought maybe I’d torpedo all that progress by grabbing Sanchez here. In all seriousness, with Realmuto coming off the board at pick #86, I thought that the next catcher to go would spark a run on the position. In retrospect, I was very wrong, and I probably took Sanchez a bit earlier than I needed to. That being said, I think the hate on Sanchez has gone too far. Yes, he was god-awful in 2018. But I’m not seeing the red flags that indicate that a serious flaw in his game has suddenly cropped up. His whiff rate (12.1%) and chase rate (32.3%) were both almost exactly what they were in 2016 and 2017, which make me think the slight uptick in strikeouts was a fluke. His 12.3% walk rate was a career-high, and further points to him not backsliding in his plate discipline or zone recognition. His hard contact and pull rates were essentially the same. The two things that stand out are a .197 BABIP and a huge increase in both flyballs and infield pop-ups. Now those two things are likely related–flyballs and infield pop-ups result in outs far more often than any other batted ball. But bad luck seems to be a big factor in what he did last season. I still believe Sanchez’s baseline over a full year is 35+ homers and an average around .270, which puts him in a class of his own at catcher. I’m okay with taking that outside the top-100.
Round Ten (113): Yasiel Puig (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)
This pick was kind of like when you walk by the free samples tray in the grocery store. In any other situation, you’d have no interest in trying maple-coated tofurkey. But, hey, you’re here, and it’s free. Let’s live a little. I really was not looking to add another outfielder this early in the draft, especially since I already had Harper and Pham holding down two spots. But I felt like Puig had dropped way too low, and sometimes you have to grab value when it falls into your lap. I love that Puig tallied 23 homers and 15 steals over just 444 plate appearances last year–his second straight season with 20+ homers and 15 steals. I also love that he traded groundballs for line drives, posting the best line drive rate (21.3%) and lowest groundball rate (42.6%) of his career, by a wide margin. He also significantly improved his hard contact rate, posting a career-high 38.4% rate. I think the best is yet to come for Puig, who is miraculously only 27 years old.
Round Eleven (128): Jose Martinez (OF/1B, St. Louis Cardinals)
The first-baseman pool at this point in the draft was getting real ugly, real fast. I had really been hoping to grab Jesus Aguilar earlier, but after Austin Bristow wisely snagged him prior to my Gary Sanchez pick, I had to dig a little deeper. I almost took Martinez over Puig with my last pick, but I figured there was a pretty good chance Martinez would hang around long enough for me to grab him here, and luckily I was right. Playing time is definitely a concern, but I’m convinced that he finds regular at-bats next year; either the Cardinals trade him to an American League team where he can DH the way he was born to, or they continue to do the St. Louis Shuffle and slide guys around to get him into the lineup. Either way, the dude was an absolute monster last year, posting a 26.2% line drive rate and 40.5% hard contact rate while striking out just 17.6% of the time and slashing .305/.364/.457. His inconsistent playing time and lack of power in the second half of 2018 may have turned him into a sleeper for the second season in the row.
Round Twelve (137): Charlie Morton (SP, Free Agent)
This was a risky pick, because the news had not yet dropped that Morton planned to forego retirement to play again next year. It was a risk worth taking in my opinion though, as adding a starter who’s capable of spinning a 3.40 ERA with a 10 K/9 this late in the draft is unheard of. The health is always going to be a concern with Morton, but the stuff is so nasty that you just kind of have to cross your fingers and hope for the best. There are still question marks here, including what team he ends up on and whether he definitely returns as a starter next season. But again, those risks are baked into the price.
