12-Team Mock Draft: Early Pick (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
Mock drafts don’t cut it for everyone. Some need the pulsating feeling of watching the timer tick away, knowing that glory or agony lurks around the corner with every selection.
Practicing on FantasyPros’ Draft Wizard is a great way to quickly and conveniently refine your draft strategy. Many adrenaline junkies, however, need the real thing.
I recently found the best way to recreate that high-stakes pressure in a draft that technically won’t count. All you have to do is appear on a podcast where the hosts — and everyone listening or watching — are ready to ridicule your every move.
Last week, I had the pleasure of taking the Draft Wizard out for a spin with Dan Harris and Joe Pisapia. We did a 12-team draft with nine automated competitors using the following roster configuration: C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, CI, MI, 5 OF, UT, 2 SP, 2 RP, 5 P, 5 BN. While they both picked near the end (Joe at 10, Dan at 11), I randomly received the first pick.
You can see my real-time reactions in the video above, but let’s circle back and re-examine those split-second decisions.
1.1: Ronald Acuña Jr. (OF – ATL)
The first pick is usually a highly desired grand prize, but I was a bit disappointed to draw the opening selection.
There’s a valid case to make here for five of six players. Mookie Betts may be the safest five-category bet. Fernando Tatís Jr. probably has the highest pure ceiling. Mike Trout is still Mike Trout. I had Juan Soto ranked fifth at the time of this mock, but news of him wanting to run more has me wondering if he should leapfrog to the top. While it’s not my modus operandi, I wouldn’t blame anyone who wanted Jacob deGrom in a league where pitching reigns supreme.
I ultimately went with Acuña, a career .281/.371/.538 hitter averaging 41 home runs and 31 stolen bases per 162 games. While his contact dipped in 2020, he also walked more and elevated his ISO to .331.
Others Considered: Mookie Betts, Fernando Tatís Jr., Mike Trout
2.12: Max Scherzer (SP – WAS)
I knew I wanted at least one ace at this turn. Eight starters went off the board, including my top targets in Walker Buehler and Lucas Giolito. That left Scherzer and Luis Castillo as my two options. Scherzer’s demise has been greatly exaggerated. Even in a down year, the veteran recorded a 3.46 FIP, 3.56 SIERA, and 92 strikeouts in 67.1 innings. However, news of an ankle injury — atop of his prior neck and back problems — later broke that has me reconsidering this decision. After all, he is a 36-year-old with 2,469.1 career innings (playoffs included) on his odometer.
Others Considered: Luis Castillo
3.1: Xander Bogaerts (SS – BOS)
Bo Bichette has a higher consensus ADP, but I’m more comfortable grabbing Bogaerts. He’s hit .300 since the start of 2018, slugging over .500 in each of those three seasons. Seeing him steal eight bases in a shortened 2020 affirms the shortstop’s status as a five-category stud not getting his proper due in early drafts. I was actually fortunate enough to get him at the end of the third round in a 12-team NFBC draft.
Others Considered: Bo Bichette, Luis Castillo, DJ LeMahieu
4.12: Blake Snell (SP – SD)
Picking at the turn amplified the pressure to solidify another top starter here. Rather than risk missing out on a major run, I wanted either Snell or Lance Lynn as my No. 2. Both hurlers are as different as can be — Lynn led the majors in innings last year while Snell never worked six innings in a start. I went with the younger Snell in hopes of the Padres giving him a longer leash than the Rays. A loaded lineup and the current lack of a National League DH helps the southpaw’s cause as well.
Others Considered: Lance Lynn
5.1: Tim Anderson (SS – CHW)
I already have a starting shortstop, but Anderson was the best player on my board by a noticeable margin. Like most other fantasy players, I was skeptical of his 2019 breakout. Yet he was even better in a shortened 2020, batting .322/.357/.529 with 10 homers and five steals in 49 games. Doubters obsessed with the free swinger’s unlikely high batting average seem to be under-appreciating the legitimate power gains. The ability to go 20/20 with a .280 or higher batting average essentially makes him a cheaper Bichette.
6.12: J.D. Martinez (OF/UT – BOS)
This is where I would usually snag Nelson Cruz, but Joe beat me to it at pick 5.10. The easy pivot is Martinez, a former first-round stud who averaged 41 homers and 113 RBIs over the last three seasons before a down 2020. He batted over .300 in each of the past four years before plummeting to .213 in 237 plate appearances. The 33-year-old isn’t an old geezer just yet, so let’s see if he bounces back with the benefit of clubhouse video and a closer-to-normal offseason to properly prepare. He also has one key edge over Cruz for this mock; the Draft Wizard gives him OF eligibility in compliance with Yahoo deciding to honor 2019 positions.
7.1: Gleyber Torres (2B/SS – NYY)
I was choosing from three sluggers considered below before realizing that these eligibility rules also mean Torres is playable at second base despite exclusively playing shortstop in 2020. I wanted no part of the rising Yankees star at his heftier cost last year. Available at the 73rd pick, the price has fallen too much. The average should rise back up near his career .271 rate while belting 30 or more dingers with plenty of RBIs and runs. Getting him at a shallow second base instead of the far stronger shortstop is a major advantage.
