12-Team Mock Draft: Middle Pick (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
The start of every 2020 draft offers a clear top tier of superstars. Those picking at the end of a 12-team league, meanwhile, instead receive the luxury of choosing two studs from a deep grouping. So, with apologies to Jimmy Eat World, the middle doesn’t feel just right.
Assuming either Mookie Betts or Cody Bellinger don’t slip beyond the top five, there’s no obvious choice from the sixth or seventh slot. Do you want an ace? If so, that still leaves a tough call between Gerrit Cole and Jacob deGrom. Perhaps you prefer a hitter, in which case three stud shortstops (four if you add Alex Bregman) are beckoning for your attention. On the bright side, you’re likely to appreciate at least one of the players left in the second round.
No draft spot is a death sentence. With the right game plan, one can assemble a winning squad anywhere. Let’s see how the middle’s no-man’s-land plays out by conducting a test run from pick No. 6. I used FantasyPros’ Draft Simulator on February 9 to run a 12-team, five-by-five roto mock draft against the ECR and consensus ADP. Regardless of the pick number, this exercise clearly displays the risk and reward of early drafting.
1.6: Francisco Lindor (SS – CLE)
There’s a reasonable case for opening with an ace beyond the top five. The allure of a potential 25-homer, 50-steal campaign from Trea Turner is also mighty tempting. Ultimately, I went the safest route with a five-category superstar. Lindor, a top-five lock before injuring his ankle last spring, returned in plenty of time to tally 32 homers, 22 steals, and 101 runs in 143 games. Turner and Trevor Story each have a higher ceiling, but I’ll take the highest floor with my first pick.
2.7: Jose Ramirez (3B – CLE)
I was hoping J.D. Martinez would slip, hardly an unreasonable request given his No. 21 ADP. He went the pick before mine. With Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rendon, and the top-four aces all off the board, Ramirez was a no-doubter pick here. Over the last three seasons, he’s hit .283 with 30 homers and 25 steals per season. He rebounded from a brutal start to bat .321 with 18 homers in his final 48 games, so the 27-year-old could easily provide first-round value once again.
Others Considered: Walker Buehler
3.6: Mike Clevinger (SP – CLE) [Injury Alternate: Shane Bieber (SP – CLE)]
I considered scrubbing this pick from the record books, but it’s a good reminder that injuries are inevitable. Days after completing this mock, news broke that Clevinger needed surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his left knee. A six-to-eight week timetable means he likely won’t be ready for Opening Day, making this an overpay now. That’s quite the bummer, as he was my preferred ace in this territory. In limited time, Clevinger ranked second in FIP (2.49) and fifth in strikeout rate (33.9%) among all starters with at least 120 innings pitched. If getting a do-over, I’d still continue my coincidental Cleveland love by drafting fellow ace Shane Bieber. This also creates a treacherous uphill battle for the rest of my high-risk staff. Given the benefit of hindsight, I would have solidified more safety.
4.7: Ozzie Albies (2B – ATL)
With Charlie Blackmon and George Springer both grabbed right before me, Albies was simply the best player available. He’s played all but six games in the last two seasons, notching 24 long balls and triple-digit runs each time. He might also deliver 90 RBIs if spending the entire season batting second behind Ronald Acuna Jr. He’ll steal around 15 bases, and this is all assuming the 23-year-old doesn’t take a Lindor-like leap.
5.6: Giancarlo Stanton (OF – NYY)
After drafting three well-rounded infielders, Stanton’s league-winning power upside warranted a gamble in the fifth round. Steamer projects him to pop an MLB-high 48 homers, but 2018’s 38 wouldn’t be catastrophic if he stays healthy and tallies 100 RBIs and runs apiece for the Bronx Bombers. Maybe it was an unnecessary risk with the always-reliable Nelson Cruz still available, but I figured I could potentially also get the perennially underrated DH later.
6.7: Luis Severino (SP – NYY)
In hindsight, the fifth round might have been the time to snag another ace. Clayton Kershaw, Lucas Giolito, Charlie Morton, and Zack Greinke all went in a star-studded pitcher run. The likes of Yu Darvish, Noah Syndergaard, and Tyler Glasnow resemble a noteworthy dip from those guys, but a healthy Severino still has the makings of a top-20 stud. Although rolling the dice on Stanton and Severino is a bit risky for my tame blood, both fell to tempting prices.
