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NFBC Main Event review

jose ramirez

On Saturday, I got to experience the thrill of competing in the NFBC Main Event in Las Vegas for the second time in my life. I’ve been playing in the Main Event since 2009 (with a few years off from 2016 - 2019) – and have drafted live plenty of times in Chicago – but drafting live in Vegas is a completely different animal.

Let me start off by saying that all of the hype surrounding the event and the weekend is completely justified. I’m fully aware that the cost is prohibitive for some, but sharing the same space with so many passionate and like-minded individuals was just an unbelievable experience. Being able to meet and interact with other industry analysts, social media personalities, podcast hosts and NFBC Hall of Famers that I’ve known for years online – some a decade or more – and to just chat with them and share our love of fantasy baseball was truly an experience that I’ll never forget. Especially for an introvert like myself, this is one of the rare times where I get to come out of my shell a bit and interact with people who really get me.

Full disclosure, the past two seasons have not been kind to me. The 2022 campaign was as brutal of a year as I have had in this hobby, and in 2023 I merely broke even overall. I believe that part of the problem may have been that I was spreading myself too thin. This year I scaled back my entries overall, wanting to devote my entire time and attention to just a few FAAB leagues.

Five days before this event – before flying out to Vegas – we received our league assignment and draft spot for our lone Main Event draft of the season. Let’s just say that I wasn’t entirely thrilled with where we were going to be picking from. I strongly preferred the top half of the draft – as evidenced by how we set our KDS (Kentucky Derby Style) preferences beforehand. For those unfamiliar, it gives each manager a chance to rank which draft positions they prefer from 1-15. Then, as each manager is randomly selected, they are assigned their highest available preference remaining. Like most fantasy managers this year, I wanted the top pick and thought there was a big edge to be had with any of the top four picks overall (Acuna, Strider, Witt, Julio). If I couldn’t get a top four pick, I wanted to be as close to the middle as possible, devising draft plans around Freddie Freeman. The only thing that I didn’t want was to be picking from the end. So, lo and behold, it was a major disappointment to find out that we were the 13th name picked to choose our draft spot and wound up with pick 13. Bah.

After a few hours of sulking about the news, it was time to devise a draft plan. When looking at Main Event ADP (average draft position) prior to Saturday’s draft, it was very likely that none of the top-10 options were going to be there at pick 13. That means we would have no chance at landing Acuna, Strider, Witt, Julio, Betts, Tucker, Carroll, Tatis, Soto or Freeman. None of those 10 players had fallen to pick 13 in any Main Event draft to that point, and they didn’t on Saturday either. The two players who had fallen to that pick in at least one other draft were Shohei Ohtani and Trea Turner. Turner was the player that I was hoping for, and I gave it roughly a 35-40% chance that he could be there. The decision then became what to do with Ohtani if he fell. Given the uncertainty surrounding his current predicament, it wasn’t a risk that I was going to be willing to take if he happened to fall to 13, he was off my board.

That left me trying to devise a plan for what to do with those first two picks if Turner wasn’t available. Let me start out by saying that I’m generally pretty rigid in the way that I draft. I prefer to go down fighting with the guys that I like, and I usually cross off a large portion of the player pool before the draft even begins. For this particular draft, I had around 200 names total on my board in a draft that goes 450 players deep. I’m also a big proponent of building solid, stable, five-category production early on. I’m known to choose old and boring over up-and-coming and prefer to draft a team that has a high floor. The two other things that I’m known for are catchers and closers. I think there’s a major edge to be had at both positions in this particular 15-team, two-catcher league and I have a strong preference to get two top-10 or top-12 options at both positions. For catchers, there’s such a massive edge in those top guys, with the volume of the at-bats and counting stats that they provide – and do so with a usable batting average as well. When you get to the bottom of the pool that goes 30 players deep at the position, it gets really brutal. Generally, I try to snag one of my top three guys in round 6 and then grab another in round 10 or 11.

