Building a Dynasty (Part 2)
When we left off, I’d just drafted Yoan Moncada in round 2, pick #34 overall. Curious if I was over-aggressive (nuts?) for taking him that early, I glanced at the FantasyPros dynasty ADP. Moncada is #42 overall.
I wanted an answer and I got the answer. Not only was it not an egregious pick, it was… destiny.
By round 3, another slew of studs had been ladled from my dreams. J.D. Martinez, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, as well as Syndergaard, Gary Sanchez, and of course, Rhys Hoskins. Interestingly, uber-prospect Ronald Acuna went the pick after I selected Moncada.
I understand if you detest my Moncada pick. It’s not the conservative pick. Moncada has a strikeout problem, which could become a fantasy problem. I joke that he has 30-30-30 potential: 30 homers, 30 stolen bases, 30% Strikeout Rate. But Moncada excels at everything else. He hits the ball hard, he has excellent power, he drives the ball to all fields, and he can run like the wind. It’s a truly tantalizing combination of tools, and it’s all from the second base position. “…tools so deafeningly loud it may be a while before we hear the echoes of his historical significance.” At age 22, I couldn’t resist the temptation that if Moncada ‘hits’ as a perennial 1st-rounder, he is mine… forever.
When the draft got back to me eight picks later, no player stood out. I didn’t have much of a pre-draft plan – mostly that I’d choose the best player available, try to listen to my gut, and bend toward youth far more than in a typical draft. Yet somehow, at the 47th overall pick, this methodology led me to take another 2nd baseman: annual 35-15 threat Brian Dozier. I don’t love this pick, and in retrospect, I kind of hate it, especially with where the draft eventually led me, which you’ll see in a minute. Don’t get me wrong, I think Brian Dozier is really good – and in this league, which uses OBP instead of batting average, he is technically a 5-category contributor. The last two seasons combined, Dozier has averaged 38 home runs, 96 RBI, 17 steals, 105 runs, and a .349 OBP. As a stat line: .349(OBP)-105-38-96-17. I think he has 2-3 years left of that, hopefully.
Voice of Cynicism: You took two second basemen in your first three picks!? Are you on bath salts!? And why on earth would you draft a 30-year-old who is built like a Lego in a dynasty, when young talents like Marcel Ozuna, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Christian Yelich were available!? I just… don’t understand. When Dozier is 40, Rafael Devers and Ozzie Albies will be 31. Think about that for a second.
Rebuttal to Voice of Cynicism: With 8 hours per pick, I had plenty of time to mull over the choices. Bogaerts was coming off a dreadful (injury-plagued?) season and Yelich had proven to be a solid player but lacked the offensive explosiveness of Dozier. I strongly considered drafting Willson Contreras, whom I believe has rare offensive gifts and was born to hit, but his riskiness pushed me toward the proven vet. I also watched nearly every Twins game down the stretch last season, and Dozier looked amazing. It seemed like he either walked or went yard every at-bat. I once wrote a scouting report of Brian Dozier that began with the following “If I were a scout from Mars looking for Earthly talent, I probably wouldn’t write a glowing review of Brian Dozier.” and ended with “…for the record, the Martian scouts went with Gordon Beckham instead.” But like hoppy beer and Led Zeppelin, Brian Dozier grows on you. He’s an acquired taste. If you saw him walking down the street, you’d probably just think he’s some random dude named Brian. But he can flat out play.
It’s my belief that stars are what win in fantasy. In football, in basketball, in baseball. I’m the kind of guy who loves the 3-for-1 trade where I give up three good players for one transcendent player – or even just a great player – all day long.
