The past three years, our Justin Mason has organized too-early mock (#2EarlyMock) drafts ahead of the next fantasy baseball season. The 15-team snake drafts have taken place each September, which means I’m recounting this about two months too late. However, with some early offseason developments and the release of Steamer’s 2020 projections, the wait at least offers the benefits of both hindsight and foresight.
There’s no such thing as average draft position (ADP) data in September, so we rolled into these drafts blind to everything but our own recency biases. The dynamic is compelling, if frequently odd, and can be difficult, frustrating, but ultimately enthralling to endure. Ideally, my commentary here will not painfully boring and might provide insight into my “process” on a microcosmic level.
My draft was not without fault, but I do feel good about it. I’d like to think that means something, as someone highly critical of his drafts and rarely feels truly “good” about a roster I’ve compiled. I don’t play in many deep leagues, so 15-team drafts routinely jack me up. Somehow, I feel like not having ADP information actually benefited me; I feel like I scripted my draft more cogently than usual. But also, it’s fairly clear where I made suboptimal decisions. Overall, I don’t think it turned out half-bad, especially for a 15-teamer.
The results of my draft follow, and the minimum (“Min”) and maximum (“Max”) pick information comes from Smada’s ADP information compiled from all six #2EarlyMock drafts.
1.07 Gerrit Cole, HOU SP
Min 5, Avg 11.0, Max 16
I don’t trust myself to not botch my rotation, something I’ve managed to accomplish each of the two Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational (TGFBI) seasons (a 15-team format). There’s a pretty easy argument to be made Cole is (real and fantasy) baseball’s #1 starting pitcher, and I anointed him as such as the first pitcher drafted in any of the six mocks. His floor is so absurdly high, and his age insulates him from injury more than Max Scherzer (1.09), who ended up being the true #1 SP by ADP.
With the juiced ball making pitching a sh*tshow, I’m keeping a close eye on the starting pitcher market. We drafted five among the first 20 picks: Cole, Scherzer, Justin Verlander (1.10), Walker Buehler (1.12), and Jacob deGrom (2.20). My top-five will likely consist of these fellas but certainly not in this order.
2.24 Adalberto Mondesi, KCR SS
Min 15, Avg 21.0, Max 32
A potentially hot take: Mondesi should be a 1st-rounder. His last two seasons, prorated to 600 plate appearances: 19 home runs, 61 stolen bases, .268 batting average. The speed is truly game-changing and not remotely empty, replete with the counting stats most speedsters lack. I’m unconcerned about purported injury risk. In terms of draft position, if I end up at the front end of a draft order, I will target Mondesi heavily at the end of the 2nd round or beginning of the 3rd.
3.37 Clayton Kershaw, LAD SP
Min 33, Avg 39.2, Max 55
Not my favorite pick; I hoped Blake Snell might fall, but in a room full of sharps, it was wishful thinking. All of the pitchers who immediately followed Kershaw, in order: Lucas Giolito, Patrick Corbin, Aaron Nola, Stephen Strasburg, Luis Castillo. The idea of a “true ace” is nice, but I betrayed my desire to acquire bankable innings. Kershaw’s back throws a very big wrench into that plan. This pick dictates a lot of the rest of my draft, and despite me kicking myself here, I do think I responded adequately and rounded out my rotation strongly to offset this early risk.
4.54 Gary Sánchez, NYY C
Min 54, Avg 68.3, Max 92
So… Justin runs #2EarlyMocks and TGFBI, both 15-team leagues. The former is a one-catcher format, the latter two-catcher two-catcher. I conflated the former with the latter and drafted Sánchez aggressively thinking I’d need a second catcher later. I ended up setting the minimum pick for him, so it’s clear I could’ve waited. When it comes down to it, Sánchez has averaged 33 home runs per 500 plate appearances. We don’t use the term “bell cow” for baseball, but there are few true “bell cow” catchers who produce reliably.
In hindsight, though, I would’ve rather taken a power bat in the 3rd round and a pitcher in the 4th round. Pitchers still available after Sánchez but before my next pick: José Berrios, Charlie Morton, Noah Syndergaard, and Chris Paddack. Gosh dang, I love Morton, and I didn’t think he’d go as early as 57th, given how underrated he has been the last two years.
