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12-Team Early Mock Draft: Late Pick (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

Jan 18, 2021

First base is no longer a loaded position, and Freddie Freeman is the best option.

Picking at the back-end of the first round always requires a more flexible plan. Countless possibilities can occur before making my first selection, and I have to consider most of them.

The good news is that this is the reason for mock drafts. Even if you don’t completely believe in the results — or the selections as they are occurring — you can still gauge your own actions and intentions on a round-by-round basis. This is exactly why the first two drafts I have done for this upcoming season focused on two opposite ends of the draft order.

This is also where I can discover how a potential team looks if I take a pitcher with my first selection. I won’t know the pitcher’s caliber until the draft begins, but that’s the strategy I want to use.

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Results

The lineup for this 12-team draft is C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 3 OF, UTIL, 2 SP, 2 RP, 4 P, 5 BN, and conducted using FantasyPros’ Draft Simulator.

1.11: Gerrit Cole (SP – NYY)
Not only do I have absolutely no hesitation in drafting Gerrit Cole at the back of the first round, but I would make this selection a few picks earlier. That’s probably what will happen in an actual draft. People (myself included) tend to pay up for starting pitching, which will likely push Cole into the middle of the first round. If that happens, I’d be happy with Shane Bieber as an alternative.

Others Considered: Shane Bieber

2.2: Freddie Freeman (1B – ATL)
It’s positional need at this point, even though I have no “need” with only one pick under my belt. Instead, it’s the projected “need” I will foresee down the road. Considering how early it is in draft season, it’s somewhat tricky to determine how scarcity will unfold. Outfielders and shortstops have been deep for the past few years, but first base has been surprisingly thin. The consistent bright spot? Freddie Freeman.

Others Considered: Francisco Lindor, Bryce Harper

3.11: DJ LeMahieu (1B/2B/3B – NYY)
I always write about taking risks in drafts — mock or real — and DJ LeMahieu presents an incredible risk-reward opportunity in the third round. Players without teams tend to go undervalued, as people would like to see a landing spot before projecting the upcoming season. LeMahieu was unsigned at the time of this mock draft, which allowed me to scoop him up at the end of the third round. Since then, he has rejoined the New York Yankees. Still, LeMahieu had proven to hit in both Colorado and New York, and we shouldn’t have expected any major decline wherever he would have played.

Others Considered: Luis Robert

4.2: Jack Flaherty (SP – STL)
I was not thrilled with drafting Jack Flaherty often in 2020, but he now presents an odd transition from the upper tier of pitchers to the next. At that point, he became a priority because of the drop-off that follows. He’s priced currently appropriately after a disappointing season. Flaherty remains a cut below the top tier but with the same potential he had one year ago.

Others Considered: Kyle Tucker

5.11: Josh Hader (RP – MIL)
I really don’t follow a script, but I almost always take the best available closer near the fifth round. Such is the case again. I always write about Josh Hader, as his numbers outside of saves are so dominant that he’s valuable even if pitching in random innings. Of course, we want him to close games to capitalize on saves and get full exposure to his excellence, but I’d still draft him even if his status were unknown.

Others Considered: Aroldis Chapman

6.2: Zac Gallen (SP – ARI)
My beloved target from 2020, Zac Gallen, was a focal point of almost every draft I completed, mock or real. He delivered. One peek at his numbers from last season, along with a quick comparison to his 2019 campaign, show a two-year stretch that is remarkably consistent with moments of utter brilliance. The downside? I can’t imagine he lasts into the sixth round for much longer, and I’ll have to start paying the premium to have Gallen on my teams for a second consecutive year.

Others Considered: Sonny Gray

7.11: Eugenio Suarez (3B – CIN)
There was arguably no greater candidate for a hard regression entering 2020 than Eugenio Suarez. His home run growth was too sharp to sustain, and I was unwilling to pay his ADP. In fairness to Suarez, he actually did hold his power numbers quite well in the short season, but his batting average was an insufferable .202. One year later, I’m cautiously targeting Suarez for that same power output, but at a much lower price. I won’t actively search for him, but I’ll buy if the discount presents itself.

