In an effort to serve all of our fantasy baseball owners in a variety of league formats, we're running a series of mock drafts so that you can see how our experts alter their approach. Our most recent mock draft was a standard 10-team, NL-only rotisserie format.
Single-league formats offer unique challenges compared to the standard mixed leagues. Primarily, the player pool dries up in half the time, or sometimes even quicker, depending on which league has the better talent that particular season. When playing in these types of leagues, playing time is very important because not everyone can roster a team full of everyday players. As you will see in these draft results, several teams eschewed the immediate playing time of veterans for rookies with upside who may not even see the major leagues until sometime in June, if at all.
The National League is a very intriguing league with the amount of talented rookies that could make an impact during the season, and of course, the Billy Hamilton factor.
This mock draft had participation from: Tim Kavanagh, Eric Karabell, Pierre Becquey, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Brian Gramling, Brendan Roberts, Todd Zola, AJ Mass, James Quintong, and yours truly.
The results here are presented round by round, with each player's ranking and a comparison of where he was drafted versus his ranking. At the end, we will review where the rookies went, where the players with current injury issues went, the biggest reaches as well as the biggest bargains.
All in all, a rather uneventful first round, as half of the players were drafted exactly where we have them ranked in the ESPN rankings. The only "event" of the round was when I sent some negative mojo Zola's way for taking Carlos Gomez right in front of me. Spoiler alert: I paid him back a few rounds later for this transgression. Gomez finished ninth overall on the 2013 Player Rater, and fourth overall in the NL-only Player Rater. I strongly feel both feats are repeatable, and apparently so does Zola.
A mini pitcher run quickly died off at the early part of this round, as the remaining members of the fearsome foursome in NL leagues were taken off the board. Had Cole Hamels been 100 percent, he probably would have been taken in this round, but he is not out of the woods with his biceps tendinitis. Given the rate that good starting pitchers are coming up injured this spring, investing early in pitching can be a boom for those who get the cream of the crop, or a bust if those picks, too, succumb to injury.
In this round, we saw our first double-digit reach and nearly saw our first double-digit profit. Matt Carpenter has a very high floor, so there is little risk in reaching for a guy of his skill set and flexibility. Buster Posey dropping this many spots early in the draft could be related to other owners not wanting to spend a top 25 pick on a catcher. That, and the single catcher phenomenon where owners believe the difference between a top 1-2 catcher and the middle of the pack is negligible. This round also displays another distinct difference between standard leagues and single-league formats, as two closers were drafted within the first 30 picks.
We finally got to our first double-digit profit, as the 40th pick of the draft went 10 spots below his ranking. While nobody took another third baseman over Ryan Zimmerman in the round, people went other directions, allowing Karabell to grab a nice early-round profit. I was able to exact my revenge on Zola by taking Mark Trumbo, someone he has been trumpeting all offseason and has rostered in every mock draft the two of us have done together this offseason. Zola has Trumbo ranked as the No. 32 player in mixed-league formats, which is 40 spots above his ADP in NFBC leagues. Becquey took Mike Minor here in the fourth, despite the fact he is likely to open the season on the disabled list with a sore shoulder and miss two starts.
The Riverboat Gambler strikes again. I took Billy Hamilton four rounds above his rankings because I believe his projections are too conservative. He is projected for 56 steals over 372 plate appearances, and I am betting he exceeds both totals. Hamilton is the most polarizing figure in fantasy drafts this season, because taking him changes the entire complexion of your draft. Once you draft him, you have to make up for the offense in other places while essentially punting speed. If he flops, then your stolen base category flops and your runs as well, not to mention the offensive production passed up to take a chance on the ultimate wild card. So far this spring, he is 9-for-9 in steals, and has more walks (six) than strikeouts (four) in 39 plate appearances. Mass was also in a reaching mood, taking Michael Cuddyer a round and a half early, instead of the consistent production of Matt Holliday.
This was the round of pitching profits as Gramling, Kavanagh, and Karabell each was able to grab solid starting pitching a few picks below their rank. The aforementioned pitching injuries will impact drafts during the next two weekends, as teams settle their rosters and decide who travels with the big league team and who goes to the disabled list. There is a nice potential for profit for those owners willing to invest in pitching as others are scared away by the recent rash of injuries and decide to focus on offense. You zig toward the arms while others zag toward the offense.
By the end of this round, 16 of the first 70 picks (23 percent) were used on starting pitchers, and 20 of the first 70 went on pitching (29 percent). Jonathan Lucroy became the early leader for the biggest bargain of the draft, falling nearly two full rounds past his ranking. Karabell is not terribly worried about the news surrounding Doug Fister's elbow soreness, as he could not ignore the bargain on the board and took him nine spots below his ranking, continuing the trend of discounted starting pitching. At this point in the draft, the past eight pitchers have been drafted below their overall ranking.
