The Z Files: Early Player Pool Observations
The Z Files: Early Player Pool Observations

This article is part of our The Z Files series.

As Derek VanRiper and I approach the reserve rounds in our first National Fantasy Baseball Championship draft, some early player pool observations have become apparent. Some will change as the offseason progresses, but many will persist through next March. Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all analysis with so many league formats around. To put things in perspective, I admit being a bit NFBCentric this time of the year, as most early drafts and magazine mocks are of the 15-team Mixed variety. As we get closer to the spring and MLB teams firm up their rosters, AL and NL-only formats will be addressed as well.

Just tell me my pick

Normally, I overthink the first round and set up a convoluted KDS (Kentucky Derby System) order for my first pick. For 2019, honestly, just tell me where I'm picking. OK, maybe I'd like a crack at Mike Trout or Mookie Betts, and in an NFBC FAAB league, I'd try to target Max Scherzer if I don't get one of the first two picks, but after that, I don't care. The first and second rounds are deep with players to set any sort of foundation you want – power, speed, batting average buffer, whatever. It likely will come down to drafting preference as opposed to pool evaluation Some like picking from the middle to help avoid missing out on runs while others fancy choosing at the wheel to better pair up players, aiding team construction.

Multitude of multiple eligibility players

In 2016, my initial projection set included 52 players eligible at more that one position, 20 of which were in the top 350. This past season featured 64 total with 25 in the top 350. The upcoming one will contain at least 72 guys with position flexibility, with a minimum of 30 in the top 350. More than ever, it's imperative to grab a handful of these players, something DVR and I haven't really focused on, although we still have time as there's still a few left, plus several just outside the top-350 as potential reserves.

There are just three surefire mixed-league utility-only players in Khris Davis, Nelson Cruz and Shohei Ohtani. Depending how things flesh out, Kendrys Morales, Evan Gattis, Ji-Man Choi and Mark Trumbo could join them. Still, even with the added hitters, the injury climate dictates setting up a flexibility chain to insure an active lineup with maximum firepower. With that in mind, here are the players heading into 2019 with multiple position eligibility.

Player Positions
Victor CaratiniC,1B
John HicksC,1B
Isiah Kiner-FalefaC,2B,3B
Russell MartinC,3B
Blake SwihartC,OF
Niko Goodrum1B,2B
Brad Miller1B,2B
Neil Walker1B,2B,3B
Marwin Gonzalez1B,2B,SS,OF
Matt Carpenter1B,3B
Hunter Dozier1B,3B
David Freese1B,3B
Yuli Gurriel1B,3B
Max Muncy1B,3B
Pablo Sandoval1B,3B
Luis Valbuena1B,3B
Jurickson Profar1B,3B,SS
Miguel Rojas1B,3B,SS
Jake Bauers1B,OF
Cody Bellinger1B,OF
Jay Bruce1B,OF
Ian Desmond1B,OF
Derek Dietrich1B,OF
Brandon Dixon1B,OF
Joey Gallo1B,OF
Trey Mancini1B,OF
Jose Martinez1B,OF
Austin Slater1B,OF
Eric Thames1B,OF
Daniel Descalso2B,3B
Wilmer Difo2B,3B
David Fletcher2B,3B
Erik Gonzalez2B,3B
Eduardo Nunez2B,3B
Travis Shaw2B,3B
Yangervis Solarte2B,3B
Cory Spangenberg2B,3B
Joey Wendle2B,3B
Lourdes Gurriel2B,SS
Brock Holt2B,SS
Ketel Marte2B,SS
Daniel Robertson2B,SS
Eric Sogard2B,SS
Gleyber Torres2B,SS
Adam Frazier2B,OF
Dee Gordon2B,OF
Alen Hanson2B,OF
Whit Merrifield2B,OF
Chad Pinder2B,OF
Jose Pirela2B,OF
Ben Zobrist2B,OF
Javier Baez2B,3B,SS
Asdrubal Cabrera2B,3B,SS
Enrique Hernandez2B,SS,OF
Yairo Munoz2B,3B,SS,OF
Hernan Perez2B,3B,SS,OF
Charlie Culberson3B,SS,OF
Ehire Adrianza3B,SS
Tim Beckham3B,SS
Alex Bregman3B,SS
Aledmys Diaz3B,SS
Alcides Escobar3B,SS
Eduardo Escobar3B,SS
Jose Reyes3B,SS
Yadiel Rivera3B,SS
Brian Anderson3B,OF
Jose Bautista3B,OF
Kris Bryant3B,OF
Ian Happ3B,OF
Wil Myers3B,OF
Jace Peterson3B,OF
Chris TaylorSS,OF

