My NFBC Draft at the Arizona Fall League: First 8 Rounds

Can you believe it’s already November? I always lament the end of the season, but the gold lining is my annual trip to the Arizona Fall League for BaseballHQ’s First Pitch Forum event. This was my 10th year attending, and I absolutely love it.

Not only do we get to watch live baseball from some of the best prospects in baseball, but there’s also nonstop fantasy baseball talk as well as the beginning of a 50-round draft and hold NFBC league. We run the first 23 rounds live in Arizona and then pick it up in January online for the final 27. Let’s take a closer look at the team I put together on Friday night.

Order is picked with the KDS method (Kentucky Derby Style) where you get to pick your slot from what’s left as your name is pulled out of the hat. I always aim for the 15 spot as I’m comfortable picking on the wheel and I especially like it in this draft because it gets the first pick of round 24 when we pick up in January. Over the coming months we will see signings and trades that will push players up the board making them worth well more than a 24th round pick and I like having first crack at those players.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get 15. It has become a desired spot in this draft so unless I’m pulled out of the hat in the first 4-5 spots, someone else usually nabs the prime spot. I was actually one of the last two out of the hat, but still got 11th pick. The depth of the first round makes a late pick as useful as ever. My early round gameplan was power and pitching. I generally wait a little too long on pitching, but with this being a draft and hold I obviously can’t play the waiver wire in-season.

The first 10 picks in order were: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado, Ronald Acuña, Jose Ramirez, J.D. Martinez, Francisco Lindor, Christian Yelich, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman. I considered three Nationals at this spot: Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, and Max Scherzer. I went with Harper, laying down the foundation for my power hitting. The round finished with Turner, Manny Machado, Paul Goldschmidt, and Trevor Story.

No pitchers in the first round was a bit of a surprise and standard NFBC drafts won’t see that happen. The first starter went right after Story at pick 16 when he was paired with Jacob deGrom. Before getting to my second pick, we had a major draft highlight when Rotowire’s Clay Link took Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at pick 18. This draft is known for pushing up the young studs so this wasn’t too much of a surprise. In fact, just a round later with pick 43, Link took Adalberto Mondesi.

Back to my team, I dove headfirst into the power plan with Aaron Judge joining my outfield. I’m feeling like I’ve got a relatively easy 70 HRs, 200 RBI, and 200 R with my first two picks here.  There’s even some AVG upside, though Harper did hit just .249 last year thanks to a brutal 1st half (.214), but he did rally with a .300 after the All-Star break.

I was seeking my ace with the third-round pick but had to watch as 11 arms went off the board between Judge and my next pick (in addition to deGrom and Scherzer just before I took Judge): Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Aaron Nola, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Noah Syndergaard, Walker Buehler, Luis Severino, Carlos Carrasco, Blake Snell, and Trevor Bauer. This left a pretty obvious name sitting there for me. I understand the concerns with Clayton Kershaw, but getting him at pick 41 as the 14th starter off the board felt like a slam dunk. I briefly considered James Paxton, though if my chief concern with Kershaw is health, a pivot to Paxton doesn’t make much sense.

While power and pitching were my main areas of focus, I couldn’t ignore speed completely so I went with a favorite of mine in the fourth round with Ozzie Albies. Sure, he only got 14 SBs in 2018, but he’s still got premium speed capable of nabbing 25+. Even though it’d have been my 3rd OF in five picks, I really wanted David Dahl next. I moved him way up my OF board thinking this would be early enough, but Matt Modica (@ctmbaseball) wasn’t having it and took the Rockies outfielder at pick 64.

So it back to the power in the fifth round with another favorite of mine, Matt Chapman. He did have thumb surgery in mid-October, but it’s not expected to interrupt his offseason and delay the start of his 2019 season. I think A’s 3B could pop 30 homers in a full season, but even a 2018 repeat would work with this pick. I was ready to get my #2 starter behind Kershaw and had two targets in mind for my next pick: Jameson Taillon and Zack Wheeler.

Rotowire’s James Anderson instantly cut that list to one by taking Taillon immediately after my Chapman pick, so I had to sweat through seven more picks and hope Wheeler made it. German Marquez followed Taillon and then two more starters went early in the sixth round as Scott Gilroy took Mike Clevinger and then Link took Jack Flaherty. Despite Taillon being Anderson’s only pitcher thus far, he didn’t go back to the well with his sixth pick and instead took Eloy Jimenez, leaving Wheeler for me!

I was hoping to get two of my Top 25 SPs to front my rotation and I ranked Wheeler 22nd in my recent Top 100 SPs so I accomplished that goal. Wheeler ran a 2.30 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 26% K rate over his final 17 starts (113.7 IP). I love that Wheeler’s fastball drove his success, but don’t sleep on his deep secondary arsenal.

More power in the seventh with another Oakland Matt in the form of 1B Matt Olson. I know some were expecting more from Olson when he hit 24 HR in just 59 games last year, but the 29 he did hit was still good to land in the top 30. Steamer has Olson down for 33 homers in 2019 and I think he has the raw power to push 40 if everything goes right.

The last pick I’ll cover here (picks 9-23 on Wednesday) is a real shocker so please sit down before reading this. You will never believe it, but I took Luis Castillo at pick 110, giving me three starters through eight picks. I’m nothing if not consistent as I took Olson and Castillo back-to-back in my #2EarlyMock draft and while it was a 12-teamer, the pick number for Castillo was exactly the same!

After eight rounds, I have a strong power base with four guys capable of 30+ HRs, three of my top 31 SPs, and a speedy middle infielder. On Wednesday I’ll cover the rest of my draft and share picks of the whole board from our first 23 rounds.

What did you think of my first 8? Any major concerns with the guys I selected? Who was your favorite of my picks?

We hoped you liked reading My NFBC Draft at the Arizona Fall League: First 8 Rounds by Paul Sporer!

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Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. He is the purveyor of the SP Guide (on hiatus for '17). Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer, on Snapchat at psporer, and on Twitch at psporer24.

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Jackie Bradley Jesus
Jackie Bradley Jesus

Overall I like what you did, but I think I’d have gone Trea Turner over Harper. I just think its really important to get steals out of guys that don’t crush you in other categories, and while Turner isn’t putting up first round numbers in the other 4, he does enough combined with his speed to make him an elite asset. I’d just prefer the Turner+Judge to Harper+Judge.