Early Mock Draft for 2017
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Break from fantasy baseball? Really? The 411 never takes a break from fantasy baseball, and we are once again conducting an early expert slow mini-mock (six rounds this time).
The participants (in draft order):
1. Jeff Erickson – Rotowire
2. Jason Collette – Rotowire
3. Tim Heaney – Rotowire
4. Fred Zinkie – MLB.com
5. Ray Flowers – SiriusXM/Fantasy Alarm
6. Paul Sporer – Baseball Prospectus
7. Cory Schwartz – MLB.com
8. Zach Steinhorn – MLB.com/Mastersball
9. Nando DiFino – FNTSY Sports Network
10. Derek Van Riper – Rotowire
11. Lawr Michaels – Mastersball
12. Todd Zola – Mastersball
CLICK HERE to track the picks as they are made.
And here’s a running list of the picks along with commentary (once sent in) from the owner. I will update this list daily.
1.01 – Mike Trout (Erickson) – Going with the most reliable commodity in all of fantasy baseball. Mookie Betts earned more in 2016, and others did in 2015, but Trout is there every single year, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. The stolen bases came back, the strikeouts went significantly down, and the average came right back up. What’s not to like?
1.02 – Mookie Betts (Collette) – My hatred for the Red Sox is well known, but dammit if he isn’t the best hitter east of Mike Trout to watch play the game. Next time a scout in Arizona tells you that Betts is the best player in the AFL, listen to him and overdraft him in a keeper league.
1.03 – Paul Goldschmidt (Heaney) – I’ll keep the power-speed-average chalk going. I could’ve gone in a few different directions here, but Jose Altuve’s less believable power output and the weaker stolen-base potential of other power-hitting infielders don’t compare to Goldy’s established five-category studliness. I ranked him No. 1 overall last year, so I can’t avoid him at No. 3 after perhaps the quietest .297-24-95-106-32 season.
1.04 – Kris Bryant (Zinkie) – He should hover around 40 homers and 10 steals in 2017. I doubt that the Cubs lineup will regress, which means that he should also be good for triple digits in runs and RBIs.
1.05 – Jose Altuve (Flowers) – I will admit to being less than 100 percent behind this selection since I fear there is nowhere to go but down for Altuve, and I just cannot get over his diminutive size. Still, the batting average/speed combo is unmatched the last three seasons, he’s had 200 hits an 40 doubles the last three years and he’s averaged 20/30 the last two seasons – from second base.
1.06 – Clayton Kershaw (Sporer) – Overall, I’m going to be pushing SP down the line a bit after the power surge across the league, but Kershaw remains the exception. I still have absolutely no problem taking him in the first round and this is probably the perfect spot for me. I think I’d have taken any of the five hitters drafted ahead of him had they fallen, but at this pick it was only between Kersh and one other guy, who I suspect will go very soon.
1.07 – Nolan Arenado (Schwartz) – He’s led the Majors in RBI’s in back-to-back seasons, topping 40 homers both times, and doubled his walk rate this year without striking out more. His AVG/OBP are only good-but-not-great, and he doesn’t steal, but he’s the Majors’ premiere slugger, plays half of his games at Coors Field and is moving into his age-26 season. Does he have another level?
1.08 – Manny Machado (Steinhorn) – Machado followed up a career year in 2015 with another elite-level season in 2016, setting career highs in homers, RBIs, runs and batting average. The stolen bases disappeared, however, and that’s a bummer because another 20-steal season would have vaulted him into top-3 pick territory. But even without the stolen bases, the 24-year-old is a no doubt first-rounder, and the fact that he’s eligible at shortstop in addition to third base only adds to his appeal.
1.09 – Bryce Harper (DiFino) – One year ago, Bryce Harper was the MVP. And now he’s sliding down the first round? You don’t lose a skill…you get hurt. And I think Harper played most of this year (let’s say starting in mid-May, when his OPS dipped below 1.000) injured. He kind of hinted at it (or somebody on the team did, I can’t find the exact story) this summer. And I’d be willing to wager that there’s some minor surgery that happens quietly in November on some body part. Maybe two. But this is a 24-year-old a year removed from a .330 average and 42 homers. I think he creeps back up to top-4 by March.