5.67 James Paxton, NYY C
Min 67, Avg 79.4, Max 93
Two consecutive rounds, two consecutive minimum picks. Drafting Sánchez too early cost me an opportunity to draft Morton. I like Paxton a lot, and I’m fairly unconcerned about 2019’s struggles, but if we’re talking about bankable innings, I failed myself again; all I did was guarantee a month of Paxton on IL at some point.
We’re already approaching early minefield/glob territory here (Paxton was SP21). I’m not a huge fan of many of the arms who follow in the next couple of rounds — Corey Kluber, Zack Greinke, Trevor Bauer, and some closers — but I do love the idea of taking Yu Darvish (7.92) in the 6th round and jumping on Joey Gallo here in th 5th instead. He was next in my queue after Paxton — and was selected immediately after Paxton in the draft.
6.84 Eddie Rosario, MIN OF
Min 65, Avg 75.8, Max 84
Rosario is the kind of player whom Statcast underrates. I love him, and I think others do, too, so the fact he fell to me in the 6th round was fortuitous. Power, average, and a splash of speed that, to beat this word to death, is “bankable” — I’ll take it.
A closer run began four picks prior with Aroldis Chapman (6.80), followed by Kirby Yates (6.85), Josh Hader (6.87), and Roberto Osuna (6.90). Personal preference among these four: Hader, Yates, Chapman, Osuna. Not even sure yet I have Chapman and Osuna in the top-4, but I wouldn’t rule it out — just haven’t done my bullpen research yet.
* * *
Steamer projections through three hitters and pitchers apiece:
(561 PA on average – 80% of playing time, 20% to be filled by depth)
704 K (10.8 K/9)
(32 GS on average – 91% of starts, 9% to be filled by depth)
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7.97 Matt Olson, OAK 1B
Min 72, Avg 99.5, Max 119
With premium power going at premium prices, Olson appears poised to be one of 2020’s bigger market inefficiencies. Those of us excited about Olson will benefit from his early-season injury that cost him April and some of May. He was one of five hitters who slugged at least 36 home runs from May 7 onward. A superb consolation prize for those of you who miss out on Eugenio Suárez in the 4th round.
8.114 Justin Turner, LAD 3B
Min 105, Avg 117.0, Max 125
A pretty tightly clustered ADP for Turner, who may never play 150 games again but, like Rosario, provides power and average. His frequency and quality of contact is so incredibly good despite his age that, at this point, I’m drafting tools and praying for 500 PAs (not dramatically dissimilar to my approach with Kershaw or Paxton, but with much less risk attached).
9.127 Edwin Encarnación, FA 1B
Min 127, Avg 145.2, Max 167
Eight straight seasons of 30-plus home runs. The batting average slowly declines, and his chance of accumulating 600 PAs declines with it, but I will gladly cash in on EE’s age-based discount for some cheap, productive power. That I may be able to wait another round to grab him is icing on the cake. It would be a crime against humanity if his career ends abruptly this offseason because of CBA-induced cold stove nonsense.
10.144 Miguel Sanó, MIN 3B
Min 139, Avg 166.7, Max 214
Wide-ranging ADP. Not sure what to make of it from a predictive standpoint. Pretty easy 30-homer power and an average that won’t kill you. He has yet to play 120 games in a season, let alone 150, so there’s opportunity for a Joey Gallo-esque glow-up (albeit in Lite form).
11.157 Max Fried, ATL SP
Min 123, Avg 142.6, Max 157
I’m not, like, super stoked about Fried or anything. He does fascinate me, though: his entire arsenal is ground ball-oriented and still accumulates whiffs. In a power-saturated league context, the idea of all of Fried’s pitches being partly insulated from the rabbit ball is intriguing. There’s an element of lower ceiling but higher floor (in other words, maybe more stability and/or fewer blow-ups). In other words, an element of safety that makes him interesting, especially as a deep-league SP4.
Shocked Zac Gallen (12.169) went this low given all the hype.
12.174 Hunter Dozier, KC 1B/3B/OF
Min 106, Avg 128.5, Max 174
So… in September, I loved this pick. Looking back on it, though, Dozier was incredibly lackluster from late May onward. His early-season shine carried him for a long time after it wore off, and I’m not convinced it’s something he could repeat. Certainly, we’ve seen the ceiling, and it’s tantalizing — but a repeat of the last four months of 2019 is waiver wire fodder in shallower leagues and a late-round bat in deeper ones. We’ll see, but at this point, I think I’m out.
