Dan Harris’s 12-Team Early Mock Draft: Middle Pick (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
Picking in the middle of a draft opens up a million possibilities. Do 50 mock drafts. And you’ll get 50 different potential ways to construct your team through five rounds.
The best part about mock drafting – from a middle or any position – is that it affords you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. As I’ll discuss here as I walk through a mock draft from the sixth position in a 12-team league, I could have easily made this team a true powerhouse had I taken some of the others I was considering at key spots.
The lineup for this 12-team draft is C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, CI, MI, 5 OF, UTIL, 2 SP, 2 RP, 5 P, 4 BN, and conducted using FantasyPros’ Draft Simulator.
1.6: Juan Soto (OF – WAS)
I’ve got no real issue with anyone who wants to take Jacob deGrom or Gerrit Cole within the first few picks of their draft, and so I won’t argue with deGrom going third overall in this draft. But for me, I don’t consider taking a pitcher until Ronald Acuna Jr., Mookie Betts, Fernando Tatis Jr., Mike Trout, and Soto are off the board. So with deGrom gone and Soto pushed down, there was zero hesitation. Soto’s level of production as a 22-year-old is historic, and he’s only getting better. That fact that he reportedly wants to steal more bases this year is just the cherry on top.
Others Considered: No one (but the next player on my board was Gerrit Cole)
2.7: Bryce Harper (OF – PHI)
It’s becoming increasingly rare when I leave a draft without at least one starting pitcher in the first two rounds, but at the sixth pick, if I do, it’s because I took Harper. The decision was a bit easier for me here, as in addition to deGrom, Cole, and Shane Bieber, several other starters had already been taken by the time the draft returned to me. They included Trevor Bauer, Yu Darvish, and Aaron Nola. Harper is an easy pick for me here in those circumstances, given that he’ll contribute strong returns in four categories and won’t hurt you in the fifth (batting average). And in a five-outfielder league, starting with two incredible building blocks was a great foundation.
Others Considered: Lucas Giolito
3:6: Max Scherzer (SP – WAS)
There was almost no chance I’d take anything other than a starting pitcher in this spot, as I aim almost always to leave a draft with three of my top-22 ranked starters (the point in my rankings where I feel there’s a firm drop-off in a tier). Once Giolito, Walker Buehler, and Luis Castillo were off the board, it was a toss-up for me between Scherzer and Jack Flaherty. Scherzer certainly wasn’t quite himself last year and is battling an ankle injury already, but his strikeout rate and velocity show there’s still plenty left in the tank. He’s still capable of being an ace, albeit a low-end one.
Others Considered: Jack Flaherty
4:7: Zac Gallen (SP – ARI)
There are a lot of quality offensive players available here, but my loose rule of “try to leave the first four rounds with two starters” gets a whole lot tighter when I take my first starter in Round 3. Gallen may struggle for wins a bit in Arizona, but his gains in walk rate last year, as well as his career 28.5% strikeout rate, leave him on the doors of superstardom. He and Scherzer make a fine 1-2 punch, and it’s worth passing on the excellent offensive options available.
5:6: Lance Lynn (SP – CHW)
In FantasyPros Zeile projections, there are just seven pitchers projected to pitch 186 innings or more. Lynn is one of them. There’s little to dislike about Lynn’s profile at this stage in his career, and there’s plenty to like about his league-leading 84 innings pitched last season. The move to a less favorable home park in Chicago should be offset by Yasmani Grandal‘s pitch-framing skills. At this point, my starting rotation has three excellent options, all of which offer strong strikeout numbers. With Harper and Soto anchoring the offense, the team has the makings of a contender through five rounds.
Others Considered: Aaron Judge
6:7: Keston Hiura (2B – MIL)
The shine is off Hiura just a bit after his strikeout rate continued to balloon last year (he was second in MLB with 85 strikeouts last year). But he was never a huge strikeout risk in the minors, and, regardless, he’s likely to provide upwards of 25 home runs and add on double-digit steals. I debated going with one of the many power bats available but decided that addressing one of the only truly thin positions in fantasy while adding in some steals was worth it. Hiura’s soon-to-be first base eligibility is a nice added bonus.