1.10 – Josh Donaldson (Van Riper) – I once suggested that Donaldson, despite being traded to a much more hitter-friendly environment, would likely be pressed to match his 2014 numbers as he showed less than ideal splits against right-handed pitching (.727 OPS) during his final season in Oakland in 2014. With 78 homers and consecutive seasons with an OPS of .939 or better, Donaldson has humiliated Billy Beane since the start of 2015. Even if the Jays lose some firepower to free agency this offseason and his run production potential takes a slight hit, I don’t see any significant risk in Donaldson’s profile entering his age-31 season.
1.11 – Corey Seager (Michaels) – I will confess I usually want to wait a year or so for a breakout player to prove not to be a fluke, but all Seager does is deliver the goods. Over two minor league seasons, he was .307-62-278 with an .891 OPS. So, he comes to the Show and pretty much does the rinse, repeat process, hitting .308-26-72 with an .877 OPS. Since he is just 22 and has made the killer adjustments at every level yet still maintained that ever elusive consistency, I am willing to take the risk, draft him, and figure even if the young shortstop’s totals equal this year, that is still pretty good.
1.12 – Charlie Blackmon (Zola) – Flip-flopped power and speed but I don’t really care. Blackmon will deliver a goodly amount of both and I’ll balance it out in season as needed. Not expecting a repeat of a .324 average, though much of the spike was homers, but remember that homers are hits too. Still, a .290 floor with upside is just fine.
2.01 – Trea Turner (Zola) – Lots to be worried about. Turner doesn’t walk and his contact rate was better than on the farm (which is unusual), so there will likely be some give-back in average. Major league power also ahead of minor league history. Gee, sounds like last year’s blurb on Francisco Lindor. Main difference is steals. Lindor runs, Turner runs like a maniac. The allure of Turner is the floor provided by what I see as a high stolen base total with the upside dependent on where the power and average fall. I can see Turner as Lindor plus 30 steals.
2.02 – Brian Dozier (Michaels) – Again, I am coloring way outside the lines relative to how I usually construct a team, and Dozier, who has pop, but whiffs, is not the kind of guy I would covet. However, coming off a MONSTER season where he clobbered 82 extra-base hits (.886 OPS) and swiped 18 bags, the Twins keystone guy is screaming for attention. As for the whiffs, Dozier’s 2016 K/BB mean was 2.26, which is pretty much his career average (2.13), but he has bagged as many as 81 walks in a season (61 last year) and at age 29, I think the confluence of age, experience and confidence will produce his best season. That doesn’t mean more than the 41 dingers he belted last year, but I am thinking .280-30-90, with 15 steals. Plus, couple Dozier with Seager, and I am set with some solid sticks up the middle, and if your middle is solid at the dish, good things usually follow.
2.03 – Max Scherzer (Van Riper) – The concern with Scherzer is the continued rise of his home-run rate, but 2016 marked the third season in the last four where he’s maintained an ERA below 3.00 while logging a high volume of innings. In terms of his stuff, there is little to suggest that he’s in decline — 94.3 mph average fastball velocity in 2016 was a career-high — and he’s now rolled up three consecutive seasons with at least 250 strikeouts. I would be even more comfortable with Scherzer at 15th overall in a 15-team league, but I think the second tier of starting pitching has enough warts this year to take him in this spot for a 12-team format.
2.04 – George Springer (DiFino) – Maybe it’s a little too early, maybe not. But I can see Springer taking a Betts-style leap next year. This was his first full season in the Majors, the Astros will be better next year, and Springer has 30-30 potential with the ability to hit .285-plus. Springer had a 20-30 and a 30-40 season in the Minors while hitting .300-plus in both of those campaigns. Now that he has the 600 at-bats out of the way, he can focus on some improvements in the offseason and come into 2017 firing on all cylinders.