Others Considered: Michael Conforto, Eugenio Suárez, Nick Castellanos
8.12: Anthony Rizzo (1B – CHC)
Here are Rizzo’s batting averages by season from 2014 to 2020: .286, .278, .292, .273, .283, .293, .222. See which one doesn’t belong? He maintained a strong 82.5% contact rate and 15.6% strikeout rate in 2020, so this seems like a clear small-sample fluke caused by a career-low .222 BABIP. This was an easy call with Conforto, Suárez, Castellanos, and Paul Goldschmidt off the board.
9.1: Zack Wheeler (SP – PHI)
After passing on Lynn, I wanted a durable No. 3 starter. Kyle Hendricks went to start Round 8, but Wheeler also fits the mold. Although he struggled to stay healthy early in his career, the righty has logged 448.1 innings (12th among all starters) since the start of 2018. Wheeler had a strange 2020, posting a 2.92 ERA despite his strikeout rate dipping to 18.3%. That’s despite a slight velocity uptick and career-high 10.8% swinging-strike rate, so the punchouts should come back.
10.12: Ryan Pressly (RP – HOU)
How many clear closers are there right now? Twelve? Maybe fewer? Because of this limited supply, I want at least one semi-reliable ninth-inning option. Pressly, Kenley Jansen, and Brad Hand were the only three remaining closers who qualified. Jansen’s rough postseason and Hand’s velocity decline moved the needle to Pressly, who boasts the fifth-best FIP (2.59) and seventh-best K-B% (27.1%) since the start of 2018.
Others Considered: Kenley Jansen, Brad Hand
11.1: Tommy Pham (OF – SD)
There are legitimate concerns about his health and San Diego’s revamped depth siphoning plate appearances, but that’s why a player capable of going 20/20 with a steady average and 90-100 runs is available with the 121st pick. Besides, the other available outfielders also have their warts.
12.12: Joe Musgrove (SP – SD)
As hard as I try, I can’t quit Musgrove. While I’ve spent most of the draft taking discounts on hitters who slumped in 2020, I let this small sample size sway me since I’ve spent years waiting for the Pittsburgh righty to realize his strikeout upside. His K rate soared to a career-high 33.1% after collecting 29 punchouts in his final three turns. He’s finished each of the last four seasons with a higher ERA than FIP, but Musgrove has the skills — and now a far superior supporting cast in San Diego — to take a substantial leap.
13.1: Jorge Soler (OF – KC)
I gave Soler a passing glance at the Rounds 10/11 turn, so I couldn’t pass him up again. While most of my lineup hit for a low batting average in 2020, I don’t see any of them as liabilities over a full season. I can thus tolerate a .240s average from Soler if he hits dingers. He crushed 48 homers in 2019, his only full healthy season, so durability is my only worry here.
14.12: Justin Turner (3B – LAD)
I usually draft a third baseman far earlier, as Anthony Rendon, Rafael Devers, Suárez, and Yoan Moncada are all great buys at their ADP. Waiting didn’t really hurt me. Turner might be better served as a corner infielder given the likelihood of missed time, but he’s a stud when on the field. We discussed a lack of appreciation to high batting-average hitters on the podcast, and that bias is clear with Turner falling this late despite batting .302 since joining the Dodgers in 2014.
Others Considered: Josh Donaldson
15.1: Tyler Mahle (SP – CIN)
Perhaps it’s strange that I’m writing off last year when targeting bounce-back hitters, but buying breakout pitching candidates based on 2020 results. Like Musgrove, Mahle’s K rate skyrocketed during a short stint against the NL and AL Central. Opponents hit .193 against him with an ever lower .188 expected batting average, and all three of his offerings (four-seamer, slider, and splitter) netted a put-away rate of 20.0% or higher. This is another case of “getting my guy” rather than taking a higher-floor option.
16.12: Rafael Montero (RP – SEA)
This is a “Saves are saves” pick. Montero is the closer … for now. I might have been better served throwing cheaper darts later, but there’s no more foolproof formula from the eyes of a cynical Mets fan than players they inexplicably gave up on too early.
17.1: Kyle Schwarber (OF – WAS)
Schwarber and Soler bring similar profiles to my outfield, but I took the bargain anyway. Schwarber is another 40-homer candidate who shined in 2019, but slumped in 2020. He’s going to bat in the heart of a Washington lineup also featuring Soto and Trea Turner, and Justin Turner gives me the ability to absorb another middling batting average. Sign me up for a possible 40 homers from my fifth outfielder.
18.12: Isiah Kiner-Falefa (C/3B/SS – TEX)
Know your league, folks. He didn’t squat behind the plate once in 2020, but Kiner-Falefa will maintain catcher eligibility in Yahoo leagues. I happily punched in that cheap code, as he’ll log regular plate appearances in the Rangers’ infield while offering a decent batting-average floor with double-digit stolen bases. Merely reaching ATC’s projected .260 average, seven homers, 14 steals, 63 runs, and 45 RBIs would make him a top-10 backstop.
