Mock Draft #1 In Review — Reviewing Travis Sherer’s Picks
Pitcher List is hosting a livestreamed Mock Draft every week during the preseason while our writers review their picks between each draft. Watch the stream and view the full draft board here.
After watching the video of our fearless leader Nick Pollack dissect everyone’s picks, it became clear that he saw my strategy — he just did not agree with it. I’m fine with that. After all, what’s better: asking for permission, begging for forgiveness, or saying “I told you so”?
I draft in any league to say “I told you so” when the season is over. Usually, saying “I told you so” means winning. I had a strategy for hitters and a strategy for pitchers, and I was able to accomplish both.
Let’s start with pitching. I have documented my thoughts on how managers should value all pitchers. The CliffsNotes: If you value relievers correctly, you can lean less on highly ranked starters (or starters in general) by selecting highly efficient, highly used, nonclosing relievers late in the draft to supplement your starters.
Because of my pitching strategy, I was able to prioritize (some might say “reach for”; you might even say “gamble on”) the kind of hitters I wanted: high average; moderate power; at times, moderate speed; and still untapped potential. I think that was achieved with the first six hitters I picked. Sure, not all of them matched all three categories, but they do fit the general theme of power plus patience.
Round 1: Mookie Betts (OF, Boston Red Sox)
The Mookie Monster was the obvious choice at No. 2 overall. The only other player I would consider is Jose Ramirez, but as I said, I wanted high-average players and Betts fits that bill better. No, I do not think he’s going to hit .346 again, but higher than .310 feels like a certainty. He’s a perennial 30/30 candidate. He can bowl a perfect game. He can finish a Rubik’s Cube. He can fly a plane. How does this relate to fantasy? It doesn’t — except to say that he does all this while he’s winning MVPs. All Mike Trout does is play baseball and eat at Subway.
Round 2: Juan Soto (OF, Washington Nationals)
I don’t understand why the hype isn’t higher for this 20-year-old in redraft leagues. OPS is a category in this fictitious league — and Juan Soto‘s floor in said statistic is as high as anybody taken after him for the rest of the draft. You might be thinking, “Soto’s only played 116 games; that is too small of a sample size,” and you’d be forgetting that Ronald Acuna Jr. only played 111 games. Let me tell you a few things about Soto: He rose through all five levels of the minors in just 122 games because he never hit lower than .320 or had an OPS below .950 (I’m not counting a nine-game stint in rookie ball when it was .810).
Simply put: He is a prodigy. Also simply put: He’s a better hitter than Acuna, who went seven picks earlier in the middle of the first round. Sure, Acuna can steal bases, but I’d rather have the better bat — steals can always come later. If you compare the very short careers of these two hitters, that Soto is the better hitter is the only conclusion you can reach. At just about every level in the minors and the majors, their numbers are as identical as they are staggering:
|Ronald Acuna Minors (259 games)||.301||.371||.468||30||166||122||101||240|
|Juan Soto Minors (122 games)||.362||.434||.609||22||77||102||58||66|
|Ronald Acuna 2018||.293||.366||.552||26||78||64||45||123|
|Juan Soto 2018||.292||.406||.517||22||79||70||79||99|
The difference is that Soto has a much better approach, striking out significantly less and walking significantly more. He was on pace for 100 walks last season — as a teenager! If I asked you to name the last time that happened, I wouldn’t even wait for you to answer. I’d tell you to shut up. It’s never happened, and you should know that.
Yes, there are some ground-ball issues, but he’s still developing, which means he’ll be a better player in the future. But he’s also a pretty great one now. It’s time we started viewing Soto and Acuna as exactly the same from a value standpoint. I’m not saying he’s going to hit .310, but I am saying he’s going to hit .295 or better with an OPS of .900 or better, which might be what Acuna does as well.
