Spring training is underway, and players are working out, playing some live games and getting back into their routines before the 2016 MLB season.
As a fantasy baseball player, you should be doing the same. Mock drafts are a crucial part of preparation, just like spring games and workouts are for players. You would feel like you were taking a risk by selecting a veteran player who missed his team's preseason due to injury, so why would feel confident in your drafting ability if you didn't get some practice first?
This is especially true in AL and NL-only leagues, as the limited player pool leads to difficult decisions as the draft gets into the later rounds, and you have to plan ahead and know which positions and categories you're willing to risk and which ones you have to prioritize early.
To help you prepare for your AL-only drafts, our fantasy and MLB writers and editors held a 10-team roto AL-only mock in early March. The participants were, in draft order, Todd Zola, Dan Mullen, David Schoenfield, Dan Szymborski, Joe Kaiser, me, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Andrew Feldman, Derek Carty and Eric Karabell.
Here's how the draft went down:
The first pick should come as no surprise, nor should any of the other selections in the first round. Our staff roto rankings suggest that Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson are the top two AL players for fantasy baseball, while Mookie Betts and Chris Sale replace Chris Davis and Jose Abreu when comparing our first round to the top ten AL options in the rankings.
Grabbing Sale makes plenty of sense. There's a tier of elite starting pitchers this season, but among the top five, four are National Leaguers. You can't fault Carty for going with the White Sox ace here, especially when he's able to get a top-10 AL talent such as Davis on the way back around.
I was able to secure my second Houston bat in the second round and pair Carlos Gomez with Jose Altuve. Altuve's selection was driven by position scarcity, while my pick of Gomez was influenced by upside. The Astros are likely to score plenty of runs this season, and Gomez will be on the scoring or driving in end of quite a few of those runs.
Mullen felt Justin Upton was worthy of a spot at the end of the second round, and that has to do with his potential second spot in the Detroit order. In addition to batting near the top of what should be a potent lineup, Mullen said, "Power-hitting outfielders are hard to come by in a league-only league, so pouncing on Upton felt like my best choice."
Pitchers started flying off the board in the third, and none is more intriguing than Carlos Carrasco. He's due for regression this season, but in a good way, as his home-run-to-fly-ball rate soared to 13.2 percent last season, per FanGraphs, and should settle back down below 10 percent (where it was the previous two years). If his 18 home runs allowed turns back to single-digits (as in 2014), that will bring his ERA back under 3.00, which is more in line with his FIP from last year. If you're going to anchor your staff with a pitcher this season but don't want to spend a top pick on one of the obvious aces, Carrasco is a very solid option with top-two upside in an AL-only league.
We also saw two DH-only players go off the board here in the third, as Miguel Sano and David Ortiz were selected. Sano is currently projected to hit 38 homers with 102 RBIs, while Ortiz is expected to hit 36 out of the park and drive in 102 runs as well. Those are numbers on par with potential first-round picks such as Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but they come at a discount due to position eligibility and age concerns (Sano is young and risky, while Ortiz is old and will eventually fall off his productive pace).
I kicked off the closer picks in the fourth round by selecting Wade Davis, and Schoenfield followed right behind by scooping up Craig Kimbrel. The AL is certainly deeper with closers than the NL (four of the top five in our staff rankings are American Leaguers, and that doesn't include the dominant but recently suspended Aroldis Chapman), but with 15 AL teams meaning only 15 closers are available for 10 drafters, locking up a good one saves the trouble of chasing or punting saves as the season progresses.
Speaking of Chapman, Mullen decided to take a chance on the closer in the fifth round, and though his suspension had not been handed down at the time of the draft, it wouldn't have changed the pick. "Chapman had a whopping six saves last season on May 9 (the day he's eligible to resume playing for the Yankees this season), and there should be more save chances the rest of the way than he had for the 64-win Reds last year. Two years ago might provide an even better example, as Chapman didn't debut until May 11 and still finished with 36 saves and 106 strikeouts."