7.6: Jose Abreu (1B – CHW)
Unfortunately, I lost the game of chicken with Cruz. Honestly, I probably should have just taken the sure thing over Stanton in the fifth. Eloy Jimenez also went right after I snagged Severino, leaving me with a much different choice of Abreu or Tommy Pham. I might have gone Pham if I hadn’t started with a strong five-category foundation, but the unheralded Abreu is a stable bet to hit .280 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs in the heart of a refurbished White Sox lineup.
8.7: Marcell Ozuna (OF – ATL)
The Draft Wizard told me Ozuna would offer the biggest lift. As tempting as it was to take Marcus Semien or Carlos Correa, I took the simulator’s advice. A career .273 hitter, Ozuna batted .243 last season despite posting the best walk (11.3%) and hard-hit (49.2%) rates of his career. Statcast’s .288 expected average thus makes sense. Even a .270 average would look good alongside 30 homers and a ton of RBIs batting cleanup behind Acuna, Albies, and Freeman. He may not steal 12 bags again, but seven or eight would do just fine.
9.6: Jeff McNeil (2B/3B/OF – NYM)
I didn’t need McNeil’s high batting average after already ascertaining a sturdy hitting foundation. In fact, the Draft Wizard advised me to take Mets teammate Michael Conforto instead for extra pop. Ultimately, I went with the best player on my board. After notching 24 homers and a 143 wRC+ in 567 plate appearances, McNeil is getting miscast as an empty source of batting average. He started pulling the ball far more over the final two months, leading to a dozen long balls in his final 40 games.
10.7: Sonny Gray (SP – CIN)
I would have welcomed Carlos Carrasco here if taking safer staff anchors. I have no interest in paying for Gray’s 2.87 ERA and 29.0% strikeout rate from 2019, as they’re not fully backed by a 3.42 FIP and 11.3% swinging-strike rate. It turns out nobody else is, as he’s readily available as a steady third starter. At this cost, I just want him to pitch to his career 3.53 ERA with around 185 strikeouts in 175 innings.
11.6: Edwin Diaz (RP – NYM)
This is around the point of the draft where I like to get one higher-end closer. Brad Hand and Kenley Jansen both went earlier in the round, leaving four candidates (Diaz, Ken Giles, Craig Kimbrel, Taylor Rogers) before a notable drop. I’m covering up Diaz’s 5.59 ERA to see a 2.63 SIERA and 39.0% strikeout rate from a 2018 superstar who only turns 26 in March.
12.7: Lance Lynn (SP – TEX)
I really wanted Max Kepler here. I went with Lynn, however, because the Pick Predictor didn’t provide strong odds of him or Max Fried falling to my next pick. While Kepler was also unlikely to slip, I figured I could at least get Franmil Reyes or Kyle Schwarber as a nice consolation prize for big power. Lynn just tallied 246 strikeouts with a lower FIP (3.13) than his ERA (3.67). I’m willing to bet on the late-career breakout as my fourth starter.
13.6: Franmil Reyes (OF – CLE)
Kepler didn’t make it, but neither did Fried. Let’s expand the Cleveland collection with Reyes, who rocketed 37 homers with a .360 expected wOBA. The not entirely absurd ceiling is 2019 Pete Alonso. Forty long balls with a .250 batting average isn’t a terribly unrealistic ask.
Others Considered: Kyle Schwarber
14.7: Elvis Andrus (SS – TEX)
Largely neglecting speed following my early-draft foundation, Andrus provides nice value at this stage of the draft. He’s now stolen at least 20 bases in 10 of 11 MLB seasons while offering a bit more pop in his later years.
15.6: Nick Anderson (RP – TB)
OK, so maybe I rigged the system here. I did this mock shortly after the Rays shipped Emilio Pagan to the Padres. In fact, the Draft Wizard recommended Pagan as the top lift despite him now occupying a setup role to Kirby Yates. Anderson will absolutely go higher once more drafters and analysts process the news, but I jumped his 218 ADP. He finished second to Josh Hader in strikeout and swinging-strike rate among qualified relievers, so even 15-20 saves in a committee would make him a terrific fantasy asset in standard leagues.
16.7: Luke Voit (1B – NYY)
I’d been eyeing Voit for quite some time, but I was able to draft him right near his ADP. Since joining the Yankees in late 2018, he’s slashed .280/.384/.517 with 35 homers, 100 runs, and 95 RBIs in 157 games. He seemed on the verge of validating last year’s immense hype, batting .280/.393/.509 before suffering an abdominal strain at the end of June. Voit underwent bilateral core surgery in late October. At the beginning of February, the 29-year-old told the New York Post‘s George A. King III that he has “never felt any better in my life.” My team is going to be in good shape if the Yankees transfer their New York injury curse back to the Mets in 2020.