Round 3: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3B, Toronto Blue Jays)
Speaking of young hitters: Let’s check in on the maybe the best young hitter there is: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. It is true that I might miss two weeks of the season while the Toronto Blue Jays “work on Vladito’s defense.” I’m OK with that. Even with missing 1/12th of the season, I’d rather have Vlad than Giancarlo Stanton (injury issues), Javier Baez (approach issues), and Charlie Blackmon (age/Colorado issues) — the three hitters taken immediately after I made this pick. None of them have the hit tool Guerrero Jr. does, not even Blackmon. Also, and this is something I should have mentioned about Soto as well, Guerrero will hit third, fourth or fifth as soon as he gets in the league. He’s not starting his career in the seven or eight hole, so the run and RBI opportunities will be there.
Round 4: Carlos Correa (SS, Houston Astros)
This time two years ago, Carlos Correa was a top-15 pick. Why? Because he did this in just 109 games:
|Carlos Correa 2017||109||.315||.391||.550||82||24||84|
We’ve forgotten that Carlos Correa is an elite shortstop. Everything we’ve seen from him suggests he’s more like the 2017 version of himself than the 2018 version who slashed .239/.323/.405. Last year, he played like a guy who was constantly in pain, and considering he suffered back and oblique injuries throughout the season, he probably was every day. That would explain why even though his line-drive rate stayed the same (20%), his har- contact rate dropped considerably (from 39.5% to 28.8%). Sure, he’s got injury issues, but name me one elite shortstop not named Francisco Lindor who doesn’t. You’re essentially rolling the dice with any shortstop when it comes to injuries, and Correa has the most potential of Trea Turner/Trevor Story/Javier Baez.
Lots has been said about Jameson Taillon on this site, most of it very positive. I had the choice between Taillon and Walker Buehler, and I went with the pitcher most likely to hit 200 IP. I have no illusions that Taillon is more of a No. 2 fantasy pitcher, but he fits what I’m looking most: innings and room for improvement. Look at Taillon’s splits last year:
|Pre All-Star break||106.0||6-7||3.91||1.22||103|
|Post All-Star break||85.0||8-3||2.33||1.13||76|
To what can we attribute this change? The mastering of a slider. Taillon has developed a new out pitch and the results are more than promising. I’m banking on him being more like the post All-Star break pitcher than the pre All-Star break pitcher — at least that’s what I paid for.
Round 6: J.T. Realmuto (C, Philadelphia Phillies)
Gary Sanchez just left the board, so I decided to take the best catcher in the league in the sixth round. Forget the fact that he’s a catcher who has averaged .280 with 16 HR for the past three seasons. Actually, don’t forget that: What other catcher can you say that about? Buster Posey? Sure. But you can’t say that Posey will ever do that again. This is the baseline for J.T. Realmuto, who just got traded to a pretty good lineup and a more hitter-friendly ballpark in Philadelphia. No, I didn’t pick Realmuto on the off chance he gets traded. I picked him because combined with Correa, Baby Vlad, Soto and Betts, I have four hitters who will combine to hit .300 and slug .500 with the potential to be even better.
Which Stephen Strasburg am I going to get? The one who throws 170 innings, or the one who throws 120 innings? I don’t care. I’d rather get the one who throws more innings, but the reason I don’t care is the player I picked next. Strasburg and his career 3.14 ERA and 10 K/9 are what I’m picking. He’s likely to keep that up as his velocity hasn’t started to dip yet despite turning 30. He’s also the reason I picked Taillon two rounds earlier because now that I have one pitcher more likely to reach 180-plus IP, I can focus on getting starters who strike out a ton when they pitch, even if it’s not that often.
Josh Hader is the lynchpin of this pitching staff. If he is elite like he was in 2018, I planned to combine him with one or two other nonclosing relievers much later in the draft to supplement my starters. I’m sure there are a lot of people who think this is early for Hader, so let me explain very quickly why it isn’t. Picked just before him was Aroldis Chapman — the fourth closer off the board. Chapman had 18 more saves than Hader in 2018. That’s not likely to be the difference in 2019 — it’s probably going to be much wider. Who cares? Hader had six wins last year (that’s more than half as many as Jake deGrom) and 12 saves. Talk about a utility pitcher! But more importantly, Chapman isn’t getting drafted solely for his saves. He carries a great ERA (2.45 in 2018), a terrific WHIP (1.052), and always rings up legendary strikeout totals (93). Except Hader’s ERA is slightly better (2.43), his WHIP is much better (0.81), and his strikeout total (143) dwarfs Chapman’s. Also, Hader pitched 1.5 times more innings than Chapman in 2018 (81.1 IP to 51.1 IP). So not only is Hader more dominant when he’s out there, he’s out there much more often. Any questions?
