(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)
I both love and hate October drafting.
On one hand, I love that there is no fantasy offseason. We’re out here grinding day in and day out trying to find hard data, fun facts, and value points long before the new season starts.
On the other hand, it’s not easy! You’re doing a lot of the legwork trying to figure out your own rankings, guessing potential ADPs with very limited data, and in some cases, just trying to remember what happened over the last 6 months. You’ll end up kicking yourself for thinking you had another few rounds before you took YOUR guy, or you’ll lament completely forgetting about a great value until an opponent takes him off the board.
With that in mind, here are the thoughts and ideas that ran through my head in this fun Mock Draft exercise with a very talented and knowledgeable group of players. Check out the complete draft board and the entire staff’s draft reviews here.
First, I made my own draft list based on ADP (not my own rankings) to use on CouchManagers. Why ADP and not rankings? Because I wanted a quick reference on when to expect players to be taken off the board. At this early stage, my own rankings and the ADP. I used the ADP from the 2 Early Mocks run by Friends with Fantasy Benefit’s Justin Mason and compiled by Mat Adams (also known as Smada) as a guide, though I did have to recognize the differences in format. Credit to those two (and all those who participated), who put in a lot of work to make a very useful dataset.
I wanted to also make sure I knew the room. Our draft featured some of our finest pitching gurus, prospect hounds, and hitting analysts, so I had to assume that no player would go unnoticed, and stalked their work a bit to see their tendencies. While a bit creepy, it certainly helps when you’re trying to figure out if your player is going to make it back to you next round or if you’ll need to reach on a guy you like because it’s someone else’s major sleeper pick.
Finally, I made sure to remember that in a 12-team H2H categories format, punting a category and streaming starters is a very viable option if I’m not able to find strong value in those spots early in the draft. I also decided that I would probably wait on a shortstop, as that’s probably the deepest position in fantasy and I only am required to start 1.
Round One (3): Jose Ramirez (3B, Cleveland Indians)
I made this decision before the draft even started. There’s a 0.0001% chance Trout or Mookie will get to #3 in any draft, but I was happy to get Jose Ramirez. He jacked 39 bombs while swiping 34 bases this season, continuing his rise as one of the best players in baseball. He almost doubled his walk rate as well, which helped him post a .388 OBP.
While I see him as the clear-cut choice in this spot due to his 5 category contributions, there are those who would pause based on his 2nd half decline. It’s true that he only managed a .223 batting average and that his hard contact rate dropped to 28.5% after the break (it was 40.8% in the 1st half). Bad luck likely played a major role in his second-half struggles, as his BABIP dropped to .213 and his HR/FB% was cut in half.
The 26-year-old looks like a lock for a second consecutive 30/30 season, and I will take every share I can.
Round Two (22): Ronald Acuna, Jr. (OF, Atlanta Braves)
I was ecstatic to see the young star fall to me here. I expected him to go at the turn, as the young NL Rookie of the Year candidate posted a fantastic season, providing power, speed, and on-base skills worthy of the hype train that followed him. While that is exciting on its own for a 20-year-old, it’s worth remembering that he lost a month of the season to a sprained knee. In the 82 games following his return, he hit 21 of his 26 home runs and stole 16 bases.
Acuna is part of the future — don’t get left behind.
Round Three (27): Giancarlo Stanton (OF, New York Yankees)
Based on the tone of the discussion about him, you’d think he just had a terrible season. While he didn’t repeat his legendary 2017, he was tied for 5th in HR (38), stayed healthy for yet another full season, and piled up the counting stats. Consistency in the power department is also useful in H2H category leagues, and he mashed no fewer than 5 bombs in each month. It’s noteworthy that he swung at more pitches outside of the zone and also swung and missed more often than he did a year ago, his final numbers were still fairly close to his career averages. If 35+ home runs and 200 R+RBI is the 152 game floor, sign me up.
Round Four (46): Juan Soto (OF, Washington Nationals)
I never intended to take all 3 of my starting OF in the first four rounds, nor did I intend to take two of the youngest players on the board. That’s the fun of drafting — sometimes things just sort of happen and you have to roll with the punches. Soto, who no one really expected to debut until at least 2019, found playing time thanks to a slew of injuries to Washington’s outfield and played so well that the Nats had no choice but to keep him up. The power and counting stats are great, but what’s even better is the plate discipline. A 16% walk rate and 20% strikeout rate is fantastic for any hitter, but for a 19-year-old with only 35 PA in AA and 0 in AAA? That’s almost unheard of. The craziest part, if this wasn’t crazy enough, is that he kept it up all season long. He made adjustments all year and posted an OBP of .400 or better in 3 of the 5 months he played, with a low mark of .383 in September.
