The RotoBaller Friends & Family Mock Draft has become an annual tradition where we gather some of the biggest names from the fantasy baseball world and put together a mock draft just as spring training has commenced. Thanks to RT Sports for once again hosting and providing a custom draft site where readers could follow along live at RTSports.com/RotoBaller!
This year's participants are a who's who of expert analysts, representing sites such as The Athletic, CBS Sports, USA Today, RotoWire, RotoGrinders, Fantasy Alarm, Fantasy Guru, Fantrax, Fangraphs, Baseball HQ, and, of course, RotoBaller.
After the draft wrapped up, we asked each of the participants to give some detailed feedback on their most interesting draft choices. Their answers may provide insight as to what they were thinking both before and during the draft itself. The 30-second clock in this mock left no time to question strategy or hesitate, so our drafters had to be on their toes! The format was 5x5 mixed roto league, snake draft, and the order randomized an hour before the mock. Here are the full results, along with their reflections.
Mock Draft Results
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Clay Link - RotoWire
You took several pitchers in the later rounds that are unproven but could break out, such as Jose Urquidy, A.J. Puk, and Dustin May. Do you feel this position is best to take draft-day risks on because of the volatility of starting pitching these days?
I do like to dabble with some potential breakout arms. Blake Snell was a league winner a couple of years back, and while that kind of Cy Young breakout is rare, I see profit potential with Urquidy, Puk and even Sandy Alcantara. I want more proven options at hitter -- with the rare mega-prospect exception -- but there are far fewer sure things on the pitching side and you have to be able to see slivers of upside.
Luke Voit in round 16 was identified as one of the best value picks by many of our participants. Do you expect him to produce enough counting stats to be a starting 1B even though he might be hitting at the bottom of the lineup?
While the Yankees have plenty of options for first base, I expect Voit to secure the primary job this spring. He was doing essentially what I thought he would do last summer before the core-muscle issues popped up. I heard him say he did less powerlifting this offseason, which is probably good because he was a little too big and bulky. Perhaps with a better range of motion with his core, he will be able to go start to finish as a top-10 fantasy first baseman.
Steve Gardner - USA Today
It almost looked like Alex Bregman would fall to the third round before you grabbed him at 2.11. You then took George Springer in the fourth round, Greinke in the sixth, and Brantley in the 11th so clearly you aren't worried about fallout from the Astros scandal. Are fantasy owners overreacting, making some of these players great values?
I didn’t go into the draft with an Astros-centric strategy, but you could draw that conclusion based on my selections of Alex Bregman in the second round, George Springer in the fourth and Michael Brantley in the 11th. They were just good values at the time.
I think that may be the case more often than not in drafts this year. People generally tend to think they know more than they really do about how things are going to play out. Since we know the Astros were doing something illegal in 2017 (and part of 2018), we want to incorporate that into what we should expect this season. In reality, there’s very little correlation between what happened in 2017 and what will happen in 2020. Whether the Astros’ illegal activities continued into last season and therefore invalidate what they accomplished on offense is something we can never really know. So why factor that into their players’ projected values?
If people are going to discount a four-category, multi-position star like Bregman because they don’t think he’ll hit 41 homers again, fine. But to discount him or Springer or Jose Altuve because they’re going to get booed a lot on the road seems just silly to me. And to discount a batting average lock like Brantley (who just joined the Astros last year) is even sillier. If others are giving me a discount on Astros (and doing so on *pitchers* as well), then I’ll have no problem taking it.
What are your expectations for Miguel Sano this year?
We’ve all seen the downside of Miguel Sano from his .199-hitting 2018 season. But there’s also elite power potential in his bat. Even after missing the first seven weeks of last season, he still hit 34 homers in 105 games. Among players with a minimum of 400 plate appearances, Sano’s 11.2 at-bats per home run ranked fourth in the majors – behind only Mike Trout, Nelson Cruz and Christian Yelich. In terms of hard-hit rate, Sano (52.7%) trailed only Aaron Judge. But if you’re looking at overall season leaderboards, you’re not going to see Sano’s name among the qualifiers because of his late start.