Round Thirteen (152): Wade Davis (RP, Colorado Rockies)
I mentioned at the outset that I wanted to wait as long as possible for a closer without having to resort to scraping the bottom of the barrel, and I had my sights set on Jose Leclerc for my first closer, who was an absolute monster last year but seems to be getting overlooked a lot in early drafts. Unfortunately, Leclerc got scooped five picks earlier by that inconsiderate jerk Scott Chu, and I had to settle for Wade Davis. Since this was my first closer, I really wanted to grab a guy with some job security, and I think Davis fits the bill, despite his lackluster 4.13 ERA last season. He actually pitched much better than his final line indicates, as borne out by his 3.23 SIERA. The 66% LOB rate is super uncharacteristic for Davis, and I’m not convinced the sudden increase in homers allowed is sticky considering his control and groundball rate actually improved compared to 2017. I think the elite Wade Davis is likely gone, but there’s still a middle-of-the-pack closer here who will give you some strikeouts without wrecking your ratios. That’s about all I could hope for after waiting this long for a reliever.
Round Fourteen (161): Andrew McCutchen (OF, Free Agent)
My fellow drafters appear to hate Andrew McCutchen with a Jason Motte-like intensity. I had been eyeing McCutchen since the 11th round, fully expecting somebody to snatch him up. To my surprise though, nobody was biting. As was the case with Puig, I had no interest in adding another outfielder this early, but it got to the point where I felt like I would have been crazy to let him fall any lower. Believe it or not, McCutchen actually had one of his better seasons in 2018 by several metrics. He posted career-best hard contact (43.4%!) and chase rates (19.4%). His 8.2% whiff rate was his lowest total since 2011. His 13.9% walk rate was the second-best total of his career. The final line was lackluster by his standards, but he still mustered 20 homers and 14 steals. Given the uptick that most of his peripherals saw in 2018, I think he’s a safe bet for 20 homers and 10 steals with a passable average, and I think that’s a really good value outside the top-150.
Looking for useful starting pitching at this point in the draft was like playing a game of eenie meenie Heaney mo. Everyone available had their warts, so I was just scrounging around for something with decent upside. When Heaney was on last year, he reminded me of vintage Bumgarner, peppering the outer edge of the zone against righties with fastballs and change-ups and bending his breaking ball in for called strikes when he needed it. The problem for Heaney last year was consistency. He posted a K/9 above nine in 14 of his 30 starts. But he also gave up five or more earned runs in seven of his starts. That’s the definition of a Cherry Bomb. I was impressed enough with his good starts that I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in 2019 and hope he takes another big step forward.
Round Sixteen (185): Arodys Vizcaino (RP, Atlanta Braves)
There’s certainly some mystery surrounding the Braves closer situation, but I think the job will be Vizcaino’s to start the year, assuming the Braves don’t sign or trade for a bonafide closer. A.J. Minter’s the closest thing to a threat, but I think the fact that he’s left-handed will keep him from taking over the role (for now). Arodys has dealt with a myriad of injuries the past few years, and significantly outperformed his peripherals to boot, so there’s plenty of downside here. But as long as he’s healthy, he should rack up a decent amount of saves on what should be a very good Braves team.
Blegh. With my starting offense pretty much set, and two closers in my possession, I knew I had to get a starting pitcher here. For me, the choice was between Godley and Arrieta, which was kind of like choosing between stepping on a dog turd with either your left or right foot. Godley edged out Arrieta for me because the strikeout floor is way higher; even in a disastrous season he managed a 9.34 K/9. On the surface, Godley got worse as the season wore on, though his peripherals improved dramatically in the second half, as he posted a 3.16 FIP and 3.74 xFIP after the break. I still like his repertoire and pitch mix, and think the cutter/sinker/curveball combo gives him a decent floor thanks to all the grounders those pitches generate. This late in the draft you kind of have to go primarily with upside picks and hope you hit with one, and I think Godley’s upside is that of a top-25 pitcher. Pray for me.
