Fantasy Baseball Mock Draft: 12-Team, Salary Cap (2023)
We perform mock drafts because we know the practice can only help. In this case, we’re about to enter a mock salary cap draft for the second time this preseason, which means that we must learn from what we did in the last attempt. In short, that was the practice for this practice.
Heading into any salary cap draft, we should always have a strategy of how we want to use our funds — which is obviously why each of these articles begins with one. I found that I stuck to my strategy too well in my last attempt and had to perform some budget gymnastics to produce a solid team. I will undoubtedly tweak ahead of this one.
Overall, the approach remains the same. There will be value at times, but there are certain players who are worth more than their market price. Everyone has a different shortlist of these players, but make sure you have one entering the draft. Once again, I didn’t, and I am making that change now.
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12-Team Mock Salary Cap Draft
My Pre-Draft Strategy
- Make sure I land a top hitter worthy of a first-round pick, even if I were to overpay. This is the shortlist I mentioned in the introduction, and it includes Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Yordan Alvarez, and Ronald Acuna, Jr.
- Remain cautious before overpaying for pitching. If I really do spend more than the average on a hitter or two, do not go above the average price for a pitcher. I continually find that solid arms are available later in the draft.
- Bid on every closer that is under the average price. I need to land at least three, and I will only increase the price if I feel too many are being drafted without me landing a single one.
- Wait on shortstop. This is a repeat from my last draft, but I liked the premise. There are simply so many available this year that it isn’t worth worrying about filling the roster spot for a long time.
- Keep targeting speed where possible. It’s the area of my teams that is generally the most lacking.
This 12-team lineup is C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, 3 OF, Util, 5 SP, 3 RP, and 5 BN was conducted using FantasyPros’ Salary cap Draft Simulator.
C – Adley Rutschman (C – BAL): $5
This is now the second mock salary cap that I have done and the second time that I landed Adley Rutschman as my starting catcher. Neither time was intentional. In snake drafts, it’s likely that at least one fantasy manager will want to jump ahead of the pack and grab Rutschman relatively early, but in a salary cap, his name doesn’t need to come up until plenty of money has already been spent. That has been the case, and I’ll keep taking the chance by adding Rutschman and his upside at a reasonable price.
1B – Ryan Mountcastle (1B – BAL): $8
Here’s where it gets interesting. Because of the format of this article, Ryan Mountcastle’s write-up occurs near the top of the list. In reality, he was a necessary add at a time when I had plenty of money left over and no first baseman on my roster. I actually tried to get Jose Abreu instead — and, in hindsight, I should have spent the extra money to do so — but settled on Mountcastle even at a slightly inflated price — relative to the market at the time. He needs to provide power worthy of being my starting first baseman, so I do plan to add a backup option with a later pick.
2B – Andres Gimenez (2B, SS – CLE): $9
At this point, I must be the president of the Andres Gimenez Fan Club. Not only have I added him to basically every team that I’ve drafted, but I passed on another second baseman solely because I saw that Gimenez would still be available. I just can’t ignore the stolen base potential for a near-.300 hitter.
SS – Wander Franco (SS – TB): $11
Exactly like Eloy Jimenez (whose blurb follows this), I had forced Wander Franco onto my prior mock salary cap team out of necessity. That wasn’t the case here, but Franco is still a hitter I would love to add to as many lineups as possible. He still has one of the highest ceilings of any player in the game, and he will enter next season at just 22 years old.
3B – Gunnar Henderson (3B, SS – BAL): $7
In an honest moment, I don’t love this selection. I save money in salary cap drafts so that I can either add the players I want — even at a premium — or price enforce so that others don’t get exceptional deals. The latter is what happened here. I’m not buying the Gunnar Henderson hype like most, but I simply can’t let him go to another team at such a discount in the event that I am too low on him. It’s easy to love the potential, but I’ll make it a point to back him up with a third baseman later.
OF – Yordan Alvarez (OF – HOU): $56
I had tried to bid on Aaron Judge to follow what I wrote in the introduction, but he eventually went for $82 — almost double his $44 suggested value. Similarly, I couldn’t spend the $65 needed to land Ronald Acuna, Jr. Yordan Alvarez has been a top target of mine for the majority of this preseason, and I was able to add him for $56. Tremendous power and batting average potential are now the foundation of my lineup, and, as an interesting side note, Mike Trout was nominated right after him and ultimately went for $50. Of my four ‘shortlist’ players, Alvarez and Trout were the two that stayed at reasonable prices.
OF – Bryce Harper (OF – PHI): $2
There was a somewhat feverish spending spree for an extended period of time, and I simply bid on every player that was showing a discount. Eventually, I was going to land one, and Bryce Harper at $2 was that player. Harper is obviously a lottery ticket, as he won’t be able to contribute to the Phillies for quite some time. Still, if he can eventually deliver, then he was worth this laughably low price. He will slide over to my bench, but I left him in as my second outfielder to show when I added him.
OF – Eloy Jimenez (OF – CWS): $15
Eloy Jimenez is actually one of the most important players to add to this roster, but for an oddly specific reason. In the last mock salary cap that I performed, I waited to spend for an extended period of time, and Jimenez, out of necessity, became arguably my key hitter. That isn’t the case this time around, as I made it a point to pay a premium for a first-round worthy bat. Therefore, Jimenez was added to a roster that isn’t devoid of hitters. I love his potential, regardless, but it was comforting to know that I didn’t need Jimenez, and I could have survived getting outbid.
UTIL – Byron Buxton (OF – MIN): $9
It’s the same story every year. If Byron Buxton can stay healthy, then he could be a legitimate contender for the league’s MVP Award. We simply have to expect that he can’t stay healthy, and that’s why his salary cap value is so low. For the amount of money that I still had, there was no reason to pass on Buxton simply for what he could produce. Even if he fails, the $9 I spent will not prohibit me from adding basically anyone else I want.
SP – Spencer Strider (SP – ATL): $24
The goal was simple. After I landed my first player at a premium, I would not spend more than the suggested value unless absolutely necessary. This began with a few bids on starting pitchers, and Spencer Strider was the one that stayed under my budget. Strider’s 2023 outlook is extremely straightforward. He either regresses hard after an outstanding rookie campaign or continues his ascent as one of the league’s better pitchers. To protect myself from possibly being on the wrong side of that outcome, I’m only adding him to teams where the value is right. This is one of them.
SP – George Kirby (SP – SEA): $6
I let a lot of starting pitchers pass because of their respective prices, but George Kirby was going to end up on my team unless his price reached double-digits. It didn’t. For the amount of attention that second-year players get after a solid rookie campaign, I’m surprised that Kirby isn’t flying up the draft boards. Perhaps it’s the assumed regression — which is obviously possible — but if a starting pitcher with age on his side had a 2.99 FIP and is going for a discount in a salary cap, I’m jumping in every time.
SP – Triston McKenzie (SP – CLE): $10
For as much as I liked the value of the aforementioned George Kirby, I did get a sense of discomfort when I realized that he was my SP2. That forced me to be a little more aggressive in adding another starting pitcher. I certainly had the funds for it, so I willingly paid a little more than the average to bring Triston McKenzie onto my roster. McKenzie’s issue in 2021 had been an extremely high walk rate, but that seems to have been corrected last year. If he can keep that number down, then he’s another solid addition to any rotation.
SP – Kyle Wright (SP – ATL): $6
Let’s add Kyle Wright to the same list of “I have cap space, I need another starting pitcher, his current asking price isn’t too high, and I can combine those thoughts here.” It is obviously unlikely to ask Wright to match his 21-win total of last year, but the fact that he threw more than 180 innings is actually inspiring. Maybe he slows down and needs to lower his pace for ’23, but I like the foundation that has already been laid.
SP – Nick Lodolo (SP – CIN): $6
Any rookie starting pitcher who eclipses 100 innings with a strikeout rate of at least one batter per inning is going to get my attention. As a depth piece for a salary cap draft that has plenty of money to use as I please, it’s a no-brainer. The ability to add someone like Nick Lodolo for $6 is one of the reasons why it is always worth it to save funds for later picks.
RP – Jordan Romano (RP – TOR): $14
Romano was just outside the range that I wanted to spend, but I easily had the most money of any team. I could see the writing on the wall that Josh Hader and Devin Williams would soon be the nominated closers that were going to carry premiums. For that reason, I was willing to spend just a little more and secure a solid source of saves.
RP – Josh Hader (RP – SD): $14
I am quite surprised that it played out this way, but it was nothing more than timing. Many other teams had spent a significant portion of their budget, and they couldn’t afford to bid more for a top-notch closer. I now have two, as Josh Hader enters my team a few picks after the aforementioned Romano. And, to close the book on a comment I made in Romano’s blurb, Williams was eventually selected for $17.
RP – Ryan Helsley (RP – STL): $9
Once again, because I chose to wait on starting pitching, I found that I had the ability to solidify my bullpen, unlike any other team. So I did. I don’t hate this strategy, where the mindset is to excel somewhere. Ryan Helsley is now my third closer. That should say everything about how my pitching staff was assembled.
BN – Nathaniel Lowe (1B – TEX): $9
I promised myself that I would add a backup for Ryan Mountcastle at first base eventually, and Nathaniel Lowe was that player. It’s obviously asking a lot for him to approach 30 home runs with a near-.300 batting average, but he was right around that mark last year. As a backup option, he’s an obvious add at this point.
BN – Clayton Kershaw (SP – LAD): $8
A few picks ago, as I started to acquire anyone who was under $10 in price and had potential, I noticed that Clayton Kershaw was still available. No matter what, he was going to end up on my team. As always, the outcome of a salary cap draft is so dependent on timing that it was possible he would have been nominated earlier and carried a much larger premium. I may not have been able to meet it at that point. Now? He would have had to cost at least $30 for me to be nervous to overspend. I landed him for $8. Therein lies the differences from one salary cap draft to the next.
BN – Hunter Greene (SP – CIN): $4
I could basically write the same blurb for Hunter Greene that I did for his teammate, Nick Lodolo, but it’s because their general outlook heading into their sophomore seasons is the same. Greene threw more innings — 125.2 — also had an exceptional strikeout rate — 11.7 per nine innings pitched — but was saddled with a higher ERA of 4.44. If anything, this gives Greene even more room to grow as a fantasy asset, and I will be aggressively adding him in any draft where he can serve as one of my last starting pitchers.
BN – Max Muncy (3B, 2B – LAD): $3
I wasn’t committing to getting Max Muncy on my roster, but I was adding a backup third baseman at any cost. “At any cost” isn’t a throwaway comment. I had the funds to add basically any player and almost outbid any other manager. Muncy was simply the best available in the player pool. Personally, I’m not convinced that Muncy gets back into the 35-home run club, and his batting average is truly frightening. I’m only adding him as a bench player, where the expectation is that he doesn’t slide into my starting lineup out of necessity.
BN – Tyler O’Neill (OF – STL): $4
Unlike the aforementioned Max Muncy, Tyler O’Neill is a player I want to have in my starting lineup as often as possible. In fact, he has been a mainstay in most of my mock drafts because he falls a little too far on a regular basis. The problem with O’Neill is his injury history. He has played more than 100 games just once in his career, and he failed to reach that mark last season. His average numbers over a span of 162 games are impressive, but we can’t expect that to be met in 2023. Regardless, when O’Neill is healthy, he can help any fantasy team.
For starters, I left way too much money on the table, and that is a rarity for me. Despite how careful I am to not overspend, I usually force myself into paying a premium on a few players. That never happened. The interesting twist is that I didn’t need to overspend on some players. Even with my value-based approach, I scored a whopping 96 out of 100 for a grade of “A”.
In terms of position groups, it’s clear that my relievers are going to lead the way, and I actually don’t mind that at all. In prior snake drafts, I kept noticing a need to chase closers. In salary caps, that hasn’t been the case as long as I keep bidding until the player reaches a projected number and then stop. Enough have found their way onto my salary cap teams to alleviate the concern I had in snake drafts.
The final piece of this team’s puzzle was actually my bench players. Bryce Harper was a steal who won’t contribute for a while but still carries tremendous value. Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo are the epitomai of potential where, if they fail, I can cut them loose without a second thought. In the end, my only starting positions that were comparatively weak were first base and third base, and I have Nathaniel Lowe and Max Muncy waiting to step in if needed.
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Mario Mergola is a featured writer at FantasyPros and BettingPros and the creator and content editor of Sporfolio. For more from Mario, check out his archive and follow him @MarioMergola.