2.05 – Anthony Rizzo (Steinhorn) – The 17 steals from 2015 will likely prove to be an anomaly but Rizzo is a super safe bet for at minimum a 30-100-90 line with a quality batting average hitting in the middle of a stacked lineup. Interestingly enough, 40 of his 63 home runs over the past two seasons have come on the road, so his power isn’t a product of Wrigley Field. Still just 27, I think a 40-homer season is inevitable. Also note that he would carry even more value if this were an OBP league, as he’s recorded at least a .385 OBP in each of the last three seasons.
2.06 – Joey Votto (Schwartz) – There’s something unsexy about taking a 33-year-old first baseman this early in the draft, but Votto is an unquestionably elite run-producer, particularly in OBP leagues. He outperformed his career averages over the past two seasons while playing 158 games each year, eliminating residual concerns after his injury-plagued 2014 season. In fact, other than that season, he hasn’t been as poor as “above average” since 2008. Stud.
2.07 – Miguel Cabrera (Sporer) – There’s something unsexy about taking a 34-year-old first baseman this early in the draft, but Miggy is an unquestionably elite run-producer and even saw his power production return this year with 38 homers after 18 and 25 the last two years. It’s crazy when these surefire Hall of Famers almost become boring, but I get it. Still thrilled to open Kershaw/Miggy here.
2.08 – Starling Marte (Flowers) – Well that blows. I was gonna take Votto, Cabrera or Rizzo here…and all three went the three selections before my choice. I probably should take Edwin Encarnacion here, but I’m going to zag and go for speed over power. Give me Marte. I know he finished the year with a back issue, but it’s not expected to linger. Marte and Atuve should steal 70 bases next year while batting well above .300. Hard to argue with that starting duo, especially with steals at such a premium these days.
2.09 – Edwin Encarnacion (Zinkie) – Encarnacion is arguably the most consistent power source in recent years. While his free-agent destination will have an impact on his 2017 draft value, I expect him to find a landing spot that gives him a good chance for 40 homers and more than 100 RBIs.
2.10 – Robinson Cano (Heaney) – 2016 spoiled us with an expanded crop of elite middle infielders. In a 12-team draft, whom I choose probably will depend on team construction. In an October mock, of course, I’m going with the best track record among those top-shelfers, and that squarely belongs to Cano. In a healthy 2016, his power emphatically returned. I welcome his stellar four-category floor for another 30 or so home runs, a batting average that hovers around .300, and near 200 combined runs and RBI. A Goldy-Cano combo is a cozy start.
2.11 – Rougned Odor (Collette) – Thankfully this isn’t an OBP league. Odor was one of six middle infielders to put up at least 70 XBH in 2016 and four of the other five have already been taken here. He’s an established stud at age 22 while his age peers are still in A-ball.
2.12 – Madison Bumgarner (Erickson) – The starting pitching run hasn’t begun in earnest yet, but it will before it gets to my 4/5 turn. So I’ll go with my perceived safest commodity out there – great pitcher, probably a pretty good team again, and he can even hit occasionally to create his own run support.
3.01 – Freddie Freeman (Erickson) – Finally had the year that everyone had expected he might get, and his offense around him should be closer to the second half version of the Braves rather than the putrid first half version, meaning his counting stats might actually get a small bump.
3.02 – Chris Sale (Collette) – His team is not good, but he’s good. Oddly enough, Sale had his best year for wins despite the team’s struggles. It was his first back-to-back 200+ inning season, so he has that going for him. He finished the season getting the strikeouts he wasn’t getting earlier too.
3.03 – Jonathan Villar (Heaney) – So many MIs in this wheelhouse so I’m going with need. I’m targeting an overload of stolen bases to balance out Robinson Cano’s non-existence in that category. Villar’s pop doesn’t appear at first glance to be “19 homers” good again, but he should revisit double digits. On the other hand, we’ve known Villar’s speed has been real since he debuted. It was just a matter of opportunity, which he finally received in 2016. If he gives me 10 HR, 40-plus SB,150-plus R+RBI, and a batting average around .270, I’ll gladly take him. He’s a more helpful Dee Gordon.