No, Shohei Ohtani won’t be available Opening Day. But his rehab has not taken a step back. In fact, he has already been full strength training for a week down in Arizona. He’s on the path to recovery, and I would be very surprised if he’s not in the Angels’ lineup on May 1. Let’s use that as a jumping off point, shall we?
Because I think it’s important to lend perspective here: Ohtani will likely miss four weeks or less — meanwhile, three Rockies were picked before Ohtani (Nolan Arenado/Story/Blackmon), and one was picked the following round (David Dahl). To be clear: I’m not saying that Ohtani should be picked before those first three Rockies. What I am saying is we view being injured as being unplayable for a certain period of time, which should be taken into account, but we don’t take into account the six complete weeks that Rockies hitters are unplayable (or just plain average) when they are on the road. As far as I’m concerned, it is the same thing. Don’t believe me? The average OPS in the majors for an outfielder last year was .753. When on the road, Blackmon’s was .768. Blackmon was picked in the third round this year, and there are six full weeks during the season (including one during the fantasy playoffs) where he is on the road. Blackmon might as well be injured because the same player who I get to replace Ohtani for part of April will be predictably better than him for six weeks too.
Ohtani also missed roughly a month in 2018 after initially injuring his elbow and still ended up hitting about as well as him in almost half the at-bats:
|2018 Season||AB||Avg.||OPS||HR (per AB)||R (per AB)||RBI (per AB)||SB (per G)|
|Charlie Blackmon||626||.291||.860||29 (4.6%)||119 (19%)||70 (11%)||12 (8%)|
|Shohei Ohtani||326||.285||.925||22 (6.7%)||59 (18%)||61 (19%)||10 (9%)|
The production here looks awfully similar. Remember: We are comparing a third-round pick to a ninth-round pick. Sure, the ninth-round pick is injured for maybe a month, but the third-round pick will be predictably average for a month and a half of full weeks. Remembering where they are drafted, which is better?
Round 10: Jurickson Profar (1B/2B/SS, Oakland A’s)
Profar was my backup pick in case I got sniped for Eloy Jiminez (thanks, Ryan Amore). It’s possible he doesn’t quite repeat his 20 HR, 35 double performance in 2018 — even if he winds up playing more than the 146 games he played in Texas. He could easily eclipse that mark now that he is the clear starter at SS for the Athletics. Profar is the perfect candidate for a swing change, as his average exit velocity and launch angle are nothing to write home about. Three things Profar does have going for him, however, are: position plurality, speed, and his ability to control the strike zone. The homers are probably a little high, but I still see the potential for an .800 OPS here from a hitter who will come close to striking out as much as he walks. He can also swipe a bag or two. I feel comfortable putting him at 2B or even 1B in a pinch, which I might be in after letting many of the best first basemen go by.
Round 11: Jose Leclerc (RP, Texas Rangers)
And now we’ve reached my favorite closer. Just a few days before this draft, Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward announced Jose Leclerc would be the team’s closer in 2019. It doesn’t take Billy Heywood to make this decision. Anybody paying attention in 2018 saw a closer with upper 90s velocity who can cause batters to swing outside the zone (31.6% O-Swing), who can minimize hard contact (25%), and who can flat out pile up the strikeouts (85 in 57.2 IP) while avoiding baserunners (0.85 WHIP). Yes, he’s wild. Yes, he gives up too many fly balls. But I’m sold on everything Leclerc is doing to improve as a closer. And just because a team is rebuilding doesn’t mean its closer won’t get a ton of opportunities.
I can hear palms slapping heads with this pick. Some say it’s one round too early. Some say it’s two rounds too early. There are two reasons for this: He has a very short track record for success, and he might not even be a starter. You saw where I picked Hader. I actually hope he doesn’t become a starter. James has the kind of fastball/changeup/slider combination to wreak havoc in the middle innings. With a heater that averaged 97.4 mph in 2018 and a changeup about 10 mph slower that has some bite to it, he’ll rack up the strikeouts in either role, but the rest could suffer if he has to face a lineup three times. The best-case scenario with James is that he takes on the role of Brad Peacock in 2017 where he spot starts and is used in long relief. That way he can go four or five innings in a start and be used as a reliever in the same week.
