Mock draft season is over, real drafts are in full swing, and I couldn't be more excited for this. Last Monday night, I participated in the R.J. White Fantasy Sports Writers Association league. It's a 12-team, 5x5 mixer with quality starts in place of wins and on-base percentage and slugging percentage in place of average and homers. The format is unique, but my goals heading into the draft were still the same. I didn't want to leave any category behind and by the end, I felt like I was able to accomplish that with a balanced group of both hitters and pitchers. Without further adieu, let's get into it.
With the fourth pick, I assumed the choice between Andrew McCutchen and Paul Goldschmidt would be made for me by the team picking third. Never assume, kids at home. Joshua Kay jumped on Clayton Kershaw third, allowing me to grab McCutchen, and this wasn't even the biggest surprise of the round. Troy Tulowitzki was picked sixth overall! I didn't get that pick at all as the RotoWire custom rankings have Tulo ranked 32nd overall in this format, and it seems like a big reach even before considering Tulo's durability problems. Joey Votto falling to 12th was somewhat surprising as it's almost a forgone conclusion that he'll lead the National League in OBP this year. I understand that Bryce Harper is young and missed time last year, but if I had a later pick he wouldn't have fallen out of the first round. I'd definitely take Harper over Chris Davis and Ryan Braun in this format. Harper has the OBP advantage on Davis and I believe in his power more than Braun's at this point.
2.21 Giancarlo Stanton
There weren't any real surprises in this round, so I'll just break down my pick. Having OBP as a category turns Stanton into a four-category player and he could be elite, with health. He's missed a ton of games already in his young career, but I went for the upside play. As another owner said during the draft, ?No one remembers who finishes second in industry leagues.?
Six picks went by before my next selection and if Freddie Freeman (3.26) dropped I'd have considered him heavily, but he didn't so I took Cliff Lee as the third pitcher off the board (Kershaw and Darvish 2.22). I did so with an eye toward grabbing another ace in the fourth round, double dipping just as I had done in a few mock drafts this year.
Here were the pitchers taken after I took Lee:
So at 4.45 I was ecstatic to see Jose Fernandez still available. He's an absolute stud and there simply wasn't the appropriate boost to his value with quality starts replacing wins in this league. I think he has an argument to be the fourth pitcher taken after Kershaw, Darvish, and Lee. I was able to get him after six pitchers that aren't quite as valuable in my mind. Do the happy dance, do the happy dance.
A couple surprises before we move on to the fifth round. Joe Mauer at 3.35? I just don't see how he can return the value here. Sure, Mauer is an elite OBP guy and being able to have that at catcher sure is nice, but the Twins' lineup is terrible and his run and RBI totals will suffer. Also of concern are his concussion issues, which aren't to be taken lightly. Jay Bruce fell to 4.37 and with moving to the cleanup spot this year, I think that's nice value. Carlos Gomez fell to 4.44. OBP is life.
5.52 Hunter Pence
Pence absolutely shouldn't still be available this late and, yet, there he was sitting for me. The RotoWire custom rankings had Pence ranked 30th in this format. I don't know what happened, scared of his not great OBP? Maybe the other owners don't think he'll continue to steal bases this way? Even a modest Pence projection would have him coming off the board 15 picks earlier, and he feels like a major steal here.
6.69 Starling Marte
Another outfielder I just couldn't pass up because he should've been taken already. Alex Rios was taken at 4.48 and his numbers are comparable to Marte, who I'm very happy to have 21 spots later. Even with BABIP regression from the .363 mark Marte posted in 2013, he should post an acceptable OBP and I believe in his .161 ISO.
Matt Carpenter fell to 6.62 and that seems like great value. He won't steal bases, but with 73 extra-base hits in 2013, he does everything else in this league.
7.76 Brandon Belt
With McCutchen, Pence, and Marte already in the fold, I was able to hold off on the Billy Hamilton speed play here and finally address my infield. Belt is a nice get as a solid four category corner player. He showed legitimate power last year with 39 doubles and 17 homers. He's also a good average hitter and he takes his share of walks.
Carlos Santana was taken two spots ahead of me in this round and he was the best player taken in the round. Yadier Molina was taken right before Santana and that was a questionable decision. Molina isn't likely to match Santana in any category this year and Santana will likely play more as Cleveland's regular designated hitter.
8.93 Jose Abreu
I haven't seen much of Abreu this spring as it seems like every time he's been in the White Sox's lineup the game isn't televised, but I'm a big believer and there's room for upside getting him here. With Belt and Abreu, I've locked in power and OBP at the corners.
Alex Gordon was another pick in this round that I liked. His BABIP dropped to .310 after two straight seasons close to .360 and he saw his OBP fall to .327. If that's what you get in his down year, it's safe to expect an OBP in the .350s with positive regression. He's hit at least 20 homers in two of the last three years and moving into the fifth spot in the order this year should boost his RBI total into the 90s.
9.100 Brett Gardner
Mike Gianella, of Baseball Prospectus and Roto Think Tank fame, once had a really good comment about Gardner that I almost remember. I'm paraphrasing, but he said players like Gardner and Angel Pagan are the type of speed-only players that you can wait on in mixed leagues but are essential in ?only? leagues. This absolutely holds in leagues that use batting average, but using OBP helps out Gardner (career .352 OBP) quite a bit. Gardner only stole 24 bases in 2013, but remember he was the only non-Robinson Cano hitter worth anything in the Yankees' lineup last season. Joe Girardi's club cherished every baserunner they had last year and this limited Gardner's stolen-base attempts considerably. In his prior two full seasons (2010-2011, he played just 16 games in 2012 due to an arm injury), Gardner stole 49 and 47 bases, respectively. Look for Gardner to get back to his stealing ways and he could even be a major runs scored threat if the Yankees go with my brilliant top of the order idea (Gardner-Jeter-Ellsbury). I don't want to see Gardner buried in the order, but even if he is, he'll likely get to lead off when Ellsbury inevitably misses some time.