13.187 Hector Neris, PHI SP
Min 187, Avg 232.0, Max 268
This felt like a panic pick when I made it, but at SP15 overall, I could certainly do worse. I love splitters and I love Neris’ peripherals. A 17.6% swinging strike rate (SwStr%) — 16.5% for his career? That plays, especially if you can look past how fickle reliever-seasons can be. David Robertson will still be recovering from Tommy John surgery, leaving the door open for him to keep the job, and without significant competition, too.
There have been a lot of interesting picks at this point, where “interesting” could be either good or bad. I’ll say J.D. Davis at 13.193 is interesting — with a very positive connotation. If he’s this cheap come March, I will have tons of exposure.
14.204 Kenda Maeda, LAD SP
Min 199, Avg 221.8, Max 245
I don’t know how others approach mock drafts, but I try force myself to not draft players I like. It not only allows me to see how other people value a certain player but also forces me to adapt on the fly, a critical element of any draft. Partly why I’m not overly thrilled with this mock at this point is precisely from forcing myself into tough spots.
That said, if Maeda is still available after pick 200, I almost automatically have to draft him. Sorry not sorry.
* * *
Another Steamer projection check-in:
.258 AVG (–.003)
(591 PA on average – 84% of playing time)
3.54 ERA (+0.08)
1.17 WHIP (+0.02)
704 K (10.5 K/9) (–0.3)
(27 GS on average – 76% of starts *Maeda projected for 6 starts)
* * *
15.215 Cavan Biggio, TOR 2B
Min 203, Avg 229.0, Max 285
I expected we’d already see some Biggio helium in September. That he fell outside the top-200 in every #2EarlyMock suggests he could remain a bargain. There’s 25/25 potential, and while folks may be deterred by the strikeout rate (K%), Biggio’s contact skills are actually pretty nifty — he’s just a little too passive. His average exit velocity leaves something to be desired, but combined with his natural loft, he can support an above-average barrel rate. He led MLB in “Sweet Spot %” (whatever that is), trailed immediately by Trout — that should count for something, right?
I spoke briefly on Mitch Keller (15.218) at BaseballHQ’s First Pitch Arizona conference this year. A preliminary deep dive suggested to me he could go full Bieber or Corbin should he optimize his pitch mix (that is, throw fewer than 60% fastballs). To be clear, Bieber or Corbin would be his ceiling, but it’s certainly a nice ceiling, and any movement toward it would make him intriguing in all formats at a decent price.
16.234 Lance McCullers Jr., HOU SP
Min 166, Avg 253.7, Max 333
SP2 (and 4.5 WAR) upside from my SP6, who is roughly SP70 overall (it’s hard to tell with how many SP/RP floaters have been drafted). Injury risk is a concern, but I could do worse than two-thirds of a season from what once appeared to be an ace-caliber starter. I would argue McCullers possesses the highest upside of any arm left on the board, at least among known quantities. (Certainly, some pitcher will add three ticks of velo and pull a Giolito this year, but you can hardly anticipate those leaps forward.)
17.247 Dallas Keuchel, ATL SP
Min 173, Avg 232.2, Max 265
I didn’t know I was getting value relative to ADP at the time, but it certainly felt like value I couldn’t pass up. Despite low strikeout totals, Keuchel has proven himself somewhat shielded from the juiced ball. Dude has a 3.33 ERA since the start of 2014 and has recorded an ERA above 3.75 only once in that span (2016). Truthfully, I would’ve taken Ross Stripling (17.246) here had I not been sniped (my first snipe! in the 17th dang round!). In retrospect, I think I actually trust Keuchel more. Maybe? Not sure. But as my 7th starter, I’ll take it.
18.264 Luke Jackson, ATL RP
Min 264, Avg 417.3, Max undrafted (x3)
As for Jackson, I like him, which is why I drafted him. Anything can happen in 60 or 70 innings; Jackson suffered some bad luck but has borderline elite peripherals to show for it.
We are firmly in Sometimes This Guy Goes Undrafted territory, so I’ll keep an eye out for names who pique my interest. Yandy Diaz (18.270) and Cesar Hernandez (19.275) have very different but equally easy paths to profit from here.
19.277 Jay Bruce, PHI OF
Min 277, Avg 418.5, Max undrafted (x3)
I’ve seen quite a few mock drafts at this point, and Jay Bruce continues to be an afterthought in all of them. It’s fair; Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen are immovable objects. Odúbel Herrera… I mean, I guess he’s better? Maybe? Bruce might play a few times a week a nd fill in for injuries.