After nine consecutive pitchers went below their ranking, Gramling ended that run by taking Michael Wacha over slot while Zola and I followed suit with our selections of Andrew Cashner and Tony Cingrani. Wacha's ADP has soared all winter, to the point that he is being taken in the top 90, which is quite the lofty rank for a pitcher with less than 70 innings at the major league level. With Addison Reed and Jonathan Papelbon selected, that makes six of the 10 teams with closers on their roster through eight rounds.
This round saw two double-digit reaches and bargains. Karabell and Gramling went a round early on two talented young outfielders in Christian Yelich and Khris Davis, while Becquey and I grabbed pitching bargains. Sergio Romo has had a horrendous spring statistically, but it is due to the fact he has spent the time pitching with only his fastball and changeup to further develop them while shelving his slider for the regular season. The reports on Cole Hamels are getting slightly more encouraging, and while he will open the season on the disabled list, he may only miss three to four starts.
A hundred picks in, and each team has now rostered at least one closer. Each of the final five teams to roster a closer did so at a discount, with Becquey and Gramling both landing double-digit discounts. This round saw four double-digit reaches for players, led by Quintong's aggressive play for Ryan Howard. Perhaps the news that Howard worked with Barry Bonds this offseason -- combined with the fact he has not looked completely helpless against left-handed pitching this spring -- fueled the reach. This draft was completed before we learned that Patrick Corbin was likely to miss the season with an elbow injury, becoming the latest solid pitcher to come up lame this spring.
Jim Henderson ended a run of seven closers who were drafted below their slot. This was a rather uneventful round, save the two reaches for speed plays in the outfield. After ignoring speed since taking Hamilton, I went for another speed play in Angel Pagan, the last appealing speed source at the position. Francisco Liriano went seven spots past his slot, showing that the room does not believe that he will regress too much coming off his historic season against left-handed batters.
Holy round of reaches, Batman! Multiple teams made their plays for mid-level power this round, grabbing bats with potential 20-homer upside, led by Mass breaking Karabell's heart by taking Justin Ruggiano two picks ahead of him. Ruggiano has been a counting category contributor while lagging in batting average because he struggles to hit non-fastballs. The only bargain of the round was Gramling's acquisition of Rex Brothers, who may open the season in a setup role rather than as the closer.
The large reaches continued in this round, but some very nice bargains popped up as well. Becquey threw the ugly spring stats of Matt Garza out the window and took the pitcher nearly four rounds below his rankings, while Kavanagh grabbed Tim Lincecum's strikeouts and Cockcroft picked up a closer on the cheap. Mass took Dee Gordon nearly three rounds above his rankings, as the speedster is tearing it up on the basepaths in the Cactus League despite doing very little at the plate. Gramling went with the other half of the platoon, and got the half that has the better bat, but may also be using that bat in Triple-A to begin the season.
LaTroy Hawkins, despite looking like the favorite to close in Colorado, is drafted after Brothers. That will be a situation worth following all season, because Brothers has the stuff to win out eventually, while experience appears to be winning the battle early on in favor of the ageless wonder. Becquey made the first play for one of the talented rookies, taking Oscar Taveras over more experienced players. Taveras has already been sent to the minors this spring, as his rehab from his ankle and hamstring issues has been a slow one. It will likely push his timetable back until sometime in mid-June, but the talent is certainly there to be a factor over the final two-thirds of the season. Mass must love the Coors Field effect for Drew Stubbs, as the extra real estate in center may help Stubbs in the average department. He may get more playing time there, because he has the defensive chops to cover gap-to-gap in Coors Field but overexposure to right-handed pitching could also doom his average as he has large splits.
Kudos to Brendan Roberts for netting the only bargain in the round, as teams looked for players up the middle and in the outfield for production here. Karabell and Cockcroft bookended the round with large reaches for Kolten Wong and Corey Dickerson, valuing the potential for increased production from the youngsters over more established veterans. Becquey was able to continue his cornering of the market on rookie of the year candidates, grabbing Gregory Polanco a round after taking Taveras.
Becquey, determined to cover all bases for the rookie of the year award, landed Archie Bradley. Now that we know Corbin is likely done for the year, Bradley's timetable to the big leagues could be accelerated to his making the North American Opening Day roster in Arizona and pitching all season. At worst, he starts the year in the minors while Randall Delgado fills the role, and is the first one called up when an injury hits the staff. Zola showed his love for Charlie Morton and his Roy Halladay-like mechanics, taking him well above our rankings. Morton is working on a split-change this season to help his approach to left-handed batters, as he has failed to hold those batters to a sub-.300 batting average each of the previous five seasons. Quintong grabs a very nice pitching bargain as Bartolo Colon waddles onto his roster. According to research done by Derek Carty, pitchers jumping to the National League average a 0.45 improvement in their ERA and a 0.07 improvement to their WHIP.
If one wanted to speculate on saves, this was the round to do so and get bargains as three players with the skills for the role were drafted several rounds below their overall rankings. Closers have an in-season fail rate of approximately 30 percent, so there is a chance for a nice profit here as Jason Grilli, Rafael Soriano and Huston Street each has caution flags. The Chris Owings pick has some intriguing upside, despite the aggressive reach, as Arizona and New York are a nice match for a trade as Arizona needs pitching and the Mets want a shortstop. If not the Mets, perhaps Detroit comes calling now that we've learned that Jose Iglesias has stress fractures in both shins and stands to miss a significant amount of time.