19.1: Jose Urquidy (SP – HOU)
Urquidy hasn’t been one of my 2021 targets, but that was a result of putting too much stock into poor peripherals from five regular-season starts. He didn’t pitch until September after contracting COVID-19. The 5.41 SIERA is ugly, but he still posted a 2.73 ERA with four quality starts. The Athletic’s Eno Sarris ranked Urquidy as his 30th starter because of excellent command and a deep repertoire.
I’ve already started to lose him in drafts, so I might as well lean in and give you my favorite SP sleeper this year: José Urquidy. No other pitcher was 110+ on both stuff and command. Every pitch does what it’s supposed to do, and he has four of them. pic.twitter.com/ivgdmgOxAg
— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) February 12, 2021
20.12: C.J. Cron (1B – COL)
This could be a wasted pick if Cron fails to make Colorado’s lineup or gets stuck in the short side of a platoon. If he plays regularly, look out. Cron swatted 30 and 25 homers in 2018 and 2019, respectively. He batted .253 each time, but Coors Field could easily elevate that mark into the .270 range. Cron will go way higher in March if grabbing hold of the starting job.
21.1: Alex Kirilloff (OF – MIN)
The Twins trusted Kirilloff enough to let him debut in the AL Wild Card Game. They then non-tendered Eddie Rosario. As a result, they shouldn’t waste too much time before unleashing the 23-year-old. I’ve built enough of a solid foundation to take a fun upside pick.
Others Considered: Renato Nunez, Brian Anderson, Kyle Seager
22.12: Amir Garrett (RP – CIN)
Unlike Montero, I’m drafting Garrett for skills rather than the role. His elite contact suppression and whiff generation would be awfully enticing if attached to saves. If not, he could fill out my starting lineup as a strikeout and ratio padder. He’s my favorite to close over Lucas Sims and Sean Doolittle in Cincinnati.
23.1: Elieser Hernández (SP/RP – MIA)
This could be another case of using last year’s results as confirmation bias. I’ve liked Hernández before, so I’m trying to convince myself there’s something from his six strong starts from 2020. While I’m not necessarily a full believer, he’s my seventh starter parked in a bench spot. I’m not buying at an inflated price, but that’s not the case here.
24.12: Tommy La Stella (1B/2B/3B – SF)
La Stella’s head-scratching 2019 power surge fizzled. That doesn’t mean his breakout was a fluke, as his OBP (.370) and wOBA (.355) improved in a 55-game stint. No batter with a minimum of 300 plate appearances has a lower strikeout rate than his 7.3% since the start of 2019, and I’m capitalizing on the Draft Wizard’s lax eligibility rules to get a versatile infielder for my bench.
25.1: Jake Odorizzi (SP – FA)
Remember when Odorizzi recorded a 3.51 ERA in 2019? Apparently MLB teams and fantasy drafters don’t, as the 30-year-old remains a free agent getting shoved down draft boards because of four bad starts in 2020. He’s now unlikely to sign with the Mets, who landed Taijuan Walker since recording the podcast, but Odorizzi should still find a home before Opening Day. However, I’ll be less inclined to take him the longer he remains unsigned. Reporting late could jeopardize his availability and/or effectiveness to start the season.
Others Considered: Mike Minor, Justus Sheffield, Yusei Kikuchi
26.12: Giovanny Gallegos (RP – STL)
A 2.31 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, and 93 strikeouts in 74 innings in 2019 made Gallegos a popular 2020 closer target. He tested positive for COVID-19 in July and had trouble getting back to the United States from Mexico. The Cardinals then saw their season derailed by a COVID outbreak. That’s not to say Gallegos needs a mulligan to consider drafting; he notched a 3.60 ERA and 2.06 FIP in 15 innings. He could easily go 10 rounds earlier in Montero’s slot if winning a deep closer competition in St. Louis.
27.1: Joey Votto (1B – CIN)
This isn’t necessarily a logical response, but I couldn’t take some no-name sleeper instead of a former MVP in the final round. After getting benched in late August, Votto swatted eight homers with a .398 wOBA in 29 games from August 29 onward. The cerebral veteran adjusted his swing to great success, so I’ll take a no-risk flyer on those changes carrying over into 2021.
You can find the full mock draft results here.
While I like my squad, I was a bit taken back by the Draft Wizard’s A+ grade. Then again, I was always a reasonably good student who nonetheless fretted about failing every test.
The Draft Analyzer likes a balanced lineup projected to finish first in batting average and either fourth, fifth, or sixth in the other categories. I definitely benefited from getting speed with my early selections of Acuña, Bogaerts, Anderson, and Pham. This allowed me to largely neglect speed in favor of cheap power or batting average. Those extra steals by Kiner-Falefa at catcher could deliver a couple of points in the category.
My pitching staff embraces risk, but I was a bit surprised to see strikeouts as my worst projected category. It might just be a quantity issue. While Scherzer and Snell could make or break this squad’s success, I like my chances of bagging a breakout from at least one of Musgrove, Mahle, or Urquidy.
I’d likely try to follow this balanced blueprint if drawing an early pick in a real 12-team draft.
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