Guys, fantasy baseball is fun. And one of the most fun parts of it is drafting, which is why I brought together 12 Pitcher List staffers to participate in the Fourth Annual (I’m getting old) Shamelessly Early Mock Draft! So, whether you’re killing it in first place or essentially out of contention halfway through the year, we’ve got a look ahead to the 2024 season.
As I said, we have 12 drafters working through the first 10 rounds of a hypothetical 2024 league. We drafted with the agreement of a 5×5 head-to-head categories league, where Shohei Ohtani counts as two separate players.
With that, I’ll leave it to the rest of the staff to break down their draft selections.
I feel like in previous years there has been some debate over who to take with the first overall pick but taking Ronald Acuña Jr. first overall in 2024 is about as no-brainer as you can get. He had 21 home runs at the halfway mark with a .330 AVG and 41 unbelievable stolen bases. He’s on pace to finish the season with 35+ HRs and 70+ SB to go along with 140 runs scored and 93 RBI on the best team in baseball. It honestly might be the greatest fantasy season ever. At pick number 24 taking a shot on Trea Turner felt like another good bet. A lot of folks were taking him first overall coming into the 2022 season and while the stolen base environment is vastly different if he can return close to that he’s a steal here. A lot of folks have acted like he’s a disappointment this year but mostly the only real drop is in average from .298 to .245 but that’s coming along with a near 40-point drop in his BABIP without too significant a change in his approach or Statcast numbers and his .256 does at least seem to hint there’s some bad luck at play.
Luis Castillo has basically replicated his 2022 breakout season and I see no reason to think it won’t continue in 2024. He’s leaned way more heavily on his high 90s four-seamer than his changeup over the last few years and it’s paid off big time for him. Add in he’s finally in a pitcher’s park and has the sixth-best team by OAA behind him, and this is a steal in the third.
At 32, I get there’s a reason to worry about decline for Nolan Arenado but he’s actually posting career highs in barrel rate and hard hit rate and has been a 139 wRC+ hitter in the second half. Getting Arenado here and shoring up a weak 3B position is huge in the fourth round.
Catcher is another position I hate waiting on and outside of some injury woes when Will Smith has played he has absolutely raked. You can’t say no to getting a catcher who has put up a 141 wRC+ in 2023 and has a 134 mark. Your opponents won’t have that advantage.
For years we’ve begged Blake Snell to stop throwing his changeup and instead, he’s thrown it more than ever and has flourished. Why? He’s locating it better than ever while greatly improving the ratio of how often he throws it down in the zone to out of the zone and it’s set the pitch free. It’s now a 95th percentile changeup by PLV and I’m betting if he can continue to locate the pitch he’ll find the same success in the pitching haven that is Petco Park.
While Nathaniel Lowe’s power numbers seem down it’s worth noting he quietly increased his BB% while decreasing his K%. The drop in Statcast numbers makes me wonder if he might be hurt but I’m a believer in his talent and don’t want to wait at first base.
I always want a closer in the first 10 rounds and Alexis Díaz is ideal here. Tons of strikeouts, good ERA, and an up-and-coming team that should give him plenty of save opportunities. The ballpark is worrying but he has the swing and miss to thrive there.
Josh Naylor is my homer pick, he’s having a career year at 26 and is showing signs of a true breakout. Since May 1st he’s been a 148 wRC+ hitter with .222 ISO while setting career highs in almost every statcast metric. The only knock on him coming into the year was he couldn’t hit lefties but he’s been a 104 wRC+ hitter against southpaws and that will do. Trust me, Naylor will be on every breakout list come next February, you might as well get ahead of the game now.
Finally, I kinda wish I had gone with Tanner Bibee here but Tyler Wells has been a revelation for the Orioles taking a huge leap up in strikeouts as well as increasing his CSW% and posting an above-average PLV. It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue to see success with his slider and curveball, but if he can, he can be a huge pickup in the 10th and for the Orioles in 2024.
I warned Austin Bristow before agreeing to join this year’s mock draft, so if you have any complaints, send them to him. But on a serious note, I was honored to be asked to come back. It was fun to take a look at 2024 before this year’s playoffs have begun.