Add in Josh Donaldson to this year’s Twins lineup and there’s no easy out in the bunch. Plus, Sano is going to be even more valuable because he’ll gain in-season fantasy eligibility at first base. To get him in Round 10 with the 119th overall pick seems like a pretty good value to me. In fact, I think I may need to move him up in my rankings.
Ray Murphy - Baseball HQ
You took a trio of starters early on (Sale, Kershaw, Clevinger) that could make your rotation the best by far of this group, but each comes with serious injury concerns. You didn't take your next SP until the 15th round. Is this all-or-nothing approach something you would attempt if this weren't a mock?
Well, I was comfortable with the Sale/Kershaw combo, but ended up getting Clevinger because I timed out. (That 30-second clock was rough!). So I didn't really want three SP in my top-five picks. But once I had them, I decided to steer into that and work on my offense (and closers) for a while before getting back to SP. I can't vouch for how this would have worked out if we played it out... but honestly, it would have been pretty interesting.
Landing Mike Trout at the third spot is a luxury a lot of owners might have in 2020. Given the choice, do you prefer a top-three pick?
I was a big fan of a top-three pick until a couple of weeks ago. Now, with the injuries to the likes of Clevinger, Severino, etc, the SP options coming back at the 2-3 turn are going to be pretty thin. That's fine with me, as I'm generally comfortable waiting a little longer to get my first SP. But if you have a top-three pick, there are going to be some team-construction issues that come with those slots now.
Derek Carty - RotoGrinders
With the fourth pick, you struck first at the pitcher spot with Gerrit Cole. THE BAT projects some regression for him at a 3.07 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and just under 300 K. Why does this make him more valuable than players like Betts or Bellinger.
It's less about Cole himself than about top-tier pitchers in general. For years, the math has supported the ace pitchers being more valuable than they get drafted as. If you run THE BAT, Steamer, ZiPS, and ATC through the FanGraphs Auction Calculator, every single system has the top pitcher as either the most valuable (ahead of all hitters) or the second-most valuable player on the board. Conventional wisdom has it that pitching is "too risky" and so you can't spend an early pick on, but that's faulty logic. The top pitchers are much safer than people assume (especially relative to whatever hitters are being taken early because they had one great year, which is dumb and carries plenty of risk too), even if you care about safety (which I don't). The old logic is that it's better to wait until the later rounds and find the diamonds in the rough. This is great in theory, but it's not as if we know those late-round steals ahead of time, and people tend to have too much confidence in their ability to do so. Middle-round pitchers, especially that second and third tier, tend to be terrible investments. From a value standpoint, the elite pitchers each year are worth extremely early picks, and they get underdrafted as a result. Cole at 4 is strong value.
Howard Bender - Fantasy Alarm
You were the last one to take a starting pitcher, waiting until round 6 to make Aaron Nola your SP1. Was this an intentional strategy or did you simply feel the value wasn't there to take a pitcher earlier?
Waiting on starting pitching was part of my plan/strategy heading in. With a strategy that focuses more on saves and steals, it was more important for me to attack the offense first. I would grab my steals early and splash in some power while waiting to see what was left for me at pitching. I thought about making a move in Round 5, but after seeing names like Paddack, Syndergaard, Nola, Greinke and Giolito on the board, I knew I could wait one more round. The strategy allows me to discount ERA, as my closers will help fix that, so my focus for starters was on strikeouts. Nola is a 200+ K guy who should improve on last year's numbers and Trevor Bauer (Round 8) was the same, in my opinion. I don't feel like I sacrificed pitching by waiting and, in fact, allowed me to augment my power with the Matt Olson pick, so according to my strategy, it all went very well for me.
It seems you made a point of securing steals and saves early. How important is it to get an advantage in these categories on draft day?