With closers, I think there’s maybe nine or 10 guys that I was comfortable with going into Saturday – after the injuries to Devin Williams, Jhoan Duran and the uncertainty around Jordan Romano really shrunk the pool of targets there. I wanted two from that group that I believe are reliable, going to keep their job for the duration of the season and compile saves while being an asset in ratios and strikeouts as well. Knowing that I was drafting from the backend of the draft and was unlikely to push up Edwin Diaz to pick 18 overall, that likely meant that I’d be hoping for Diaz or Josh Hader at the 3/4 turn and likely popping another closer at the 5/6 turn.

One other important caveat here is that I prefer to draft balance. In a perfect world, I want everyone on my offense to be contributing in every category. I don’t like building around guys that don’t provide anything in the stolen base department, and unfortunately a lot of the potential bats that would be available at picks 13 and 18 fell into that mold. Yordan Alvarez, Matt Olson, Austin Riley to name a few. Aaron Judge fell into that mold for me as well, as I don’t trust that he’s going to deliver much there and I was concerned about the injuries. Speaking of injuries, the back issue that Bryce Harper has been dealing with this spring was a major concern to me as well. You want to be banking solid, reliable production with as little risk as possible in the first two rounds of your draft. Another option that I crossed off my board in that range was Elly De La Cruz. While he has a massive ceiling and could wind up being a league-winner for someone, the floor is scary and it’s not the type of player that I’m looking to build around. It seems I was in a predicament.

So who did that leave? Jose Ramirez was an option. To be honest, he’s not a player that I love or usually target in drafts, but he is someone who fits the solid and reliable mold. He’s going to give you solid production across the board and even in a down year he’s probably going to finish as a second or third round value. In terms of bats, that was it for me, unless I pulled Michael Harris II up to pick 18 and I didn’t want to have to do that either. There were plenty of arms though. If things held true to ADP, that would mean that only Strider was off the board, leaving Corbin Burnes, Zack Wheeler, Luis Castillo, Tyler Glasnow, Pablo Lopez, George Kirby and Tarik Skubal as worthwhile options.

The next thing to look at was what would be there for me at the 3/4 turn. As it turned out, I liked a lot more of the bats available in that range (Bo Bichette, Randy Arozarena, Adolis Garcia, Jazz Chisholm Jr.) and didn’t like the starting pitching options as much aside from Logan Webb. When considering the alternatives and knowing what was there, I wasn’t entirely against the idea of starting with two starting pitchers in the first two rounds. There was also strong consideration to pushing Wyatt Langford up to the fourth round because I felt there was almost no chance that he would fall back to me in the fifth round at pick 73.

After that, I knew that I would probably stick to the script and go with closer/catcher at the 5/6 turn unless someone like Langford or another starting pitcher that I really liked fell further than anticipated. That brought the focus to the 7/8 turn. If I started with two SP in 1/2, it’s much more likely that I’d be looking for two bats in that spot. If I only started with one SP in the first two rounds – and everything else played out by design – I could wind up in a tough spot and needing to find a high-upside SP2 with that pair of picks. Not an ideal scenario either. I also knew that on the 9/10 turn I was targeting Jarren Duran and most likely my second catcher (if I didn’t already have two) or my second closer (if things went off-script earlier).

Alright, I think that’s enough of a brief overview of the thought process going in, I’ll elaborate a bit more as I dive into the specifics of the actual results.

Draft Review

Round 1, Pick 13 (13): Corbin Burnes – Things went about as expected in the first 12 picks. The first nine picks were the top nine names on the board, nothing crazy. At 10, one of the best in the business, legendary NFBC player Phil Dussault crushed my dreams by taking Trea Turner. That’s fine, I really didn’t anticipate him being there, but I didn’t want to see him go there either. Juan Soto and Yordan Alvarez were the next two picks, meaning Shohei Ohtani was indeed available. It’s difficult to pass on that type of upside in that spot, but with a non-zero chance that he could face some sort of discipline from the league and this being my only Main Event draft of the season, it simply wasn’t a risk that I could justify. I did give consideration to Jose Ramirez – and even a bit to Bryce Harper – but ultimately went with the #2 starting pitcher on my board in Corbin Burnes. The hope on the way back is that Ramirez would fall, but if not I would likely be double dipping with starting pitchers.

