Don’t mock me for these

I have written at length about The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, and I have been preparing for my sophomore year in this great test of skill and grit. The 15-team Rotisserie format has become the go-to for fantasy baseball professionals. While it’s sparsely played by the general public, which gravitates toward 10- and 12-team leagues, I can assure you there’s nothing like it.

Ten days ago, the defending TGFBI champion invited me to participate in a TGFBI mock draft. When he messaged me, I was in a hospital bed recovering from a medical procedure called a catheter ablation. I had been diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation and they ran a tube into my heart to destroy small problematic tissue that was believed to be the culprit.

But when the champion invites you to participate in a mock with an exclusive group of TGFBI veterans, you don’t give him any lame excuses. You just say thanks. Michael Richards and I have been virtual friends since our CreativeSports days began three years ago. Richards moved to another outfit and is widely respected in the industry as an expert on up-and-coming prospects.

To his credit, he didn’t forget his “old” friend since winning TGFBI took his career to new heights. We still talk on the phone occasionally, exchange text messages and emails. We had a great time participating in the same mock draft last year. If you play in fantasy baseball leagues, or tournaments, you know it can be lonely. Having a friend to share the journey with is nice. 

The mock draft, like TGFBI, is a “slow draft.” Participants had two hours to make a pick, so the 30-round affair took a week to complete. My biggest takeaway from my first crack at drafting in a 15-team format in 2023 was that you neglect starting pitching in the early rounds at your own peril. While the starting pitcher pool may be deeper this year, you can’t wait long to get aces.

As the mock draft began, I had resolved myself to getting just one ace in the early rounds and then waiting to fill in my pitching staff in later. Remembering that last year’s TGFBI team had a roster full of mostly mediocure hitters, I was ready to load up on hitting early and add pitching later. Here is a brief summary of who I took and some observations on how the draft went.


I had been randomly assigned the 13th pick in the draft, and I was pleased to take Mookie Betts. Despite a two-week IL stint with a cracked rib, Betts parlayed a career high 47.7% fly ball rate into 35 homers, a personal best in 2022, while slashing .269/.340/.533. He scored 117 runs and collected double-digit steals for the eighth year in a row. I was pleased with my first-round pick.


The nice thing about picking late in the first round is that you get to pick early in the second round. With the 18th pick, I selected Fernando Tatis. This is a player who was being drafted No. 1 overall last year, and it’s not a stretch to think he could finish No. 1 this year. But this is a huge risk since he’s proven to be injury prone. He’s also coming off an 80-game suspension for PEDs.  


Hating the idea of finishing dead last in saves, I bit my lip hard and took Josh Hader near the end of the third round. Emmanuel Clase and Edwin Diaz were off the board, as was Ryan Pressley. I took Hader, trying to forget that he gave up 13 earned runs and five home runs over an eight-game span last season. He also saved 36 games and has a career 2.71 ERA and 0.92 WHIP.


Max Scherzer was on a short list of starting pitchers I was targeting in the fourth. Scherzer’s teammate, Justin Verlander, was already gone. Darn. So was Shane Bieber. My choice was between Sherzer and Julio Urias. I had drafted Scherzer in the second round last year in TGFBI. Now, injury risk was baked into the ADP for the 38-year-old future Hall of Famer. Gimme Max.


Here was the first pick I regret – catcher Adley Rutschman. It’s not that I overpaid for him based on an ADP of 66. I took him with the 73rd pick in the draft, but I should have taken another starting pitcher. I had hoped Yu Darvish would still be on the board, but he was gone. However, Joe Musgrove was there and I passed on him for a sophnore catcher. I’m glad it’s just practice.   


I certainly didn’t plan on taking two catchers in a row, but I was not expecting to see Salvador Perez still on the board as I prepared to make the 78th pick of the draft. Perez was one of the most productive catchers in fantasy last year in spite of missing more than a month. With M.J. Melendez catching the majority of the games, Perez will be the Royals primary designated hitter.