In looking at overall trends of the draft, what stands out the most is the youth movement and buying into the hype. Corbin Carroll, Elly De La Cruz, Eury Pérez, and Francisco Alvarez were a few names amongst many that significantly improved their draft stock this year. And while some may be reaches, it’s easy to see why they all appeared here. It was odd seeing Mike Trout fall to the fourth round, but another year with another serious injury makes it hard to argue against it.
Below are some general notes on my picks that I felt warranted a little more discussion.
1.2 – Aaron Judge
You may have heard of my first-round selection.
2.11 – Bryce Harper
I hate taking outfielders early, but was certainly reassured when I realized Harper will likely be eligible at first base in 2024. Plus, I felt safe that my selection in the third round was still going to be there three picks later. Harper remains an excellent hitter, and while the power hasn’t fully come back yet, he’s still playing impactful baseball after returning less than seven months after having Tommy John surgery. I think he’ll be back to normal at the start of next year.
3.2 – Austin Riley
Austin Riley often gets overshadowed when you think about third basemen. Even on his own team, there are several other stars most fans would mention before him. But he’s having another great year and has cemented himself as an excellent option at 3B, especially given the lack of depth at the position. Only José Ramírez and Rafael Devers were taken before him. This may have been a slight reach, but with Manny Machado and Arenado having down years, I think Riley represents a significant step up in the next tier of 3B that are available after him.
4.11 – Justin Steele
Quietly, Justin Steele has turned into one of the better pitchers in the league over the last 12 months. He started the second half of last year really strong and hasn’t slowed down, earning his first all-star appearance in Seattle along the way. The K’s are staying consistent while he’s learning to manage contact and pitch counts to stay deeper into games. The way he releases the ball gives him unique movement and ride that allows him to basically only throw a fastball and slider. He’s among the top of the league in Average Exit Velocity, HardHit%, xOBP, xSLG, and oh, he has a sub-3.00 ERA and 11 wins as of publishing.
5.2 – Bryce Elder
In the wake of all of the injuries to the Atlanta rotation, Elder has done nothing but shove since the start of the year. He’s doing it all without massively overpowering stuff but has a great sinker-slider combination that induces a lot of weak contact and a good amount of K’s. I love the upside. I made this pick while walking around the concession stands at T-Mobile Park before the prospect game, and as a result, it was the pick I felt least confident about. If at my computer, I probably would have taken Kirby ahead of him, given Elder’s K-rate and low velocity, but he’s been a mainstay in my rotation since I picked him up this year.
6.11 – Jonah Heim
Heim has been worth 3.1 WAR so far this season. As a catcher, that will absolutely play. Another member of the first-time all-star club, his stock is soaring this year and I’m all in. With Willson Contreras and Salvador Perez taking a step back, and Adley Rutschman, Will Smith, and Sean Murphy off the board, I didn’t think he’d last much longer.
7.2 – Nolan Gorman
Gorman is quietly having an excellent sophomore season that I think is getting ignored due to how the Cardinals are playing overall. One of the challenges as fantasy players is to create separate assessments of players in the real world versus as fantasy assets. Gorman’s defense is suspect at best, but he’s an excellent hitter and provides great value at the 2B position. In addition to the home runs, he draws plenty of walks and might provide close to 10 steals as a nice bonus as well.
8.11 – Devin Williams
As long as he keeps throwing that otherworldly changeup, he’ll continue to be drafted around this time. As closers start becoming elite, he’s got the role locked down and I expect him to get close to 40 saves next year, if not more.
9.2 – Andrew Abbott
The 2023 Reds need help in their rotation, but the 2024 Reds will be anchored by Andrew Abbott. The rookie has a 9.6 K/9 rate, a sub-2.00 ERA, and is 6-2 overall in 10 starts. I love the upside and I think he’ll be a steal if available at this part of your draft next year.
10.11 – Jacob deGrom
In a standard snake draft, someone would have seen deGrom ranked much higher, despite the injury history, and taken him. As a 10th-round pick with the ace upside on what should be another good year for the Rangers, the risk was absolutely worth it. If he doesn’t pitch more than 20 innings next year, I won’t say I’m surprised. Everything after that is like playing with house money.
My first pick was somewhat of a debate between Fernando Tatis Jr. and Shohei Ohtani (the hitter), and in my most recent Hitter List, I rank Ohtani ahead of Tatis within the first tier. That said, I’m confident that Tatis will be higher on my list heading into 2024, especially if he continues to strike out in fewer than 20% of his plate appearances.