Round 2, Pick 3 (18): Jose Ramirez – Ohtani went off the board at pick 14, the wheel grabbed Zack Wheeler and Harper, then Team 14 plucked Aaron Judge. That left Ramirez as an easy choice for me at pick 18. I still did consider taking another starter – at that point it would have been Luis Castillo, though I also love Tarik Skubal and didn’t completely rule him out either. In the end though, I wanted to keep the draft as flexible as possible and starting with a strong five-category bat was just too good to pass up. The plan with the next pair was to stay on the original script. That meant Bo Bichette was the top target overall, if not I’d be looking to go elite closer (Diaz/Hader) if they were there, add another five-category bat, or potentially grab my SP2 in Logan Webb.

Round 3, Pick 13 (43): Josh Hader – I started to get really hopeful that good things were happening for me, as through the first seven picks of the round Bichette, Skubal and Diaz were all still on the board. That balloon deflated in a hurry though, as those three went off the board in succession in the next three picks, with Phil landing the top closer on the board. Fortunately, the next two drafters stayed away from my queue and I was able to snag the #2 closer on my board in the third round. We’d either be looking to find another five-category bat or add Logan Webb as our SP on the way back around.

Round 4, Pick 3 (48): Randy Arozarena – Webb went to Team 15 at the turn, taking that path off the board for us. That meant we were in the business of looking for bats instead. It’s not a sexy pick, but every year it seems like Arozarena gets relegated to the fourth round in drafts, and it seems like every season he goes 20/20 and returns a profit from that position. It’s boring, sure, but that’s my style. I did take the clock down a bit on this pick though and seriously considered pulling the trigger on Wyatt Langford in this spot. I know that it goes against my plan and overall draft philosophy, I just truly believe that the kid is going to be a stud from day one and could go 20/20 with elite counting stats and a plus batting average right out of the gate. Ultimately, I deferred to my original plan and added Arozarena. Sticking to the plan, we’re looking at a top-3 catcher and perhaps a second closer with the next pair of picks. Unless of course Langford defied reality and made it back.

Round 5, Pick 13 (73): Alexis Diaz – After we grabbed Hader in the third round, the draft witnessed a bit of a closer run before things got back around to our end. Camilo Doval, Emmanuel Clase, Raisel Iglesias, David Bednar, Andres Munoz, Evan Phillips and Paul Sewald were all taken before we were on the clock once again. We also saw Adley Rutschman and J.T. Realmuto go off the board before us in the fifth round. That left us with a tough decision. Alexis Diaz was the last of the closers that I had a high level of comfort with, but William Contreras was the last of the top-3 catchers available and was actually my preferred target at the position coming into the draft. Ultimately, I chose to risk Contreras and take the closer first, thinking that the two teams on the end may want to get in on the closer run as well before it was too late.

Round 6, Pick 3 (78): William Contreras – Things don’t always work out perfectly at the turn, but in this particular instance it did for me. Each of the two teams on the end grabbed a closer – Pete Fairbanks and Ryan Helsley – which left Contreras to fall back into my lap at pick 78. He’s going to be in the Brewers’ lineup as much as possible – seeing time at designated hitter as well as behind the plate – which should lead to massive at-bat totals once again and in turn massive counting stats from the catcher position. It also doesn’t hurt one bit that he should chip in 6-8 steals from an unconventional position for good measure. Through six rounds, we’re feeling pretty good overall. The big concern now would be SP2, which we would like to address with the next pair of picks while adding another solid, stable bat that could provide something in all five categories. Easier said than done.

Round 7, Pick 13 (103): Paul Goldschmidt – Waiting 25 picks for the draft to come back around for each pair of picks feels like an absolute eternity. What was helpful to see is that five additional closers (Clay Holmes, Craig Kimbrel, Jhoan Duran, Tanner Scott and Adbert Alzolay) went off the board during that stretch. We also lost a few of our potential targets in Christian Walker, Seiya Suzuki, Gleyber Torres and Andres Gimenez. That left a few guys who we thought fit the bill on offense in Goldschmidt, Bryan Reynolds and Lane Thomas. The name that stood out in terms of pitchers was Shane Bieber, but each of the teams on the turn already had two starters and it didn’t seem like either would be pressing to get a third just yet. The differentiator with the bats is that there were a plethora of later round outfielders that I liked and planned on targeting, while the first base pool was starting to dry up a bit. In the seventh round, we don’t need Goldschmidt to revert back to his MVP form (though that’s in the range of possibilities), we just need a repeat of his mildly disappointing 2023 campaign. Once again, we were able to add some speed from an unconventional position while adding a stable bat that will contribute across the board. The hope was then that Bieber would survive the turn and fall back to us in the eighth.

