My LABR Mixed Review – The First 10 Rounds

Last night I partnered with Jason Collette for the LABR Mixed League Draft over at RTSports and aired on SiriusXM. We had the third pick in the 15-team league which uses the standard 5×5 categories and drafts a standard roster of 14 hitters and nine pitchers with six reserves. We didn’t need to have a full 23 before drafting reserves which can be interesting later in the draft when perceived talent at a position you’re full in ends up falling.

I’m going to take you through the draft with my thoughts. Keep in mind that we are a team so there was give and take. I’m going to point out some picks that were more Collette than me*, but that doesn’t mean I dislike them or anything. If I was vehemently against someone, I told him as did he with guys I’d suggest that he was way out on and then we moved on to another name. It’s rare that we have vastly different notions on a guy, so we came to a consensus pretty easily in most cases.

*And I’m sure he has picks are more me than him. That’s just part of team drafting and ideally you wouldn’t partner with someone who plays the game way differently than you or you’d just have a hard time coming to agreement on picks.

Without further ado, here are the first 10 rounds:

1.3 (round.overall pick) – Clayton Kershaw, SP, LAD – We discussed going with Giancarlo Stanton on Sunday’s podcast, but after some discussion on Sunday and Monday, we flipped to Kershaw. I think he is no worse than the third-best player behind Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen and there is a case for him over McCutchen. The biggest reservation that many seem to have with Kershaw is the idea that they get behind the 8-ball offensively and I just don’t see it that way. The offensive talent pool is tightly bunched from about the mid-first round through about the fourth round.

Additionally, Stanton, Miguel Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt, and Jose Abreu all have real questions hanging overhead and Kershaw has the unique combination of both a high floor and high ceiling. There is no more stable track record in the game than Kershaw’s right now. Yes, pitchers get injured, but so do hitters and three of the four offensive considerations at pick three already have an injury question mark stemming from 2015.

2.28 – Josh Donaldson, 3B, TOR – Honestly, this might be our favorite pick. Jason has been on Donaldson since the mini-breakthrough in 2012 and then touted him as someone to target in 2013 when he busted out. He was kind of a pipe-dream pick to make it back to us as we both believed you could make a case for him in the late-first, early-second. He has averaged 26 HR/96 RBI the last two seasons playing half of his games in Oakland where he is a substantially worse hitter for his career with a .442 SLG and 26.6 AB/HR compared to .474 and 21.5 on the road.

I originally looked at StatCorner and saw that his home run park factor is set to jump from 87 to 129 which is a three-year rolling average. Our park factors aren’t quite as aggressive, but still have him going from 96 to 110. Not only does his home factor jump, but the division is much better. By our PFs, only Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay plays below average for righty homers while the AL West had Oakland, Seattle, and Los Angeles playing below average. A 30-100 season is very much in play here.

3.33 – George Springer, OF, HOU – We originally planned to go Harper/Springer with picks two and three, but when Donaldson miraculously fell to us, we pounced immediately and then simply wanted whoever was left between the phenom outfielders. Jeff Erickson took Bryce Harper at 3.31 which essentially made our pick for us. I lean closer to the Fans projection for Springer than Steamer when it comes to his rates. I understand why Steamer has the outlook it does, but this is a growth profile and I don’t think he’s an automatic batting average drain. The strikeouts are a problem, but there is a perfectly reasonable chance that he cuts into that rate and hits or exceeds the .252 that the Fans see. Justin Upton was also a heavy consideration for me here.

4.58 – Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, LAD – Boring ≠ bad. I personally love Gonzalez and I don’t believe Jason feels quite as strongly, but he was completely on board with this solid, if unspectacular pick. He is a bankable 20-100 (and actually averaging 24-110 over the last four seasons). A .188 BABIP on groundballs ate up his average, but he was at .231 or better in each of the three years before last and has a .209 career mark. He had a .187 BABIP on grounders in 2010 and bounced back with a .238 in 2011. I don’t think he’s necessarily being eaten by the shift so there is a tinge of batting average upside here, too. At worst, he repeats which would totally work.

5.63 – Starlin Castro, SS, CHC – Middle infielders were flying off the board with 10 gone at this point, including five shortstops. Castro was easily my top SS left at this point after his big rebound in 2014 which he achieved despite playing just 134 games. Health and lineup improvement should increase his runs scored and driven in and he appears to just be scratching the surface of his power potential. Remember, he is just 25 years old.