This was the second pick I regret – Gleyber Torres. The fear of missing out at second base caused me to pull the trigger on him, and I immediately knew I had overpaid. I don’t like buying high, and that’s exactly what you do with Torres coming off his best year since 2019. I should have waited for Jorge Polanco, who would have been a better value two or three rounds later.


Taylor Ward is another play I may have overpaid for by taking him in the 8th.  He had an up and down season between injuries. He was one of the league’s top batters with a .333/.443/.644 line in 38 games through June 3. He then visited the IL and was bad for 63 games before rebounding to finish .339/.387/.548 over his final 34 contests. It was his career year, so I bought high again.


Still without a third baseman as I neared another cliff, I took Max Muncy here and felt good about it. I’m “buying the dip” on Muncy after an awful 2022 season. He did hit 35 plus home runs in 2018, 2019 and 2021. Part of the problem last year was an extreme flyball (63%) and pull (49%) approach. Muncy struggled a lot against fastballs in 2022, after crushing them in 2021.


Joe Ryan showed his late season 2021 callup promise was not fluke with 13 wins, 3.55 ERA and 1.10 WHIP across 147 innings in 2022. He doesn’t have great velocity, but he does have  a deceptive four-seam fastball that helped him generate an above-average 9.2 K/9 and 12% swinging strike rate. I will admit I would have liked him more if he was my SP3 instead of SP2.


I came right back with another starting pitcher – Chris Sale in the 11th. This was a good pick. Sale broke his wrist in a bicycling accident in August, and he was limited to just two appearances in the 2022 season. The left-hander has dealt with injuries over the few years, but when healthy, he’s still very good pitcher. He has a lifetime 3.03 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and still misses plenty of bats


Another round, another starter. This time it was Jeff Springs, a player I picked up in 2022 with a modest FAAB bid. He paid off like a slot machine. started the season in a multi-inning reliever capacity before being used as an opener and then primary pitcher before transitioning into a traditional starter. He started 22 games, posting a 2.61 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 113.2 innings.


Entering the 13th round, I still didn’t have a first baseman, so I took Ty France with very little enthusiasm. A career .284 hitter, France doesn’t run or hit a lot of home runs. He doesn’t hit the ball hard at all, but he’s an elite contact hitter. He slashed .274/.338/..436 last year. France’s job as an every day first baseman is secure, and he hits near the top of a good Seattle lineup.


After taking Hader in the third, I hadn’t thought about saves. However, I couldn’t resist taking Alex Lange in the 14th. Lange has a clear path to the closer role in Detroit after the Gregory Soto trade. At least, he appears to be the logical choice with Soto, Joe Jimenez and Andrew Chafin all departed. Lange had a decent 3.41 ERA in 2022 and struck out 30.3% of opposing batters.


As a career .286 hitter, Alex Verdugo hits for average and will score some runs. I know he lacks power and doesn’t run, but he hit .280 with 74 RBI and 75 runs in 2022. He did finish 2022 with only 11 homers. However, I am intent on maintaining that strong batting average, and that’s why I’m happy to have players like France and Verdugo rostered. I’ll find my power elsewhere.


I started the second half of the draft by selecting Jorge Lopez, which sparked a gentle rebuke from Michael. He had drafted Jhoan Duran and felt Duran would be the Twins closer. I can’t argue that the rookie has the better arm, but manager Rocco Baldelli hinted that the pair will split opportunities. If I can could Lopez in the 16th round and get 12 saves from him, I’d be satisfied.


Okay, I like this pick a lot. Triston Casas, a 6-foot-4, 252-pound first baseman, made his MLB debut late last season and projects to be Boston’s starting first baseman out of camp in 2023 with Eric Hosmer gone. Talk about upside. With huge raw power to all fields, I could see 30 home runs. Casas had a stunning 110.5 mph max exit velocity in a tiny MLB sample (53 batted balls). 


After having built a foundation of good contact hitters expected to hit for average, I had decided to shift gears. After Casas, I took Joc Pederson in the 18th round. Coming off a career year with the Giants, the lefty-hitting outfielder slashed .274/.353/.521 with 23 home runs and three steals in 134 games this past season. He will likely be regularly limited to strong-side platoon work.