I’m feeling less confident the more I discuss it. Then again, when March comes, I will have already done my depth chart research as opposed to shooting from the hip. Whoops!
Not totally sold on the Dinelson Lamet (19.282) hype but hard to complain with his price here. (To be fair, I still need to do my research on him.) Daniel Vogelbach (19.283), Alex Verdugo (20.287), and Wilson Ramos (20.293) should easily profit here. Giovanny Gallegos (20.289) is purely prospecting for saves, but he could be one of baseball’s best closers if the Cardinals let him. Same with Nick Anderson (16.228), who went several rounds earlier.
20.294 Josh Rojas, ARI 2B/OF
Min 256, Avg 322.2, Max 360
If you don’t follow me closely, you don’t know that Rojas is my pick to click. Last year, it was McNeil (and Domingo Germán, on the pitching side of things); I’d like to think he worked out all right. Per Dan Szymborski (of ZiPS fame), Rojas has the biggest improvement in 2020 projection of any player in baseball. Of literally everyone! The biggest improvement! ZiPS pegs him for something like 20 home runs, 35 stolen bases, and a .265 average over a full season. If there is any merit to ZiPS’ prognostication whatsoever — and, in my humblest of opinions, I believe there is — then I’ll be hoarding Rojas next year (at pretty much any price, but especially outside the top 300).
Griffin Canning (20.295) is Nick Pollock’s (of PitcherList) pick to click, and I imagine I will find myself liking Canning once I eventually emerge from my deep dive on him this offseason. Gio Urshela (20.299) has been all but disregarded. That’s fair, but in light of some of the picks before him, it seems crazy.
21.307 Josh James, HOU SP/RP
Min 271, Avg 307.0, Max 329
Another Josh, another current or former Astro… James is highly volatile and may not even crack the Astros’ starting rotation come March, but there’s some semblance of early-career McCullers here. If anything, he’ll provide massive K’s with a solidly high ceiling. If he busts, he’s an easy cut. Perfect type of player to grab early in the offseason.
22.324 Kole Calhoun, LAA OF
Min 225, Avg 328.2, Max 382
Would’ve been an easy path to profit if the Angels picked up his option, but Jo Adell knocking down the door, the writing was on the wall. Some other team should scoop him, presumably as a starter but possibly as a platoon bat. He’s better than that, and if you’re already drafting for National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC), he makes for an amazing late-round target that will appreciate immensely once he signs somewhere.
Ender Inciarte (22.330) could have a huge bounce-back year; the Braves are committed to him financially, and his defense plays even if his bat doesn’t. Formerly a virtual lock for a .290 average and 20 steals, it’s not outrageous to me that he could return to that level with full-time reps. Mike Tauchman (23.334) is the GOAT.
* * *
The penultimate Steamer projection check-in. It currently excludes Calhoun, who, because the Angels just declined his option, does not have a playing time projection. Also, given the current state of my pitching staff, I have 191 starts projected for six slots – almost the exact maximum per slot Steamer will project. Anyway:
.255 AVG (–.003)
(535 PA on average – 76% of playing time)
3.65 ERA (+0.11)
1.22 WHIP (+0.05)
1,526 K (10.0 K/9) (–0.5)
(32 GS on average – 91% of starts)
* * *
23.337 Josh VanMeter, CIN 2B/OF
Min 300, Avg 382.2, Max undrafted (x2)
I do like VanMeter — he cracked my Peripheral Prospects list more than once — but I botched my queue. This pick was actually supposed to be Jose Urquidy (23.349), who, in a cruel twist of fate, went 12 picks later. I swear to the baseball gods I set Urquidy ahead of VanMeter, so I’m going to treat this pick as if I nabbed him instead.
Regarding VanMeter, though: my work on deserved barrels suggests JVM was one of MLB’s unluckiest hitters in 2019. He smashed at Triple-A but failed to do so when he debuted with the Reds. However, his combination of average exit velocity and launch angle suggest it’s not unwise to hold out hope for a delayed breakout.
23.337 Jose Urquidy, HOU SP
Min 326, Avg 382.2, Max undrafted (x2)
Gallen is 2020’s wide-awake sleeper, and rightfully so — he was probably Triple-A’s best pitcher, at least by measure of strikeouts minus walks (K-BB%). Urquidy, however, was 2nd-best, and by a remarkably insignificant margin. He possesses solid secondaries and a potentially lethal slider (23.5% swinging strike rate), although it remains to be seen if we’re being bamboozled by small samples. There’s a great shot he starts the season as Houston’s 4th or 5th starter. If he resembles his 2018 Triple-A campaign even just slightly, there’s tons of value here. If Rojas is my hitter to click in 2020, Urquidy is my pitcher, and I will be hoarding him, too, at pretty much any price.
