We often hear the adage “you can’t win your draft in the first round, but you can lose it.”
No, you can’t.
Even a total flop of a first-round pick doesn’t preclude you from winning your league. It’s just not how baseball drafts work. Leagues are largely won in the middle and late rounds of drafts. We as a fantasy baseball industry probably spend too much time on the first couple rounds when it comes to article and podcast analysis, but then in October we hear stories from champions about how the picks that clicked from the 10th round and later were instrumental in their title runs.
For today’s exercise, I’m going really deep. Let’s take a look at the average draft position (ADP) data from last year’s NFBC Main Event and put together the best team I can using players drafted after pick 300 (21st round or later). Admittedly, this is hardly a perfect exercise. First off, of course having the answer key makes life easier, but there’s also the fact that not all of these guys emerged immediately so even in cases where they were drafted, many were likely cut before they broke out and wound up performing for a different team.
Since we can only get so much information from a look back, I’m also building team based on ADP of The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational (TGFBI), thanks to the data collection by the ever-brilliant Smada_bb. The Main Event hasn’t started yet and the Online Championship leagues are only 12-teams so it’s not as deep. And I wanted to use something with FAAB so the Draft Champions, while plenty deep, are draft-and-hold leagues so this felt like the best comp. Smada’s spreadsheet can be found here and the ADP tab is at the bottom if that link doesn’t default right to it.
First, our 2019 team.
There are some absolute gems who you could’ve drafted and held all year because they were good from jump street. Others were finagled onto this fictional roster with the benefit of hindsight, namely Hiura. He was drafted in six Main Events, but I’d imagine he was cut by most of those teams before his May 14th arrival.
It’s just so hard to hold a stash for a month and a half when you only have seven reserves and no IL/minor league spots. Hiura was a borderline inclusion whereas I couldn’t justify someone like Bo Bichette, who came up on July 29th. No one was holding him that long so it didn’t really make sense to have him on this team.
The offense was passable, but not the strength of this club. This group’s best asset was their .271 AVG while they hit 345 HR with 1009 R, 1001 RBI, and 85 SBs (their weakest category). All told, it netted 1290.5 offensive points when slotting into the 2019 Main Event standings, not exactly a standout performance.
Consider that the 100th place finisher put up 1882.5 offensive points and you can get an idea of how short this offense comes up. If we just take the two best offensive categories from first place, we’re almost at our fictional team’s entire output. Abdul Madani amassed 1129 points in SBs (567) and R (562). Of course, the idea isn’t that you’d build your entire offense after pick-300, but rather find some key gems that push you to victory.
OK, now we’re talkin’! This staff is stout. Look at all the gems we pulled and only three come before pick 386. We all know pitching is the most volatile component of our game and absolute monsters emerge out of nowhere every year. 2019 was no different as you can see here. It’s hard to pick the ace of this squad with Giolito, Lynn, Soroka, and Minor all dominating in 174+ innings. Odorizzi only threw 159 but he, too, was excellent. In fact, only Fried posted an ERA higher than 3.67!
This group put up a gaudy 2297.5 points. That far exceeded the 100th place finisher we compared against on offense as they had just 1849.5 points. The group even held their own against the overall winner all things considered. Madani’s staff put up 2617 pitching points, which is still a 319.5 point edge, but again, all of our guys come pick-300 or later!!!
I didn’t really have to stretch for any of these starting pitcher inclusions, either, in that they all could’ve been drafted and held to the point where their success kicked in. Most were strong off the rip. Giolito had a 6.19 ERA through three starts, but he opened with a gem at KC which likely bought him some time with his drafters. He flopped against Seattle his next start, but anyone holding him likely sat him for the trip to New York against the Yankees.
So it was one up, one down before he faced KC again to close the month. The tough part would’ve been holding him through the injury he suffered in that start as he returned on May 2nd and from there was a monster the rest of the way (3.19 ERA in 158 IP). The lookback isn’t meant to be perfect anyway, though, so I’m just showing the talent that was available as a jump off to highlight some guys I like post-300 this year.
THE 2020 CANDIDATES
There are a lot of similarly talented catchers going 300 or later after last year’s rise of the C2. Any two of Roberto Perez (pick 303), Robinson Chirinos (314), Jason Castro (329), and Tucker Barnhart (346) should be just fine for this exercise. Maybe Tony Wolters (460) finally leverages Coors or Mike Zunino (432) hits his weight (235 lbs.) for the second time in his career or Chance Sisco (400) delivers on his prospect hype.