Our first catcher comes off the board in the sixth round, which makes sense, given the state of the position in the AL. The top three catchers in our rankings all play on the Senior Circuit, while McCann barely fits into the overall top 100. He's not significantly better than the options drafted several rounds later, so it makes sense to wait to take the New York catcher.
Michael Brantley's injury pushed him way down the draft board to the point that it was impossible to pass on him. The Cleveland outfielder is recovering from a torn labrum, and though his status for Opening Day is anything but certain, even 130 games of his plus average and 20/20 (home runs and steals) upside make him a stronger selection than Kevin Pillar or Shin-Soo Choo, who were taken just a few picks later. Of course, if Brantley's injury lingers or is aggravated in any way, and a few weeks on the bench turns into a few months, it's a disastrous pick in a league with such low replacement value (five outfielders per team means at least 50 are taken, and there are only 45 "starting" outfielders in the AL).
Kaiser doubled up on closers in these two rounds, while two other relievers came off the board to bring the total selected to 10. However, there were still a handful of likely ninth-inning guys waiting to be picked over the next couple rounds, and that speaks to the depth of that position in the AL. Brad Boxberger, Shawn Tolleson, Sean Doolittle and Drew Storen would be taken over the next round and a half, which means a drafter could wait until the middle of the 10th round and still have a reasonable shot at a 30-save closer.
Round 10 highlighted the value of players with multiple position eligibilities. Brett Lawrie can be played at second, third, middle infield and corner infield, which makes him a wise pick for Eric Karabell when thinking about putting together a lineup on a weekly basis. Similarly, Mark Trumbo and Brad Miller both qualify at an infield and outfield position, which means the thin OF pool is easier to handle for Szymborski and Schoenfield.
We've reached the point in the draft where the upside of youth starts to become even more appealing. Lance McCullers, Taijuan Walker, Luis Severino, Andrew Heaney, Byron Buxton and Jonathan Schoop are all loaded with potential, but in 5x5 roto leagues, potential isn't a standard category. Mullen said of Heaney "[He] is a former first-round draft pick and consistent presence on top prospect lists since the Marlins took him in 2012. Combine that with the flash of his potential he showed last June and July, and I've seen enough of Heaney to bet on him here."
Those who drafted all these young players with big upside must feel the same, as there were some decent veterans taken during this segment of the draft.
I was less than pleased with how my starting pitching wound up in this draft, as I waited far too long to grab my first starter. Marcus Stroman has a ton of upside, but following him with the injured Yu Darvish and my picks in this range (Phil Hughes and Wade Miley) means my ratios, strikeouts and wins would likely be among the worst if we played this league out. I took Dellin Betances and a pair of good closers (Davis and Drew Storen) earlier to try to salvage my pitching categories, but overall, I would focus on getting more arms earlier if we ran this draft again.
Devon Travis was a pick I regretted missing on, as he went to Kaiser in the 15th round. The young Toronto second baseman hit .304 with eight homers in 62 games last season and will likely feature prominently in a stacked Toronto lineup once he's healthy. Yes, his injury limits his value, but there are no players with his upside at such a scarce position this late in AL-only drafts. He could bat .300 with 50 runs and RBIs once he returns to the field this year.
Similarly, A.J. Reed went to the aforementioned Karabell here in the 18th round, and he's a player I just cannot seem to target early enough. The elite hitting prospect for the Astros hit 35 home runs across three levels in the minors last season, with a batting average well over .300. He strikes out at a fairly regular clip (around 20% of the time, according to Fangraphs), but because strikeouts don't directly count against a roto league player, there's very little downside once he starts making contact with major league pitching.
At this point, drafters are patching holes in their lineups and searching for players with a path to plate appearances in 2016. One such player is Steve Pearce, who Mullen believes suffered from bad luck a year ago. Anything resembling his 2014 performance with his new team, the Rays, would be the steal of the draft and would set Mullen up for a victory in multiple offensive categories. He'll be battling for playing time with Logan Morrison, also drafted by Mullen, so plate appearances from one or the other are almost guaranteed for Dan's team.