24.354 Salvador Perez, KCR C
Min 286, Avg 380.7, Max undrafted (x2)
I’ll chalk up this one to folks not remembering he exists. I know catchers had something of a renaissance last year, but Perez has been a top-10 catcher basically every year since he’s entered the league and the #4 catcher in both 2017 and 2018. Obviously, if I can get this kind of value here, I don’t need to expend so much draft capital on Sánchez, especially in a one-catcher league. In a two-catcher league, this is gold. But, again, I don’t expect this to happen in 2020 NFBC drafts.
25.367 Brett Gardner, FA OF
Min 367, Avg 429.7, Max undrafted (x3)
26.384 Nick Markakis, ATL OF
Min 359, Avg 393.5, Max undrafted (x1)
27.397 Tony Gonsolin, LAD P
Min 311, Avg 411.0, Max undrafted (x2)
28.414 Matt Shoemaker, TOR SP
Min 365, Avg 417.7, Max undrafted (x2)
So much boring value, I don’t want to waste your time. Gardner (who should inevitably sign somewhere) and Markakis remain locks for boring, cheap profit — not substantial profit, but profit nonetheless. Shoemaker can provide quality innings — it’s just a question of how many.
Gonsolin is the most intriguing name here; he threw his splitter and slider 175 and 116 times, respectively, last year, and recorded swinging strike rates (SwStr%) of 20.0% and 21.6%. Just one of those being elite would suffice; potentially two puts him in rarefied air (in terms of pitchers with multiple truly plus secondaries — we’re talking Snell, Carlos Carrasco, Kenta Maeda, and few others). I don’t know what the Dodgers plan to do with him, nor do I know if Gonsolin’s offspeed stuff truly is elite, but it’s worth the incredibly low late-round risk to find out.
This draft was kind of insane, and I think there were moments when the room had silently agreed to not take certain guys just to see how far they’d fall. Miguel Cabrera (25.368) is a salient example.
Matt Strahm (25.369) remains interesting to me, unfortunately, because of relative success once he was demoted from the rotation. Alex Wood (25.375) is a worthwhile flier given his track record. Aaron Civale (25.374) is not totally on my radar, but damn, do the Indians love manufacturing arms like his. David Fletcher (25.379) is an extremely low-ceiling asset but carries a sneaky floor given his propensity to hit for average and steal a few bases here and there, not unlike Luis Arraez (16.231), who was drafted literal days earlier. The Homer Bailey (26.386) resurgence is either brilliant or insane.
The catcher market in this draft was so distorted, it’s almost not worth analyzing in any context but its own. Only 17 catchers were drafted among 15 teams, which, whatever, to each his own. Francisco Mejía (19.272), Willians Astudillo (19.276), Buster Posey (22.320), and Yadier Molina (23.345) went before Carson Kelly (25.361), Omar Narváez (25.372), and Danny Jansen (27.403). I would round out my top-10 catchers with those three and Perez before targeting the former four. Also, Will Smith was drafted as the #5 catcher (12.177).
* * *
OK, here’s the final team and projection:
7,034 PA (77% of playing time)
208 GS (100% of starts)*
*This assumes a strategy of six full-time starting pitchers and a swingman 7th slot. So, I assume 32-start capacity for the first six and 16-start capacity for the 7th, which is populated by a weighted average of my latter four SP picks. Two hundred and eight starts total.
* * *
My intent to “force myself into uncomfortable positions” worked for most of the draft, but I fell into old habits as soon as I picked Bruce. Everyone after that was someone I liked for being a boring old guy or a not-boring young guy. I guess at a certain point (especially that late in the draft) there’s only so much straying from the path you can do. Last thing I want to do is pick guys who I don’t normally target who I think might pay off? I dunno. Catch-22 there. Anyway.
Drafting in September is tough, but this is a sturdy team, as far as projections go. The league-average ERA, per Steamer, is in the high fours, so a 3.74 relative to that is superb. It might not take down a field of 300 or 3,000, but a solid rotation with nearly 350 homers and triple-digits steals could easily win a league, if my memory serves me correctly.
Then again, projections are projections. The season writes its own story.