12-Team Early Mock Draft: Early Pick (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
It may be early, but it’s mock draft season! The FantasyPros Draft Simulator is up-and-running, updated for 2021, and I’m excited to dive right back in and see what roster configurations await.
Before I do, I pause. Despite the system being ready, the teams are not. Rosters are far-from complete, and roles are “projected” more than expected. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as we plan for it.
The approach with early drafts is simple-and-straightforward. It’s a snapshot in time taken before we have any news from any teams. What we see today won’t necessarily impact what happens in a few months, but it’s the starting point. Players’ values will shift, and it would be wise to take note. In the meantime, we can still try to assemble a winning roster using new rankings and prior analysis.
The lineup of this 12-team draft is C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 3 OF, UTIL, 2 SP, 2 RP, 4 P, 5 BN, and was conducted using FantasyPros’ Draft Simulator.
1.2 Mike Trout (OF – LAA)
I make the same argument every year. Even if one or two players actually produce numbers better than Mike Trout, it’s not always possible to predict which players they are. With Trout, I know that his numbers won’t dip outside of the top-ten — at least, as much as I “know” anything about any player — and that ridiculously-high floor means that I won’t get burned. Let’s not forget that his ceiling is also that of the first overall pick.
Others Considered: Ronald Acuna Jr.
2.11 Walker Buehler (SP – LAD)
I always try to secure starting pitching as early as possible, where I am also willing to pay a premium for a high-end arm. I was frequently including Walker Buehler in that high-end category for last year’s drafts, and I typically drafted him in the first round with the other three or four pitchers in the top tier. He neither disappointed nor over-delivered and seeing him available in the late second round is a fair combination of past results and future value.
Others Considered: Trevor Bauer
3.2 Aaron Nola (SP – PHI)
One of the reasons why I want pitching early is because there is almost always an early “pitching run” — where fantasy owners start to worry that they won’t fill their roster with a position and collectively start to draft said position. Picking at either side of a snake draft usually means I have to project a large swath of players leaving the draft board before my next selection. Already securing Buehler, I want one more pitcher that will get me ahead of the imminent run. Unfortunately, I’m legitimately torn between Aaron Nola and Max Scherzer. It’s hard to see Scherzer in the third round and not take the extreme discount on what-could-be one of the best pitchers in the game, but I’m also aggressive when I draft. I’ll start my team with Trout, Buehler, and Aaron Nola, and I’ll feel quite good about it.
Others Considered: Max Scherzer
4.11 Keston Hiura (2B – MIL)
I’m having a bit of nostalgia. During last year’s draft preparation — which spanned additional months because of the season’s delay — I grew to love Keston Hiura and targeted him on every team and in every draft. He became a cornerstone player for me at a position that was difficult to fill elsewhere. Until I go deeper into “Draft Season” and replace Hiura in my heart with someone else, I’m leaning on the same foundation that I wanted in 2020. That’s actually a key point to remember about any player: he may not have met my inflated expectations, but I had said expectations for a reason.
Others Considered: Rafael Devers
5.2 Josh Hader (RP – MIL)
I didn’t plan on this, but Josh Hader now presents the same opportunity that Aaron Nola did two rounds ago. That is, I know closers will start to go and, while it is too early for a full “closer run,” many of the highest-end options could be gone by my next pick. I’ll get ahead of it and take the absurd strikeout rate and potentially great ERA and WHIP.
6.11 Gleyber Torres (2B/SS – NYY)
At this point of the preseason, I won’t think twice about drafting Gleyber Torres at the end of the sixth round. In recent years, the shortstop player pool has become quite deep, but Torres can be a top-three fantasy producer at the position. He hits for power in an outstanding lineup and is only 24 years old. There’s tremendous room to grow, and he will be a player whose stock is worth monitoring as the season draws nearer.
Others Considered: Javier Baez
7.2 Zack Wheeler (SP – PHI)
For the first time in this draft, I’m stuck with choosing a direction. I tend to find power later, so I’m going to carefully wait before targeting some more heavy hitters. I currently lack speed, but I can’t justify paying for stolen bases right now. Projecting ahead, I expect some decent pitchers to be available with my next two picks, but I’ll usually fall back on an arm if I can’t decide which position is best for me to fill. That slides Zack Wheeler onto my roster.
Others Considered: Kyle Hendricks
8.11 Jose Berrios (SP – MIN)
I feel better. For starters, I was a huge believer in Jose Berrios before last season and, if he’s going to land in the eighth round of every real draft, I have a feeling I’m going to have Jose Berrios on every single one of my 2021 teams. What also helps is that I can take either a second closer or a solid bat — one that fell — with my next selection, as it’s unlikely I lose both over the next two picks.
9.2 Jeff McNeil (2B/3B/OF – NYM)
As expected, both of my potential next picks weren’t poached. Unfortunately, both made it back to me. It’s decision time, and it rests solely on my projection of future availability. That is, can I get enough closers later to justify my passing on Hendriks here? I’m going to roll the dice and say “yes,” partly because it’s a mock draft where we should take chances to see the possible outcomes and partly because I value Jeff McNeil’s roster flexibility and contributions to multiple categories so highly.
Others Considered: Liam Hendriks
10.11 Nick Anderson (RP – TB)
I forced my hand with this one. I don’t love the idea of targeting a Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher with the expectation of saves in general, but I love it less in January when there is still so much time for other pieces to fall. Still, I’ll add Nick Anderson as essentially a “placeholder pick,” where this would probably be “best available closer.”
11.2 Alec Bohm (1B/3B – PHI)
No hesitation here. I need a first baseman eventually, and I love upside in a player. Alec Bohm fits that mold perfectly. I assume that Bohm’s stock will be much higher in a month or two as people start to buy into the hype, but I’ll take the discount now. As I addressed in my introduction, it’s important to identify a player’s starting point, and Bohm is one worth noting.
