The FSTA experts' fantasy baseball draft is the first publicized one of the new year, inspiring much discussion and a reminder that springtime is at our doorstep. It re-invigorates the spark for our beloved pastime and sets the tone for other notable drafts over the next two months. Primarily, LABR and Tout Wars, as well as high-stakes competitions such as the NFBC Main Event. The FSTA inevitably serves as a catalyst for player ranking debates and establishing ADP trends. It's a notion that is not lost among those who participate.
It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyways. Sitting at a table with the best minds in our 'silly little game' is truly an honor. And the game is not so little anymore, if you've noticed the growth trends and heightened mainstream buzz over the past decade.
Among the participants are the undisputed thought leaders and some of the founders of our industry. A group of people who work for different outlets, but come together every year to catch up with old friends, uninhibitedly share newfound draft strategies, and converge in different ways to make our industry better.
Most importantly, one has to be well-prepared knowing your competitors can and will steal your coveted, sneaky late-round 2B prospect a round before you're ready to take the plunge. One has to be on-point, even in January. Though pride is the prize, it's an intangible one that monetary value cannot compensate for.
Fantasy's Godfather, Charlie Wiegert, invited me to draft with him for the third straight season. Every January, our draft prep sessions grow evermore in sync, as does our in-draft adaptation strategy. Being able to work with a partner at a draft is skill that develops over time. We picked seventh in a 13-team, standard 5x5 league with NFBC style rosters (C, C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, CI, MI, UT, 5 OF, 9 P, 7 bench). Here's how the first 22 rounds went for us:
1.07 – Josh Donaldson (TOR, 3B) – Charlie and I are realists. It's quite clear to us that Donaldson's 2015 season – 122-41-123-6-.297 – was, in fact, a career one. At the very least, a mild regression is all but guaranteed. It was an MVP season after all. The homers, runs and RBI were all career-highs. But first round value is tangible in that park and with that lineup even at a 25 percent drop-off. Donaldson is 30-years old now and we shouldn't expect more than a handful of steals, nor another 40 longballs. But with Carlos Correa taken one pick before us, Donaldson was the obvious choice as we begin to establish our power base.
2.07 – George Springer (OF, HOU) – This was the beginning of our 'go big or go home' strategy. Forget bonds and cash games, we're talking stocks and GPPs. If Springer can stay healthy finally, 2016 would be his first full season. In two partial seasons, combined, Springer hit 36 homers, 92 RBI and 21 stolen bases in 792 at-bats. He was taken in the first round of some high-stakes NFBC leagues last year as folks were looking for that early-round breakout gem that Bryce Harper turned out to be. If Springer can stay on the field this year, the 26-year old is capable of putting up a 30 HR / 25 SB season as soon as this season. Industry folk don't project much for Springer in the batting average category, but the fact of the matter is that Springer is just as capable of hitting .295 this year as he is .255 in any given season. Buster Posey and the stability that he brings to the second round was a consideration, as was Jose Bautista and Mookie Betts. But Springer and his 2016 potential was staring us right in our faces and it was the way to enact the go big or go home plan.
3.07 – Jose Fernandez (SP,MIA) – Going big again, we took the guy we believed will be the best starting pitcher still available on the board. Chris Sale was our target, but Nando Di Fino and Mike Cardano snagged him from us right before our pick. Staring at names like Matt Harvey, Jake Arrieta, David Price and Zack Greinke, you must have thought we were nuts to grab the guy who is just six months removed from his return from TJ surgery. Fernandez held his own upon his mid-summer return, striking out 79 batters in 65 innings and maintaining an ERA under 3.00. Not bad for a guy who returned 14 months after surgery. Fernandez will see plenty of those putrid lineups in Philadelphia and Atlanta, and should receive some solid run support this year by an offense that should hopefully have Giancarlo Stanton fully healed and fired up. Too early you say? Sure, you can probably snag him in the fourth rounds of your drafts now, but come good news about his arm in March (the ability to see him firing on all cylinders in-person), you just might say we got a bargain.
4.07 – Zack Greinke (SP, ARI) – Oh no, he's going to regress! Well of course he is! No one would ever expect Greinke to post another sub-2.00 ERA again, especially in a less-friendly hitters' park. The question then is – regress to what? If we're talking 2.50 ERA with a 1.05 WHIP and 8 K/9 over 200 or more innings, can you really complain about that from your SP2? Charlie and I preferred some of the hitting values in the next tier and it was a very natural move for us to lock in our second starting pitcher so that we could feel comfortable loading up on mid-round value hitters.
5.07 – Jason Kipnis (2B, CLE) – Kipnis bounced back from a spring oblique injury that cost him a few weeks early on, but still ended up with a career high in doubles (43) and batting average (.303). Later in the year, he dealt with nagging shoulder and rib injuries as well. All in all, not a bad bounceback, considering the injuries. Middle of the fifth felt like a fair price for our first MI capable of a .300 BA repeat to go with 15 or so steals and a return to double-digit homer land.