I’ll slot Perez and Castro in for this team, but I’m keeping an eye on a pair of Austins as intriguing C2s, one of whom doesn’t even have catcher eligibility yet. Austin Allen is the backup to Sean Murphy in Oakland and while many love Murphy, I’m always skeptical of rookie backstops. Allen hit 13 HR per 350 PA in the minors with a healthy .296/.354/.490 line in 1998 PA with his best work coming at Double- and Triple-A (.856 and 1.042 OPS totals, respectively). The other is Austin Nola in Seattle.
He is the backup to Tom Murphy and while he can’t be slotted at catcher just yet, he could earn eligibility rather quickly into the season. He’s a righty like Murphy, but Nola hits same-handed pitchers a lot better than the starter. Murphy managed just a .653 OPS against righties last year while Nola had a more capable .748 mark in 177 PA.
Murphy will get plenty of starts against righties, but there aren’t a ton of lefties on Seattle’s early season schedule. Plus, when they do face a southpaw, they could put Murphy at DH over Daniel Vogelbach to save his legs a bit and let Nola sneak some starts that way, too. It’ll likely take at least a month before Nola gets the required 10 starts to re-gain catcher eligibility, though he’s a solid reserve on merit alone after a .796 OPS and 10 HR in 267 PA last year.
- C1: Roberto Perez (303) and C2: Jason Castro (331)
Before the Marlins started making a lot of nice acquisitions to thicken up their offense, I’d have loved to take Garrett Cooper for one of these spots, but I’ll have to relegate him to watchlist status until some time opens up for him.
I could again consider the Mariners and take rookie 1B Evan White (310), who signed a surprise deal ahead of his MLB debut this offseason. The 24-year old is jumping directly from Double-A and while he could be a nice AVG asset immediately, I’d like more power at these positions. Another potential Mariner is the venerable Kyle Seager (306), who closed with a strong .260/.339/.524 and 17 HR in the second half last year.
But we’re not just replicating the 2020 Mariners here.
I’m going to be a super-homer and slot Miguel Cabrera at 1B. You cannot prove that this is entirely based on his hitting 2 HR the other day off some scrub starter for the Yankees (Jeret Koal or something?!). I know, I know, I was just saying how cooked he is less than a month ago. Of course, recommending him in something like this is a lot different than drafting him as, say, a top 300 pick.
He is legitimately slimmed down and I know a lot of people bristle at the whole “best shape of his life” thing, but I don’t understand why someone being in much better shape wouldn’t be a huge positive, especially for an aging player whose health has hindered his production recently. Cabrera isn’t going back to peak Miggy or anything like that, but I’ll take .290 and 22 HR if the health is legit and he plays 140+ games.
At 3B, I’m taking a major rebound candidate in Travis Shaw. After back-to-back 30+ HR seasons, Shaw labored through a horrific 2019 during which he posted just a 47 wRC+ with 7 HR in 270 PA. An ill-fated swing change sunk his season before it ever got going. It wasn’t all terrible, though, as he raked during his demotion to Triple-A (147 wRC+, 12 HR in 174 PA). I think an offseason spent getting his swing back to normal will foster a bounce back campaign with a high-20s/low-30s HR count and solid RBI totals batting fifth behind the Kin 4 (Bichette, Biggio, Gurriel Jr., and Vlad Jr.).
There are many options for my CI: another former Brewer trying to rebound like Jesús Aguilar, his replacement in Milwaukee, Justin Smoak, or perhaps even Matt Carpenter, a veteran 3B who is just a year removed from an MVP-worthy season. I like all of them and if I was doing a reserve roster for this exercise, at least one of them would make the cut. But I’m going for Eric Thames as my corner infielder.
Thames is headed to Washington to be the strong side platoon at first base. He posted a 117 wRC+ with 25 HR in 459 PA last year and I’d gladly take a repeat. In fairness, all four of these options have pretty similar projections so I ended up choosing the guy on the best team and coming off the best 2019 of the bunch.
- 1B: Miguel Cabrera (387), 3B: Travis Shaw (336), and CI: Eric Thames (418)
Why is every Mariner a relatively viable pick in this exercise?!?!? I kinda want to take Shed Long Jr. for second base as he’s got a shot at leading off for the M’s and he’s a very reasonable double-double candidate (perhaps even 15+ HR/SB). He had a decent little sample last year that yielded a 111 wRC+ with 5 HR and 3 SB (19 HR/12 SB full season pace).
It’s admittedly dangerous to extrapolate a 42-game sample for a full year so let’s put him down for a 15 HR and 10 SB and hope for some upside to come through here. So after considering a Mariner at every position thus far, I’ll actually take one in Long.
