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The Perfect Draft (2020 Fantasy Baseball)

Mar 18, 2020

If teams go hitter-heavy early in the first round, taking Gerrit Cole as the top starting pitcher in the middle is a great choice

In each of the prior mock drafts or auctions about which I have written, I keep pointing to the first few picks as indicative of how I need to build the rest of my team. It’s interconnected. If I select a hitter in the first round — which happens more often than not — I am committing to taking a pitcher in the second round. Since I absolutely love some of the pitching options that are appearing after the fourth round, I am trusting myself to exhibit patience and load up on arms at that point.

What I have seen in real drafts is that pitching continues to carry a premium, and it has led to most pitchers going well before their average draft positions. It makes sense, as the risk associated with pitching injuries is so great that securing one of the “better” arms is worth more than the listed price. This continues to provide discounts for hitters, but it does put us in a position where we must overpay for a pitcher eventually.

Except, maybe we don’t. Maybe the purpose of this exercise is to layout the perfect draft from all angles. Not only will the players remain available when we need them, but the price we pay for each will be driven solely by ADP and not the action of others.

To counter the lack of realism — with no one sniping us, things could get out-of-hand and unfair — I will assume that all pitchers outside of the top-10 must be selected at least 5 slots higher than their position. I’m using 10 because most drafts feature inflation early, but there is also a clustering of pitchers after the first dozen or so. This is the best protection I can see.

It should also be worth noting that carrying a fake premium on a player in a mock draft is a great way to not get fooled during the real draft. Real drafts are unpredictable because of the level of importance.  Mock drafts are unreliable because of how few people stay to the end. Eventually, you’ll be competing against auto-picks, and they don’t operate as humans would. Act as if the players you want will get stolen during a mock draft, and proceed accordingly and aggressively. I have noticed that FantasyPros’ Draft Simulator does account for opponents reaching for a pick, and I was actually angered by my artificial opponent on more than one occasion. Lesson learned.

In this case, I have to stretch the truth a little bit. For the number of spots I would move a pitcher up due to the nature of a draft, I have to let some bats fall to me. It’s an ideal world here, anyway.

I am selecting right in the middle of the draft — 6th out of 12 — and the lineup is as follows: C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 3 OF, UTIL, 5 SP, 3 RP, 5 BN. It was conducted using FantasyPros’ Average Draft Position as the framework. I am using each 12-pick “block” as a round and following the rules set forth in the introduction.

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1.6 – Gerrit Cole (SP – NYY)
I use the same strategy in the first round of every sport. If a particular position dominates the first few picks, I would rather take the best of the next position than simply follow the trend with the next in line. In 2020, the first five picks of most fantasy baseball drafts are hitters — outfielders with dual-eligible outfielder Cody Bellinger, to be exact. This brings me to the always-common decision laid out regarding my strategy. Do I take the sixth-best hitter or the best pitcher? I already established where I’m going with it, so Gerrit Cole becomes my first-round pick.

2.7 – Freddie Freeman (1B – ATL)
In most of my drafts — including the mocks I have done here — I land on Fernando Tatis, Jr. in this spot. I love it, but I’m going for perfection and allowing Freddie Freeman to fall to me. First base has historically been a deep position, but it has been more difficult to fill than usual in 2020. I won’t overpay, but Freeman is a value here, and it sets me up nicely for the later rounds. If this were an on-base percentage league, Freeman would have gone higher.

3.6 – Gleyber Torres (2B/SS – NYY)
I’m giving myself another gift, as Gleyber Torres — projected to be selected two spots higher than my current pick — would become my middle infielder and strengthen my lineup immediately. There’s a chance that his power regresses, but he will hit. If this were a points league, Torres becomes more valuable for the doubles he’ll still provide, but slotting him as a starting second baseman with the third pick for my team is outstanding in any format.

4.7 – Kris Bryant (3B/OF – CHC)
Selecting Kris Bryant was actually one of the most difficult picks I made. I had not landed on Bryant in any other draft this year despite the fact that I like him as both a fantasy asset and a real-life ballplayer. I have passed on him in most drafts because of how many options there are at third base, as well as my inability to foresee what would happen with the rest of my roster if I passed on someone like Adalberto Mondesi or a decent pitcher in this range. Obviously, this article allows me to see ahead, so I built with the best-case scenario in mind. That involves Bryant.

