Time for the annual fantasy baseball draft recap. This marks my 17th year in the league, running a standard 5×5 15-team mixed format with a snake draft. I was assigned the sixth pick in the draft, and came in with a strategy of trying to build a batting average cushion early, allowing me to take lower-average high-power batters later in the draft. I also wanted to pick up a couple closers during the closer runs, even if it was a reach, as I hate chasing saves throughout the year and am quite terrible at it, as I head to bed too early to watch the results of the late-night games.
I had anticipated the first five picks going Trout, Betts, Altuve, Goldschmidt, and Arenado, leaving me to choose among Kris Bryant (not quite as proven as I would like this early with a hitter) or Clayton Kershaw, which is a wise pick, though I abhor taking a pitcher in the first round. Secretly, I hoped the first five might shift a bit and give me a shot at Arenado (preferably) or Goldschmidt, though I’m worried Goldy won’t run as much this year with a new manager in Arizona. To my surprise, however, the actual first five picks were Trout, Betts, Bryant, Goldschmidt, and Arenado. That made it easy for me — Altuve’s fantastic average coupled with speed and a bit of power was too good to pass up, and it aligned perfectly with my preferred strategy.
Having gone with Altuve early, I definitely wanted a power first baseman in round two, and after watching Rizzo, E3, Votto and Miggy go off the board, was starting to get nervous I’d be shut out of that tier. However, Freddie Freeman was still available at my turn, and I gladly picked him up. I’ve been a FF fan for several years now, as I think he’s significant undervalued and compares favorably with Anthony Rizzo, and he also helps with my batting average early strategy. No hitters were jumping out at me in round 3, so I went with the best available pitcher, Jon Lester, though I’m always concerned about his ability to hold runners, as well as the switch from his personal catcher, David Ross, to Willson Contreras. On the way back in round 4, I saw an opportunity to grab another solid SP to help mitigate the Lester pick, and my target player, Chris Archer, went a few picks earlier. I grabbed Justin Verlander at that point, figuring I was set on SP for the next couple rounds.
In round 5 my “value chart” showed Billy Hamilton was by far the most valuable commodity on the board, and I decided to take another risk and pick him… I’ve come in fairly high in the final league standings most years, but I haven’t won, and to take a real shot at a league win, I think you need to take some risks. Hamilton has the potential to steal 90 bases… if only he could steal first base!
Round 6 saw the run of closers begin, and I grabbed Mark Melancon as the best of the available arms, knowing full well that was a bit of a reach. Much as I’d like to punt saves, having picked two starters in rounds 3 and 4, I didn’t think I could afford to punt any category. And of course, Melancon got lit up in his first appearance of the season. Go figure.
Round 7 I was thrown off my game as I had been eyeing Justin Upton for another power bat, and thinking I could accomplish quite the steal here. He was taken in the pick before mine, eliciting a groan and a bit of anxiety. The last catcher in the next available tier was still available, though, and I went with Willson Contreras. In Round 8 my initial strategy of building a batting average cushion started to pay off, as I was able to roster Khris Davis as one of the biggest power bats left on the board. I picked up another starter at what I consider a great ‘price’ in round 9 in Kenta Made, then picked up my second closer, David Robertson, in round 10 on the return. I’m not a huge Robertson fan by any stretch, and will have to hope he retains his role as opposed to moving into setup when he’s traded mid-season, but he appears to be by far the best closer available at that point, and they were running off the board quickly.
The next few rounds I used to shore up my positions, focusing on reasonable power and counting stats without taking too large a batting average hit. That led to Jake Lamb in 11, Tim Anderson in 12, Kole Calhoun in 13, and Neil Walker as my middle infielder in 14 (though I was debating Walker vs. Schoop, Walker plays for the Mets, and they’re a local team that’s easy to catch on TV here, so I figured he’d be a bit more fun to roster as I could root for him live more often.) Next up I noted that my list of ‘barely acceptable’ catchers was rapidly dwindling, and picked the last of that tier in Matt Wieters in round 15. Wieters has yet to fulfill his perceived potential due to injuries and various setbacks, so I drafted him expecting an injury or two and depressed stats, but with the potential upside of the vaunted prospect of several years back.
In round 16 I took my third closer, Ryan Madson, hoping he would hold the job long enough for me to basically “rent” 15-20 saves to get me to my target, though recent news has Oakland in a committee-of-three setup, and Madson’s first outing was ugly. Oops.
Returning to my goal of drafting cheap power late, I picked up Max Kepler in round 17, then grabbed Lance Lynn in round 18, hoping for a nice recovery from Tommy John Surgery last season and perhaps a late-round steal. Getting back to position filling and power searching, I grabbed Justin Four in round 19 and Eugenio Suarez as my DH in round 20. I needed a few more starters, so I took Hisashi Iwakuma in 21 hoping for a stable if not stellar innings eater to pick up some wins, and then Sonny Gray in 22. My top starters should help balance them out early, coupled with a middle reliever corps to assist with ERA and WHIP. I just have to remember this season not to compromise ERA and WHIP for higher-risk innings from marginal starters.
Finally, I picked up Denard Span as my final outfielder in round 23, providing the best balance of counting stats and power left on the board. For my reserves, I grabbed Matt Bush as an ERA/WHIP guy who could slide into a closer role later in the year, Matt Andriese and Alex Wood as potential starters (though I dropped Wood shortly after hearing he was relegated to bullpen duty), Jurickson Profar as my “play anywhere” fill-in injury reserve, and Chris Carter as another fallback power option given the likelihood of Greg Bird faltering in his currently role with the Yanks.
Overall I’m reasonably happy with the draft. I like my first two picks, and though I assumed some risk in Hamilton in round 5, it seemed a reasonable risk. I’m not thrilled with my closers by any stretch, and I’m uncomfortable with Bour as my corner infielder, though the numbers say he’s a reasonable pick. Now I just need to luck into some of my borderline starters exceeding expectations, have Lester keep it together without David Ross behind the plate, and hope a couple other details fall in place. Regardless, another fun draft!