10.117 Chris Carter
This is probably my riskiest pick of the draft due to the strikeout rate, but I'm a believer in Carter. There's plenty of room for improvement from his .223 average in 2013 and with 70 walks I can bank on at least a decent OBP. We know he has crazy power, plays in a bandbox, and will hit cleanup all season. With good speed on my team already, I wanted to boost my power here and I did so with Carter.
Brandon Moss came off the board seven picks before Carter and I'd have preferred him, but that's the way she goes.
11.124 Casey Janssen
I have a closer and in my estimation the last elite closer available with Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, Greg Holland, Koji Uehara, Aroldis Chapman, and Trevor Rosenthal off the board. Joe Nathan was also selected, but I'm not sure I consider him elite at this stage of his career. I'm a big David Robertson fan, but Janssen's 0.99 WHIP in 2013 tips the scales in his favor. Robertson's control issues give me slight pause as he walked 6.9|PERCENT| of batters last year and 7.7|PERCENT| in 2012. He came off the board four picks later.
Chase Headley was the steal of this round and could be the steal of this draft depending on how far he bounces back. He dealt with regression and injuries in 2013, but when healthy he does a little bit of everything and with the dearth of good third basemen this year he's potentially a very nice value at this point. Of course, he's yet to see any game action this spring as he's dealing with a calf strain.
12.141 Andrelton Simmons
I'm about to sound like a broken record because everyone already knows I adore Simmons. I think the average comes up this year after a .250 BABIP last year and that will boost his OBP and SLG. He can also steal a few more bags, a skill he displayed in the minors.
Alex Cobb and Jason Castro were both picks in this round that I happened to like. Cobb is a good pitcher with an excellent defense behind him in Tampa and you have to like Castro's spot in the Astros' lineup, especially with the addition of leadoff man Dexter Fowler. That should help boost his RBI total.
I had to make a pitching run at some point and I did. I was thrilled to get Wacha, a WHIP master and strikeout pitcher. I secured two more closers in Cishek and Jones and was able to grab Kuroda, a durable and underrated pitcher with good ratios.
17.196 Jed Lowrie/Trade
Ever make a trade during a draft? Well, I have now. I selected Lowrie and heard grumbling in the chat room from the owner picking behind me about missing out. Then he took Sonny Gray, who I thought was already taken thanks to a mistake by either me or the ESPN search function, and quickly a deal developed. Straight up for Lowrie, Sonny Gray was now finally mine. I feel pretty great to add this young stud with two plus pitches pitching in that ballpark to my already nice staff. Plus, he brings another upside arm to go along with Wacha.
18.213 Brian Dozier
Dozier is pretty underrated as a decent power and speed combination play in the middle infield, although his OBP won't be an asset here.
19.220 Todd Frazier
Frazier is similar to Dozier in that he'll provide power at a premium fantasy position and won't have a good OBP. Still, at this point, there's not a lot of OBP left, especially at third base. Worst case scenario is I'll have power to trade at a time when power is scarce.
20.237 Ivan Nova
Remove last April from Nova's 2013 and this is what you get: 122 IP 2.64 ERA 98:36 K:BB .245/.310/.332. Pretty decent. He's only gotten better since ditching his slider and throwing his curveball a lot more. With health, this could end up being a very nice pick.
21.244 Howie Kendrick
Sonny Gray is going to make up for the difference between Lowrie and Kendrick provided Kendrick stays healthy. The only reason Kendrick got hurt a bunch of times in the second half last year was because I owned him in the Rotowire Staff Keeper League 2.0 and my entire team did (Stanton, David Wright, Asdrubal Cabrera, Joe Mauer, and the list goes on). I threw Kendrick back in the pool this offseason, so hopefully the curse is lifted and he can actually have a healthy career year, which he was on his way to having before, well, you know.
22.261 Oscar Taveras
Allen Craig can't stay on the field and Taveras should be in the Cards' plans very shortly despite having to begin his season in the minors. Did you think I wouldn't jump on Taveras? I am a prospect analyst after all, you guys.
23.268 A.J. Griffin
Give me all of the Oakland pitchers, all of them I say! Great park to pitch in, I really like the entire rotation this year. (Editor's Note: This piece was filed before news of Griffin's arm injury broke.)
24.285 Nick Markakis
He's my extra outfielder, but I see a bounceback year coming for the O's leadoff man. It's a contract year, for whatever that's worth.
25.292 Alex Avila
He has a good eye at the plate and carries some power, so with some average regression he has some decent upside. I faded catcher hard, but I guess I'm happy that he was still available.
26.309 Dan Straily
I said all the Oakland A's pitchers and I wasn't joking. Straily arguably has more upside than Griffin with his strikeout stuff.
27.316 Nick Franklin
Worth a shot this late as a power speed combination in the middle infield. Of course, he'll need a trade or an injury to see consistent playing time, but there are still two weeks for that to happen.
28.333 Russell Martin
Martin is solid and unspectacular. I hope he doesn't hit in the .220s again, but he has decent power and even stole nine bases last year. Not bad for my second catcher, really.
Well, that's all folks. I had a blast doing the draft and feel like I came out with a nice squad where no category was left behind. I may have to watch some of my lower OBP guys early in the season to avoid some major slumps, but it looks like I'll have power to trade and a good speed team. My pitching staff is headed up by two aces in Lee and Fernandez, three closers, and enough upside in young pitchers (Wacha, Gray, Nova, Straily) that I feel pretty good about it. Let me know what you think in the comments below.