6.07 – Corey Dickerson (OF, COL) – Enough time to recover from the plantar fasciitis that ruined a potentially huge 2015 campaign. Carlos Gonzalez will likely be the Rockies' OF traded as they likely wouldn't be able to maximize Dickerson's trade value this offseason. I'd rather have Dickerson anyways. Some improvements to make against LHP, but I'll take him in the sixth round of every draft that I'm in if I can.
7.07 – Hunter Pence (OF, SF) – This one was a Charlie Special. Outside of the standard injury concerns, Pence is one of the most pure contact hitters in baseball (that stance and swing though – not so pure). Prior to the 2015 season, he appeared in at least 154 games in seven straight seasons. A return to 20 – 85 - .285 is reasonable. A very stable pick as our OF3 considering the other risks on our squad thus far.
8.07 – Aroldis Chapman (RP, NYY) – Baseball's most dominant closer off the board as the sixth closer taken in the middle of the eighth round? How could we not. Risk related to a possible suspension aside, this January draft may quite possibly be the lowest you'll see Chapman taken this spring.
9.07 – Jose Reyes (SS, COL) – Our projections for Reyes are reasonable and in check. Our second straight pick with a guy accused of domestic violence could be bad karma for us. Reyes will rightfully spend some time suspended under MLB's new domestic violence policy. But he is projected to hit second in a fearsome Rockies' lineup with half of their games at Coors. Even with reduced plate appearances due to the suspension, 70 runs and 25 steals in 120 games is attainable. I won't argue with you in saying we reached here.
10.07 – David Robertson (RP, CHW) – The last of the tier of closers we felt comfortable with. Charlie loves Robertson to bounce back this year. A 3.41 ERA portended to a bit of bad luck if you consider the 2.27 xFIP. And a dominant 12.2 strikeouts-per-nine. No problem with buying in at this price as our RP2.
11.07 – Francisco Liriano (SP, PIT) – His 9.1% walk-rate was actually an improvement on the 11.7% from 2015. We don't mind the WHIP risk with Fernandez and Greinke as our anchors. The 26.5% k-rate was among the league's best, yet again.
12.07 – Mark Teixiera (1B, NYY) – About time for our first basemen after missing out on Adrian Gonzalez earlier on. His expected batting average was actually over 40 points higher than his .255 batting average. Yet another health risk, but he's a masher in a great lineup. 30 HR repeat in the cards with nearly full health.
13.07 – Shelby Miller (SP, ARI) – Our second Diamondbacks starter. Now watch him go another 20+ game stretch with no wins. Nah, that's not possible with an actual offense behind him.
14.07 – Byron Buxton (OF, MIN) – Charlie and I aren't in this to come in fourth place. Young post-hype studs are my wheelhouse and I'm looking for this five-tooled stud to put it all together this year. It won't come right away, but we're patient people.
15.07 – Kendrys Morales (DH, KC) – Was a monster with RISP last year. It led to a top ten ranking in RBI among all major league hitters last year. Won't come cheap in drafts, but round 15 is not expensive. Another 20 HR season with 85-plus RBI and a BA that helps our team is what we are expecting.
16.07 – Patrick Corbin (SP, ARI) – A third Diamondbacks pitcher – are we crazy? No, we just love those NL West arms. Corbin's velocity was surprisingly better than expected despite the return from Tommy John. Great value this late in the draft.
17.07 – Blake Swihart (C, BOS) – We punted catchers after missing out on Jonathan Lucroy and Yasmani Grandal – two guys I love this year. Swihart is a reasonable consolation prize. Also, one of the few catchers who will throw in a few steals.
18.07 – Neil Walker (MI, NYM) – Need to balance out the risk with some stable, unsexy guys. Walker fits the bill here.
19.07 – Roberto Osuna (RP, TOR) – If the youngster closes over Storen, it's the steal of the draft. Will be drafted in the top 12 rounds once he's actually named the guy this spring.
20.07 – Mike Leake (SP, STL) – With so many projected strikeouts on our team, we could afford a solid control guy with a low K/9 who know will call pitcher-friendly St. Louis his home. Charlie loves Leake this year and I can't argue with the value as our SP6.
21.07 – Mitch Moreland (CI, TEX) – We saw a partial breakout as a 30-year old last year – 23 HR in 471 AB. Can't bet on 150 games, but middle of that lineup as a righty-masher makes me think his first 30-HR season is in the cards.
22.07 – Nathan Karns (SP, SEA) – A big late-round SP target for me in drafts this year. Love the ballpark, strikeout potential and the low disaster rate – only 15% of his starts in 2015. I won't touch Wade Miley this year, but Karns I'll take with pleasure.
The remaining seven rounds will play out slow-draft style. Charlie and I will grab our second catcher, some more upside arms and a few more hitters for depth. We recognize our risk-laden approach could backfire, but you don't beat the best of the best by playing it safe. Here's to a great start to the fantasy baseball preseason. May the research be with you.