Round 13: Franmil Reyes (OF, San Diego Padres)
My arms are LONG — because I reached for this pick. Franmil Reyes oozes potential with his mammoth size (6’5″ and 270 lbs.), his insane exit velocity (92.2 mph on average) and a … tiny sample size of looking like an all-star hitter. There are other hitters I could have taken at this point who will probably be more productive than #FreeFranmil this year, but none of them are without their faults. Rafael Devers is still out there, as is Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen. I could have filled my 1B hole with Miguel Cabrera. I chose to go with the prospect though and believe that what I saw at the tail end of 2018 wasn’t a fluke, partially because Reyes’ swing changes have yielded positive results and partially because I like Reyes as an asset more than I like the others. In terms of potential, he has the ability to post a .900 OPS. I don’t think he’ll get there in 2019, but he could. I can’t say that really for any of the other hitters I could have picked. I’m not a fan of 32-year-old McCutchen or 35-year-old Cabrera. I like Devers, but for 2019, he’s just as much of a gamble as Reyes. The decision here is really Polanco or Reyes. Call me a sycophant because I cozied up to the power.
I took Rich Hill for the same reason I took Strasburg seven rounds earlier: a 130 IP base of a 10 K/9 and a 3.50 ERA. This is what I hope to get out of the soon-t0-be 39-year-old. Any win over 10 that I get from Hill is a bonus, but once again, that is not why I made this pick. I don’t need innings as much as other managers might think I do because of how I construct my pitching staffs.
Overall, Hill’s pitch values took a slight tip in 2018. Is this the start of a significant depreciation? Maybe. I’m betting he has one more year of quality before he can’t hack it anymore.
Round 15: Amed Rosario (SS, New York Mets)
Amed Rosario showed a glimpse of his potential in the second half of 2018, slashing .263/.302/.383 and stealing 18 bags in 60 games. At this point in the draft, I’m in decent shape in the stolen base department, but it doesn’t hurt to have a decent hitting middle infielder who can help out. Until 2018, Rosario was seen as a very talented young shortstop who might not be able to hit major league pitching. Despite his size, he doesn’t have much pop. Ten homers is a good number; if he gets to 15, I’d be pleasantly surprised.
Round 16: Kyle Schwarber (OF, Chicago Cubs)
My outfield now consists of two of the best hitters in the league (Betts/Soto) and two powerful, potentially strikeout-heavy hitters in Reyes and Kyle Schwarber. Coming in hot during the 2015 playoffs, the book on Schwarber was his bat was so advanced, he’d be able to skip any traditional path in the minors and sped through five levels in less than 150 games. When looked at through this lens, Schwarber has been a disappointment so far. Neither his power (career-high 30 HR) or his contact (career .228 batting average) have lived up to expectations. His patience, however, has developed into an asset — and kept getting better. He only hit .236 in 2018, but because of his 78 walks, his OBP was a respectable .356. Because of his eye and above-average power, Schwarber consistently posts a .800 OPS, which is as good as you can hope for in Round 16.
Round 17: Jose Martinez (1B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals)
Ironically, if Jose Martinez weren’t so atrocious in the field, he’d be picked much higher in fantasy drafts. That said, Martinez does not have a position as we get ready to open camp, but there is a clear path to everyday at-bats that doesn’t count on a trade. As of now, Dexter Fowler is the Cardinals’ starting right fielder. And as of right now, Fowler is not a good player. He may be a better fielder than Martinez, but he is quite poor at the dish. The Cardinals will have to decide what they like more. Another path is Marcell Ozuna missing more time than originally thought after undergoing shoulder surgery just four months ago. If Martinez can get consistent at-bats, he’s a near lock to hit .300 with 15-20 HR and approach 100 RBI.