Others Considered: Michael Conforto

8.2: Michael Conforto (OF – NYM)
I’m not sure why Michael Conforto doesn’t get the love he deserves, but I’ll always plug someone into my roster who has a high ceiling with a fairly stable floor. Conforto hadn’t played more than 110 games in any of his first three major league seasons, but he put in back-to-back 150-game campaigns in 2018 and 2019. Over that span, he batted an even .250 with an average of exactly 30 home runs and 27 doubles per year. Last season? A robust .322 average without a large decrease in home run rate.

Others Considered: Austin Meadows

9.11: Jeff McNeil (2B/3B/OF – NYM)
Every time that I draft Jeff McNeil — and write about it — I mention his versatility. It’s beneficial to any fantasy baseball roster, but it’s also critical that he’s a good hitter. Period. He’s hit over .310 in all three seasons and mixed in some decent power in 2019. He may only give batting average regularly, but it’s so good that I’ll jump at the opportunity to draft a .300 hitter eligible at second base, third base, and outfield.

Others Considered: Zack Wheeler

10.2: James Karinchak (RP – CLE)
James Karinchak was a major target in the fantasy baseball community last season, and that was without an actual role in Cleveland’s bullpen. Now, he’s the projected closer who carries a strikeout rate of nearly two per inning. If he actually holds onto that strikeout rate and saves games, he slides in as one of the sport’s top closers. As soon as people realize that, he’ll no longer be available in the 10th round.

Others Considered: Mike Yastrzemski

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11.11: Kris Bryant (3B/OF – CHC)
I’m beside myself seeing Kris Bryant’s name in the 11th round. I know. I get it. I saw the numbers and decline. Still, this was a first-round talent who won the NL MVP award in 2016. He just turned 29, and, quite frankly, I don’t care what his numbers were in 2020. He’s a steal in this low-risk, high-reward area of the draft.

Others Considered: Franmil Reyes, Dansby Swanson

12.2: Franmil Reyes (UT – CLE)
I took a calculated risk with my last draft pick. That’s not because of the risk associated with Bryant. Instead, I lost out on Dansby Swanson, a favorite 2020 sleeper of mine who would have filled the one position I desperately need: shortstop. This forced my hand to a player I don’t need on this particular roster, but essentially draft every time the opportunity presents itself. Franmil Reyes carries such high power potential that I always drafting him in the later rounds. In doing so, I’m also rolling the metaphorical dice one more time that a catcher I like will be available with my next pick. I don’t normally pay up for catchers, but I also don’t like having two holes in my lineup.

Others Considered: Will Smith, Willson Contreras

13.11: Will Smith (C – LAD)
This is why I love drafting. It’s a constant balance of risks and predictions where one needs to determine both the timing of selecting a player and the decision between two options. I wrote about wanting a catcher in my last blurb, and Will Smith survived the 20 picks between my last one and this upcoming selection. I generally either target the top one or two catchers. If I miss them, I’ll simply wait until the last round or two to fill the position. However, I didn’t want to go too deep into the draft without both a shortstop and catcher. Smith can be as good as any at his position, and he hits in a deep lineup in which runs will be plentiful. I’ll take it.

Others Considered: Jake Cronenworth

14.2: Shohei Ohtani (SP/UT – LAA)
When it comes to drafting Shohei Ohtani, league rules are paramount. If he exists as two players in the league’s system, I generally stay away and look elsewhere. If he can be used as either a starting pitcher or utility hitter, I’m all in. I make it a point to note this whenever I draft Ohtani so that readers don’t expect him to be available this late in most drafts. When he is, however, I pounce. His potential to deliver on either side of the ball is too great to ignore.

Others Considered: German Marquez

15.11: Drew Pomeranz (RP – SD)
Drew Pomeranz is the projected closer for the San Diego Padres as of this writing, but this could change at any minute. In that event, consider him a ‘placeholder,’ where my 15th-round pick is nothing more than “team closer.” I’m simply drafting saves here.