It's like the late-90s all over again. Power is all the rage because "chicks dig the long ball" and stolen bases are down. The closer position, while still volatile, saw fewer guys lose their job in 2019 than we had seen in the previous three seasons. If power is abundant and can be found everywhere, then why not make that early move for speed? And while everyone is freaking out about all the starters coming off the board, you can stay focused on steals/more offense. Then while everyone is then scrambling for the next tier of hitters, I can grab the top closers and high-strikeout starters. The key is to bulk up on the two categories to the point where you know you will be able to trade later in the year while still maintaining your position in the standings. They are, traditionally, the two categories you can move up the most in for roto leagues and everyone will be looking for both in the second half. Fantasy championships are not won on draft day. In-season management is paramount and having a strategy that carries you through the full six months and not just the first half is key.
Vlad Sedler - Fantasy Guru
A couple of big-name players, Giancarlo Stanton and Manny Machado, fell to you in rounds 5 & 6 respectively. Do you feel they are being discounted too much by fantasy owners or is this a fair range for them to fall?
It's amazing what a difference a year makes. Both were easy second-round selections this time last year. The fall of Stanton and the concern with him is warranted given his injury history. But it is worth noting that he had consecutive seasons in 2017 and 2018 with no health concerns, a minimal one in 2016 and appears fully recovered from last year's ailments. Machado's drop in ADP is a bit more surprising, especially since he's been the modicum of health and leads the majors in plate appearances over the past five years. As I did in the RotoBaller mock, I'm willing to take a shot at these two guys at current price in all my drafts this spring in hopes of a return to glory.
You took a pair of young Rockies in Garrett Hampson and Ryan McMahon in the middle rounds. What do you realistically expect from them this year?
When in doubt in the middle or late rounds, draft a Rockies hitter. At least that is what happened with my selection of McMahon. Not someone I am going out of my way to target, although he did have a nice rookie season and can certainly build on last year's success. With Hampson, it's simply a case of 'I can't quit him'. At least, not yet. The Rockies are known to stall and ruin the progress of their good prospects and we just have to hope that won't be the case with Hampson this year. He is one of the league's fastest players and could easily swipe 30-plus with at least 500 PA and half his games at Coors Field.
Pierre Camus - RotoBaller
You took Marcell Ozuna at 79 overall, 20 spots higher than his current NFBC ADP, opting for him over outfielders like Tommy Pham and Luis Robert who also bring speed to the table. Explain that pick.
A couple of minor injuries hampered Ozuna the last two years in St. Louis, but moreover he just never seemed to fully fit in. Despite this, he still posted elite Statcast numbers with a .548 xSLG, .382 xwOBA, and 49.2% hard-hit rate in 2019. A move to Atlanta gives him slight upgrades in ballpark and lineup support. Busch Stadium was third-worst in HR factor for right-handed batters at 91, whereas Atlanta's Truist Park was right around league average at 99 last year. Atlanta ranked ninth in team average and seventh in runs scored, while St. Louis was 23rd and 19th in those categories respectively. A healthy Ozuna should easily exceed 30 HR, 90 RBI, and finish with an average closer to his .288 xBA. Pham and especially Robert don't have the same floor at multiple categories. Plus, I wasn't too worried about speed because I had just taken Victor Robles I knew I could make up for that category later on at a discount with guys like Tim Anderson and Mallex Smith.
The last 10 rounds of your draft are mostly filled with young players, many of whom are considered sleepers in 2020. Do you shoot purely for upside at this point rather than filling your bench with high-floor veterans?
I consider it upside with a safety net. I take young players who are set to have a big role on their team and are fairly certain to start, but haven't yet completely proven themselves. Mitch Keller, Griffin Canning, and Tyler Beede should have rotation spots secured and each is a top pitching prospect for his team. Mike Yastrzemski and Trent Grisham are also set to start in the outfield and can contribute across multiple categories. The one player I am most skeptical of is Aristides Aquino because he could be in a logjam with the Reds' situation and might find himself optioned back to the minors. He also has 30-HR upside and has already tasted success in the majors, so it's worth a shot at that juncture.