Others Considered: Mike Yastrzemski
12.11 Byron Buxton (OF – MIN)
I guess I’ll never fully quit Byron Buxton. Every year, I tell myself not to buy in and not believe the hype, and every year, he ends up on my team. Certainly, this is a mock draft where I am not beholden to the decisions I make here, but I know myself. I’m drawn by the allure of speed midway through the draft, with the upside that we were always promised. That, and I have another selection to make in the next three picks, so I can go in a different direction there if I so choose.
Others Considered: Ramon Laureano
13.2 Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B – PIT)
So much for avoiding risk. While I don’t actively need a third baseman, I can slide Jeff McNeil into an outfield spot — this is why I love his versatility — and draft second-year player Ke’Bryan Hayes. Hayes is somewhat of a mystery following his debut — he is still technically a rookie — but mainly because his production did not follow his resume. He was advertised as a glove-first player with a potentially light bat. That’s not at all how he performed in his short stay with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He slugged five home runs, collected 14 extra-base hits, and batted .376 in just 95 plate appearances. I’ll take the drop-off that will follow those numbers and look for him to stabilize anywhere worthy of a 13th-round pick.
Others Considered: Ramon Laureano
14.11 Franmil Reyes (OF – CLE)
When I drafted Zack Wheeler, I wrote about “finding power later,” which is exactly what happens when someone like Franmil Reyes is available in the 13th round. He was another one of my favorite targets in 2020, so it remains a trend where I am leaning on past analyses to make early-preseason decisions. With Reyes, I can’t help but love the potential in home runs, even if he doesn’t fully contribute in most other categories.
Others Considered: Seth Lugo
15.2 Drew Pomeranz (SP/RP – SD)
If it were closer to the start of the regular season, we would have some clarity on the closer battles around Major League Baseball. I’d be taking the next best available closer here, and, in the absence of anything definitive, I’d target the one either most likely to get saves, or that has the best ratio statistics. Drew Pomeranz is the current answer for me, but I’ll consider him a placeholder for any other future drafts I do.
Others Considered: Aaron Civale, Seth Lugo
16.11 Ian Happ (2B/3B/OF – CHC)
One of the last preseason articles I wrote in 2020 was about deep-league keepers, and I found myself drawn to Ian Happ. By the time the season was underway, I kicked myself for not buying into him more heavily. Like so many others in the past, all Happ needed was regular playing time to finally blossom into the hitter many expected for a few years. Despite the solid season, his draft stock has remained low, and I’m happily buying in for an encore.
Others Considered: Miguel Sano
17.2 Andrew Heaney (SP – LAA)
Andrew Heaney showed flashes of extreme potential in his second Major League season, but Tommy John surgery has moved him out of most fantasy owners’ minds for quite some time. Last year helped return him to relevancy, as he averaged more than one strikeout-per-inning and finished with an ERA under 4.50. Those numbers aren’t remarkable, but there’s underlying value here. Heaney’s FIP was a solid 3.79, which can certainly translate to a better year in 2021. If that happens, he can easily outperform his ADP.
Others Considered: Nick Solak
18.11 Triston McKenzie (SP – CLE)
Have people forgotten about Triston McKenzie’s ridiculous start to his career? It appears so, as he is still around toward the back-end of the draft. Granted, his innings will be limited, but we could get a half-season from a pitcher who tallied 36 strikeouts over 29.1 innings in his six starts.
Others Considered: Brady Singer
19.2 Miguel Sano (1B/3B – MIN)
Like so many other players in this mock draft, Miguel Sano makes a return to my roster after being a major target of mine in 2020. I can’t look past the absurd power, even with all the flaws that come with it. He is always a potential candidate to lead the league in home runs, and I love the risk-reward in the later rounds.
Others Considered: Josh Donaldson
20.11 Richard Rodriguez (SP – PIT)
As I wrote earlier, I am generally fine with taking “best available” closers where the team “best available” is more indicative of their role than talent level. For now, that’s Richard Rodriguez. It could have been almost anyone else, though.
Others Considered: Stephan Crichton
21.2 Alejandro Kirk (C – TOR)
Waiting on a catcher is not necessarily a new idea, as people in the fantasy baseball industry do it all the time. The reasoning? After the top few options, there is little separation between much of the field. There’s good news here. This allows us to target anyone with upside and value potential over anything else. It’s also the second-to-last round, so anyone we skipped here could be available in free agency. I’m going with Alejandro Kirk, as he might be the rare example of a catcher who will hit for a respectable average. Normally, I’m only looking for one to not destroy batting average for my team.
Others Considered: Buster Posey
22.11 Lorenzo Cain (OF – MIL)
Nothing fancy here. I either want a top sleeper or someone who could help a category in which I am lacking. As the season draws nearer, I will lean on the former. For now, I will go back to the metaphorical well for an inexpensive stolen base target. Lorenzo Cain refuses to return to his former better days, but I’ll buy his speed one more time.
Others Considered: Raimel Tapia
Overall, I can’t be disappointed with the outcome of this team. It scored nicely — a B+ with an 87 out of 100 — which is not always common for the mock drafts I do. I like to take chances and see how the dominoes fall. That typically leads to a subpar score — most projection systems value past seasons’ consistency, where I want explosive upside.
This particular team also followed much of my research and analysis from last year, where there is certainly value in those who have yet to reach potential. Many players will take longer than we expect to thrive, and I prefer not to cast them aside if this development isn’t as quick as we want. It’s also necessary when drafting so early in the preseason when teams have yet to establish depth charts.
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