3.04 – Carlos Correa (Zinkie) – We were likely a little too optimistic on him this year. But he’s still so young. I could see 25-30 homers, close to 20 steals, more than 100 RBIs and a .290 average. Round 3 feels like the right time to get him off the board.
3.05 – Xander Bogaerts (Flowers) – Second round in a row my hopeful pick was taken right before me (Carlos Correa). Continuing my theme of youngish, five category-ish players, I’ll take Xander Bogaerts over Francisco Lindor. The youngster from Clevelaad has a slightly higher steal upside, but Xander is just barely 24 years old and the last two seasons he’s hit .307-14-85-100-12 on average.
3.06 – Francisco Lindor (Sporer) – Wasn’t sure how high folks would be on Villar so I was aiming for him here, but I’m perfectly happy with this backup plan. Lindor backed up his excellent debut, especially accounting for the 6-month grind eating into the numbers a bit. I’d gladly take a carbon copy, but I also don’t rule out the potential for more stolen bases. And a peak season likely includes some kind of league-leading .340ish batting average, so that’s always a potential as well.
3.07 – Ryan Braun (Schwartz) – Nearly took Correa last round, hoped for Lindor this round, got neither, thanks a lot guys! So, I’ll take Ryan Braun, who in 2016 posted his best season since 2012; in fact, over the past two years, he’s averaged .295 with 28 homers, 88 RBIs, 20 steals and 84 runs. However, staying on the field has been an issue – only 137 games played on average over the past three seasons – but this looks like a fair balance of risk and reward at this point in the draft.
3.08 – Corey Kluber (Steinhorn) – There are a number of hitters that interest me at this spot but I value them similarly, so I’ll grab my ace here and go with one of the remaining hitters from my target group with my next pick. Maybe Kluber will never duplicate his Cy Young season of 2014 during which he registered a 2.44 ERA. But over the past three years, he’s posted a combined 3.01 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 9.9 K/9 rate. That’s a fine way to begin constructing a starting rotation.
3.09 – Dee Gordon (DiFino) – I think he’s going to slip a little bit because of the drug suspension and marginalized season. I think the average will bounce back, and the steals were still there (he had 30, despite missing 50 games). There’s always the dual risk of a second suspension or him not being as effective if he’s not on PEDs — but I’m not buying either. He’ll come back in 2017 refreshed and determined. If that happens, he’s a bargain this late in the draft.
3.10 – Noah Syndergaard (Van Riper) – I would be more concerned about his brushes with arm trouble if he had lost velocity late in the year, or pitched at a significantly lower level. All things considered, it sounds like a minor problem (small bone spur), and even in a 12-team league, I’m struggling to feel good about the bulk of the Top 10-25 range Starting Pitchers at the present time. I am curious, however, if this approach will leave me vulnerable in stolen bases with league-wide numbers down (0.52 SB/G) at the same level as 2015, which marked the lowest per-game rate of stolen bases since 1973.
3.11 – Yoenis Cespedes (Michaels) – Once again, the bod let Yoenis down in 2016, such that he could only muster 132 games, but he still topped 31 homers, posting a slash of .280/.354/.884 while boosting his OBP to .354. Now a vet, I still think Cespe has a monster year in him, and at age 31, if he can stay healthy, this is a great opportunity. And, well, even if the Cuban import repeats his 2016 totals, they are still just fine for a third-rounder.
3.12 – Giancarlo Stanton (Zola) – Nerd alert: I base my projections on a park-neutral, per plate appearance distillation. Stanton is, by far, the leader in HR/PA. He’ll take about a 10 percent hit playing in the Aquarium (which should be the home park of the Fish, look at it, it even looks like an aquarium with all the colors but I digress). Obviously, you don’t need me to tell you Stanton has prolific power; you need me to tell you he’s going to play 150 games. But I can’t. I can tell you, however, it’s worth the chance he does with a late Round 3 pick in a shallow Mixed format where backing him up on reserve isn’t as hard as it would be in a deeper league.