Nando Di Fino - The Athletic
A couple of years ago, we expected Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton to be perennial fantasy studs. You secured them both in rounds 10-11. How do you weigh risk vs reward when picking players like these?
I think by that part of the draft, you have to take a shot. Correa is going to have depressed value because we're all human and hate the Astros, but he's somehow avoided the scorn that Altuve and a few others have. Although in pure baseball terms, I'm banking on him not being hurt this year. Hopefully, he gets 150 healthy games in and returns to form.
Buxton is still only 26 and still doesn't have that 475 at-bat season. Once we hit these double-digit rounds, you have to weigh the risk of injury against the potential. And if this is the year he comes in, stays healthy, and gets 40 steals.. awesome. I'm in for that. If he doesn't, I think the downside here is greater than Correa's, as Correa has at least shown some BA skill in the past and I can maybe get .280 out of him, even in a bad season. Buxton seems capped, to me, at around .265 (although a new hitting coach might change that).
Were you surprised Shohei Ohtani fell to round 8 and are you worried about an innings limit on the pitching side?
I really was, especially in this format where there's only one Ohtani. And I'm not worried... I guess I'm "cognizant" of it. I read that there might be a loophole where he can bat, then get optioned for a rehab pitching start, then come back up and hit again. So as long as I have the bat side in the lineup for a while, I'm content. Once he starts pitching, it'll be like trading for a starter, but giving up nobody, as I can keep the bat whenever I want it in there, too. I like the flexibility, basically. And to be totally honest, it makes things a little more fun.
Ariel Cohen - Fangraphs / RotoBaller
Why are you confident that Juan Soto is worth the ninth overall pick in favor of guys who provide more speed like Turner/Story or taking an ace like Scherzer/Verlander.
I don’t think about Soto as the “9th overall pick.” My selection of him had to do more with the options available to me at the time. As per my recent article on Finding Combo Value Players Using Z-Score, Juan Soto has four projected categories with a Z-Score of over +1.00, and the fifth category (SB) is still above the pool average. That’s a great skills composition.
I don’t feel that you NEED to take a speedster in the first round. I think that it is more important to bank reliable stats. Soto will get that bank, PLUS he will get double-digit swipes. Shortstop is a very deep position this year. I’d rather take an OF early on if similarly priced. In 12-team leagues, I don’t feel the need to take a starter in the first round, as the waiver wire will be tapped quite a bit. I would have taken Cole/deGrom if they fell to me, but for Verlander/Scherzer - I have a small fear of injury/age issues and it bumped them below Soto.
Since you are the man behind ATC projections, I'm curious which of your mid-to-late-round picks were data-driven decisions based on potential earnings and which were "gut feel" picks?
Franmil Reyes to me was pushed up via “gut feel.” Projections see him as a mid-30 HR player, but I would be the over on projected totals, and 40-45 HR are in play. Same with Rougned Odor. I think he’s a 30/10 player who’s BA projection is far too light. Eric Hosmer was a data-driven decision. His value was immense for the round selection. He actually came up as the most valuable player to take about 1-2 rounds prior. Renato Nunez was also data-driven. ATC projections are high on him – and I went with the numbers for his selection!
Chris Towers - CBS Sports
You went the discount closer route with Giovanny Gallegos and Wade Davis and only one expert waited longer to take a reliever. Do you make it a point to de-prioritize saves on draft day?
My strategy this year is to either target bounce-back candidates — Edwin Diaz and Craig Kimbrel, primarily, but also Sean Doolittle — or to wait as long as I can. In Davis and Gallegos, I managed to acquire relievers with two very different concerns: Davis has the job for now, but may be washed up; Gallegos certainly seems to have the skill, but may not have the job. However, given that you can expect roughly half or more of all Opening Day closers to lose their job at some point in any given season, it just doesn't make much sense to invest much in the position, especially in a year when many of the "safer" options have limited track records of viability.
