Mike Trout is the man with the first pick in just about every draft, but after that it’s up in the air. Giancarlo Stanton has been a common second pick, while I’ve seen Clayton Kershaw and Miguel Cabrera go second, as well. Cabrera’s value has been plummeting recently with news about his offseason ankle surgery. Despite missing the last two months to injury, Paul Goldschmidt is holding his place as a top-five pick in most drafts. The end of the first round seems to be a crapshoot this season, with Edwin Encarnacion, Robinson Cano, Anthony Rizzo and Anthony Rendon finishing out the round. You won’t see those players in every first round, which is not to say that they aren’t solid picks. It is to say that this is probably not the year to pick at the end of the draft, if you can avoid it.
Troy Tulowitzki is a yearly risk near the beginning of drafts. He suffered through more injuries last season, though it at least looks like he will remain with the Rockies for another year. However, he has a combined four steals over the last three seasons, so the five-tool upside from earlier in his career just isn’t there. Jose Altuve has gone in the first round of most drafts I’ve seen, but this group apparently doesn’t see him in the same light. It’s still difficult to pass on his elite three-category ability, and he stands to hit leadoff regularly with Dexter Fowler out of the way. Hanley Ramirez represents big upside in the second round while his shortstop eligibility remains. The hope is that his move to the outfield will allow him to stay healthy. I was thrilled to find Adam Jones with the 19th overall pick. He’s usually taken around the No. 15 spot, as he was last season, which says he’s one of the most consistent hitters in the game. Ryan Braun is another early risk selected in this round, but the offseason reports regarding his thumb surgery have been good. With a good spring, Braun’s stock could shoot up.
Evan Longoria’s draft spot has declined after one of his worst seasons, but he still piles up counting stats hitting in the middle of Tampa Bay’s batting order. His supporting cast has taken a hit, but he should still see plenty of opportunities. This round featured some diverging strategies, with several high upside hitters such as Bryce Harper, Nolan Arenado and George Springer and also some annual plug-and-plays like Freddie Freeman and Hunter Pence. Yoenis Cespedes finds himself high on the Rotoworld rankings and mock draft. While the move to Comerica Park isn’t necessarily favorable, he will get plenty of opportunities in a great Tigers lineup likely driving in Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez as the team’s No. 5 hitter.
We can safely call Round 4 the round of starting pitching. Among the 12 picks, seven were starting pitchers. All are high upside arms that fit the ace mold, as teams attempted to anchor their staffs. Each pitcher taken in this round has the potential for 200 strikeouts. Elsewhere, we saw Corey Dickerson taken ahead of Carlos Gonzalez, which would have seemed crazy one year ago but is now becoming a common occurrence with the outfielders standing at nearly the same ADP. Dickerson stands to see even more playing time this season as a regular from the get-go.
The elite starting pitchers were just about finished off in Round 5, with Jordan Zimmermann, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels finding their homes. These pitchers arguably stand a tier below those selected in Round 4, though each has shown consistency in recent seasons. Prince Fielder looks like a major X-factor in drafts, as fantasy owners aren’t sure what to expect considering his amazing durability prior to last season’s neck injury. Likewise, Victor Martinez is an interesting case study with a power breakout in his mid-30’s. Joey Votto is a risk that some owners aren’t willing to take considering the nagging injuries to his lower half over the last few seasons, but the upside still remains intact, especially at a hitter-friendly home park and with a decent lineup. Kolten Wong’s value has skyrocketed in early drafts partially due to his strong second half, along with some talk that he could challenge for the leadoff spot in the Cardinals lineup. He has 20/20 upside already.
At the time of the 2014 All-Star break, Todd Frazier looked like an elite third baseman for fantasy owners. The streaky Frazier slowed down the stretch, but still represents strong value for fantasy owners. Matt Carpenter is also a great option for batting average and runs, though his spot in the batting order will be very important to watch. Matt Harvey will likely be on an innings count this season, but could still be a dynamite option with 180 innings. Evan Gattis’ value increases slightly with a likely full-time role in the outfield, providing more at-bats without the rigors of catcher while still being eligible at the position. Billy Hamilton’s horrendous second half has really dropped his value, though the upside remains for a second round value and 60-plus steals if he gets his bat working like it did in the first half. We see the two elite closers off the board in Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel, showing that these experts don’t care much about their shaky supporting casts.