4.01 – Trevor Story (Zola) – I’ll take some give-back in average in the event Story’s approach doesn’t change and he continues to swing from the heels with two strikes. The guy is built for Coors Field with a high fly ball rate. His hard hit rate was exceptional, but the key will be whether or not he can sustain it. If not, these last two picks have added some serious batting average risk to the squad but the counting stats more than make up for it.
4.02 – Johnny Cueto (Michaels) – Much like Cespedes, Cueto is now a veteran playing at the top of his game: if you saw his fantastic playoff start against the Cubs, which was a one-pitch loss that was a brilliant showing, you know this to be true. Pitching a second season within a venue friendly to hurlers, Cueto looks to be able to repeat, and maybe even improve upon his solid 18-5, 2.78 ERA stat line from 2016, and with premiere arms going slowly but steadily, the Giants righty is a good place to start building a staff.
4.03 – Nelson Cruz (Van Riper) – He was a $30 player in 2016 according to the dollars earned tool at RotoWire, posting numbers right in line with Edwin Encarnacion. Injury risk only ticks up with age, but Cruz now has three consecutive 40-homer campaigns under his belt and he continues to do enough damage on the road to offset his slightly deflated numbers at Safeco. With two arms on my roster in the first three rounds, getting a hitter capable of returning top-20 overall value here might be a coup.
4.04 – Jake Arrieta (DiFino) – 2016 was a down season, but he’s just a year removed from a 1.77 ERA and 0.87 WHIP. He has a 9+ K/9 over the last three years. He’ll be 31 next year, which might end up being a nice crossroad between young unbridled talent and veteran poise. Arrieta should be back below a 3.00 ERA and sub-1.14 WHIP with continued Ks in 2017.
4.05 – A.J. Pollock (Steinhorn) – This is a risky pick as Pollock is coming off an injury-marred 2016 season in which he was limited to 12 games, but here’s hoping that an off-season of rest will restore him to full health. There’s first-round upside here considering what he did in 2015 (.315-20-76-111-39) and the scarcity of steals around the league. Pick #41 seems like a reasonable stage of the draft to take this risk.
4.06 – Daniel Murphy (Schwartz) – Continuing on my trend of taking late-prime veterans coming off huge seasons. There are reasons to think 2016 was as good as it will ever get for Murphy, but plenty more to suggest that he’s established a new level of performance worthy of this pick: his second-half OPS was identical to his first half, he had virtually no home/road split, and he’s the rare lefty who rakes lefties. His upside outweighs the risk with this pick.
4.07 – J.D. Martinez (Sporer) – Apparently I’m a giant homer, pairing J.D. with Miggy, but I love the power output. He was a few RBIs short of the .300-30-100 full season pace he’s held over the last three seasons. The fluke elbow injury (running into the wall) didn’t negatively impact him at all with a .945 OPS in 55 games after returning. I’m a little slow right now, but really only 4 of the 12 of us have any measurable speed at this juncture so I don’t feel too far behind.
4.08 – Jose Abreu (Flowers) – I was going to go JDM or Abreu, so Mr. Sporer made this an easy call. After going with speed early (Altuve, Marte), it’s time to start building a power base. Abreu had a somewhat disappointing season in 2016 in some folks’ eyes, but he’s also hit .290 with 25 homers and 100 RBIs each of the last three seasons. He is the only person in baseball who has done that.
4.09 – Jon Lester (Zinkie) – The rest of the available pitchers kind of give me heartburn. The ace pool seems to be a little thin this year. Lester is coming off a great season, and the Cubs could lead the Majors again next season. I doubt that Lester will be one of the top-5 starters next season, but I feel pretty confident that he will be in the top-10 or top-15.