Round 8, Pick 3 (108): Shane Bieber – This one wound up being so much more of a sweat than it probably should have been. Team 14 immediately did go with a starting pitcher, locking up his SP3 with Joe Musgrove. Felt like we dodged a bullet there. Then, while Team 15 was on the clock and running it down near zero while searching for names to draft, the league directly behind us called out Bieber’s name. Given that the clock was about to expire and Team 15 was looking for any name that sounded good, there was serious panic that he could have simply heard the name Bieber and thought, yeah that sounds good. Fortunately, he went with Reynolds and Bregman instead, and Bieber fell right back into our laps. In the 18 Main Event drafts over the weekend, pick 108 was the latest that anyone got Bieber. He averaged pick 90 overall and went as high as pick 65. Given the fact that we waited so long on our SP2, we needed a high ceiling and with Bieber’s track record and increased velocity this spring, this could be a game-changer. Going back to the original plan, the targets should be Jarren Duran and our second catcher at the 9/10 turn.

Round 9, Pick 13 (133): Jarren Duran – Going away from old and boring a bit with this one, as you have to have upside somewhere. Duran has been a target of mine all draft season and he was a must-have for me at this particular pick. What I tried to do was target near the minimum pick that he had gone in any of the previous Main Event drafts, figuring that would at least give me a good chance at landing him. We were also in a great position as two of our top-seven catching options were still on the board at the time and it looked extremely unlikely that both would go at the turn. Thrilled to land Duran here, thinking he’s capable of a 15/30 season with a strong average and counting stats and upside from there even.

Round 10, Pick 3 (138): Willson Contreras – One of the catchers, Yainer Diaz, actually did go during the four picks in-between ours, but it was really Contreras that we initially had our eyes on at this spot. I had now cornered the market on Contreras brothers and each was bringing unconventional speed to the table in addition to a terrific average and counting stats from the catcher position.

At the first break through 10 rounds, I was feeling very good about this build overall. I had locked up two top catchers and two top closers, which was the plan going in and would leave me more flexible in the next phase of the draft. I had covered both of my starting corners and two outfielders, but was a bit behind by having only two starting pitchers. There were a plethora of outfielders and corner infielders that I liked later in the draft, so the plan over the next 5-6 rounds was to shore up my starting rotation and start to build out my middle infielders.

Round 11, Pick 13 (163): Ryan Pepiot – While he’s a player that I like, Pepiot wasn’t a regular target of mine throughout the draft season and this wound up being the only share of him that I got. This was a tough round for me, as Aaron Civale had been the top SP remaining on my board and Trevor Story had been the top middle infield target – and both went in succession the two picks before me. Don’t get me wrong, Pepiot is good and he’s a player that I like, but he also has some concerns surrounding how big of a workload that he’ll shoulder. A nice addition, but there’s still a lot of work to be done with this rotation.

Round 12, Pick 3 (168): Ezequiel Tovar – While Story had been the top middle infielder on my board after the break, I had he and Tovar pretty close – with a massive drop-off after them – so I was thrilled to be able to land him with this pick. The 22-year-old went 15/11 with a .253 batting average in his first real taste of the big leagues and I think that even a repeat of that performance would deliver profit from this spot. The Rockies love him and just locked him up with a seven-year contract extension, so the playing time is secure and he still plays at Coors Field. It’s nice to add at least a little upside to the squad.

Round 13, Pick 13 (193): Kutter Crawford – This pick made me feel quite a bit better about my rotation as a whole. Like many, I’m extremely high on Crawford heading into 2024 and think that he’s poised for a major breakthrough season. I still need to add some additional strikeout upside and solidify my base in innings, but as a 1-4 Burnes, Bieber, Pepiot and Crawford can surely keep me in the game.

