Mock Draft: 10-Team Early Pick (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
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We’re all figuring this out together.
Don’t believe any grifter who proffers a foolproof plan to conquering 60 games worth of fantasy baseball. The MLB season, if it can even occur, is going to be a rickety roller coaster with sharp twists and turn. A superstar slugger is going to hit .260 with seven home runs because of an untimely slump that he would have redeemed over a full schedule. Some undrafted starting pitchers will finish among the ERA leaders.
Those itching to draft anyway will spend the next few weeks tinkering their new strategies. Finding the secret might be impossible, so embrace the uncertainty.
Shortly after news broke of a late-July restart, I dusted off the Draft Simulator to conduct a 10-team mock draft. The small league size amplified the need to take some shots on high-upside jackpot picks. Yet even in a practice exercise, I struggled to go against the grain with bold selections.
The new circumstances also changed my course of action right from the start.
1.2: Christian Yelich (OF – MIL)
For the first time ever, I was relieved to see Mike Trout get taken before my pick. I didn’t want to make the icky decision of passing on the superstar just because his pregnant wife is due in August.
Ronald Acuna Jr. would have been the consensus spring choice here, but a 25.9% career strikeout rate creates a tad more risk of a slump. For example, he batted .205 (23-for-112) over last season’s final 30 games. Yelich, meanwhile, has only batted below .300 in three months during two seasons with the Brewers. He provides a higher floor without sacrificing upside; the 2018 NL MVP ranked second to Trout in wRC+ (170) in 2018 and 2019.
Others Considered: Ronald Acuna Jr.
2.9: Freddie Freeman (1B – ATL)
Deciding between Freeman and J.D. Martinez was my realistic best-case scenario for this second-round slot. Freeman’s power tends to ebb and flow throughout the season, but his strong approach and line-drive mastery make him a strong bet to avoid a major slump. He’s slugged over .500 in each of the last four seasons and has only once finished a campaign with a batting average below .280.
Others Considered: J.D. Martinez, Anthony Rendon
3.2: Rafael Devers (3B – BOS)
I once again got cold feet over a star with a wide range of outcomes. Bryce Harper is an MVP at his best, but he has often looked completely lost at his worst. He’s done it in a full season, so there’s a real chance the Phillies outfielder hits below .250 in the shortened sprint.
After trimming his strikeout rate to 17.0% during a breakthrough 2019, Devers is the safer choice with such precious draft capital. Having batted .343 with 21 homers in 76 games from last May to July, the 23-year-old also wields plenty of upside.
Others Considered: Bryce Harper, Starling Marte
4.9: Ozzie Albies (2B – ATL)
Albies was a go-to target in spring given his five-category goodness and the lack of high-end second basemen. While I initially planned on drafting the now healthy Mike Clevinger, I couldn’t pass on another young stud who could easily lead MLB in runs by batting between Acuna and Freeman. Plus, the Pick Predictor gave a higher probability of Clevinger remaining available for my next selection.
5.2: Charlie Morton (SP – TB)
Well, that backfired. The team at the turn took Clevinger. I nearly pivoted from pitching and drafted George Springer, but a shortened season could play out perfectly for Morton. Instead of dwelling on the unlikelihood of the 36-year-old replicating last year’s career-high 194.2 innings (his previous high was 171.2 in 2011), I can hope for more elite production over 60-70 frames. Since the start of 2017, Morton has mounted a 3.24 ERA and 10.7 K/9 over his improbable renaissance.
Others Considered: George Springer, Luis Castillo
6.9: Chris Paddack (SP – SD)
This is a pick I wouldn’t have made back in March. Paddack’s 3.95 FIP and 3.83 SIERA worried me, and the Padres probably capping his innings around 170 was a deal-breaker at his high ADP. Now, San Diego — a trendy sleeper pick to ride a hot wave to a wild-card bid — likely won’t hold back its ace more than the typical pitcher.
As Ariel Cohen pointed out in a podcast we recorded in late March, Paddack is still a strong bet to help in the often-overlooked WHIP column. Besides, Statcast’s 3.28 expected ERA isn’t as harsh as his other ERA estimators. I’m warming up to him as a high-end SP2.
7.2: Nelson Cruz (DH – MIN)
Some things will never change. No matter the season’s length, I’m always going to draft Cruz. Getting more exposure to the feeble AL Central is merely a cherry on top of draft day’s sweetest value.
Others Considered: Manny Machado, Matt Olson, Eugenio Suarez
8.9: Eugenio Suarez (3B – CIN)
I thought I forfeited the chance to snag Suarez when taking Cruz, but the third baseman was waiting for me. Although this is only four spots below his current No. 75 ADP, expect the price to skyrocket once more data from summer drafts becomes available. Originally expected to miss the start of the season with a shoulder injury, he should now be ready on Opening Day.