4.10 – Wil Myers (Heaney) – I would’ve jumped all over Lester here, so now that he’s gone, I’ll stick with building offense in this shallow league. Enter a potentially polarizing player in 2017, especially now that he’s lost outfield eligibility. Obviously, I don’t want to Sharpie another 28-28 season, and I’ll have to deal with a batting average that won’t help me. 2016 was probably his peak, and his health will remain a red flag. But he finally had an opportunity to show off his legit power with a healthy wrist. Metrics like HR/FB and hard-hit rate prove the soon-to-be 26-year-old reveled in a step forward, not a fluke. This is enough of a discount — especially in a 12-team league, where the replacement value is more abundant — to capitalize on having a 20-plus-homer, 20-plus-steal pair at corner infield with Myers and Paul Goldschmidt. Quite the advantage.
4.11 – Jean Segura (Collette) – He, like so many others, hit 20 homers last year but more importantly rediscovered hard hitting in the dry desert air. The personal tragedy that took his career sideways won’t be forgotten, but he got really good again last year after folks wrote him off. He got better as the season went on and oddly enough, has been better against same-handed pitching throughout his career. He and Jose Altuve were the only middle infielders to hit as many as 20 homers and swipe as many as 30 bags.
4.12 – Ian Kinsler (Erickson) – I thought he was on the downswing a few years ago, but 28 homers, 14 steals and a whopping 117 runs later, it’s readily apparent that I was wrong. There’s going to be some tailing off next year, but he’s still a good bet to 20-10-100 runs.
5.01 – Kyle Hendricks (Erickson) – Debated going with Justin Verlander instead – I’m trading strikeouts for most likely better ratios, facing the NL Central and having a great team behind him, hopefully translating in more wins. I’m aware that he’s unlikely to prevent baserunners to the extend that he did in 2016, so there’s some chasing here. But he’s also consistently outperformed expectations throughout his career.
5.02 – Hanley Ramirez (Collette) – Once he told everyone to hop along for the ride in mid-June, he raked at a .298/.377/.596 clip for the rest of the season. First base is safer than left field for him so health concerns aren’t there as much anymore. With Ortiz gone, Ramirez or Edwin Encarnacion (it’s happening, much to my chagrin) is going to hit 3rd or 4th. RBI opportunities will continue to pile up with Betts and Pedroia in front of him.
5.03 – Carlos Carrasco (Heaney) – So many risky ace-ish pitchers available that may be too soon to commit to — still, I want my pick of them. Carrasco’s year of Cy Young numbers was cut short by injuries, but the freak occurrences weren’t of the shoulder or elbow variety. Over his last two-plus seasons as a full-time starting pitcher, he’s been ridiculous: 3.31 ERA, 9.98 K/9 and 2.07 BB/9. In a format where it’s relatively easy to find replacement pitching, I’ll stake my claim to some of the best peripherals among any starting pitcher in the game, in the event that Cookie finally puts together that magical season his numbers say will come.
5.04 – David Price (Zinkie) – At this point, I don’t know how I plan to attack the SP position next season. But starting with Lester and Price seems like a good plan. I expect Price to have a lower ERA next year and continue to rack up plenty of wins and strikeouts.
5.05 – Christian Yelich (Flowers) – Adding Yelich to Abreu/Altuve/Marte/Bogaerts gives me elite batting average allowing me to take risks later in the draft on limited players. Considered going with an arm here, but felt like I needed an outfielder. By the way, Yelich was two hits, two RBI, two runs and one steal from a .300-20-100-80-10 season and as of this writing is still just 24 years old.
5.06 – Gregory Polanco (Sporer) – All told, it was a strong season by Polanco as he got in on the power surge that hit the league with a career-high 22 HRs. He did lose 10 SBs off of his 27 from last year, but just being in double digits these days is valuable. The HRs could tail off back into the teens, but I don’t think this is the beginning of the end on his SB prowess (25+).
5.07 – Kyle Seager (Schwartz) – It’s definitely early to fill up my corner, but Sporer stole my Polanco pick, so I’ll just keep stocking up run production instead. The “other” Seager brother set career highs almost across the board in his age 28 season, reaching 30 homers for the first time and missing 100 RBIs only by a warning track fly out in his last at-bat of the season. Just as importantly, he set a career high in walks while controlling his strikeout rate, leading to career highs in OBP and runs scored. He’s an ultra-consistent performer who should produce similar numbers again in 2017.