7:6: Charlie Blackmon (OF – COL)
I’ve done a million drafts with FantasyPros’ Draft Wizard, and I think this is the first time I ended up with Blackmon. Each of the power bats I had considered in Round 6 went off the board before this pick, which left me in no man’s land a bit. This is what I call “the dead zone” of the 2021 draft board. No one jumps out as a value, and no one seems like he will make a significant impact on your team. Blackmon is getting up there in age, and the stolen base potential is mostly gone. But I’m not conceding that his power is done just because of last year’s six home runs. And regardless, he addresses one of the more difficult categories to fill in batting average. With him and Soto, I can afford now to take on some average drainers.
Others Considered: Yoan Moncada
8:7: Kyle Hendricks (SP – CHC)
Nary a draft goes by that I don’t take Hendricks. One season with an ERA above 3.46. No seasons with a WHIP above 1.19. Yes, the strikeouts will never be there, but with Scherzer, Gallen, and Lynn leading my staff, they don’t need to be for Hendricks. Assuming you have a strong strikeout base, he should always be a target in this range. That’s especially true with David Ross looking like he’s more willing to let Hendricks go deeper into games than Joe Maddon was.
Others Considered: Kris Bryant
9:6: Jeff McNeil (2B – NYM)
Truth be told, this wasn’t a good pick, though I didn’t realize it at the time. My four offensive players to this point were Soto, Harper, Hiura, and Blackmon. That’s not exactly a team that scares you with its power. Adding a player like McNeil, who should provide average and runs, but who will probably top out at around 20 homers and 10 steals, just isn’t the type of player this team needs. That’s especially true since part of McNeil’s value is his second base eligibility, and I already have Hiura. The next pick in the draft was Giancarlo Stanton, followed shortly thereafter by Matt Chapman. Either would have been preferable in hindsight.
Others Considered: Giancarlo Stanton, Matt Chapman
10:7: Raisel Iglesias (RP – LAA)
This year more than ever, drafting at least one reliable closer is almost a necessity. You’ll be able to find plenty of saves on the waiver wire, as usual, but there are perhaps a dozen solid relievers who, you know, absent an injury, should hold their job all year. After James Karinchak went off the board, the time was right to move on Iglesias, who should be locked into his role with the Angels.
Others Considered: Carlos Correa
11:6: Tommy Pham (OF – SD)
This is another pick that doesn’t fit my team’s needs perfectly, but it’s steering into the skid a bit, and I’d make the same pick if faced with it again. Pham had a disastrous 2020 season, which included a broken hamate bone, and an equally terrible offseason, during which he was stabbed during an altercation. But he appears to be fully healthy now and ready to regain his position as an integral part of a strong Padres lineup. Pham may be entering his age-33 season, but he’s essentially been a 20-15 lock over the three seasons prior to last year, and there’s little reason to think his skills have suddenly eroded. With no big power bats likely to be taken before my next pick (other than Jorge Soler, of whom I’m not a fan), I’ll gladly continue to pile on with the 20-10 type of player, especially at outfield, which is going to get thin quick.
Others Considered: Rhys Hoskins
12:7: Rhys Hoskins (1B – PHI)
Hoskins may have lasted another round, but I wasn’t willing to take a chance. As I talked about with Joe Pisapia on an episode of last week’s FantasyPros Baseball Podcast, fantasy managers have a bias against players who have failed to quite live up to the expectations placed upon them early in their career. Other than the last month and a half of the 2019 season when Hoskins was suffering the effects of being hit by a pitch on the hand, he’s basically produced a full-season pace of 35 homers, 105 runs, and 95 RBI. He’s coming off elbow surgery, but everything currently suggests he’ll be ready for Opening Day. Hoskins should be going a round earlier than this, but he’s more likely to go a round later. I’m happy to scoop him here as my first baseman and add some much-needed power.
Others Considered: Joey Gallo
13:6: Didi Gregorius (SS – PHI)
Sigh, Gallo was taken one spot before me, and he really would have been the perfect pick for my team. As for Gregorius, well, shortstop is deep, but it’s not limitless. Without question, Gregorius has benefited greatly from playing his home games in Yankee Stadium and Citizen’s Bank Park for the bulk of his career. But he’s back with the Phillies, and despite the weak batted ball data last year, he still should be able to put up his customary 20-plus home runs. Really, when you look at their projections, he’s a poor man’s Carlos Correa, just going several rounds later.
