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November 15, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

AFL First Pitch Forums Draft

by Paul Sporer

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I took my annual trek to Arizona two weeks ago for both the Arizona Fall League and the Baseball HQ First Pitch Forums. It’s my favorite trip of the year and this might’ve been my best time yet. I drove from Austin with my dog, which actually enhanced the trip despite there being a total of 34 hours of driving to and fro. Thankfully, I like driving.

One of my favorite parts of the event is Draft Saturday. I believe they started the live drafts three or four years ago and it has evolved a bit throughout, but the staple has been a pair of NFBC-style drafts wherein we draft 23 rounds in person and the other 27 on the internet over the winter. It’s a draft-and-hold, which means no pickups or trades. Surplus is less useful and you need contingencies because you will get injuries during the season. We do a Kentucky Derby Style draft slotting (see no. 4 on that link for an explanation) and assuming the top two were gone, I was hoping to grab the three-spot for Paul Goldschmidt.

The assumption of the top two being gone is simply unnecessary pessimism from never getting them in the past and this year was no different. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t get the third spot, either. I think I was the sixth or seventh name out of the hat, and I promptly took spot 14. The top four spots (I could’ve reasonably expected to get Goldy at four as he’s not the consensus third pick) were gone, as was the elbow at 15, and I find the cluster between five and 14 to be relatively similar, so I might as well get the earliest second-round pick possible. By the way, Goldy did go third.

Round 1
While there is no debate over the top two being Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, their ordering is still a matter to be ironed out and they happened to go as I listed them in my draft. While many seem to favor Andrew McCutchen and Robinson Cano in some order for the three/four spots, I prefer Goldy as I mentioned with Cutch following. My fellow drafters agree with my way of thinking, as the top four played out exactly this way. I’ve vacillated a bit on Cano, understanding full well that he’s incredible, but also having some trepidation with him at five. I can’t pinpoint exactly why, but I’m just a bit uneasy. I understand why he went there, but it’s easier for me to recognize it for someone else’s team than it would be my own.

It is a total grab bag for the rest of the first round which is precisely why I didn’t mind slotting myself 14th after the top four spots were gone. Our draft saw Chris Davis go sixth, followed by Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Adam Jones, Adrian Beltre, and Troy Tulowitzki leading to my pick. I’m not going to run down every single round, but I figured the first round in full would be particularly notable. In fact, you can compare it against my most recent Top 15 (notice I’ve flipped Goldy and Cutch since then).

The obvious pick going off of my top 15 would’ve been Edwin Encarnacion. I ranked him ninth in my last iteration, but after further analysis in the three weeks since that went up, I’ve bumped Joey Votto back up a bit and made him my top pick. Considering the fact that I got him at 27 in a 15-team mock draft I participated in a few months ago, I might have actually over-drafted him here, but what’s the real difference of taking him here or waiting three picks to take him at 2.2? I couldn’t realistically see him lasting to my pick at 3.14, so now is the time. I think he’s criminally undervalued in early 2014 drafts.

The round closed out with our second pitcher, as Yu Darvish was taken off the board. Dang, I was hoping to get him at 7.10, as I did in this same draft a year ago (not really, relax).

Round 2
The Darvish team followed him up with Jacoby Ellsbury putting it right back on me. While Encarnacion was still my top-rated hitter, he would’ve given me two first basemen. I’m not a slave to positional scarcity/flexibility (after all I took Goldy/Votto in that aforementioned mock draft), I didn’t think he was markedly better than my eventual choice: Evan Longoria. I may have been wrong about that. Encarnacion is really, really good. Longoria is damn good, too, but EE is probably better enough to have been the choice even at the cost of locking up my corner infield spot.

My other primary consideration was Giancarlo Stanton, a long-time Sporer Favorite, but the health record moved me off of him in this particular instance. Ryan Braun and then my two considerations immediately followed my pick with Stanton going before Encarnacion.

Round 3
This was the Round of the Pitcher with 10 of the 15 picks coming from the mound. While I generally wait on pitching, I vowed to jump in on arms a bit earlier as long as the value was there and I had no problem succumbing to the run on aces, snapping up Justin Verlander at 3.14. His demise was greatly overstated and I think we saw that in the playoffs when he looked a lot like vintage Verlander. I might not get full-on 2011-2012 Verlander, but I also don’t think I’m getting the 1.32 WHIP of the 2013 version, either.

I felt confident enough to join the run under the assumption that the drafter at 15 wouldn’t take either of my prime targets for round four. I actually suspected she would join in on the pitcher run giving her a pair of aces and automatically leaving at least one of my targets at pick 4.2. She added Cole Hamels to Darvish giving her an obscene 1-2 combo.

Round 4
She then opened the round with Jose Bautista, a pick I really liked though he wasn’t one of my prime targets. Had I been given a blueprint of how everyone would draft around me, I probably would’ve passed up the chance to get Verlander and just taken my top two round four targets in rounds three and four and then snap up arms in rounds five and six. Alas, no such blueprint was available.

Ian Desmond was my choice this round while Shin-Soo Choo was given heavy consideration. I honestly can’t believe Desmond made it to me at 4.2, especially considering that I had him in my top 15 last time out. He’s had back-to-back 20/20 seasons at far and away the worst position on the diamond. Again, I don’t let positional scarcity dictate my moves, but when you can get a stud AND fill in a remarkably difficult position at the same time, you do it. Choo went two picks later.