Round Five (51): Patrick Corbin (SP, Arizona Diamondbacks)
I was REALLY hoping to grab Matt Carpenter here, but Ben Palmer broke my heart. Instead, I went with a breakout SP star in 2018, though many were very worried early in the season due to a dip in velocity. He had the 4th best SIERA (2.91) in baseball and was in the top 5 pretty much all year long. Not bad for the 15th SP off the board, eh?
It was at this point that I realized that I’d have to strongly consider drafting as if I’d be utilizing streaming throughout the year. So many other teams jumped on SPs before I did, and it would have been foolish to try and catch up through the draft.
Round Six (70): Xander Bogaerts (SS, Boston Red Sox)
If you asked me how old Xander will be at the start of 2019, I’d have probably guessed very wrong. It feels as though he’s been around forever (mostly because he has), which makes you forget that he only just turned 26. He provided value across the board in 2018 and made significant strides in his quality of contact. He missed out on double-digit steals for the first time since 2014, though a fractured ankle he suffered in April likely attributed to that.
Xander was the 8th SS drafted, which speaks to the depth of the position and reinforced my strategy going into the draft about waiting for SS.
Round Seven (75): Craig Kimbrel (RP, Free Agent)
Someone will hire one of the best closers of all time (that’s not hyperbole, folks) to pitch the 9th, and it won’t really matter who. Control issues plagued him late in the season, but his track record is enough for me to ignore all that. Knowing that I’ll be streaming SP all season means that I’ll want to have guys like Kimbrel picking me up in strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP in the event that I miss on a streamer or two — which is an absolute certainty.
Round Eight (94): Nelson Cruz (DH, Free Agent)
Yawn. Another year, another season of power out of Nelson Cruz. I’m not worried about his DH-only eligibility (we have 2 UTIL spots), his FA status (he’ll find a job), or that he had his lowest batting average for any season where he played more than 100 games (his BABIP was 49 points below his career average). He somehow posted the best hard contact rate of his career, and most of his underlying numbers remain about the same. I don’t mind getting caught holding the bag on Cruz — I’ll keep drafting him until I see convincing evidence that he’s done.
Round Nine (99): Edwin Encarnacion (1B, Cleveland Indians)
First Base is not as deep as you think it is, but that’s OK because Edwin Encarnacion is here to help. Pretty much everything I said about Nelson Cruz applies here, except that EE is younger, is already on a good team, and has a valuable position he can play. Say it with me — old players have value too.
Round Ten (118): Josh Hader (RP, Milwaukee Brewers)
I have no idea if he’ll be the closer in Milwaukee, but I do know that he’ll continue to post elite strikeout numbers and ratios. He’s the rare type of RP that holds significant value EVEN IF he doesn’t get saves. This is a great add for those who plan to stream pitchers.
Round Eleven (123): Kyle Hendricks (SP, Chicago Cubs)
A rare value pick at pitcher, he has a career 3.07 ERA over 789 innings. I drafted him to help provide reliable innings, 10+ wins, and strong ratios. Even if the strikeouts leave a lot to be desired, my strategy of grabbing RPs to supplement those categories should make up for the deficiency.
Round Twelve (142): Dallas Keuchel (SP, Houston Astros)
Like the Cruz-Encarnacion picks, I wound up with back to back players with similar profiles. Keuchel cracked the 200 IP mark — a rare feat in today’s game — and provided relatively good ratios. Like Hendricks, the strikeouts aren’t great, but knowing that there will be electric reliever arms out there later, I don’t mind. I want the reliable innings and wins, which will be tougher to find on the wire.
Round Thirteen (147): Jose Leclerc (RP, Texas Rangers)
Speaking of electric reliever arms, I managed to snag one with my next pick. LeClerc has one of the most devastating pitches in baseball, a closer’s gig, and finally managed to get his walk rate under 15%. Those things, combined with my team’s composition, the uncertainty at closer, and his 1.56 ERA and 1.90 FIP made this an easy choice for me.
I was also trying to get in front of an RP run that I felt might be coming on, and sure enough, 4 more RP went before my next pick.
Round Fourteen (166): Corey Knebel (RP, Milwaukee Brewers)
When speculating on closers, I always put a premium on guys who can provide value even if they don’t get the role. That way, even if you miss the saves, you can retain value through other categories. While it may seem that I took Knebel because I wanted insurance for Hader (if that was the case, I’d look for Jeffress), I actually took Knebel because he’s had the role before and because of his elite strikeout ability out of the pen. It’s all part of that master plan!