I’m putting a star by Isan Díaz as someone to watch or even put on a reserve list. The 24-year old former Top-100 prospect had a brutal 201 PA debut (53 wRC+), but he was awesome in Triple-A prior to his arrival, posting a 132 wRC+ with 26 HR and 5 SB in 435 PA. I really like him for NL-only leagues but I won’t rule him out for mixers if he starts to bring that minor league success to the majors.
For shortstop and middle infield, I’m grabbing a pair of SS-qualified bats, including one who has yet to play in the majors, but has the upside that can make this team pop off. First, at shortstop I’m going for a steady Nick Ahmed.
The defensive stud has guaranteed playing time so while he hasn’t eclipsed a 92 wRC+ in his six seasons, he has leveraged his volume of playing time into a pair of solid seasons the last two years. He only hit .254 last year, but had 19 HR, 82 RBI, 79 R, and 8 SB. I’d gladly take a repeat, but there’s even some upside if he can ever figure out righties. He did reach a career high .690 OPS against them last year and has improved each of the last three seasons, so here’s hoping he can finally push north of .700 against them.
OK, here’s the big gamble. At MI, I’m taking Jorge Mateo. Oakland has three guys fighting for two spots in Mateo, Franklin Barreto, and Tony Kemp. All without options and the latter being traded for this offseason meaning he could be favored for one of the spots. Kemp is also the only lefty so it seems like Mateo and Barreto are fighting for that last spot (I guess both could make the bench, but I think a primary OF will take one). I’m betting Mateo.
The 25-year old speedster hit 19 HR with 24 SB last year, though the rabbit ball being in Triple-A was evident here as his .289/.330/.504 line was worth just a 96 wRC+. I don’t even necessarily need the power to maintain, I’m buying Mateo for speed. I’d also be open to a trade that gives him a better path to playing time and I could definitely see the A’s moving one of Barreto or Mateo.
- 2B: Shed Long Jr. (338), SS: Nick Ahmed (354), and MI: Jorge Mateo (399)
With five outfielders, I have a chance to attack multiple categories. I’ve got a couple full-timers and some strong side platoon options who each specialize in a particular category. For the two starters, I’m going with Mike Yastrzemski from the Giants and Cameron Maybin from the Tigers. Yaz was quietly awesome in 411 PA last year (121 wRC+, 21 HR) with 73% of that playing time spent in the 1st and 2nd spots of the lineup. While he is an older “prospect” (age-29 season upcoming), the Giants have no reason not to give him full run in the outfield. He’s been primarily leading off in Spring Training, too. I’ll gladly take a .260 AVG and 25 HR.
I wrote about Maybin in the Tigers Closer Look highlighting how he’s changed his swing to tap into his latent power. The 33-year old is back for a third tour with the Tigers and should absolutely play as much as his health will allow. He only played 82 games last year, but his power metrics soared with a career-best .209 ISO that was supported by StatCast highs in Barrel Rate (10%), Exit Velocity (89 mph), and Hard Hit Rate (40%) while upping his Launch Angle from 7.5 to 11, too. His speed still slotted in the 87th percentile, too. There’s real 20/20 upside here if he can stay healthy (which has admittedly been a career-long challenge).
I’m attacking power, AVG, and speed with my three platoon outfielders in the form Mike Tauchman, Jesse Winker, and Jarrod Dyson. Tauchman’s playing time certainty has solidified this spring with the injuries to Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and I’m hoping he can build on his late-career breakout from last year (128 wRC+, 13 HR, 6 SB in 296 PA).
Winker’s price has absolutely tanked with the flood outfielders in Cincinnati, but he seems locked into a strong side platoon as long as his health maintains (like Maybin, that’s been a prolonged challenge). It seems that Aristides Aquino is headed to the minors, too, as he has options, finished the season terribly, and hasn’t done anything to turn that around this spring. Winker has a career 122 wRC+ with a .285 AVG and 18 HR per 500 PA.
The last outfielder is a pure speed play, even more so than Mateo. It’s Jarrod Dyson from Pittsburgh. He’s a definite platoon player, but he has shown throughout his career that he doesn’t need many plate appearances to deliver major SB contributions. He has 29 SB per 300 PA over his career and while he does hamper you at the other categories, it’s worth getting the SBs.
- OF: Mike Yastrzemski (309), Mike Tauchman (317), Jesse Winker (380), Jarrod Dyson (382), and Cameron Maybin (438)
OK, fine I’ll get a second Mariner here and take Evan White (310) because he has a full-time role and should be a useful batting average component for this team and AVG is one of the tougher stats to collect late in drafts, especially when you limit yourself to taking players after pick-300 like this.