Perhaps my biggest regret of this draft is missing out on an elite shortstop. I had hoped that perhaps Oneil Cruz would fall further than he did and gave myself no backup plan. That is something I’ll have to clean up going into 2024 drafts, as I expect it to continue to be a position dominated by elite bats. If this draft continued, I’d likely prioritize adding a guy like Ha-Seong Kim, who should continue to be a leadoff guy for the Padres. He’d also provide valuable coverage at 2B, where I likely overdrafted Jonathan India.
Speaking of second base, the biggest takeaway I have from this draft is just how little elite talent there still is at this position. How much can we rely on names like Jonathan India, Nolan Gorman, Max Muncy, or others in 2024? Perhaps second-half surges from CJ Abrams, Matt McLain, Ha-Seong Kim, and others will deepen the pool, but if they don’t, it could get very ugly, very quickly.
My strategy heading into drafts next year is going to be taking pitching early and often. With how volatile so many seemingly reliable pitchers have been this season, the more pitchers I can get that I feel like I can trust, the better. That’s why five of my first 10 picks were pitchers.
Having a starting staff of Shane McClanahan, Zac Gallen, Hunter Brown, and Max Scherzer with Emmanuel Clase as my top reliever feels good. Barring any second-half changes, McClanahan and Gallen feel like they’ll enter next season as top-of-the-line aces. I love the upside of Brown and already think he’s a top-30 arm with plenty of room for growth. Even given all the top pitching prospect debuts this year, Brown is still one of the most exciting young arms in the game.
As far as Scherzer, yes, he’s old and an injury risk. It’s the elephant in the room. His ERA is up and his strikeout rate is down this year. Still, I believe in him enough that getting him after pick 100 feels like the steal of the draft. This is a great time to say that we ran this draft in a Discord channel. There was no draft room and no system tracking what players were still available. We simply logged our picks in Google Sheets. Because of that, there were players throughout the draft that fell through the cracks that wouldn’t have if we had been using typical drafting software. If you see some picks that feel a little off – perhaps this one – that is why. He won’t be going this late in drafts next spring.
On the hitting side of things, I was very happy nabbing Corbin Carroll with the fourth pick of the draft. I think the only two players I would’ve selected over him would have been Acuña and Tatis. His frequent shoulder injuries scare me, but not enough to shy away from a 22-year-old who’s pacing to put up a 30/40 season in his rookie year. It’s amazing to think he could get even better going forward.
I was really happy with my trio of hitters in rounds four through six. Paul Goldschmidt and Francisco Lindor are veteran studs. Even though he’ll be 36 next year, Goldschmidt is having an admirable follow-up to last year’s MVP campaign and I think he’ll age gracefully. Lindor’s batting average has tanked this year, but that’s probably due to his .247 BABIP which is 43 points below his career norm. He still has 19 home runs and 15 steals already, and this disappointing Mets lineup likely performs better next year which should give him a run and RBI boost.
Kyle Schwarber is one of the picks I question the most. Every year during draft season it always seems to me that finding good sources of power later on in the draft is incredibly difficult. I know he’s a killer in batting average and stolen base categories, but he’s absolutely one of the few elite power options. If I could make the pick again, I may go in a different direction, but I do like having someone on my roster who could mash 40 dingers or more.
Now we’re on to the one pick in the draft I absolutely would not do again. Honestly, drafting Daulton Varsho was a total brain lapse for me. I very quickly checked his FanGraphs page to see if he had played any catcher this year, saw he had 30+ games at CF, and my brain only saw the C. I didn’t realize my mistake until a day or two after we wrapped up this mock draft. It’s safe to say, Varsho should improve on his .214/.274/.356 batting line this year, but without catcher eligibility, he should be going nowhere near this range. I do like the idea of getting at least one really good catcher in two catcher leagues, so if I had been thinking clearly this pick probably would’ve been J.T. Realmuto or Salvador Perez. Speaking of catchers, it sure seems like the position will be deeper in next year’s drafts with so many young and upcoming players debuting this year – Francisco Alvarez, Patrick Bailey, Bo Naylor, Endy Rodríguez, Henry Davis, and Tyler Soderstrom. I don’t know if any of them will crack the elite catcher tiers immediately, but as a whole, the position should be better over the next few years.
The team I constructed may be a little light in batting average but other than that it’ll be competitive in just about every offensive category. I waited until the fourth round to grab my first pitcher, but I ended up with two starting pitchers who form a solid foundation from which to build upon. I also drafted a young closer who has been dominating this season.
I had originally intended to select Corbin Carroll with the fifth pick, but as often happens, I got sniped. I’m glad I did because taking Mookie Betts allowed me to scope out multiple different strategies as the draft unfolded. In most draft formats he’s going to be second base, shortstop, and outfield eligible and the ability to slide him into so many different lineup slots is a built-in safety net for when the inevitable injury bug rears its ugly head.
I always like to draft at least one of the premiere power hitters in the game and based on his 40-home run, 162-game average Matt Olson has been one of the most consistent sluggers in baseball over the past several seasons.
I was hoping that Kevin Gausman would fall to me at pick 3.5 but Scott Chu beat me to him, so I filled what has recently been a weak second base position by selecting Ozzie Albies. Since the 2020 season, Albies has averaged 31 home runs, 106 RBI, and 16 stolen bases. Admittedly his stolen base production seems to be trending downward but he’s still likely to provide stolen base totals in the lower double-digit range. I considered drafting Marcus Semien instead of Albies but despite Albies’ checkered injury history in the end I felt that his power numbers have been more consistent than Semien’s of late.
It was time to take my first starting pitcher and I was happy to select Shohei Ohtani (SP) who when healthy, can provide fantasy managers with 200 or more strikeouts per season. As this blurb is being written, he’s tied for having the seventh-highest K-BB% among qualified starting pitchers. I feel that the fact that he only pitches once per week has helped him avoid injury and has made him a more productive pitcher.
You have to love Adley Rutschman’s plate discipline. He has consistently posted double-digit walk rates throughout his professional career and he doesn’t strike out. He’s lowered his strikeout rate by just under three percent, and as this blurb is being written, his K-rate is well below the league average of 15.5%. Rutschman is also one of the few big-league catchers who is in the lineup just about every day. When he’s not catching the Orioles have been using him as their DH.
I’m obviously concerned with Josh Lowe’s stats against left-handed pitching this season (.185/.267/.333) and the Rays’ tendency to platoon their hitters, but he was one of the few remaining five-tool outfielders available on the board. Even if the Rays decide to sit him against lefties his success against right-handed pitching will ensure that he gets consistent playing time.
Jesús Luzardo finally looks like he’s beaten the injury bug. He’s significantly lowered his walk rate for a second season in a row and I was thrilled to grab a pitcher like Luzardo who when healthy, can strike out over 200 batters in a season.
I waited a while to draft my third baseman, but in Matt Chapman, I still was able to grab one of the last solid options at a shallow fantasy position. He might never be a top contributor in the batting average category, but he can be counted on to provide upwards of 30 home runs just about every season.
Camilo Doval has established himself as one of the premiere closers in the game, and most importantly, he won’t have any competition for saves from any Giants relievers heading into the 2024 season.
Bryson Stott is probably going to lose his shortstop eligibility in most formats for the 2024 season and even though I already had a starting second baseman on my roster I love Stott’s five-tool skill set and will find a way to use him in my fantasy lineup on a daily basis, whether it’s as a middle infielder or in the utility slot. He’s another batter who doesn’t strike out a lot and he has 20 home run, 30 stolen base potential.
Austin Bristow II
Alright, so I took the only pitcher drafted in Round 1. Maybe I jumped the gun a bit, but with the volatility we’ve seen even among would-be aces this season, I’m still happy to get Spencer Strider with the sixth overall pick. We’ve now seen 244.2 innings from Strider with a 38% K-rate, 8% walk-rate, and 32.5% CSW. He is the best starter on a per-inning basis, and we should see around 170 innings from him this season, potentially with 300+ strikeouts! Hopefully, he can blossom into a 200-inning workhorse without sacrificing effectiveness.
My next two picks filled out my middle infield, as I took Wander Franco and Marcus Semien. I feel pretty great about locking in a high-end SS and 2B that can each offer power and speed without sacrificing batting average. I followed these two with a pair of Brewers: Corbin Burnes and Christian Yelich. Burnes certainly has disappointed in 2023, but he has still put up a solid 31% CSW this season while striking out a batter per inning. If he can find his 2021-22 in the second half, this fourth-round pick will look like a steal.
As for Yelich, he is quietly having his best season since his MVP 2019 campaign. He’s put up a .283/.374/.466 slash line with 13 homers, 21 steals, 50 RBI, and 69 R in the first 91 games of the year. His K-rate is down three points, now only a point above his 2019 mark, and his Statcast figures are glowing red (93rd percentile or higher in average exit velo, HardHit%, xwOBA, and xBA)! He certainly isn’t the player he was four years ago, but Yelich seems to have found a renaissance in his age-31 season that looks absolutely legit!
My next two picks brought two young and exciting names to my team: Sean Murphy and Logan Gilbert. Murphy has broken out in his first year in Atlanta, leading all catchers in batting average (.294), runs scored (44), and slugging (.576). As the second catcher off the board, nearly a full round after Will Smith, I was pleased to lock in excellent numbers at a weak position. Gilbert is such an interesting case, as he has an average CSW% (28.6), but elite WHIP due to his incredibly low walk rate at just 4.4%. However, he also gives up a lot of hard contact, suggesting he may be able to improve his already impressive 13.3% Swinging Strike rate if he would be willing to throw the ball out of the zone more often. Still, as my third starter, the 24th off the board, I’m quite pleased.
I finish off my last three picks with three veterans that have certainly impressed in the first half of 2023. Nick Castellanos is bouncing back nicely after a disappointing 2022 introduction to Philadelphia. He’s on pace for 20 homers, 80 RBI, and 75 runs scored. Not too shabby for an eighth-round pick, though I should mention that Nate Kosher absolutely sniped me, taking Spencer Steer directly ahead of this pick.
Next for me was Yandy Díaz, a Statcast standout that’s put up a .318/.403/.505 slash line across the first half of his age-31 season. This is the second season in a row we’ve seen Yandy become a batting average standout. With the steep dropoff at 1B after this, I’m perfectly happy with nabbing him in the 9th. With my last pick in the 10th round, I could no longer let the 12th-best pitcher in 2023 go undrafted, taking Clayton Kershaw. Sure, he’s on the shelf with shoulder inflammation right now, but his work on the field has been incredible in 2023! Through 95.1 innings he’s put up a 2.55 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, backed by a 31% CSW! While he’ll be 36 in 2024, Kershaw seems like he’ll simply continue to perform as long as he can.
Overall, I was happy with how my draft shook out and my team turned out to be a nice collection of young stars with potential. I wasn’t sure who I was going to select with my first pick (seventh overall), but I was happy to see Julio Rodríguez still available and gobbled him up. J-Rod was a potential top-three pick coming into this season and although he hasn’t quite performed at that level, his counting stats are still impressive. He should pass his RBI total from last season and will certainly pass his steals total. As he goes into the 2024 season, I would expect him to cash in on that fantasy superstar potential we saw in 2022.
Due to the uneven pitching seasons by many of the normal perennial aces such as Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Corbin Burnes, etc., I wanted to lock down a sure bet ace early in the draft and selected Gerrit Cole in the second round. Next, I went for Randy Arozarena, trying to further add to the power/speed balance that Rodríguez brings.
From there, I was betting on bounce-back years in 2024 with my next three selections: Oneil Cruz, Sandy Alcantara, and Vinnie Pasquantino. I really like Pasquantino and think he will have a long and successful career. He carries additional value in OBP leagues (a .383 clip in his rookie season). Cruz seems like a forgotten man with the emergence of this year’s star rookies and budding fantasy stars Corbin Carroll and Elly De La Cruz, but if you recall he was routinely breaking Statcast last summer and is a 30/30 threat if he is healthy. And my favorite pick of the entire draft may have been Sandy in the fifth round. I know he is having a down year, but simply couldn’t pass up the value here. Alcantara is definitely too talented to be the (shockingly) 13th pitcher off the board as he was in this mock draft.
Zach Eflin was the second pitcher I drafted, in the seventh round. I like Eflin here due to his consistency in producing long outings and the potential for quality starts. 12 out of his 18 starts this season have been six or more innings. I was also happy with my next pick, Spencer Steer, who I was slotting in at third base on my imaginary squad.
There is no such thing as a perfect draft, and I didn’t particularly like my last two selections of Gleyber Torres and Salvador Perez. Torres seemed like the best second baseman still available despite his streaky nature. I purposely waited to draft a catcher but waited too long as first-time all-stars Jonah Heim and Adley Rutschman were gone. I was also targeting Francisco Alvarez but he was already off the board as well two rounds earlier. I ended up with old reliable Salvador Perez.
When you get asked to take part in a 2024 Shamelessly Early Mock Draft, one would have to assume the intent is to generate that sweet sweet #content. But not me, I’m here to make the most boring picks possible, although I swear I didn’t mean to. But you know what’s another word for boring picks? Good players.
Freddie Freeman has spent his entire career doing one thing, and one thing only: Producing. He’s a perennial .300 hitter, good for 20+ bombs, and heck, he’ll even throw in a handful of SBs. Add to that the fact he plays pretty much every day? That’s a no-doubt first-rounder every time. “Oh but he doesn’t have speed!” Guess what it’s H2H, I have won weeks because Gary Sánchez decided to steal second. The only guys with enough juice in the other four categories for me to consider in the first were all gone by the fifth pick anyway.
Corey Seager is the Freeman of SS, without the ironman status. Which, to be fair, is kind of a big deal, but his production is just impossible to pass over. In 66 games this year he’s hitting .350/.413/.631; if that’s not worth a second-round pick what is? To be totally fair, I was picking between him and Wander for this spot, and I can definitely see a situation where when it comes draft time in ‘24, Wander’s the move.
Taking Framber Valdez means I’m inadvertently just kinda repeating my home league draft, but to be fair that team is wrecking the house and in first place. When I picked him for the 2023 season, he was an unsexy QS/W pick; in 2024 he will probably remain an unsexy QS/W pick. Unless…unless this 26.9% K-rate is for real. He’s cut his BB% down to go with it and bettered his K-BB% by five points over 2022 so far. I had a discussion with Nick during draft season this year about how I need to just become the guy who chases strikeouts instead of these Toby-esque arms and yet here I am still dipping into that well. I am a creature of habit.
The Josh Jung breakout got upon us in a hurry, huh? He’s coming a bit back down to earth here around the all-star break, but the skills are still there for sure, and this offense figures to be high-powered for the counting stats for a while yet.
I’m going to come back to the Cody Bellinger pick below, so, for now, I’ll just say I should have a very good power base, so why not add ol’ Luis Arraez, who will singlehandedly pull everybody’s AVG up at least a few points, even if he’s on a middling team that will almost assuredly be even more middling in 2024. Sorry Miami, you know it’s true.
Pablo López has found a new gear in Minnesota, literally in the case of his fastball as it’s averaging 95 mph, and figuratively in how he’s topped 30% with his K-rate so far. The offense behind him hasn’t been as high octane as expected for the Ws, and his ERA has crept up to more like league average than elite, but all of the estimators look much better. I’m comfortable continuing to bet on him.
Ah, the outfielders. It was the fifth round when I realized despite being the most populous position, it uh, runs out in a hurry. I heard lots of chatter about that going into the 2023 draft season but didn’t really see it play out in my draft, but here? When you’re just kind of going by leaderboards and not a list of ADPs and whatnot? It’s weird. But that said, Cody Bellinger may be ‘That Dude’ again.
Leody Taveras is only 24 and might be putting it together before our eyes (see previous comment about high-powered offense, as well.) Jake Fraley’s having a great season and his home park is Coors Jr., what’s not to like? Full disclosure: I didn’t realize Money Michael Harris II was still available in the eighth and I should absolutely a billion percent have drafted him over one of the latter two guys. Such is life in mocks.
My draft strategy was to wait on starting pitching and focus on as many early fallers as possible. Snagging Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Manny Machado in the third and fourth rounds was the reward but before selecting Carlos Rodón in the fifth. The upside felt too immense to continue the plan.
The mission for the back end of the draft (Rounds 6-10) was to find two more high-end SPs and fill in the holes. Did I grab Ketel Marte a touch too early? Maybe, but I didn’t want to scrape the bottom of the barrel later at 2B.
In summation, the draft went according to plan. However, I do wish a SP1 was selected and if we finished the draft, building a stronger set of arms would have been crucial.
In a recent Hacks and Jacks podcast, Scott Chu discussed the rather open field following Ronald Acuña Jr. in the first round of next season’s drafts, and this particular mock really highlighted that. Fernando Tatis Jr. probably has the most upside of any non-Acuña player, and Judge still went before him. By the time my pick rolled around, Shohei Ohtani (DH) was shockingly still on the board, and yes, I did not draft him.
Up for my first pick, I saw Yordan Alvarez and Shohei Ohtani as the standout names, knowing I wasn’t getting both of them, I decided to roll with .298 career ISO, Yordan Alvarez. If Shohei replicates in any way what he is doing this season, that’s going to look unwise, and it’s not like I’m out here projecting massive regression by any means. In fact, I’ll concede I probably just got too cute there. I just wanted to make a point of taking Yordan in the first round, as he has proven at every stop he is arguably the best hitter in baseball. Although there are health concerns, they won’t deter me here, especially knowing he averaged nearly 140 games over the prior two seasons.
There were plenty of options for me to consider in the second round, and looking at how the draft turned out, grabbing another outfielder limited my flexibility. Still, Juan Soto was too enticing to pass up. This man leads baseball in OPS+ and he’s still not fulfilling his whole potential.
Bobby Witt Jr. in the third was the polar opposite of my first two picks. I’ve seen enough not to trust the promised upside as a hitter, but regardless, he’s going to hit some bombs, and he’ll run wild; those two things alone make him immensely valuable. Furthermore, knowing the massive hit the middle infield and 3B market had taken, it wasn’t the time to take another OF. In hindsight, I could have taken Elly De La Cruz, for at least with him, I buy the upside more, but with this being a mock and all, I was intrigued to see how far he’d fall, which didn’t turn out to be much.
It’s funny, but as the draft went on, although limited by the early OF-heavy approach, I started to like my picks more and more. Luis Robert Jr., and Aaron Nola in the fourth and fifth are great values in my opinion. The main obstacle for Robert is health, from a guy with an outside shot for a 40 HR-20 SB season. Aaron Nola will likely get out of Citizens Bank Park next season, which is a plus, and we’ve seen this volatility from him in the past to the point where I’m not terribly concerned. Predicting pitching in a year’s time is tricky, but a 1.08 WHIP in a down year is the product of an ace I can get behind.
Part of me wanted to see how long it’d take for someone to draft a closer, and usually, I tend to lean towards not spending capital on relievers, in H2H. However, I also have a rule about not having rigid rules, and bearing extreme circumstances, Félix Bautista at the end of the fifth is VALUE.
If you read my article before the season on value plays, you know I’m a sucker for George Springer, and that was before he decided to go for a career-high in steals this season. His final line in 2023 will be somewhat skewed by a putrid start, which involved a battle with an illness, and that could be something to take advantage of. I could have gone for an infielder there and finished these 10 first rounds with a more balanced roster. However, this mock is about building a strong core, and in 12-teamer, standard Yahoo leagues, I’ll take my chances at finding breakout contributors later on, over securing every spot early on. In other words, Springer was better than any available 3B, 2B, 1B, and C.
Joe Musgrove is quietly in the Top 10 of Nick’s List, and I have grown to define him as the oatmeal ace. While he is unlikely to wow you, we’re looking at a 3.08 ERA, and 1.09 WHIP since he moved to San Diego, with no long-term health concerns.
To balance the risk-reward angle, Freddy Peralta and Walker Buehler came next, to wrap up this draft. Both carry significant risk, but significant upside, and behind a foundation of Nola and Musgrove, could form a menacing quartet. That top four would allow me to hypothetically focus on complementary bats for the next few rounds, and rely more on the always-there, in-season breakouts, to complete the staff.
José Ramírez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Pete Alonso were all in play for me here, but the hot corner typically dries up quicker than 1B so it was easy enough to pick J-Ram over the Hank Aaron Award-upside of Guerrero Jr. or Alonso. I managed to nab Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on the way back anyway and with a safe floor on batting average, plenty of power, and quite a few stolen bases, I’ll be happy with that core any day.
I maybe should’ve trusted my instincts and waited a bit more for my OF1. Adolis García was a pretty solid choice here though and this is why we do these mock drafts! One of Mike Trout, Luis Robert Jr., Christian Yelich, George Springer, or even a rookie like Jordan Walker, Spencer Steer, or Nolan Jones would’ve been a worthwhile OF1 a couple of rounds later but much like García last season- hindsight is 20/20.
Elly De La Cruz marked the first snipe of the draft for me, but Gunnar Henderson was more than just a consolation prize. As the Orioles’ young bats continue to put it all together, Henderson’s counting stats could take a big leap next season. García and Henderson could very well prove to be a much more formidable pairing than De La Cruz and one of the outfielders that I mentioned above.
Brandon Woodruff wound up falling quite a bit after missing the first half of 2023 but is still an ace. I’ll gladly take the injury discount, especially since with a strong finish, Woodruff likely won’t be available this late by the time the 2024 draft season rolls around. George Kirby on the way back offset any volume concerns with Woodruff, and Kirby might even get moved to a better team at the trade deadline. Probably not, I know! Let me dream though, okay?
Matt McLain made for a fun swing at a top-5 2B next season, while also giving me a high-end backup at SS this early in the draft. Position flexibility is fun! My team is hardly light on power, but I’m a big fan of an extremely HR-heavy approach at the top of the draft and so Francisco Alvarez behind the plate rounded out my offense perfectly.
At this point in the draft, I decided I should lock up my rotation and Bobby Miller looks like an intriguing upside play for the Dodgers next season. Not too shabby for an SP3 picked in Round 9, eh? It’s near-impossible to build a steady rotation in the draft, as pitching is simply too volatile, so my focus often turns to pitchers with the potential to wildly outperform their current ADP. Miller and Alek Manoah both seemed primed to take that leap next year. After all, should Manoah’s struggles over roughly three months outweigh two years of elite production?
When I was preparing for my picks in this draft, I tried to be mindful of how each player’s value has changed since last draft season. I didn’t want to pay too many premiums for the breakout players, even though there’s an extremely exciting rookie class that will be sophomores next year. I also didn’t want to just take the veterans at value picks, even though they offer the most dependability.
What I did was try to collect a nice blend of predictability and upside. The team is anchored by Shohei Ohtani (DH), who should return top-5 value if healthy even though I won’t benefit at all from his pitching stats. If you’re in a Yahoo league and there’s any sort of discount on UTIL Ohtani because he’s not two-way eligible, I would draft him every single time.
I didn’t plan on taking one pitcher in the first five rounds going into the draft. But as the first two rounds played out and I looked at the available pitchers on the board, I realized that there’s so much SP talent that would be available after pick 60. I don’t necessarily think that because of the inflated ERAs of this season, we should all wait on pitching next year. But if that’s how the board turns out, I will gladly load up on dynamic hitters for a few rounds and then cherry-pick my pitchers in the middle rounds.
Zack Wheeler is a horse that provided neither huge upside or huge value, but I think his consistency warrants a top-40 pick in any league. He’s in line for his third-straight season with at least a 21% K-BB%, and this year he’s carrying career-best marks in walk rate and swinging strike rate.
My next three pitchers are youthful upside plays with a focus on strikeouts, and they all have one thing in common: an electric fastball. Eury Pérez, Hunter Greene, and Bryce Miller each complement their elite velocity and/or shape on the fastball with wipeout secondaries. So with my top four pitchers, I’ve got a nice cushion in strikeouts and ratios going forward in the draft.
Shifting back to the hitters, I jumped fully aboard the Elly De La Cruz hype train. And I suspect that no one will actually be able to draft him at this price next year as he continues to steal bags and hit homers in Cincinnati.
Jose Altuve is another one I expect to raise his ADP as next season approaches. He has been hampered by a few different injuries this year, but even as he ages he provides an almost unrivalled five-category balance of production at the 2B position.
Michael Harris II and J.T. Realmuto will be coming off disappointing seasons, but Harris II still offers plenty of 20/30 upside, while Realmuto has maintained his typical quality of contact despite lesser results in the stat line.
Adapted by Kurt Wasemiller (@KUWasemiller on Twitter / @kurt_player02 on Instagram)