14.7: Victor Robles (OF – WAS)
Do you want historically poor contact? If so, Robles is your man. He’s always been below average in hard-hit percentage, barrel rate, and average exit velocity, but last year, he was one of the worst in the league in terms of the quality of his contact. But still, this is a once-heralded prospect who hit 17 homers and stole 28 bases a year ago. He made the mistake of trying to bulk up last year, which didn’t work for him, but he did at least up his line drive rate fairly significantly. Robles is young, and we’ve seen him be a power/speed threat before. There’s every reason to take a chance on him here.
Also, it’s worth noting that at this point, I’m making a conscious effort not to desperately chase down power. I’ll look for cheap power sources, but after missing on Gallo in the 13th and Sano here, I’m willing to try to make sure I’m competitive in other categories rather than ignore everything at the expense of searching for home runs.
Others Considered: Ryan Mountcastle
15:6: Trey Mancini (OF – BAL)
Before Mancini was so unfortunately diagnosed with cancer and had to miss all of the 2020 season, there was little negative to say about him. His breakout 35-homer season in 2019 was backed up by the batted ball data, and really, his profile had remained relatively consistent. All things pointed to Mancini simply evolving as a hitter in a sustainable way. Well, all signs are that he is fully healthy, and there’s every reason to expect him to continue on the upward trajectory he had shown in 2019. If he does show he’s healthy in spring training, his draft price will shoot up. I’m willing to bet on the come now.
16:7: Justin Turner (3B – LAD)
At this point, I still needed either a middle infielder or a third baseman (depending on whether McNeil is eligible at third in your league, which he is in this draft). Turner is 36 years old and hasn’t topped 135 games played since 2016, but there has been little to no decline in his skills, and he actually had the highest barrel rate and hard-hit percentage of his career last year despite the mere four home runs. He should provide plenty of production when he’s in the lineup and should solidify my standing in batting average at the very least.
Others Considered: Eduardo Rodriguez
17:6: Austin Riley (3B – OF)
I was not a fan of Riley’s last year, but I’ve drafted him on several teams already this season. He made a tangible change in his approach last year, trading off some power for contact, and with someone with his raw power, that’s a trade I’m happy to see. There’s very little threat to Riley holding the third base job in Atlanta, and there’s upside for 40 home runs. With him, Turner, and McNeil, I should have plenty of options at the third base position.
18:7: Marcus Stroman (SP – NYM)
You can see that for each of my last three picks, the “others considered” bucket has been filled with starting pitchers. After Hendricks in Round 8, I decided to load up on offensive players for the most part because I think the quality of starting pitchers after pick 200 isn’t all that much different from those after pick 160 or so. Exhibit A is Stroman, about whom there is a ton to like. In addition to his increased strikeout rate after coming to the Mets (and as of now, I think we have to assume there will be no DH this year for the National League), the Mets improved their infield defense by trading for Francisco Lindor. Stroman is also reportedly working on two new pitches, and because he accepted the qualifying offer from the Mets, he’s pitching in a contract year. Stroman is going too late in drafts, and I’m happy to scoop him up here as a fifth starter, given my rotation.
Others Considered: Drew Pomeranz
19:6: James Paxton (SP – SEA)
There’s almost no chance Paxton is going to throw a ton of innings, both because he’s never done it before and because he’s coming off missing almost the entire season with the always ominous strained flexor in his pitching forearm. And, it doesn’t seem like a great sign that no contender – and especially the Yankees, who know him best – was willing to take a shot on him a one-year deal. Nevertheless, after seeing his velocity drop to just 92 miles per hour on his fastball in his brief stint last season, Paxton was reportedly up to 94 miles per hour during his workouts. He has proven he can be effective when healthy, so it’s worth drafting his upside this late.