Because of that mindset, and because this is a keep forever league, in round 4 I selected my favorite prospect of all prospects, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
In my years of watching baseball, never have I seen a young hitter possess both such a high floor (all-star) and high ceiling (one of the best players of all-time). This guy is can’t miss, arguably a pure 80 grade in both hit tool and power (personally I’d go 80-70) and I will be completely shocked if he doesn’t become a complete stud at the Major League level. In fact, I value him more than Moncada, but I knew I could wait a bit longer with Vladdy. So, forgetting old man Dozier for a bit, if my three young studs are who I think they are, in three years I’ll have an offensive core of 28-year old Kris Bryant, 25-year old Yoan Moncada, and 21-year old Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Some guys chase tail. I chase upside.
As much as I love Vladdy Jr., I deliberated over this pick. Simply because it was so early in the draft, and I didn’t want to be overly aggressive. But as Will Smith once said in a movie about black people becoming bankers, “If you want something… go get it!”
I got you, Vladdy.
This Vladdy pick changed the course of my team’s destiny. I’d just devoted two of my first four picks to prospect-aged kids (Moncada and Vlad) and I had to make a decision: am I still trying to compete this year, or am I going all in on the future?
As Sawyer from LOST would say, “it’s all about the looooong con.”
So in round 5, instead of taking a pedestrian 31-year old who will fade out in a couple years … why not draft wild and well-fed Willie Calhoun, who is only 23 years old, and based on my scouting, has a strong chance to be an Anthony Rizzo-like offensive player – a future .300 hitting, 30+ home run masher, who was drafted at pick #87 wedged between the likes of Andrew McCutchen, Orlando Arcia, Rougned Odor, and Avisail Garcia. If Calhoun mashes at an elite level, which I’m confident he will, I just hit a proverbial home run. Sometimes, limited height is a gift. If Calhoun were taller and less beefy, he’d be salivated over like the Eloy’s and Gleyber’s of the world… but he is all mine, several rounds later. Glorious.
Retrospective Interjection (Writer’s Note): This pick makes me a bit queasy. At the time, I was knee-deep in scouting and had become enamored with Calhoun. He was coming off a monster power season with a Rendonian BB:K ratio, and I was convinced that his 5’8 stature was the only thing preventing him from being a consensus top-10 prospect. It was also assumed that Calhoun would spend most of the year in Arlington. As it turns out, Willie is down in the PCL with a discouraging .711 OPS and three home runs through 30 games. Word to the wise: even if you become enamored with a players skill set, exercise caution when targeting them aggressively. While I’m still keeping the faith in Calhoun, it’s absolutely gut-wrenching to see that Gleyber Torres and Ozzie Albies were drafted within the next 20 picks.
To be fair, I avoided Albies because he was one of my most widely owned players – which is one of the strange parts of playing in multiple leagues (avoiding players due to redundancy). I’ve been high on Albies since I saw him in the minors last year, describing him this offseason as, “A personal favorite of mine. Fairly unique skill set; at times, a glimmer of Altuve. Tremendous confidence. Mint grade bat-to-ball skills.”
With Calhoun, I swung for the fences based on a hunch that I was seeing true greatness where others weren’t, and now it appears I was only seeing greatness because of all the Peruvian beet slug extract that I’d procured off the Silk Road. Totally kidding – I’m more of a powdered seahorse-brain man, myself.
Despite the Calhoun pick looking foolish thus far, the pick cemented the idea that this dynasty draft is not about ADP or following any kind of trend. It’s about my own scouting ability. Over the course of scouting prospects – a tedious (yet enjoyable) combination of video, statistics, and scouting reports – I’ve come to realize that playing dynasty is the closest emulation to being a real-life GM. All at once, you take on the role of team owner, GM, head coach, scout, and rabid fan. Video games like MLB The Show and O.O.T.P.B. offer more immersion in terms of setting ticket prices and negotiating salaries, but the results of dynasty baseball are connected to real results on the field, rather than a simulation, and that makes it the most immersive GM emulation available. Almost immediately, I was hooked.