This is going to look awfully similar to James’ blurb. Julio Urias can be either a starter or a reliever in 2019, and I’m kind of hoping he is both. Despite needing the dreaded anterior capsule surgery — a procedure that has effectively ended some careers as recently a few years ago — the one-time phenom looked like his old self at the end of 2018. His velocity was back in his three relief appearances, and his secondary offerings started to come around. It’s hard to believe that Urias is still only 22. The Dodgers have said they plan to use him as a starter, and I’m fine with that, as long as his velocity (95-98) remains during longer outings.
Round 19: Nathaniel Lowe (1B, Tampa Bay Rays)
Nathaniel Lowe is my Plan C for first base. Will Lowe win the 1B job out of spring training? It’s difficult to say, but the Rays telegraphed that they believe he is the franchise’s future there when they cleared the way for him by trading fellow prospect Jake Bauer to Cleveland. So far, Lowe has been everything you’d want from a first baseman: patient and powerful. Through the highest levels of the minors in 2018, Lowe sported a 16% strikeout rate, a 12% walk rate, and a tremendous slash of .330/.468/.568 with 27 HR. Those numbers look an awful lot like Rhys Hoskins‘ minor league career. The Rays don’t have a better option (Ji-Man Choi) for this season and the foreseeable future.
Round 20: Jesus Luzardo (SP, Oakland A’s)
I believe Jesus Luzardo being available was a product of his name not being readily available on our mock draft’s interface. I have to believe that because if the other managers considered him here and picked, say, Jordan Hicks or Domingo Santana over him, I’d be scratching my head. Unlike some of the other rookies I have picked, Luzardo has a job in Oakland in April. The A’s have been quite clear that he could be anywhere in the rotation from No. 1 to No. 5 based on how he performs in spring. If it is anything like spring in 2018, he’d be their Opening Day starter. Luzardo has three plus pitches and the control to keep runners off the bases. He throws strikes, and he challenges hitters. Just ask Mike Trout. As a 19- and 20-year-old, Luzardo has been dominant at every level of the minors, except for a 16-inning stint in the hitter-friendly PCL.
Even though he’ll turn 31 in a few weeks, Peacock has improved his strikeout rate (13.2 K/9) in a relief role while bettering his walk rate (2.77 BB/9). In 2017, when the Astros didn’t have a historic rotation, he garnered 21 starts. Then in 2018, Houston added Gerrit Cole and got a full season of Justin Verlander, so the team didn’t need Peacock to start in 2018. I think this reverts back to 2017 because Houston’s rotation is already injured and simply isn’t as good. Re-signing Dallas Keuchel could change everything, but as it stands, Peacock ends up with the coveted SP/RP eligibility where he doesn’t take up a reliever spot and instead could fill in quality innings on days you have off. He can also start games for the Astros, pitch five innings, allow one or two runs, strike out seven or eight, and call it a day.
Round 22: Kyle Tucker (OF, Houston Astros)
Currently, Kyle Tucker doesn’t have an Opening Day gig (sound familiar?), but it is certainly possible that he does in two months. He’s blocked by a pair of 31-year-olds (Micheal Brantley and Josh Reddick) for left field and right field. Those elder statesmen would never be confused for iron men, so there is a chance he can work his way in through the bumps and bruises of others. It’s also fair to think he could simply outperform designated hitter Tyler White in spring to win a spot. Tucker has shown power and speed in the minors (.332/.400/.590 and 24 HR/20 SB in Triple A in 2018), but a homerless 21-game cup of coffee in the majors was a rude awakening. Hopefully he gets the opportunity to shake it off soon.
Round 23: Kyle Seager (3B, Seattle Mariners)
This is simply a bet that Kyle Seager will either bounce back naturally from an underwhelming 2018 or he’ll get traded to a more hospitable park for hitters — or both. Oddly enough, Seager’s contact rates do not show that he should be declining. In fact, his soft-contact rate in 2018 (11.8%) was the lowest of his career, and his 37% hard-contact rate was one of his higher marks. He’s also not selling out to hit the ball harder because his pull numbers are the same. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say his career-low BABIP mark in 2018 (.251) will right itself. Seager is only 31. There is still time for one more season slashing .270/.335/.450, and I’m hoping it’s 2019.
(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)