Do you worry that players who broke out last year like Ketel Marte, Josh Bell, Lucas Giolito, and Jorge Soler could face serious regression this year?
Of course, I'm always concerned about that — "Don't pay face values for career years" was one of my guiding principles when looking for bust candidates for 2020. However, in the case of each of those players, I got them at enough of a value that I'm not so worried about it. Marte was the No. 13 hitter in Roto last season; Bell was No. 38; Soler was 23. At those costs, you've baked in a lot of the regression, it seems to me. I could quibble with some of the picks — Bogaerts instead of Marte might be the one I'd consider re-doing if I could — but overall, I think those players are probably being penalized too much coming off seasons where they each appear to have made significant changes to their underlying skill sets.
Eric Cross - Fantrax
The early part of your draft was highlighted by three straight young White Sox hitters in Moncada, Jimenez, and Robert. Are your expectations sky-high for this offense in 2020?
They are. The plan going in wasn't to necessarily load up on White Sox hitters, but the values all seemed about right. Moncada seemed to turn a corner in 2020 and Eloy absolutely dominated to end the season. I'm really expecting big things from them in 2020 to go along with a potential 20/25 season from Luis Robert as well. As long as he can keep the AVG respectable, the value should be there due to the power/speed.
J.D. Davis is a player whose ADP keeps rising, as he is increasingly being viewed as a sleeper to target. Can last year's Statcast numbers be duplicated and is playing time a concern at all for you?
Davis seems to be everyone's darling this year. But we're now at the point where it's fair to ask if his ADP has risen to the point where it will be difficult for him to return a ton of value. When I look at the underlying metrics and Statcast data, nothing screams big regression coming in 2020. But then again, is there more room to improve and really turn a profit? As for the playing time, I'm not too concerned. I think the ABs will be there between the outfield and third base to keep his bat in the lineup daily. To sum it up, he's legit, but the ADP is rising a little too high for my liking now.
Nick Mariano - RotoBaller
You passed up a chance to take Scherzer or Verlander at the turn, opting for offense instead. Explain your thought process early on.
The bulk of my drafts usually yield one starting pitcher in the first two rounds, so I wanted to explore hitter-hitter given my lowly 12 draft slot. In my mind, the top 11 are fairly set. Come 12, and this goes for 15-teamers and so on, I can go many directions and not feel a loss of value. I don't love Scherzer or Verlander enough to forgo building offense in this power-happy era. I do love my ability to piece together a formidable pitching corps in a 12-teamer with mid/late relievers, where I don't need a Scherzer/Verlander as much as I need the offense.
With elite first basemen who won't hurt the BA thinning quickly, I opted for Freeman. Then Ramirez could be a top-five pick next year if he proves the average can return and irons out some streakiness. Either way, the speed is there without sacrificing power or overall offensive ceiling. I can't cobble that together late in the draft without opportunity cost drowning me, as opposed to making it work with the pitching categories.
Many of your hitters fall into the HR+SB or BA+HR+SB cohort of our Expected Draft Value system (Ramirez, Meadows, Hiura, Laureano, Danny Santana). Are "combo" players the best way to attack a draft rather than focusing on category specialists?
I do love me some combo meals. In general, I would rather spread my production across as many players as possible. If I'm banking on 50 steals from Adalberto Mondesi and then that shoulder injury destroys his 2020, I'm in a deep hole. Whereas, if one pillar out of six falls, the other five can hold the roof up. I wouldn't say this is the best way to attack a draft, but I believe it's a strong strategy if you didn't get a top-10 pick. There's no replicating a Mike Trout, scientists have tried and failed, so I need to be sure I make up for not having a peak five-tool guy with skills across the board. No freeloaders here, you have to earn your roster spot!
More 2020 Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy