An Early 1st Round for 2017

We haven’t even closed the book on 2016, but I’m already in a mock draft for 2017. What do you mean I have a problem? I don’t have a problem, you have a problem! I would normally say something trite like “it’s never too early to start studying for 2017”, but of course it can be too early. If I had done something in mid-May about the 2017 season, that definitely would’ve been too early. And let’s be honest, this current mock draft with the InThisLeague guys & company might also be too early for any sane person, but I take these bullets for y’all.

You’re welcome.

We’re just wrapping up the third round as it’s a slow mock so we’re going to focus on the first round of this 12-team standard 5×5 draft. Before we do that, let’s look at the ESPN Player Rater for the year so far. I obviously don’t think the top 12 from this year should comprise the first round, but I am interested to see how many of them go in the first round.

Here are the top 12 players for the year so far:

  1. Jose Altuve
  2. Mookie Betts
  3. Mike Trout
  4. Max Scherzer
  5. Jonathan Villar
  6. Kenley Jansen
  7. Kyle Hendricks
  8. Daniel Murphy
  9. Starling Marte
  10. Madison Bumgarner
  11. Kris Bryant
  12. Paul Goldschmidt

I was surprised to see Jansen that high. Everyone else makes sense and I’d say all of them except Jansen and Hendricks are legitimate potential first round picks. I don’t think we’ll see Villar, Murphy, or Marte go in many first rounds, but it wouldn’t be some jaw-dropping horrific pick. Yes, I include Villar in that camp. The top three from this season will be the top three in several drafts, though they weren’t in this mock. So let’s finally see how this first round has played out starting with the 12th pick. I picked 9th, by the way.

12th – Carlos Correa – I’m sure Correa’s season will be tabbed as a disappointment by many, but I don’t really see it that way. No, he didn’t pay off on his first round draft cost, but his .272 AVG, 69 runs, 19 homers, 90 RBIs, and 12 stolen base season is well within the range of outcomes we should’ve expected based on his electric rookie season. Of course, everyone wants the shining first rounder like Altuve who greatly exceeds their pick slot, but I just don’t want to get crushed by my first rounder.

The injured guy who plays like 30 games or worse, the guy who labors through a season with multiple nagging injuries and hits .220 with 15 HRs. We didn’t really see any of those in the first round this year. Giancarlo Stanton is probably the closest thing with a 25 HR/.244 AVG season in 108 games as the 11th pick. Thankfully, power was so plentiful this year that you might’ve actually found an adequate replacement for the other 15 or so homers you were hoping for from Stanton (if you were actually expecting more than 40 HRs from a guy who has never hit 40 HRs, that’s your fault).

11th – Anthony Rizzo – This is another great example of a player who won’t “earn” his first round cost back while still being a perfectly viable first rounder again in 2017. In fact, his 2016 is very similar to his 2015 save one major difference that was pretty easy to see coming: fewer stolen bases. He swiped 17 bags in 2015 after netting 16 in 1827 PA prior to that. He got those 16 on a 57% success rate, too, so it’s hard to be too surprised that he’s just 3-for-7 this year. You were buying a stable power force in a great lineup and if the SBs stuck, it’d be gravy. They didn’t, but you still have to be happy with .289-86-29-98 so far.

10th – Josh Donaldson – If you know someone with Donaldson who complained even 1% about him this year, smack them*. This is similar to Rizzo in that the only real difference for Donaldson is one we could’ve easily seen coming. There was almost no way he’d repeat the 122 R/123 RBI combo from 2015. He won’t barring something insane, but he’s actually on pace to increase his run output. If everything holds, he’ll score around 127 while driving in 104. He’s got 34 HRs leaving him an outside shot to crack 40 again, but no one is complaining if he “only” gets 37-38. Long story short, he’s been awesome again. Looking at hitters only, he’s 15th on the Player Rater. He’s every bit a first rounder again in 2017.

*don’t smack them, violence is never the answer

9th (me) – Bryce Harper – OK, maybe Harper is a bigger first round disappointment than Stanton. He was the third pick on average and he’s hitting just .247 on the year. But the counting categories have been solid. Eno regularly talks about eyeing a HR+SB total from players instead of getting focused on one or the other and Harper is actually pacing to beat his total of 48 from last year.

Thanks to a surge in steals, he’s pacing for a 51 total and sits at 45 right now with 24 HR/21 SB. Despite his huge season last year, he only had 99 RBIs so his 91 pace is palatable. I can’t sit here and tell you he hasn’t disappointed with that awful batting average, but I don’t think he’s the reason you didn’t win the title this year. His flaws could’ve been covered. I guess the bottom line is that I made an amazing pick. Right? RIGHT?!?!?!?!

8th – Jose Altuve – Back-to-back top six finishes on the Player Rater, including the #1 spot this year (it’s unlikely that Betts will catch him, but at worst he’ll be 2nd), still hasn’t earned Altuve the respect he deserves. I think this is a total steal at eight. I’d definitely take him over three of the seven we’ve yet to cover, I’m probably taking him over one other, and then I have him on par with the other three.

I thought the 15-homer power we saw last year was legitimate and instead he substantially improved upon it with 24 HRs and a fantastic .209 ISO. With a couple more points of batting average, he will set career-highs in four of the five standard categories with a .340-99-24-94-27 season. The beauty of Altuve is that it’s not hard to imagine a near-repeat of this amazing season, but even if not there is room for regression that won’t really harm you. He’s no worse than a top-three pick for me.

7th – Nolan Arenado – Here’s the guy I’d personally take Altuve, but I won’t crush anyone going the other way. A super-elite power source in Coors Field has a really high floor. He is essentially repeating his brilliant 2015 and will somehow only be 26 years old next season. He’s once against leading all of baseball in RBIs and the National League in homers with sharp improvements in both his strikeout and walk rates. He sits 10th among hitters on the Player Rater which is exactly where he finished last year. He’s easily a top-five pick.

6th – Manny Machado – I don’t love this pick. It’s not that I can’t get behind taking the 23-year old superstar in the first round, but ahead of Arenado and Altuve is tough to justify for me. Machado has repeated everything except what made him a bona fide top-five type of guy: stolen bases. Similar to Rizzo, he had a big surge in stolen bases after a modest output prior to 2015. He stole 20 which doubled his career total through 1266 PA. He has zero this year. I know most people expected him to drop some form the 20 count, but ZERO?! Without stolen bases, how is he ahead of Arenado? Hell, even with 6 or 7, I don’t see a clear case to take him over Arenado.

5th – Paul Goldschmidt – Stolen bases have been a key discussion with several of these first rounders and Goldy’s 25 this year have been instrumental in sustaining his value after a power drop off that will likely result in about 10 fewer homers. Goldschmidt has set a new career-high with 25 SBs and now has at least 15 in four of his five seasons. We can’t know for sure, but it’s likely that injury is the only thing keeping him from 5-out-of-5 as he had nine in 109 games back in 2014.

I was a bit surprised to see him land in the Player Rater’s top 12 so far just because my mental perception has been that of a down season. I’m not sure where I got that, maybe I’ve carried his .247 AVG from April in my brain all year, but his lowest OPS in any month was the .816 of July so I’m completely full of shit with the down season thing. Goldschmidt is still a firm first-rounder for me, but I’d still have him closer to the 7th through 10th range.

4th – Mookie Betts – I remember taking heat for my Votto/Betts combo on the elbow of a 15-team draft at the Arizona Fall League because Correa was still available. Maybe Votto was the bigger objection of the two, but those jeering weren’t specific so let’s pretend they really hated the Betts pick so we can make fun of them! I was hardly alone in my Betts love this year. After all, he wound up just outside of the top 15 in average draft position this year, slotting 16th and going as high as fifth in at least one NFBC draft. He’s been everything the most aggressive projections could’ve hoped for and then some. For me, Trout is the only guy clearly ahead of him. At pick #2, I’m deciding between Betts and Altuve. Great scoop here at #4.

3rd – Kris Bryant – We have to be clear in differentiating between a bad pick and a pick you wouldn’t make. I wouldn’t take Bryant third, but I can’t clown it, either. The 24-year old has not only met, but exceeded the absurd expectations bestowed upon him so far. He greatly improved his biggest flaw – strikeouts – making him a better hitter across-the-board. The only area he’ll fall short from 2015 is – yep, you guessed it – stolen bases. But he has eight so far and should get another 1-3 which will leave him just a few shy of last year’s 13.  I have players I prefer in this spot over Bryant, but if I’m closer to the middle of the first rounder, he’s firmly on my radar. Amazing player.

2nd – Mike Trout – I know we haven’t really talked about a player’s stolen bases much in this piece—err… nevermind. I didn’t mean to make this so SB-centric, but it’s interesting how much they played a role in the fate of so many top picks this year. The knock on Trout… by the way, that is a stupid sentence to type. How is there a knock on Trout? Why did we try so hard to remove him from his perch? I was one of those dumbasses saying Harper > Trout this year. Cool life, Paul.

Anyway, the knock was that he wasn’t running as much anymore so see if you can mess up your draft by not taking him. So of course he surged back to 25 after a combined 27 in 2014-15. He won’t come near his 41 HRs from last year without a Dozier-esque run the rest of the way, but he’s already matched his 52 HR+SB thanks to the returned speed production. Let’s all just stop looking for reasons not to take him.

What more does a player have to do to earn the unconditional trust of the fantasy market? I can live with the guy who was taken first (who you’ve probably guessed by now), but there is no league where I personally wouldn’t take Trout first. Spare me the analysis on how he doesn’t hit enough triples or sacrifice flies or whatever other trash you want to throw out there as a reason to go elsewhere. Just take Trout and enjoy your money finish.

1st – Clayton Kershaw – Like I said, I understand this pick. I think there is a viable case for it and I’m not going to obliterate it, but I’m not making it myself at this point. He’s so clearly the best pitcher, it’s not even funny. I don’t really understand that phrase because I’m not sure at what level it would become funny, but just know that he’s the best. I’m not balking at him as #1 because of the injury, I just prefer Trout. I’ll listen more after the first pick, but I’m probably going Trout, Altuve, and Betts as my top three before considering Kershaw. His excellence is crystalized by the fact that he’s still 7th among starters on the Player Rater despite only 124 innings. He’s still ahead of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Justin Verlander, Noah Syndergaard, and Jose Fernandez (among many others, obviously) despite missing over two months.

OK, now you’ve seen the first round. What did you think? Anyone you definitely see as a first-rounder over these guys? Who was your favorite pick (you don’t have to say mine, even though we all know it was)?

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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It’s Trout. Don’t get cute. He’s done it for years. People should be wary of Bryce’s breakout 2015 when targetting Altuve or Betts with the first pick. They all provide 5 category production, go with the consistency. Pitchers break. Kershaw is a god amongst men, but this season he proved even gods can bleed…


Trout is just too damn consistent not to take #1. There’s too much risk that one of the other guys could have a down year compared to Trout. Take Trout and take a top 5 performance to the bank.