5.6 – Aroldis Chapman (RP – NYY)
Aroldis Chapman has to be considered a reach from the ADP perspective, but this is the round where I have generally targeted my top closer. If I miss here, I basically miss altogether. I have confidence that I can continue to build a deep pitching staff with a solid lineup around this pick, so there’s no reason to miss on a relief pitcher that is guaranteed to have save opportunities.

6.7 – Jose Berrios (SP – MIN)
I’ve written about Jose Berrios in all articles in which I have selected him, and I remain confident that he will over-perform his asking price. He is the ace on a team that is projected to have a high win total, and he has been both remarkably consistent and steadily above-average. I consider Berrios the perfect high-floor, high-ceiling option, and I’m thrilled to get him in the sixth round.

7.6 – Yoan Moncada (3B – CWS)
I have to be fair with this pick. I doubt Yoan Moncada will last to the seventh round in most drafts. This is a result of pitchers going earlier than their projected ADP, however, and it will lead to discounts. Sometimes, it’s been Moncada. In this perfect fantasy, it is.

8.7 – Jeff McNeil (2B/3B/OF – NYM)
Jeff McNeil was not on my radar at the start of this offseason, but this is rapidly changing. I am now actively targeting him. His batting average is not going to disappear, and he gives any roster such flexibility that he’s basically never leaving a fantasy lineup. Taking him in the eighth round of this draft was also a function of the surrounding options. Because I had Chapman as my top closer, I felt no need to grab another relief pitcher, just yet. McNeil was the better value.

9.6 – Brad Hand (RP – CLE)
While I passed on taking my second closer in the last round, it was time to dive back into the pool. Brad Hand is a risk — both to eventually be traded or randomly demoted — but this is exactly the reason why I wanted to lock down my top closer. I can take any chances I want with relief pitchers and simply wait for one to fall too far. In this case, it was Hand.

10.7 – Jesus Luzardo (SP – OAK)
I made sure to apply the proper premium with starting pitching, and it’s largely because someone like Jesus Luzardo is no longer reaching his ADP. If you want Luzardo, you’ll have to pay. But, this is where I point to my first-round pick as a safety net that pays dividends. I was able to add only one more starting pitcher before taking a chance in the same department, and it’s because I know that my staff is anchored by a superstar. Now, I can look for upside. Luzardo is the embodiment of upside.

11.6 – Zac Gallen (SP – ARI)
If you’ve followed any of my other mock drafts or auctions — or even the collaborative pieces to which I have contributed — then you knew a Zac Gallen pick was coming. He’s one of my top sleepers for the season, and he continues the trend of low-cost, high-potential arms that will make up the rest of my pitching staff.

12.7 – Franmil Reyes (OF – CLE)
Not only am I aboard the Franmil Reyes hype train, but I’m arguably sitting with the train’s conductor. I’m not at the point where I’m pulling the levers, but I’m in the room. Reyes was one of many breakout candidates from last season that never fully came to fruition, but his time with the Cleveland Indians was promising. The lineup will possibly be overhauled if something drastic happens — like trading Francisco Lindor; which is currently not likely — but Reyes appears to be in the plans, no matter what. More accurately, it looks like Reyes will be at the center of the plans. And the batting order.

13.6 – Julio Urias (SP – LAD)
In sticking with the theme of high-upside starting pitching, I’ve made it a point to grab Julio Urias whenever I can. He’s coveted, so I’ve had to overpay sometimes, but the former top prospect is still only 23 years old. Think about that. He’s the perfect breakout candidate and costs a mid-round pick in most drafts.

14.7 – Hansel Robles (RP – LAA)
I’ve ended up with Hansel Robles in a few drafts, but largely because of the low price point. He has a fairly stable role as the Los Angeles Angels’ closer and, if we were guaranteed that he would remain there for the full season, he’d be going much higher in drafts. This is true for most closers, which is why I’m targeting depth at this point.

15.6 – Wilson Ramos (C – NYM)
I have not selected Wilson Ramos in any other drafts, this year, and it’s because my fellow fantasy owners start to target the catching position sooner than I would. Typically, I’m finding one in the last round. But, in this draft, I want the “perfect” outcome, which happens when one of the better hitting catchers lasts longer than he should. Like Wilson Ramos in the 15th round.

16.7 – Ryan McMahon (1B/2B/3B – COL)
Versatility aside, I’ve been targeting Ryan McMahon as a sleeper since last preseason. He failed me then, but still has the same upside and always seems to find his way into the Colorado Rockies’ lineup. That’s a great place to be as a hitter, and it raises his ceiling higher than most players still available in his range.