Round 14, Pick 3 (198): Tyler O’Neill – This is a player that I admittedly just can’t quit. I’m no longer taking him in the third round though, and the bar to clear to deliver profit in the 14th round is much more manageable. All he really needs to do is stay healthy and let his power and speed do the work. Avoiding the injured list is easier said than done for O’Neill, but count me as a believer that the change of scenery is going to do him a heck of a lot of good in 2024.

Round 15, Pick 13 (223): Justin Verlander – Another longtime favorite of mine. It may not have been the best idea to supplement my rotation with a 41-year-old hurler who will start the season on the injured list with a sore shoulder. Here’s my thought process though. When he does pitch, he has almost always been elite. Even in a down 2023 season, he still won 13 games with a 3.22 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and a 144/45 K/BB ratio across 162 1/3 innings. His option for the 2025 season won’t vest unless he reaches 140 innings in 2024, so you know that he’s going to be motivated to get to that mark. Is it a risk, yes, but in the 15th round I’m willing to gamble on his ceiling.

Round 16, Pick 3 (228): Jorge Polanco – While we addressed the shortstop position already, we were still empty at second base (and middle infield), so taking the top guy remaining on the board seemed like a savvy move here. He won’t provide the speed that you’d typically expect from a middle infielder, but he’s just two years removed from a 33/11 season and he should benefit from an upgraded lineup after being dealt to the Mariners. It’s a boring pick, but one that helps to solidify this roster as a whole.

Round 17, Pick 3 (253): Jake Fraley – Another guy that I was actively targeting throughout the draft season based on talent, Fraley saw his opportunity increase with the suspension to Noelvi Marte and the injury to Matt McLain. Spencer Steer should now see more time in the infield, which should open everyday at-bats in the outfield for Fraley – who was already in line for a regular role against right-handed pitching. I believe that I landed a 20/20 bat here after pick-250 overall, in one of the best lineups and hitting parks in the National League.

Round 18, Pick 3 (258): Luis Rengifo – The NFBC swiss army knife, Rengifo enters the year qualifying at second base, third base, shortstop and in the outfield, allowing massive flexibility when it comes to setting lineups and having coverage for injured hitters. I also think he’s in line for a strong season at the plate with his blend of power and speed and he could function as the Halos’ leadoff hitter Not a sexy pick by any stretch of the imagination, but a great guy to have on the roster.

Round 19, Pick 13 (283): Jose Abreu – There are a lot of late-round first baseman that I liked as corner infielders, with Abreu being the last of the bunch that was available. Truth be told, I would have preferred to end up with Anthony Rizzo instead, but that’s not how it played out. Just have to hope that we get the Abreu that we saw in the second half of 2023 and not the abomination that we saw in the first half.

Round 20, Pick 3 (288): Michael Wacha – At this point, we have durability concerns early in our rotation and are counting on an injured Verlander to come back and help carry the load. What we needed at this stage was just solid, reliable innings – preferably without ratio risk – and that’s exactly what I think Wacha provides here. He’s not going to win you a league on his own, but he’s definitely someone who will help to steer you in the right direction.

Heading into the dinner break after round 20, we had most of the holes filled on our team. Our offense was just missing OF5 and UTIL while we needed a ninth pitcher to round out our starting lineup. After that, the plan was to continue to hammer useful, viable arms and make sure that we were going to be able to field a full lineup of pitchers for the first week of the regular season.

Round 21, Pick 13 (313): Erick Fedde – My most rostered player this draft season, I’m a big believer that Fedde is going to carry over the success that he had in the Korea Baseball Organization in 2023 and will be a strong mixed league option from the outset of the season. He’s a player that I targeted specifically for this pick in the draft.

Round 22, Pick 3 (318): Jarred Kelenic – Every year I tell myself not to overreact to the small samples that we see in spring training, and every year I usually have a tendency to do so. Everyone loved the idea of Kelenic after he was acquired by the Braves this winter with the expectation that he’d be in the lineup on an everyday basis. Sure, the addition of Adam Duvall to steal at-bats against southpaws hurts, and he looked mostly lost at the plate during the spring, but I’m still a big believer in the skills and think that everything is going to come together for him in Atlanta this season.