Others Considered: Ryan Yarbrough
20:7: Jorge Polanco (SS – MIN)
I actually prefer Yarbrough to Paxton but gambled that the former would make it back to me here and lost (he went four picks after Paxton). So I pivoted to a highly underrated consolation prize in Polanco, who will gain second base eligibility shortly after the season begins after the Twins signed Andrelton Simmons. Polanco rarely barreled the ball last season, but the fact that the fantasy community has completely abandoned him as an option is silly to me. He still rarely strikes out, won’t hurt you in batting average, and has enough speed to throw in a handful of steals. With the ability to back up both middle infield positions, he’s an ideal pick this late.
21:6: Matt Barnes (RP – BOS)
Barnes is currently slated to be Boston’s closer, though, with the signing of Adam Ottavino, that’s a bit less certain. I’d still expect Barnes to be the stopper on Opening Day, and at this point in the game, that’s all I care about. Barnes has the strikeout chops to handle the ninth inning, but his grotesque walk rate, which has been above 13% in each of the last two seasons, does not offer hope that he can hold the job for long. At the same time, Ottavino’s walk rate isn’t much better, and the fact that the Yankees essentially gave him to the Red Sox, even if it was a salary dump, probably suggests they aren’t concerned about his impact. So Barnes should at least have the job to start, and hopefully longer.
Others Considered: James McCann
22:7: Amir Garrett (RP – CIN)
Garrett isn’t the clear cut closer in Cincinnati, but with Lucas Sims battling elbow soreness and Sean Doolittle offering another lefty arm in the pen, he’s the best bet on the Reds right now. As with Barnes, it’s far from a sure thing that Garrett will be closing games come May, but he’s got a strong shot to be doing so in April. Even if he doesn’t, he will likely help in strikeouts and ratios, making him a fine option in the 22nd round.
Others Considered: Buster Posey
23:6: Hunter Dozier (1B – KC)
You know what’s sneaky decent? The Kansas City lineup. Dozier was a mini-breakout player in 2019, had a poor 2020, and is suddenly off the fantasy radar entirely. But there’s really no reason to discount him. His quality of contact was incredibly poor last year, but it was entirely out of character with his previous two seasons. Considering he began the year on the COVID-19 reserve list after testing positive, it’s far more likely that his 44-game slump was a product of his illness rather than a sudden loss of skills. He’ll also start at third base this year, which should give him eligibility at three positions, a huge boost to his stock.
Others Considered: Brandon Nimmo
24:7: Danny Jansen (C – TOR)
Ok, fine, this was my bad. I did not expect several drafters to take backup catchers and left myself behind the eight ball a bit. Jansen’s bat hasn’t developed quite as expected, and both Reese McGuire and Alejandro Kirk may steal some at-bats. But he should see the bulk of the time behind the plate. Over the last two seasons (150 games), Jansen has hit 19 home runs and driven in 59 runs. The batting average won’t help, but nor will most catchers’.
Others Considered: No one
25:6: Mitch Keller (SP – PIT)
Ignore Keller’s career in the majors, as he’s the author of one of the luckiest and one of the unluckiest seasons in history for a pitcher. But he has a long minor league track record of success and multiple pitches that play in the majors. He’s unlikely to win many games with the Pirates, but the team is similarly unlikely to replace him in the rotation, even if he struggles for a bit. Add to that the weakness of the majority of the lineups in the NL Central, and Keller has the upside that I’m happy to take at this point.
Others Considered: Mitch Haniger
26:7: Griffin Canning (SP – LAA)
Upside pitching late is what I’m usually after at this point, and Canning fits the bill. Despite a higher ERA in 2019, Canning was more impressive that year than in 2020, given that his walk rate rose and his strikeout rate fell last season. But he closed the year strong (3.14 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 14.5 SwStr%, 10.4 K/9 over his final five starts), and there’s a ton of strikeout upside. If he can manage to stay healthy over a full season, there’s a lot to like.
Others Considered: None
An A- grade and a projected second-place finish is probably a little generous, in my opinion, and it could have been a truly excellent team had I not gotten sidetracked with batting average and all-around production and instead focused more on power in the middle rounds.
But I should be competitive in all pitching categories and will just need to hope that some of my batters exceed their projected power totals. It’s a competitive team, which is really all you can ask coming out of the draft.
That said, as always, I learned something doing this mock draft, which is why you should mock and mock some more to iron out the kinks.
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