Others Considered: Mike Soroka

16.2: Wander Franco (SS – TB)
This is a pick I would make in a real draft, and I most likely would have made it a round or two ago. Between now and the start of the regular season, I’m sure we will get some clarity on the timeframe of top prospect Wander Franco’s MLB debut. Unfortunately, if using the Tampa Bay Rays’ history as a gauge, we’re likely to wait. Still, he’s a speculative pick, and I love to be aggressive with these. It also helps that I need a shortstop, and no other available option intrigued me. I’ll have to fill in this position with an actual starter, but I now have the potential to add a stud shortstop for the second half of this mock season if Franco becomes a regular.

Others Considered: Jorge Polanco

17.11: Nick Solak (2B/OF – TEX)
I’m still weighed down by knowing I will need a shortstop at one point, and I have more than enough second basemen — but I’m also building a bench. Although I also need more starting pitching, I’ll target them with my next selection. Here, I’ll go to the versatile, upside-filled Nick Solak. He was a majorly hyped breakout candidate in 2020 and is now regularly available in the latter half of drafts. That’s in my buying range.

Others Considered: Rhys Hoskins

18.2: Andrew Heaney (SP – LAA)
No pitchers went off the board in the two slots between my picks, so I lost no value since my last selection. I’m now in a ‘best available’ mode, and Andrew Heaney fits the mold. For the sake of differentiating from my earlier mock draft, I would have preferred someone else, but I can’t get over his history of sneaky success. While he’s had a long road back from Tommy John surgery, there’s a chance he easily outperforms his low ADP.

Others Considered: Triston McKenzie

19.11: Jorge Polanco (SS – MIN)
I’ve probably stalled long enough. I’ve needed a shortstop for quite a while, and I know I won’t get anything from Wander Franco immediately. That puts me in a decent position, though, because I can make a quick move with any shortstop who slides into the roster slot. For now, that’s Jorge Polanco. He’s not overly thrilling, but he does enough to prevent my fantasy team from collapsing.

Others Considered: Paul DeJong

20.2: Kwang Hyun Kim (SP – STL)
If he’s really going to be available this late, I have a feeling I am going to have Kwang Hyun Kim on most of my 2021 fantasy teams. He was lights-out in his short stint with the Cardinals last year. Indeed, I recognize that the sample size was small, but Kim did not have a single disastrous outing. He allowed no more than one earned run in six of his seven starts. That matters more than his averages, which will obviously regress. Kim can pitch at the highest level, and I’ll be aggressively drafting him.

Others Considered: Eduardo Rodriguez

21.11: Carson Kelly (C- ARI)
I didn’t need a catcher here. In fact, I didn’t need a catcher at all. I drafted Will Smith in the middle rounds, and I never carry a back-up. Still, I had two selections left to make, and I wanted a player who could push for a starting position on my roster while also being the first one I release with any signs of trouble. In essence, this is a “replace with top free agent” pick that also has some upside as a bounce-back candidate. Carson Kelly, it is.

Others Considered: Jo Adell, Kyle Schwarber

22.2: Robbie Ray (SP – TOR)
In retrospect, I did make a mistake drafting Carson Kelly with my last pick. Scanning over my roster one more time, I see that I need both speed and wins — the latter despite drafting Gerrit Cole in the first round. With my bench already full of hitters, the smarter play is to target one more pitcher. Thankfully, there are many. I landed on Robbie Ray mainly for his strikeout potential, but he can also be an early cut if he starts the season poorly. If not, I likely found a bargain in the last round.

Others Considered: Marcus Stroman, Zach Eflin

Summary

Wow.

My team graded out to be an A+ with a score of 99 out of 100. Want some irony? I didn’t love it.

I wasn’t overly thrilled with some of the choices I made, and I was not exactly targeting many of the players that ended up on my roster. Maybe that’s a good thing, and perhaps that’s why my biases prevented me from seeing just how good the team is on an overall scale.

The reality is that this draft allowed me to continuously find value. I targeted the best available player most of the time, and I didn’t obsess over positions I needed to fill. I attribute this somewhat to the versatile players I took earlier and the key positions I secured whenever possible.

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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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