The front of the Boston lineup is a potential gold mine after the Red Sox added so much punch this offseason. It will likely start off with Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia, who could really help in batting average and runs if all goes according to plan. Pedroia is coming off a down year, but has usually been rock solid for fantasy owners. Dellin Betances shows the potential of an elite closer, though his lack of experience and the addition of Andrew Miller could make some owners nervous to draft him this early. Kenley Jansen certainly represents a safer option. Manny Machado is coming off an up and down year, but showed streaks of brilliance that makes picking him this early appropriate. Jay Bruce was Mr. Consistency prior to last season, and hopes to rebound from a down year due to knee issues.
Round 8 completed the second tier of catchers, which is significant in a two-catcher league. The drop -off after Brian McCann, Yadier Molina and Matt Wieters is quite significant, with Wilin Rosario’s playing time in question and Russell Martin attempting to repeat what looks like an outlier season in his recent history. The sub-one tier of closers also went off the board in Greg Holland and Mark Melancon. Holland has established himself as a truly consistent option, while Melancon has been an elite reliever over the last two seasons but has yet to close for a full season. Those slightly lower saves totals shouldn’t deter fantasy owners from paying a significant price for him.
The upside, projection picks run rampant in Round 9. Rusney Castillo’s draft spot could be all over the map until he shows something in spring training, but the Cuban has the ability to produce top-10 outfield value if he can find a favorable spot in Boston’s batting order. Alex Wood probably won’t see much run support with Atlanta, but has an opportunity for more starts and had a 2.59 ERA as a starter last season. Christian Yelich and Kole Calhoun bring significant five-tool upside, and should also be able to pile up at-bats near the top of the batting order in their respective lineups. It should be noted that this draft took place before Sean Doolittle’s shoulder injury was announced. He’s likely closer to a Round 20 value with questions about his health.
10.116 D.J. Short (Rotoworld) - Marcell Ozuna, OF, MIA
Several players in Round 10 present interesting cases for fantasy owners. David Ortiz has usually lasted longer than his projection would indicate because of his age, but the batting average decline last season makes this an appropriate spot for his services. David Wright is coming off of a terrible season, piggybacking on an injury-plagued 2013 campaign. Nelson Cruz cashed in on his career year with Baltimore, but could have a much tougher time hitting at Safeco Field. Carlos Carrasco has some skeptics after posting a 2.55 ERA, but the peripherals show brilliant ability. Javier Baez was a strikeout machine during his major league debut, and those struggles haven’t stopped in winter ball. However, it’s rare to find 30 home run potential at second base or shortstop, and fantasy owners are being forced to pay appropriately.
11.128 Nathan Grimm (Rotoworld) - Jacob DeGrom, SP, NYM
Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow is the elephant in the room preventing him from top-20 starter consideration. He’s a major risk, but one worth taking at this point in a shallow mixed league with replacement options. Kris Bryant presents huge upside, and I’ve actually seen him go as early as Round 5 in drafts. As we said with Tim Tebow in the real NFL draft, it only takes one team. Bryant is arguably the best hitting prospect in the game, but could spend the first month in the minors. Despite going on age 40, I’ve been surprised at the value Koji Uehara has presented. He’s still the unquestioned closer for a team Vegas really likes, and has a combined 10.65 K/BB ratio since joining Boston. Paul Sporer is showing that he believes in the breakouts of J.D. Martinez and Marcus Stroman. Both should have ample opportunities to succeed, with Martinez likely hitting sixth in Detroit’s loaded lineup and Stroman showing clearly the most upside of anyone in the Blue Jays rotation. Round 12 featured many nice outfield values, led by Adam Eaton. The White Sox leadoff hitter showed Batting Title potential during the second half, and should be profitable if he can stay healthy. Oswaldo Arcia has fallen further in most other drafts I’ve seen thus far, but has 30 home run upside. Yasmany Tomas isn’t considered on the same level as Yasiel Puig or Jose Abreu, but has big upside at hitter-friendly Chase Field. Charlie Blackmon’s value has declined after a poor second half and trade rumors, but I’ll happily take any leadoff hitter in Colorado.