Round 5
With Craig Kimbrel long gone (he was in that 10 pitcher run from the third round), the closer pool was still deep and I was ready to dive in. Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Greg Holland are the next three for me with the order really coming down to personal preference. I love watching Chapman pitch so I was hoping he would make it to me. Jansen was taken at 5.10 and I feared it would spur one of the next three guys to follow suit and take Chapman. Holland still would’ve been there, but when it’s that close, you want your guy.

Chapman made it to me and became my closer. Of course there has been some chatter that they might once again try Chapman out as a starter. While I advocated this heavily in the beginning, I think the ship has sailed and he should remain a closer. It wouldn’t be an overwhelming disaster for my team if he was transitioned, but it would hurt.

The severe lack of outfielders on my team through five rounds is very out of character for me. I usually have at least a couple by this point, but I’m happy with my 1B, 3B, SP, SS, and RP quintet.

Round 6
But you’d best believe it’s time to address that outfielder deficiency and get my first one. Domonic Brown joined the team at 6.2. Sure, his 23/4 HR split by half is a bit alarming as it included a goose egg in September, but I think that’s as much of an outlier on the negative side as his May was on the positive side. Split the two and he’s at 6 HR/13 RBI for each. Hey, at least he took eight walks in September. Remember when he had zero in May? No one talked about that.

Round 7
Sometimes my poor vision wreaks havoc on my ability to pick and I miss a name on the big board of stickers at the front of the room mistakenly believing someone is available. In this instance I believed I wasn’t seeing Matt Carpenter anywhere on the board. I was still skeptical of his availability so instead of confidently selecting him, it was more of a “Matt… Carpenter?”

Steve Gardner either thought I was an idiot for trying to take his third round pick or that he vastly overdrafted the Cardinals second baseman. Almost certainly the former. This sent me into an inexplicable tizzy and instead of calmly reselecting, I took Brett Lawrie in a panic. Now I don’t say that to distance myself from my belief in Lawrie, but he was definitely an overdraft at 7.14 and I could’ve gotten him later. My backup to Carpenter, Trevor Rosenthal, was taken two picks earlier and apparently I didn’t think far enough to have three guys I really liked in mind.

This is the year, Brett, right? RIGHT?? :chugs Red Bull: :smashes can on eye: :looks at Rosenthal’s B-Ref page:

Round 8
Or why didn’t I just take my eighth-round guy and buy myself some time to regroup from the Carpenter mess? Probably because I’m a dummy. Alas, I quickly got the positive thought train back on track by taking Jayson Werth. He was easily my best call on offense for 2013 so I’m rewarding him by going back to the well for 2014. You’re welcome, Jayson.

My heart was broken four picks later, as Gerrit Cole, someone I was hoping to get in the early double-digit rounds, was snatched from my grasp.

Round 9
Werth definitely re-centered my chi (I did NOT just say that?!). He started a trio of picks that I absolutely loved at the time and love even more now upon further review. I started getting excited about my ninth round pick around the middle of the eighth which can be fun, but also agonizing because you are desperately hoping that you don’t get snaked. This is a sharp room, too, so snaking is commonplace among these… snakes. (I’m a wordsmith).

  • Yes, take Tony Cingrani, I don’t care.
  • Have Jose Abreu, he doesn’t even have an official sticker!
  • Daniel Murphy was surprisingly capable in 2013; great pick but only because he wasn’t my guy.
  • I loved Norichika Aoki last year, but I simply cannot be bothered with him this year. He’s yours!!
  • Dexter Fowler? Long-time fan, but honestly that just means I’ve allowed him to repeatedly disappoint me on my teams. Thanks for not taking my guy!

With the 14th pick of the ninth round, I took Billy Hamilton!!! I was absolutely giddy that someone I mentally circled 20-some picks ago wasn’t ripped away from me. He stole 13 bases in 13 games as predominantly a pinch-runner; what’s he going to do in a more thorough allotment of playing time? I don’t need him to play all season to be a huge value here. Hell, he can do immense damage in 100 games, but I honestly think we will see him before Memorial Day.

Round 10
This is the final round I’m going to get into today as this is getting lengthy. But I also want to hear from you on whether or not you actually care about the other 13 rounds. Do you like reading these types of draft pieces?

My super-trio was completed by a third straight outfielder and my third in four picks. Considering that I went against type and didn’t get an outfielder until the sixth round, I am rather happy with the first three of my starting five at the position. This pick not only perfectly counterbalances the previous pick, but it has the added bonus of being one of my absolute favorite players.

He fully supported the pick.

I got Curtis Granderson with my 10th pick. This was a great discount coming off of the injury-riddled 2013, but I’m not bothered by the throwaway season as the injuries were beyond his control as opposed to something that will linger and continue to bother him. He kept getting Shin-Soo Choo’d (hit by pitches) and breaking stuff! First a fractured right arm in spring training and then a fractured left pinkie almost immediately after he returned from the forearm. Here’s hoping jerkstores stop hitting Granderson on his new team in 2014 or he’s able to get out of the way at the very least.

My Team So Far:

  • Catcher – none*
  • 1B-3B-CI – Votto, Longoria, Lawrie
  • 2B-SS-MI – Desmond
  • OFx5 – Brown, Werth, Hamilton, Granderson
  • Px9 – Verlander, Chapman

*Catchers were going like mad in this draft. There were 10 off the board by the end of round 10 and little did I know that it was just the beginning.

If you’re interested in knowing where some key guys went, feel free to ask in the comments.

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Paul's other articles. You can contact Paul by clicking here

Related Content:  Draft,  Fantasy,  Billy Hamilton,  Mock Draft,  Paul Goldschmidt

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