The Cubs called Morel up from the Double-A in mid-May and it looked like he might be NL Rookie of the Year after 47 games. Morel slashed .273/.343/.503, with nine home runs and seven stolen bases before cooling off to finish with a .235/.308/.433 slash. Drafting Morel in TGFBI would be done hoping he could recapture the early major league form he displayed in 2022.


After taking three starting pitchers in rounds 10-12, I hadn’t gone back to the well. It was time to change that with Sean Manaea. You’ve probably picked up on the fact that I like to buy low on players coming off disappointing seasons. Manaea had a disappointing season last year with a career-worst 4.96 ERA. San Francisco is a good landing spot, and this price was a real bargain.


Speaking of good landing spots, how about Zach Eflin in Tampa Bay? If the Rays are willing to pay him $40 million for three years of work, they must see something the Phillies missed out on. Eflin had a 4.04 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 65:15 K:BB ratio over 20 appearances – 13 starts — for the Phillies in 2022. He’s battled chronic knee issues for three years but hope springs eternal.


Okay, back to drafting one of those boring hitters who hits for a high average and can score runs. I picked up Brendan Donovan with a small FAAB bid last year after he made his big-league debut for the Cardinals in late April. He went on to have a fine but not flashy rookie campaign, with a .281/.394/.379 slash line in 126 games. He won a Gold Glove as a utility player last year.


Escobar signed a two-year, $20 million deal with the Mets in 2021, and his first season was bipolar. He posted a .676 OPS prior to the All-Star break and an .825 OPS in the second half. Escobar finished 2022 with a .240/.295/.430 slash line, 20 home runs and 69 RBI. A career .254 hitter, he’s hit at least 20 home runs in every 162-game season since 2016. This is a good value.


Leody Taveras has elite sprint speed but was caught stealing five times in 16 tries last season. That makes me think he could be a big beneficiary of the rule change. He also has good defensive skills, which will help keep him on the field. The Triple-A numbers continue to offer some promise, and Texas can’t sent him down to Round Rock without being exposed to waivers.


I was beginning to think Frankie Montas had leprosy or legal issues. He had already slipped to an ADP of 315 after the news broke that he will miss the first month of the season. But this kind of a discount was something I couldn’t pass up. Montas had pitched well for the A’s with a 3.18 ERA and 109:28 K:BB across 104.2 innings before being traded to the Yankees at the deadline.


Reports of Corey Kluber’s demise might be premature. Tampa Bay gave him a one-year deal for $8 million with a workload bonus for $5 more, and he collected the bonus making all 31 starts with flashes of past greatness. Kluber went six innings or more in 16 of his 31 starts, and he still managed a quality start in 15 of his 31 outings. He gets a ballpark downgrade moving to Boston.


A career .275 hitter, Gio Urshela fits the profile of the hitter I want. His batting average has actually been closer to .290 in the past four seasons, and it might surprise you to learn that he has slightly above-average power (66th percentile Max Exit Velocity). He could play shortstop for the Angels but it’s likely he’ll play third base with Anthony Rendon’s inability to stay healthy.


I want to roster a third catcher in a two-catcher league. When I missed out on Jose Trevino, I settled for Mitch Garver. Garver was limited to 54 games with the Rangers in 2022 due to a forearm injury that eventually required surgery. In spite of playing through pain, he hit 10 home runs in just 215 plate appearances. There is little risk taking someone like Garver this late.


Would you believe a guy with 31 saves last year would still be on the draft board near the end of the 29th round? I couldn’t, so I took Taylor Rogers as my fourth relief pitcher. He did finish with a 4.76 ERA over 64.1 innings between the Padres and Brewers in 2022, although that came with an excellent 84:19 K:BB. Troubled by the long ball, he finds a good home park in San Francisco.


My final pick was just for fun, as I took a shortstop with an ADP outside the top 500. In nine games with the Royals last season, Maikel Garcia he went 9-for-22 (.318). His 22.6 percent strikeout rate at Triple-A is passable. A solid hit tool, coupled with enticing speed (39 steals in 118 minor-league games last year) could see his return to Kansas City sooner than later.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

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