Hey, remember when Suarez hit 49 home runs last season?
9.2: Tommy Pham (OF- TB)
After procuring a pair of power bats in Cruz and Suarez, Pham’s well-rounded arsenal was too good a value to pass up in the ninth. Whether he replicates last season’s .300 average and eight homers through May or his 17 steals in 62 second-half contests, the veteran outfielder is likely to contribute in some fashion.
Others Considered: Victor Robles, Eddie Rosario, Ramon Laureano
10.9: Nick Castellanos (OF – CIN)
Following a deadline deal to the Cubs, Castellanos slashed a scorching .321/.356/.646 with 16 homers in 52 games. While that power surge isn’t the standard for a six-year pro yet to reach 30 long balls in a single season, it was also his first extended stay away from Comerica Park. He’ll now get 30 games at Great American Ball Park and 20 against his old AL Central friends.
11.2: Edwin Diaz (RP – NYM
Closers are always a contentious subject, so that uncertainty will only compound for a 60-game season. Teams may lean heavily on their premier relievers, thus upping the impact of top performers. On the other hand, two bad outings (or a lack of save opportunities) could torpedo a closer’s fantasy worth.
Nevertheless, I decided to wait a bit longer on affordable starting pitchers whose outlooks have improved. This led me to Diaz, a 26-year-old who has stockpiled 400 strikeouts through four seasons. He still wields a career 3.33 ERA and 3.01 FIP despite a calamitous 2019 (5.55 ERA, 4.51 FIP), so let’s roll the dice on the righty hanging fewer sliders.
12.9: Oscar Mercado (OF – CLE)
Max Kepler and Franmil Reyes were awfully tempting, and hindsight suggests I could have used another bopper in my outfield. At the time, however, I simply took the best player on my board. Mercado provides yet another hitter who can deliver in every category. More than ever, this will likely be my 2020 approach to tackling steals.
Others Considered: Max Kepler, Franmil Reyes
13.2: Brad Hand (RP – CLE)
Taking two high-end closers wasn’t the plan, but I considered Hand two rounds ago. Like Diaz, there’s considerable downside after a dicey 2019. Yet his worst season since 2015 still yielded a 3.30 ERA, 34.7% K rate, and 34 saves. If he looks anything like he did when allowing seven walks and nine runs over his final dozen outings, I’d have to jump ship faster than usual.
Others Considered: Ken Giles, Lance Lynn
14.9: Kenta Maeda (SP/RP – MIN)
This is a bountiful tier for starting pitcher; I would have just as happily selected David Price, Matthew Boyd, or Hyun-Jin Ryu. Pending an overdue price adjustment, I’ll likely target Maeda in every summer draft.
He no longer needs to worry about the Dodgers booting him to the bullpen, and drafters don’t have to doubt his ability to work a full season as a starter. Best of all, none of his AL Central cohorts ranked higher than 17th in team wRC+ last season. I’m drafting Maeda for strikeouts and WHIP, but there’s a good chance he spins an ERA lower than his career 3.87 clip.
Others Considered: David Price, Matthew Boyd, Hyun-Jin Ryu
15.2: Amed Rosario (SS – NYM)
Shortstop’s depth is no secret. While I wasn’t intentionally ducking the position, the ability to get a solid starter like Rosario far later stayed in the back on my mind. After watching last year’s gains in exit velocity, hard hits, and launch angle manifest into a. 287 batting average and .291 expected average, the 24-year-old’s fantasy value is no longer tied predominantly to steals.
Others Considered: Elvis Andrus, David Price, Matthew Boyd
16.9: Elvis Andrus (SS – TEX)
I had hoped to snag Price, Boyd, Ryu, or Julio Urias, but none lasted to this turn. Instead, I doubled down at shortstop and selected Andrus for my MI spot. Despite taking a perceived value, he carries far more risk than usual due to more month-by-month inconsistency, Texas’ new home park, and the state’s troubling rise in COVID-19 cases.
17.2: Jake Odorizzi (SP – MIN)
Can I just draft the Minnesota Twins? So many of them jumped out as nice investments over the spring, and that’s only magnified by baseball’s easiest 60-game schedule for pitchers, as noted by Jon Anderson.
Skeptics will point to Odorizzi’s 7.43 ERA last July to say this pick could go horribly wrong. True, but that’s the case for every pitcher available in the 17th round. Despite regression to the mean hitting all at once, the righty still posted a 3.51 ERA and 178 strikeouts through 159 frames. While he averaged only 5.3 innings per start, few starters are likely to work deep into games for at least the first few weeks anyway.
Odorizzi is one of my biggest summer rises; perhaps I just didn’t give him the respect he deserved in February.