Round Eighteen (209): Yoshihisa Hirano (RP, Arizona Diamondbacks)
I really wanted to round out my relief corps with Jordan Hicks, but I got sniped by Nick there. Hirano usurped the closer role from Brad Boxberger to close out 2018, and handled himself quite nicely, so I’m betting on Arizona letting him carry that success over into 2019 in the final year of his contract. I think the Diamondbacks prefer using Archie Bradley in a fireman role (especially since it keeps his arbitration costs down), and Brad Boxberger’s feral command will likely scare them away from every trusting him again in high-leverage spots. For a third closer, I could’ve done worse.
Round Nineteen (224): Jorge Polanco (SS, Minnesota Twins)
Polanco was a pretty popular sleeper heading into 2018, but then he got popped for roids and most people seemed to forget he existed. He finished the year strong though, and he clearly has an uncanny ability to put the bat on the ball, as evidenced by his 6.1% whiff rate and 85.3% contact rate last year. Throw in a splash of power and speed, and you have a middle-infielder capable of going 12/12 while hitting around .280 over a full season. That’s a solid late-round option who can contribute across the board.
Round Twenty (233): Byron Buxton (OF, Minnesota Twins)
Edgar Allen Poe once said, “Desperation creates strange bedfellows.” Actually, no he didn’t. But that kinda sounds like something he might say, right? Anyway, as somebody who has panned Buxton pretty much since the dawn of man, I could not be more surprised to have ended up with him on my roster. The fact of the matter is though, I felt I was a bit weak in the stolen base department, and if there’s one thing Buxton has in spades it’s speed. The rebuilding Twins will likely give Buxton all the playing time he needs in 2019 to prove once and for all whether he belongs at the major league level. Again. For the 1,488th time. It’s a lotto ticket, pure and simple.
I was happy to see Minor still available to me here, as I thought his strong second half would have garnered him much more fanfare. Over his final 57.2 innings, he posted a 2.97 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 23.8% strikeout rate. The peripherals didn’t necessarily love what they saw (4.18 xFIP in the second half), and he struggled mightily with the long ball all season (1.43 HR/9). But again, at the end of the draft I think you need to load up on upside pieces, and for my final starting pitcher I’ll gladly roll the dice on Minor sorting out his home run issues and taking another big step forward.
Round Twenty-Two (257): Corey Dickerson (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates)
You almost never see somebody cut close to 10 percentage points off their strikeout rate from one year to another, so Dickerson dropping it from 24.2% to 15% last year was super impressive. He only mustered 13 homers after swatting 27 in 2017, and I think the go-to narrative is that he sacrificed his power in order to make more contact. Except, that’s not really reflected in the numbers. He made more hard contact last year than he did in 2017 while also hitting just as many fly balls (and increasing his launch angle from 13.8 to 14.9 degrees). The issue, it seems, was poor luck when it came to those fly balls. His 8.7% HR/FB was a career-low, nearly half his career rate of 14.6%. If he retains the huge strides he made in the contact department last year, and those fly balls start to leave the yard at the rate they historically have for him, we’re looking at a guy who could easily hit .290 with 25 homers. I think the rough August (.211 average, 0 homers) has people scared, but I think he’s primed for a breakout next year.
Round Twenty-Three (272): Franchy Cordero (OF, San Diego Padres)
Legalize Franch! I know the Padres outfield is currently crowded, with Franmil Reyes, Manuel Margot, and Hunter Renfroe tentatively penciled in for next year. But if Cordero is fully healed from the elbow problems that caused his early shutdown, it’s hard to imagine the Padres not finding a way to get him in their lineup in 2019. Cordero reminds me a bit of Buxton actually, in the sense that he has all the tools he needs to be an offensive force (70 grade power AND speed), but is likely to be held back in the short term until he figures out how to cut down on the strikeouts (35.7% strikeout rate in 2018). His 48.2% hard contact rate in the majors last year has me drooling, and I think he’s a really solid late-round flier in all formats if you have the space to stash him on your bench and see what happens.
Favorite Pick: Scooter Gennett
Sleeper Pick: Corey Dickerson
Potential Bust: Bryce Harper
Best Value Pick: Andrew McCutchen