When I say “scouting”, I don’t just mean “video highlights” on MiLB.com. I’ve scoured Youtube for obscure cellphone videos from 2004 of Brent Rooker playing whiffleball in his yard, players performing in high school, college, overseas, and in Nick Pratto’s case: The Little League World Series. Spoiler Alert: I reached hard for Pratto. He isn’t in many top-100 lists, but he’s in my personal top-30. It’s hard to get overly excited about a 1B prospect, but I think the bat is that special. The phonetic similarity between Nick Pratto and Joey Votto is a not-so-subtle hint from the Baseball Gods. Votto is a bit bigger – taller and thicker – but their swings and approach are eerily similar.
As the draft rolled on (twenty teams / eight hours per pick), I seemed to adopt an instinctive strategy that valued the following traits:
- not a pitcher
You know the cliche about pitching prospects. I adhered to that cliche for the most part – although I am absolutely gaga for Brent Honeywell, who was scooped up just ahead of me at pick 6.2. I settled for Brendan Rodgers five picks later. Honeywell’s injury that followed was unfortunate, but long-term I still view him (in a best-case scenario) as a glorious tribrid of Greg Maddux, Dan Haren, and Roy Halladay. While roughly 95% of scouts prefer the flame-throwing, Syndergaard-esque physicality of Michael Kopech, I like Honeywell’s long-term prospects a bit more. He possesses:
- excellent stuff (94+ mph heat with terrific movement, and an array of devastating off-speed pitches)
- elite pitchability (yes, that’s an official term now. It’s the pitching version of “hit tool”.)
- An unmistakable confidence and swagger that often crosses the line into arrogance.
- Tampa Bay’s track record of making the most out of young pitchers
Sign me up.
But I suppose Brendan Rodgers will do. At Coors, we are looking at a future .280-30-90 shortstop – questionable plate discipline balanced out by his superb power and raw hitting ability. Trevor Story, if he were less like Trevor Story, and more like Nomar Garciaparra. Make no mistake, folks – Brendan Rodgers is going to be a star. The only question is when.
Six rounds and 120 picks into the draft, many of my top pitching targets were still available, which suggests that other teams abide by that cliche, too. It’s been interesting to see the approach of other teams (other virtual GM’s). My prospect-oriented team is the clear anomaly in the draft room. Most of the teams strive for a combination of ‘win-now’ and prospects, while a few teams have gone entirely ‘win-now’. One other team has a clear youth-only focus, but he is targeting a generation above mine, drafting players like Benintendi, Polanco, Conforto, and Bogaerts – and not a single player from a generation higher.
In round 7 I was happy to land Astros prospect Kyle Tucker, a high upside left-handed hitter who I view as a combination of Cody Bellinger and Buster Posey. His mechanical, unconventional swing takes some getting used to, and initially, I had ‘Nam-style flashbacks to prospect phenom Matt Wieters, but the more I watch Tucker, the more I like him. And that funky swing started to appear super controlled and dare I say… smooth. In a way. Like good scotch. Appreciating Kyle Tucker is like staring into one of those hidden images that initially appear to be a random splatter of splotches and dots.
It doesn’t look like anything to me.
But then you see it – err, him. A future .275, 30 homer, 15 steal beast that will soon make a freakishly stacked lineup even more fearsome. In round 7, in a rapidly declining talent pool that saw Giolito, Chris Taylor, and Jonathan Villar fly off the board, I am happy – no, ecstatic – to land Kyle Tucker. And the gobs of prospective trade suitors that came calling on him post-draft, have only further cemented the fact that this future fantasy superstar is not going anywhere.
In the end, I’m betting on my ability to scout talent. I’m betting on myself. I’m betting that in a few years, my team won’t just be strong, but will be almost comically stacked. I’m betting that scouts are wrong about touted guys like Francisco Mejia, and I am right about future Ian Kinsler clone Jahmai Jones, and Joey Votto impersonator Nick Pratto.
It’s possible that I’ve made, as Gob would say, “A terrible mistake” – and that my pivot toward prospects after the Guerrero pick was a monumental blunder.
It’s also possible that I zigged while everyone else zagged, and I will have the last laugh.
Part 3 Coming Soon!