Round 23, Pick 13 (343): Eduardo Rodriguez – We’re already carrying one starting pitcher that is going to begin the season on the injured list with the hope that he’ll help to solidify the pitching staff overall, so why not two? It seems like the lat injury that will force Rodriguez to start the season on the injured list is minor and will only cost him a couple of weeks, and at this point in the draft his upside was too much to pass up. Carrying two zeroes to start the season isn’t ideal though and will require extra planning and roster flexibility to ensure that we are able to field a full lineup each period.

Round 24, Pick 3 (348): Brent Rooker – A strong sixth outfielder is always a necessity, so being able to grab one that should hit in the middle of his team’s lineup every night and who clubbed 30 homers during the 2023 season is a win at this point in the draft.

Round 25, Pick 13 (373): Joey Meneses – Once again we were looking for solid everyday at-bats to give us some choices over the first few weeks of the season. Meneses gets the added benefit of starting with a three-game set in Cincinnati to begin the season.

Round 26, Pick 3 (378): John Brebbia – We already have two closers locked up, but at some point in the season you’re going to need a third. My favorite time to speculate on closers is at the end of the draft prior to the start of the season. If you’re right, you get a chance to pile up some early-season saves, and if you’re wrong you’ve got yourself an easy drop in the next FAAB period. Either way, we should know by Sunday who’s the preferred closing option for the White Sox.

Round 27, Pick 13 (403): Mark Canha – Another boring outfielder that should be in his respective team’s lineup on a nightly basis. A little bit of power, little bit of speed, Canha at least has some utility as a matchup play over the first few weeks of the season. I could also see him being a drop if I get into a serious roster crunch.

Round 28, Pick 3 (408): Michael Soroka – Soroka has always had premium talent and looked sharp for the White Sox during the spring. He starts against the Tigers over the first weekend of the season, which was more than enough to give him a look as a streaming option as some of my starters will not pitch over that first period.

Round 29, Pick 13 (433): Kyle Gibson – Still looking ahead here, Gibson is the lone Cardinals’ starter who isn’t scheduled to take the mound during their four-game series against the Dodgers to start the season. That means, instead, that he’ll get two starts the following week – against the Padres in San Diego and home against the Marlins. When looking for FAAB options next week and wanting to add quality starts, I’m guessing that Gibson will be a popular name that comes up. By drafting him late and holding him for a week instead, I get the benefit of those matchups without having to give up any FAAB.

Round 30, Pick 3 (438): Nick Martinez – At this point in the season it’s not always easy to decipher which pitchers will start over the first weekend and which won’t. Martinez draws a good matchup against the Nationals on Sunday and is a nice insurance policy to have in the event that some of my starters (other than Verlander and Rodriguez who will start the season on the IL) don’t wind up pitching. My expectation is that both Pepiot and Wacha won’t pitch during the first weekend, which will mean I’ll need to rely on Martinez instead.

So overall, here’s what we’re looking like heading into the 2024 season:

C: William Contreras, Willson Contreras

1B: Paul Goldschmidt

2B: Jorge Polanco

SS: Ezequiel Tovar

3B: Jose Ramirez

CI: Jose Abreu

MI: Luis Rengifo

OF: Randy Arozarena, Jarren Duran, Tyler O’Neill, Jake Fraley, Jarred Kelenic

UTIL: Joey Meneses

Bench: Brent Rooker, Mark Canha

SP: Corbin Burnes, Shane Bieber, Ryan Pepiot, Kutter Crawford, Michael Wacha, Erick Fedde, Michael Soroka

RP: Josh Hader, Alexis Diaz

Bench: Justin Verlander, Eduardo Rodriguez, John Brebbia, Kyle Gibson, Nick Martinez

Thanks for taking that journey with me through my thought process as I was drafting and building what I hope will be an extremely competitive team in 2024. I have been toying with the idea of doing a weekly column on the trials and tribulations of this team during the regular season – from recapping the previous week’s results, lineup decisions, FAAB results, category targets and planning for the upcoming week. If that’s something that you think you’d be interested in following along with all season, drop me a line and let me know.

Thanks again, and best of luck to everyone for the 2024 season. Let’s meet at the top of the leaderboards.