5.08 – Carlos Gonzalez (Steinhorn) – I was having a tough time deciding between Polanco and Seager, so of course both get taken with the two picks right before my turn. Great. Anyway, I’m not sure I’d be going in this direction a few months from now, as there’s a decent chance that CarGo gets traded out of Colorado, which would obviously lower his statistical ceiling. But as of now, he’s still a Rockie, and he’s coming off two straight fully healthy seasons with at least 25 homers, 97 RBIs and 87 runs scored. And for those who believe in the contract year theory, there’s that too.
5.09 – Yu Darvish (DiFino) – His K/9 last season was the second-highest of his career, and while Darvish’s ERA was a little high, that had to be expected with some rust being shaken off. He got 127 1/3 innings under his belt in 2016, which means nudging back up to 200 is within reason. And with those 200 innings will come 220+ Ks. Maybe even 250+. It was Darvish or Aaron Sanchez here, and I think Darvish’s Ks take precedence over Sanchez’s likely lower ERA.
5.10 – Gary Sanchez (Van Riper) – I don’t know where to take him, but I’m surprised he’s still here after he went 32nd overall in a draft I participated in recently (15-team mixed, two catchers, not a mock). Sanchez’s debut doesn’t really exist in terms of previous seasons from any player…there are some interesting partial season binges from a variety of players over the years, none of which seem useful for any real comparison or projection purposes. He finished top-10 in average exit velocity in 2016, and has a good track record of avoiding whiffs — sub-20.0% K% at each minor league spot since 2013 — making him a very intriguing early-round target who will generate plenty of debate and column fodder between now and Opening Day.
5.11 – Buster Posey (Michaels) – Buster had a bit of an off-year, it is true, but even his off-year was pretty good. Certainly, based upon his resume, a guy who was always selected in the top three rounds since 2011 has slipped to virtually the end of the fifth round, and not even being the #1 catcher taken? Wow. Well, Buster turns 30 next year so he is still young, and it was just a year ago he finished with a .318-19-95 line. I can live with that for sure.
5.12 – Chris Archer (Zola) – Silly as this sounds, you need to be pretty good to lose 19 games. Why else would your team keep running you out there? It’s a bit myopic to claim Archer’s only issue was a high home run rate but all of his other metrics were remarkably similar to 2015. He’s healthy, he’s young and he’s smart. I really like the chances for a bounce-back.
6.01 – Carlos Martinez (Zola) – Honestly, I didn’t want to go back-to-back arms here but one of my early observations of the 2017 inventory is we’re at the point where the hitting flattens out more than normal. That is, the same hitter I’m thinking about now may very well be available at the 7/8 turn and even if not, the drop to the next stick isn’t much – and not nearly as much as the fall from C-Mart to whatever starters are still on the board. As for the pick, we’re looking at a potential 200 innings/200 whiff guy who is relatively healthy and entering his prime. Yes, please.
6.02 – Andrew McCutchen (Michaels) – Kind of like the Posey pick, Andrew has been a fave for years, but like Buster, a down 2016 results in a sort of fall from draft pick grace. Between 2012-15, Cutch never had his OBP dip below .400, and his OPS exceeded .900 over all those years but 2015, when it was .889. At 30, I am again willing to bet that Andrew has a lot of offense left within and he will have something to prove in 2017. This is indeed my kind of pick: a star who has fallen in stature and should at worst repeat last year’s totals.
6.03 – Billy Hamilton (Van Riper) – Injuries were once again a problem, but Hamilton’s career-high .321 OBP in 2016 offers hope of one more level to come with his stolen base total. I’ve never seen a player with 69 runs scored and only 17 RBI before, but on a Donaldson-Cruz-Sanchez foundation, a speed heavy, RBI-less piece provides the appropriate categorical balance.