Karabell made another play on risky Atlanta pitching, but unlike Minor, Brandon Beachy is not out of the woods and it is looking increasingly likely he will have a second Tommy John surgery. Zola and I put an end to Becquey's hoarding of rookies, grabbing Maikel Franco and Javier Baez. Baez continues to put on a show in Arizona, and the Cubs are now giving him some playing time at second base as they see where he can handle himself in the field in order to escalate his bat into the lineup. The remaining offensive contributors continue to come off the board above their draft slot, as owners continue to go after offense while it is still on the board.
Another risky pitcher landed on Karabell's roster here, and this was before the news came out over the weekend that Jonathon Niese had hyperextended his elbow. The injury all but assures Niese of opening the season on the disabled list, as the elbow issue comes on top of the shoulder issue earlier in camp. Niese closed the season well, but these two injuries are very tough to overlook. Quintong grabbed a healthier bargain in Travis Wood, but the three-round drop in his draft slot points to how much the group is worried about the pitcher's regression this season.
It was interesting to see Mike Leake fall nearly four rounds past his ranking, despite the lack of serious injury risk attached to him this spring. The discount for setup men went away this round, as both Mass and I made plays on setup men well above their draft slot. Bobby Parnell may not open the season for the Mets, and I feel that Vic Black has the skills to temporarily fill the role. Similarly, Brandon Kintzler has the skills should Henderson slip up. Francisco Rodriguez is there, but he has growing splits in his stat line, and is also currently on the shelf after stepping on a cactus while barefoot.
Jhoulys Chacin came in four rounds below his draft slot due to arm issues that will have him on the disabled list to start the season. Colorado has also said that they would like their pitchers to eschew strikeouts for ground balls. Zola took one of three large reaches here, in that Nick Vincent was not even ranked on our 10-team NL cheat sheet. Vincent was strong out of the Padres' bullpen last season, striking out nearly five batters for each one he walked while allowing fewer hits than innings pitched. The Padres seemingly grow these types on trees. Mike Olt was a reach I felt comfortable making, as he is having a strong spring after recovering from his 2013 injuries and vision issues, and has a clear path at third base if he continues to hit.
The values for setup men came back as Cockcroft, Quintong, and Karabell made plays in the Arizona and Los Angeles bullpens. Zola made his second consecutive pick out of the San Diego bullpen in grabbing the talented Burch Smith, and Roberts made a play hoping that Josh Beckett is fully recovered from his issues in 2013. Gramling found a nice value in Marcell Ozuna late, as the youngster has shown the ability to hit for power. He hit 24 home runs in the Florida State League in 2012, which is loaded with large parks that are not easy on batters.
Kavanagh's play for Adeiny Hechavarria has the potential to return a nice profit. He does not hit for any power, but he has speed and will run when given the chance. He made 21 attempts last season, and was caught nearly half the time. That continued his trends in the minors, where he attempted many steals despite a low success rate. He made 35 attempts in 2011, but was successful just 20 times. Mass took the second unranked player, choosing the high-octane arm of Carter Capps out of the Miami pen in the hope that Steve Cishek is dealt and A.J. Ramos is not first in line to replace him.
Back-to-back slot picks, at this point in the draft? Inconceivable! Kyle Kendrick has made improvements in his ability to handle left-handed batters, while Chris Denorfia stands to pick up playing time in a risky San Diego outfield full of injury risks. My selection of Jake Arrieta was based off improvements he made after being acquired by Chicago, but he is being slowed by injury in camp. The pick of Tommy Medica rewards a nice showing in a small sample size in 2013 that came after him hitting .296/.372/.582 in Double-A San Antonio last season. The caveat here is that he turns 26 at the start of this season, and has barely sniffed playing time above Double-A.
Mr. Irrelevant would not be so in a different organization. The Dodgers outfield is full with Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and Yasiel Puig all in the way of Joc Pederson. Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly is already challenged to find playing time for those four with Kemp on record saying he is "no fourth outfielder." Gramling got good news with Cameron Maybin, as the torn biceps with which he is dealing is likely not going to need surgery, according to what general manager Josh Byrnes told the media earlier last week.
Sense a theme? Mass, Zola, and I were rankings hipsters, taking guys we liked before they were cool to like.
Roberts was Mr. Bargain Hunter, netting three of the top 10 bargains in the draft. The top 20 bargains in the draft were all pitchers or catchers, as Juan Uribe was the lone non-catcher position player to show up as a bargain, going 31 spots after his rankings.
Much like the NL LABR draft from a few weeks ago, the focus here was on hitting; pitching bargains can be found later in the draft. Even though there have been several injuries on the pitching side, there is still enough depth in the pool to go bargain hunting and fill out a competitive staff in your leagues.