The stolen bases evaporated in 2014 (4-for-8), his second down year on the basepaths, but we don’t need him to run to be successful and there is still an outside shot that he pops back up over double digits. The big critique we got here was not taking our second starter behind Kershaw, but we feel we got a frontline-potential arm for our #2 a couple rounds later.

6.88 – Brett Gardner, OF, NYY – Jason was pretty big on Gardner here as a primary speed component with the power upside he showed last year. His 11 percent HR/FB rate was a career-high by quite a bit (6.3% previously), but it’s not an egregious figure compared to league averages and it was paired with a career-high flyball rate of 37 percent so while the 17 HRs might not stick, he should be north of double digits. He is now three years removed from an AL-best 49 SBs, but sticking firmly in the 20s would work.

I was holding out hope that Dellin Betances would make it back, but he went in the early sixth. There was some Carlos Carrasco talk, but he was taken two picks before us and I also had a soft-lobby for Yan Gomes, but we had enough catchers left that we liked as our primary so we decided to wait. Gomes was taken two picks later by Erickson. Any real qualms I had with Gardner here were less about Gardner himself and more about the outfielders I felt we could get later who are likely to replicate and possibly exceed his production: Shin-Soo Choo, A.J. Pollock, Melky Cabrera, Leonys Martin, and even an unproven like Rusney Castillo.

7.93 – Alex Cobb, SP, TB – This may feel like a heavy Jason-influenced pick because it’s a Ray, but rest assured that I’m extremely high on Cobb myself. He was the 18th starter off the board and I have him valued as the 16th-best. I’m always more willing to bet on health than skills growth. Cobb hasn’t topped 166.3 innings, but the injuries suffered haven’t been chronic arm injuries that make me worried about him throwing 190+ innings. Several have been fluke injuries included a batted ball to the dome in 2013. When healthy, he has been a frontline-caliber arm posting a 2.82 ERA over the last two seasons, seventh in baseball among pitchers with at least 300 innings. His 56 percent groundball in that time is fourth and he still remains a strikeout force, too, with a strong 22.5 percent rate. We didn’t get the name brand of a Hamels or Zimmermann as our #2, but we got someone every bit as good two rounds later.

8.118 – Steve Cishek, RP, MIA – Our top two closer targets after Betances went off the board late in the seventh round in the forms of Cody Allen and Mark Melancon so we decided it was time to join the closer party for fear of being left with a flawed option as our top guy. Cishek has quietly been excellent over his career. He has increased his strikeout yearly with a career-high 30.6 percent mark last year and after a 10.6 percent high watermark for his walk rate in 2012, he has chopped it down each of the last two seasons down to 7.6 percent last year. He saved 39 for a 77-win club last year and even if you don’t see them as huge contenders this year, it’s hard not to see them as better in 2015.

9.123 – Russell Martin, C, TOR – After Cobb, the plan was pretty firmly to go closer-catcher. We had a trio of Martin, Brian McCann, and Travis d’Arnaud that we liked for our top guy. McCann went right after Cishek leaving us Martin and TdA. Martin is likely to see a batting average dip after a career-high .336 BABIP last year, but he is just as likely to see power surge to offset it. He hit 26 home runs in two years with Pittsburgh, but just nine of them came at home. I already mentioned how good the HR Park Factor in Toronto is, but he’s coming from even further depths than Donaldson as PNC Park was the toughest place for righties go deep with an 85 factor.

10.148 – Drew Smyly, SP, TB – Sure, Collette was beating the drum hard for Smyly, but it wasn’t a particularly tough sell for me especially as Gio Gonzalez went the pick before us. I’d have really angled for Gonzalez if available. Instead, we went back to the Rays rotation for another growth candidate. Smyly handled his first full season as a starter brilliantly, pitching capably enough for Detroit before a huge step forward with Tampa Bay after the Price trade. His stuff took a significant jump with his new club, particularly his fastball and cutter. He began commanding the stuff better than I’d ever seen in Detroit and the results were incredible. It’s a small sample and you can’t just extrapolate his 47.3 innings, but I think his composite rates (3.24 ERA/1.16 WHIP) over 185 innings are in play.

This piece would’ve been insanely long if I went through the whole draft today. I’ll finish it up tomorrow. The write-ups will be a bit smaller as we get deeper into the draft, but I think there is use in discussing mid-to-late rounds as this is often where the draft is won. The stars are fun to dive into, but it’s finding the next early round picks like Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley from last year that push you to a league title.

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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nice writeup, Paul. As I told you last night, I loved your draft. Good luck to you and Jason.