6.04 – Aaron Sanchez (DiFino) – I was expecting a trip to the bullpen at the end of the season to keep his innings jump relatively low. But Sanchez hit 192 innings and produced a 3.00 ERA, which is suddenly great again, as the pendulum swung back to hitters in 2016. His strikeout numbers are far from elite level, but here’s my theory: we see a jump in 2017, as Sanchez can go nuts without an innings limit or pitch count worry (relatively, obviously), and see him get closer to the 8.8 K/9 ratio he had in the Minors.
6.05 – Jason Kipnis (Steinhorn) – Kipnis is coming off a stellar 2016 campaign in which he set career highs in homers (23) and runs (91). His stolen base production has declined, as he’s swiped a combined 27 bags over the past two seasons after averaging 28 steals per year from 2012-2014, but I can see him at least getting back to the 20-SB mark next season (10 SBs in the second half in ’16). I’ll gladly take this across-the-board production from my starting 2B. Also note that his consistently high walk rate makes him especially valuable in OBP leagues, so he might not be available at this spot if this were an OBP league.
6.06 – Jonathan Lucroy (Schwartz) – Lucroy was the #1 fantasy catcher in 2016 on the strength of a power surge following his trade to Texas, finishing with a career-high 24 homers and 81 RBIs, one short of his previous best. He’s an asset in batting average and will steal a few bags, and while his career-worst strikeout rate is something of a concern, a full season in hitter-friendly Texas should offset that and/or any effects of age that have yet to appear.
6.07 – DJ LeMahieu (Sporer) – LeMahieu has finished 4th and 8th on ESPN’s Player Rater at 2B the last two years. The 4th place finish was actually last year despite this year’s batting title thanks to a surge at 2B in ’16. The Player Rater gives a rating for the traditional 5×5 categories and adds it all up. In ’15 he had a 7.60 to finish 4th, but this year his 8.89 was good for only 8th. Even if he backslides a bit on his pop, I like a rock solid skill set in Coors and seen his fantasy value evolve and expand. He did drop 12 SBs off his ’15 mark of 23 and his history says he’ll be a wildcard with SBs (in ’14 he was 10-for-20), but Coors covers a lot of foibles, especially when you’re batting 2nd in that strong lineup.
6.08 – Zach Britton (Flowers) – I should take a starting pitcher here (Hamels/Quintana look mighty solid). It’s what I always do. It’s a mock. It’s October as I make this selection. So, do I go with a power corner bat here, take that starter when they all seem to be breaking down, or go closer? Give me Britton, who over the last three years has been the best reliever in baseball with a 1.38 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 9.26 K/9 and an average of 40 saves per season.
6.09 – Kenley Jansen (Zinkie) – I know, I know — I have too many pitchers (three after six rounds). But Jansen needs to be drafted in the initial six rounds of a 12-team draft. With so many unsettled closer situations, his ability to produce 40-plus saves and outstanding ratios makes him very safe and very valuable.
6.10 – Aroldis Chapman (Heaney) – I need a little more offense, but the names look quite similar right now. So I’ll go with an elite closer. Yes, I said closer because as of late October, it’s hard to imagine the impending free agent winding up in a setup role considering his elite fastball and the sparkling control improvement he showed in 2016. I’m a big fan of my Chapman-Carlos Carrasco pitcher base. The kids call that “on fleek.”
6.11 – Justin Verlander (Collette) – 21 wins, a 2.97 ERA, 3.28 FIP, a 9.5 K/9 since the 2015 All-Star break. The resurgence began last year when he got back to more fastballs and working up down and getting weaker contact. Bonus points — he threw the most four-seamers with a spin rate of at least 2500 – more of them and a higher percentage of his pitches than former teammate Max Scherzer.
6.12 – Adrian Beltre (Erickson) – I debated among three players – Beltre, Mark Trumbo or Stephen Piscotty. Obviously if this were continuing, I’d get two of them. Beltre is always there for me, doing the same high-average, high-power routine. Maybe he’ll fall off a cliff next year, but I doubt it, and there’s no chance that the Rangers ever move him. Trumbo is a pure power grab, but I don’t know where he’ll land next year, and Piscotty would have been an upside grab.
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