17.6: Luke Weaver (SP – ARI)
Weaver was on the cusp of a breakout before injuring his forearm in June. The Arizona righty logged a 3.03 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 4.86 K/BB ratio before landing on the shelf for nearly four months. Every pitcher carries significant risk at this stage of the game, so I’ll roll the dice on a potential third starter as an inexpensive fifth option.
18.7: Justin Upton (OF – LAA)
Once an annual 30-homer presence, Upton is now poised to flank Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon in the Angels’ lineup. A knee injury limited him to 63 ineffective games last season, but plenty of power upside remains at little cost.
19.6: Joe Jimenez (RP – DET)
This was a close call between Jimenez and Giovanny Gallegos. While the St. Louis reliever recorded far better ratios in 2019, Jimenez has a tighter handle on his team’s closing gig. I went with the surer bet for saves after already taking a risk on Anderson parlaying elite stuff to an opportunity in Tampa Bay. Like Anderson, Jimenez elicits tons of whiffs with a nasty slider that can hopefully at least lead to a sub-4.00 ERA.
20.7: Shin-Soo Choo (OF – TEX)
What did Choo ever do to any of you? The veteran outfielder routinely waits far too long to hear someone say, “I Shin-Soo Choose you.” This mock was no exception, as he dropped to the 20th round despite just posting 24 homers and 15 steals with a sterling .371 OBP. Not bad for a cheap utility option.
21.6: Francisco Mejia (C – SD)
Because the Draft Wizard’s automated teams will draft two catchers, Yadier Molina, Sean Murphy, and Jorge Alfaro went in three of the four picks before me. I’ve seen it happen in actual leagues before, so it’s a useful practice to stay on your toes. Rather than risk settling for Robinson Chirinos in the final round, I went for the last guy remaining with easy top-10 upside at the position. While I’m not banking on a breakout, Mejia showed some post-hype promise by hitting .305/.355/.511 in the second half.
22.7: Khris Davis (DH – OAK)
Wow, I forgot that Davis was still available. Sure, I’ll use a bench spot on someone who eclipsed 40 homers and 100 RBIs in three consecutive seasons before a lost 2019.
23.6: Ross Stripling (SP/RP – LAD)
Serves me right for doing an assignment ahead of schedule. At the time of this draft, it appeared Stripling was swapping Los Angeles organizations. The trade fell through, so he’s currently slated to have his innings carefully curated once more by the Dodgers. If he only costs a bench spot, I’ll happily grab him anyway. Over the last two seasons, the righty has registered a 3.47 ERA and 190 strikeouts in 176.1 innings when starting. The 30-year-old will ideally begin the season in the rotation like last year, giving me a top-50 starter until the time comes to pull the chord. Besides, there’s still a chance the Dodgers send him elsewhere before Opening Day.
24.7: Scott Oberg (RP – COL)
Shortly after conducting this mock, Rockies manager Bud Black said Wade Davis will close for Colorado. Yes, the same Davis decimated to an 8.65 ERA in a disastrous 2019. Oberg, meanwhile, posted a 2.25 ERA and 26.0% strikeout rate before a blood cot ended his breakout season in August. If he usurps the job early and gets me cheap saves, great. If he’s not closing later in April, I’ll cut my losses on the penultimate pick.
25.6: Brendan McKay (SP – TB)
In light of the Stripling news, I would have been better off taking the boring, but durable Jeff Samardzija to round out my spot. Dylan Bundy also might have been a better lottery ticket, but I ultimately decided to swing for the fences with McKay. If he opens in the bullpen or minors, I’ll drop him. If not, I have a 24-year-old who netted a 4.03 FIP and 56 strikeouts in 49 big league frames as a rookie.
Not accounting for Clevinger’s injury, the Draft Wizard awarded me an A-minus (92 out of 100) with no major strengths nor glaring weaknesses. That, of course, would change if I had to play out the season with my staff anchor on the shelf for a prolonged period. I didn’t locate enough cheap speed to fully capitalize on my early foundation, but I can still compete there while possessing plenty of pop because of the flexibility afforded by taking Lindor, Ramirez, and Albies early. The projections don’t seem to be factoring in any saves for Anderson or Oberg, and I can finish better than seventh in strikeouts if Clevinger and Severino come back healthy. Maybe everything will be just fine after all.