I’m a bit surprised Jorge Soler fell this far with the youthful optimism following his 2014 debut. The Cuban has suffered through injuries since arriving to the states, but has done nothing but hit when he’s been available. Likewise, Gregory Polanco has the upside to be a huge bargain if he can put it together this season. The Pirates showed their full support of Polanco by trading Travis Snider, and should have the most dynamic outfield in the game if Polanco shows any semblance of the ability he displayed in the minors as a near 20/20 man. Another big upside outfielder in this range was Joc Pederson. It looks like Pederson will have a chance to earn playing time this spring, competing with Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke. He’s shown promising 30/30 upside. Round 14 featured the rush to lock down a solid closer, with the second tier going off the board in Drew Storen, Jonathan Papelbon, Huston Street and Glen Perkins.
These rounds show just how deep pitching is in the majors. Chris Archer, Zack Wheeler, Drew Smyly, Michael Wacha, Brandon McCarthy and Jose Quintana are showing up as sleeper darlings all over expert lists, while Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes and Dallas Keuchel are coming off of huge seasons. Gio Gonzalez was near the elite fantasy starters in the game as recently as 2012, and remains in a very favorable situation with the Nats. It’s sad to see Justin Verlander fall this far after being the best starter in fantasy baseball for so many years, but you can’t blame these owners for passing on him after last year’s decline.
We start to see some interesting fliers in these later rounds, but some of the stalwarts look like the biggest bargains. Cliff Lee suffered through arm problems last season, but entered last season still among the elite pitchers in the game and was drafted seven rounds after similarly fragile Masahiro Tanaka. Jayson Werth’s stock has fallen as he recovers from shoulder surgery, but it would be almost impossible to lose value on him this late. Young Steven Souza could have the opportunity to hit in the middle of Tampa Bay’s lineup, which gives him big potential. Jered Weaver doesn’t have great peripherals, but has been a wins machine when healthy. Garrett Richards showed elite ability before tearing his Achilles last season and should easily be worth his draft slot if he meets his late April/early May timetable. Jake McGee will be out at the beginning of the season with arm trouble, but showed terrific ability as Tampa Bay’s closer last season and could be a huge bargain if he can return healthy and regain the role.
21.245 D.J. Short (Rotoworld) - Michael Fiers, SP, MIL
With the Jonathan Papelbon trade rumors continuing to swirl, Paul Sporer’s pick of Ken Giles to open Round 20 could be a major coup. Giles was an elite setup man during his rookie debut, and currently stands as the clear closer-in-waiting behind Papelbon. Danny Salazar also brings high upside after a good second half. He was a common sleeper entering last season, and was able to right himself after some struggles. Kevin Gausman, Mike Fiers and Jesse Hahn spur similar optimism on sleeper lists heading into 2015. The last of the closers go off the board with Francisco Rodriguez, Jenrry Mejia, Joe Nathan and Luke Gregerson. Each has their share of wilts, which is obviously why they lasted so long. It’s notable how little speed remains at this point in the draft. Denard Span is probably the only true 20 steal threat taken in these three rounds, and that’s an important note as you plan when to pick up steals in a roto league.
25.295 Drew Silva (Rotoworld) - Jung-Ho Kang, SS, PIT
In the closing rounds of the draft, the debate is always upside vs. a sure thing. We saw plenty of both as owners finished off their rosters, though Round 25 showed more upside plays. The most intriguing of the upside plays to close out the draft include Taijuan Walker, Carlos Martinez, Matt Moore, Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez, Jung-Ho Kang and Dalton Pompey. Each player’s draft stock will be heavily influence by what we see between the time of this draft in late January and spring training, with performance, opportunities and medical updates rapidly changing the stock of the draft pool for these high upside talents.
Note: Special thanks to Couchmanagers.com for hosting the draft.