Catcher is even worse than normal

Keeping in mind stats are judged relative to other players at their own position, the overall quality of fantasy backstops is terrible. Not only that, there's no one, other than J.T. Realmuto, to consider a safe pick for those entertaining the notion of addressing the position early. Some may argue Gary Sanchez is still a top pick, but is he really safe? How can someone coming off an injury-riddled .186 campaign be deemed safe? Buster Posey is on the other side of 30 after playing just 105 games, snapping a streak of six consecutive years appearing in at least 140. Salvador Perez will turn just 29 in May, but there's a lot or mileage on that large frame and he's missed time each of the last two seasons. If you're going to expend an early pick, or pay a hefty price for a receiver, only Realmuto seems worthy. If you're thinking, "He's a risk due to team context", keep in mind in 2018, he set career highs in runs and RBI playing fewer games than past seasons.

Not only is the upper echelon bereft of talent, the middle is just as weak. Normally, my modus operandi is to bypass the studs but grab a couple of catchers before the hold-your-nose choices are on the board. I have a tier of four of five targets. Granted, I haven't gone through things fully, but other than Tucker Barnhart and maybe Danny Jansen, I sense a void where I try to focus.

Some leagues don't require a legal lineup before drafting reserves. This could be the season to take advantage by waiting until your last two picks and throwing darts, then look to upgrade over the course of the season.

Pitching is quite murky

As has been my tradition, I'll share my pitching tiers next spring. Upon first blush, there's a major shift underway affecting draft strategy. First, Scherzer has usurped the top spot from Clayton Kershaw, occupying a tier of his own. Over the past several seasons, there's been four or five arms composing the second tier. At least the way I see it now, there are 10-12 encompassing the next tier, although the normally plush third tier is much less populous and replete with questions marks. Things may change after doing a deep dive, but it certainly appears foundational hurlers need to be addressed even earlier than normal. There will still be some obstinate holdouts who insist on building a staff with later picks, and sometimes that approach works. Again, thinking along NFBC lines, many participants draft multiple squads, increasing the odds one roster lands on solid pitching late. However, if you're only joining one or two leagues, you're taking a huge chance by waiting on pitching.

Clouding the issue further is the closing situation. There's already evidence the market is overpaying for Edwin Diaz's ridiculous good fortune in terms of opportunities. Yes, his skills are solid, but not any more so than coming into the 2018 campaign. Garnering another 61 chances while converting 57 is highly unlikely. Craig Kimbrel is a free agent and will be coming off a shaky postseason, at least to this point. Chances are he'll sign with a top club, but is he the lockdown guy of past years? Kenley Jansen appears healthy now, but after a second heart scare and early-season woes, is he still a no-brainer early-round pick?

As suggested at the beginning, the market will clarify itself over the coming weeks and months, leading to more player pool observations and associated means of taking advantage. While pitching may change a little from these first impressions, it's lining up to be one of the more challenging draft seasons in recent memory.

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Todd Zola
Todd has been writing about fantasy baseball since 1997. He won NL Tout Wars and Mixed LABR in 2016 as well as a multi-time league winner in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. Todd is now setting his sights even higher: The Rotowire Staff League. Lord Zola, as he's known in the industry, won the 2013 FSWA Fantasy Baseball Article of the Year award and was named the 2017 FSWA Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year. Todd is a five-time FSWA awards finalist.
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