18.9: J.D. Davis (3B/OF – NYM)
It’s been a while since I emphasized power, and I was all in on Davis before the safety net of a universal DH solidified his standing as a full-time starter. Look, I’m not expecting the .337/.395/.606 slash line and 13 homers from last season’s final 60 games. But with unencumbered playing time, perhaps in the heart of a potent Mets lineup, a .290, 10-homer campaign is perfectly feasible.
19.2: Jose Leclerc (RP – TEX)
And I thought my other closers were boom-or-bust options. After closing 2018 with 21 straight scoreless innings, Leclerc commenced 2019 by surrendering 10 runs in April. The Rangers circled back to the erratic hurler as their closer, so the role is once again his to lose.
Others Considered: Sean Doolittle, Luke Weaver
20.9: Luke Weaver (SP -ARI)
I had my eye on Weaver for a few rounds, so it was time to finally take the plunge. Although not an entirely fair parallel to his short-season potential, he submitted a 2.94 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 21.2% K-BB rate in 12 starts last year. Either way, I’ll take his career 3.88 FIP and over a strikeout per frame as my fifth starter.
21.2: Alex Verdugo (OF – BOS)
According to NBC Boston’s Raul Martinez, Chaim Bloom said Verdugo is “all systems go” from a back injury that would have derailed his Opening Day availability if the season started as scheduled. His price should skyrocket. After batting .294/.342/.475 with a stellar 85% contact rate in his first full season, the outfielder is poised for a full-time role — perhaps leading off — with the Red Sox.
22.9: Joe Musgrove (SP – PIT)
Musgrove’s ERA and strikeouts haven’t matched the rosier ERA predictors and swinging-strike rates over the last two years. At least the punchouts came late in 2019 (24.6% K rate in second half), so the 27-year-old could still take the leap in 2020 if he keeps leaning more on his wipeout slider.
Others Considered: Jose Urquidy, Mitch Keller
23.2: C.J. Cron (1B – DET)
There were a ton of enticing hitters, and I probably would have picked Ryan Braun if he still had eligibility at first base. However, I want all of my bases covered since a condensed schedule could mean more daily lineup turnover. As a result, I pegged Cron to back up Freeman. Sixty games into Tampa Bay’s 2019 campaign, he had already pelted 13 homers before a thumb injury dented his breakthrough.
24.9: Mitch Keller (SP – PIT)
I thought I could only secure one of the Pittsburgh pitchers, but Keller remained available at pick No. 239. His debut encapsulates the possible absurdity of a shortened season. In 11 starts, he posted a league-killing 7.13 ERA despite a pristine 3.19 FIP. While the 24-year-old righty should fare better in his sophomore season, there are no sure bets.
25.2: Francisco Mejia (C – SD)
I forgot that the Draft Simulator robots will draft a back-up catcher. In a normal 10-team draft, I should be able to walk away with Christian Vazquez or Carson Kelly. Once a blue-chip prospect based on his hitting tool, Mejia finally flashed those skills late last year with a 127 wRC+ after the All-Star break. If he struggles out of the gate, I’ll simply play the hot hand behind the plate.
26.9: Ross Stripling (SP/RP – LAD)
It may actually behoove Stripling not to open 2020 in the Dodgers’ rotation. Manager Dave Roberts said he’ll likely ease his starters back into action with a four-inning limit. That leaves Stripling in the perfect position to vulture early wins while sharpening your ratios in a long-relief role. Perhaps he could later regain a starting opportunity, in which case I’m gaining an SP3 or 4 for pennies.
27.2: Howie Kendrick (1B/2B/3B – WAS)
After a stunning 2019 in limited work, Kendrick should gain extra reps via the universal DH, especially if Ryan Zimmerman decides to sit out the season. Kendrick got the DH nod in all three of Washington’s World Series bouts at Houston. His availability at three infield spots will also come in handy with ample lineup churning.
28.9: Jordan Hicks (RP – STL)
Initially targeting a midseason return from Tommy John surgery, Hicks could become a major X-factor this summer. Of course, it’s also possible the pandemic delayed his rehab. Corey Knebel offers a similar proposition, but Hicks has a clearer path back to the ninth inning. I can’t afford to waste a bench spot in such a short season, so I’d probably cut the flame-thrower if his comeback isn’t imminent.
Others Considered: Ryan Pressly, Hunter Harvey, Corey Knebel
The Draft Analysis, revamped with projections suited for a 60-game season, gave me an “A” grade (94 out of 100) with a narrow first-place finish. Just to get a sense of the microscopic margin for error, I would drop four points with seven fewer stolen bases.
Despite the positive review, I’m realizing I failed at my initial goal of pursuing more upside. For the most part, I once again just took the best values on my board.
If health and luck allow, this squad is balanced enough to stay competitive for two months. However, it may lack the high-ceiling performers necessary to separate myself from the other nine teams. I’m going to have to run some more mock drafts to implement bolder strategies.