17.6 – Keone Kela (RP – PIT)
Keone Kela is the downgraded version of the closers I have already taken but fills out my relief pitching needs by giving me a fourth option at saves without costing a significant price. If the closer position were not so volatile, I would be content with the first three I drafted. Since I’m not, I felt the need to keep stockpiling.

18.7 – Miguel Andujar (3B – NYY)
Miguel Andujar can hit. Above all else, the New York Yankees believe this, and they will find a place for him in their lineup. That’s all we need to know. He may not take the third base job back from Gio Urshela, and he might not be a competent first baseman or outfielder or anything other than a designated hitter. But, he’ll be an important piece of a lineup projected to have another big offensive season. He’s a steal at this stage, and he has been available this late in many of the drafts I have done.

19.6 – Dylan Bundy (SP – LAA)
Of all the sleepers I have listed in my articles, I’m most surprised that Dylan Bundy is getting so much hype. I expected the move from the Baltimore Orioles to the Los Angeles Angels to help Bundy, but it looks like it’s also helping his perception. That is causing some price inflation but, if he isn’t vaulting much higher, he’s just as good a target now as he was a month ago. Only with a slight premium.

20.7 – Jo Adell (OF – LAA)
On the topic of hype, we turn to Jo Adell. I’m a huge fan of prospects, and I follow them as closely as the next fantasy baseball writer, but I have been slow to buy into Adell. This explains why I haven’t taken him in any other draft prior to now, but I do see the potential for his talent. Just not the price needed to pay to acquire him. What’s always concerned me about Adell is the talk of his athleticism and physique in lieu of baseball skills. It’s assumed that one leads to the other, but it’s not guaranteed. I’d take a chance on Adell in round 20 — as I am, here — but this could be substituted with any prospect flier that has the potential for 2020 impact – –MacKenzie Gore, for one. Really, I’d want this pick in the last round but, again, hype is playing a role.

21.6 – Mitch Keller (SP – PIT)
I couldn’t write about the Perfect Draft without including Mitch Keller. I’ll give the same soliloquy here that I have everywhere else by noting that, other than his putrid ERA, Mitch Keller’s other statistics were all impressive. He’ll be a strikeout machine and, even though he won’t get a full workload, he would get my team through at least half the season with a handful of dominant starts along the way.

22.7 – Dansby Swanson (SS – ATL)
Like Mitch Keller, Dansby Swanson has been a mainstay in each of my articles. It started, however, with one. In researching players who had similar profiles to Christian Yelich before his 2018 breakout, I came across Dansby Swanson. I won’t directly compare the two, as it’s an unfair challenge to ask anyone to vault into a top-three hitter in the league, but Swanson has the same makeup. Shortstop is deep enough that Swanson continues to be forgotten. Don’t make that mistake.

Results

Because of the nature of this article — in which I could adjust however I pleased — it’s best to layout the final lineup after my maneuvering was complete. Here is the team:

C – Wilson Ramos
1B – Freddie Freeman
2B – Ryan McMahon
3B – Yoan Moncada
SS – Gleyber Torres
OF – Kris Bryant
OF – Franmil Reyes
OF – Jeff McNeil
UTIL – Miguel Andujar
SP – Gerrit Cole
SP – Jose Berrios
SP – Jesus Luzardo
SP – Zac Gallen
SP – Julio Urias
RP – Aroldis Chapman
RP – Brad Hand
RB – Hansel Robles
BN – Keone Kela
BN – Dylan Bundy
BN – Jo Adell
BN – Mitch Keller
BN – Dansby Swanson

It’s impossible for me not to like it. I handmade it.

Taking Cole with my first pick allowed me to loosen the restrictions for my second starting pitcher — where normally I would want immediate depth — while each of my sleepers still made it onto my roster. What’s important here is that I never had to reach for these sleepers. I always do in a real draft, but there was no necessity. That lengthens my team before adding the high risk-reward targets.

As I stated earlier, it’s more practical to assume that players will be taken before the draft slot you have assigned to them, but this draft is an example of how to take advantage when everything breaks your way. It won’t happen exactly like this, but you can set yourself up for the finished product you would want for your team by painting your ideal picture. The perfect picture.

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Mario Mergola is a featured writer at FantasyPros, as well as the creator and content-editor of Sporfolio. For more from Mario, check out his archive and follow him @MarioMergola.

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