- Evan White (310)
As you would expect, the pitching is rich with options. It’s not so much that they’re all awesome, it’s that the globs are plentiful making it difficult to choose between so many similarly talented arms. In order to cultivate my rotation and wind up with this year’s version of Giolito or Minor or Odorizzi, etc… etc… I will no doubt have to churn early on.
I don’t have that luxury in this exercise as the season hasn’t started, but this is my first run of guys and ideally a handful of them would stick and I’d continue to slot guys in via waivers over the first couple months. In October, we’ll know who the “right” picks were and there will definitely be a couple that I probably didn’t even give a single consideration to when finding my guys. Here’s what I’ve got, listed in order of ADP:
- Josh Lindblom | MIL (317 ADP): I’m excited to see what the one-time MLBer can do in his return to the States after winning two Cy Young equivalents in the Korean Baseball Organization. He is a ratios play for sure as I don’t expect major strikeouts and would be happy with anything north of a 20% rate.
- Kevin Gausman | SF (321): I stayed bought in on Gausman for years while pitching in Baltimore for cryin’ out loud, how could I possibly quit him when he’s headed out west to the best pitcher’s park in the game?
- Nathan Eovaldi | BOS (328): It’s never really been about talent, only health. I mean “only” sort of understates it as health is remarkably important and has consistently eluded the 30-year old flamethrower, but the upside is too rich to pass up in something like this.
- Kyle Gibson | TEX (329): He got off to a really nice start with a 3.70 ERA and 1.17 WHIP through 75.3 IP, but he was battling ulcerative colitis virtually all season and it eventually just wore him down, leading to an inconsistent second half. I’ll take a shot on the healthy iteration, especially after the spike in swinging strike rate to 13%.
- Pablo López | MIA (345): I highlighted Lopez in my piece about good pitches from bad pitchers (not truly bad, but those who had rough ERAs in ’19) and I think there’s a foundation to build on here.
- J.A. Happ | NYY (352): The 37-year old is an easy cut early on if he doesn’t pan out, but his core skills didn’t change that much last year so I’m not sure he deserved a 1.30 jump in ERA and 0.17 jump in WHIP. He refined his mechanics this offseason in hopes of getting back on track so I’m taking the shot on landing a high-3.00s ERA, low-1.20s WHIP, and nearly a K per inning with excellent wins opportunity as a Yankee.
- Taijuan Walker | SEA (467): I was definitely worried by the bullpen he threw a few weeks ago when he was sitting high-80s on the fastball as he was looking for a new club. He returned to Seattle and looked brilliant in his spring debut with the heater touching 96 mph along with 4 Ks in 3 IP of work. I don’t want to overreact to ST numbers, but I’ve always loved Walker so I’m excited for the return of a healthy iteration.
This might be the most difficult position for this exercise because it’s a blind guess. There are no locked in closers going post-300 right now so I just have to take some shots and hope to land 30-40 saves. There are some speculative ones like Shaun Anderson in San Francisco and of course the Mariners option is available at yet another position, but I don’t think we know if it’s Matt Magill or Yoshihisa Hirano at this point.
I’m eschewing those options and trying to spike a stud on a good team and then a former beast prospect on a poor team. With Carlos Martínez returning to the rotation and Jordan Hicks still recovering from Tommy John surgery, the closer’s role is open in St. Louis. I do like Giovanny Gallegos and if he were available post-300, I’d no doubt take him here, but he’s the odds-on favorite for the role.
Instead I’ll gamble on flamethrower Ryan Helsley, who can pop triple digits and had a solid little debut last year in 36.7 innings. If the 25-year old doesn’t emerge with the job, he could still be a ratio and strikeout stud for 60-70 innings while stealing a few saves. Although, it’s damn near impossible to compete in an overall contest while punting a category so I’d probably have to churn Helsley off the roster if Gallegos was locked into the 9th inning role. I don’t mind taking a shot on our theoretical “draft day”, though.
The other pick is Hunter Harvey. Mychal Givens is the incumbent, but a massive spike in homers (1.9 HR/9) could have the Orioles looking to Harvey instead. Harvey was a mainstay in Baltimore’s Top 10 prospect lists from 2013-17 and even a three-time Top 100 entrant, but injuries have ravaged his career and led to his transition into the bullpen.
He debuted last year and showed off a 100-mph fastball with a usable curve and splitter. Manager Brandon Hyde has declared that he’s “definitely an option” to close this season per Sportsgrid’s Craig Mish. Obviously the Orioles aren’t going to pile up a ton of wins, but I’d do backflips for 20 saves here.
- Ryan Helsley (355) and Hunter Harvey (379)
Take a look at the TGFBI ADP and let me know if there’s anyone going post-300 who you would’ve definitely included on the team.