Round Fifteen (171): Yoan Moncada (2B, Chicago White Sox)
A somewhat disappointing season for the former #1 prospect, who many (including myself) thought would be a 20/20 player with a solid OBP. I was still without a 2B at this point and was running low on guys I’d actually want to roster, so I felt a bit compelled to take one with upside here before the long 19 pick wait until I was up again. This was Moncada’s first full season in the Majors, and it’s not like he flopped completely. There’s plenty for him to build on here, and his team is 100% committed to giving him every opportunity to shine.
Round Sixteen (190): Stephen Piscotty (OF, Oakland Athletics)
I’ve spoken a lot about narratives in my work here, and there aren’t many as compelling as Stephen Piscotty’s. He was traded so he could be closer to his sick mother, who passed away during the earlier part of the season. I can’t pretend to know how that impacted him and his family, but I can say that starting in June, Piscotty flipped a switch and showed the promise we had seen in his prior years with St. Louis. There might be a 30 HR bat in here with a decent average, which I can’t pass up at this point.
Round Seventeen (195): Alex Wood (SP/RP, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Projecting this rotation is a fool’s errand right now, but Wood has been a strong starter for LA for the past 2 years, so I imagine he’ll get another crack at making 20-25 starts. His SP/RP flexibility is valuable in a format where 3 RP are required, and his strong ratios will continue to provide a cushion for any streamers I take on.
Round Eighteen (214): Sean Newcomb (SP, Atlanta Braves)
He struggled as the season went on, but if he can find regain his command over the offseason, he could be a valuable contributor. If he doesn’t, I’ll cut him for the next streamer.
Round Nineteen (219): Kenta Maeda (SP/RP, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Again, I have no idea exactly how this rotation will play out, but he’s under contract for 2019 and continues to post strong numbers when he’s in the rotation. If he lands a job at the start of the season, this is a great value. If he doesn’t, well, that’s OK.
Round Twenty (238): Willians Astudillo (C/3B, Minnesota Twins)
If you haven’t heard about him, go look him up. He was featured on numerous Batter’s Box articles and Add/Drop articles here due to his crazy contact ability that almost defies logic. He struck out just three times in 97 trips to the plate and walked just twice, but still hit for a .887 OPS. At a position where there are very few bats that won’t hurt you, I am all about taking a flier on the young Astudillo. His .355 batting average is elite at any position, and while it first seems like all luck, the Statcast data indicates he might just be as good as he looked (.334 xBA, .496 xSLG per Baseball Savant).
Round Twenty-One (243): Dellin Betances (SP, New York Yankees)
2018 was his third consecutive season of a 15+ K/9, and he has never had an ERA over 3.08 or a strikeout rate below 38.3% in any of his 5 full seasons. He may not get a ton of saves, but his elite strikeout potential and ratios are valuable on any roster (and especially mine).
Round Twenty-Two (262): Michael Wacha (SP, St. Louis Cardinals)
He’s not exciting, but a career 3.72 ERA with acceptable strikeout rates is worthy of a roster spot. He allowed 3 or fewer ER in 13 of his 15 starts and held opponents to 6 hits or fewer in 14 of 15. He might pick up a little steam in February when people remember he exists (he missed over half the season due to injury, but is expected back for Spring Training).
Round Twenty-Three (267): Ryan Braun (OF, Milwaukee Brewers)
This seems like a reasonable price to pay for a guy with a bit of pop and speed left. Despite another round of injuries, he had 20 HR and 11 SB. He’ll get playing time for as long as he can still stand and draw his salary, and for those in Yahoo leagues, he’ll be 1B eligible as well. I also expect the batting average to rebound when he’s on the field — he had an xAVG of .293 according to Baseball Savant. It’s hard to find solid batting average on the waiver wire, so grab it where you can. I also considered some other power bats here, like Randal Grichuk and Daniel Palka.
Favorite Pick: Xander Bogaerts at pick #70. (I love it when a plan comes together)
Sleeper Pick: Willians Astudillo at pick #238. (I love everything about this unorthodox kid)
Potential Bust Pick: Patrick Corbin at pick #51. (He’s my only guy that even resembles an Ace, and his track record is short)
Best Value Pick (other than mine): Michael Brantley at #115. (#40 overall on ESPN’s Player Rater for 2018)