Welcome to the fifth annual* Baseball Prospectus Fantasy Experts Mock Prospect Draft! You know the drill by now; we gather 15 dynasty experts from around the various corners of the interwebs. We give them 10 roster spots each. We hold a snake draft. You read our reactions. It’s that simple.
First, a reiteration of the ground rules. The “league” is a standard 15-team 5×5 rotisserie where you keep all players indefinitely with no contracts/salaries involved. The first rule is that any player you select must currently still have their prospect status intact. The second rule is that there are no other rules. You don’t have to fill any position requirements, it’s just about building the type of farm system you would want to start from scratch with.
You can check out our 2017 edition of this draft here, and stay tuned for more installments throughout the next week or so. Enjoy!
*This is the sixth annual installment of this draft overall. Shout out to FakeTeams
1. Bret Sayre, Baseball Prospectus — Ronald Acuna, OF, Braves
This space is where we’re supposed to go through our thought process and rationale for taking whatever player we end up deciding on. For better or worse, I put zero thought into this one. There hasn’t been a better fantasy prospect than Acuña since Mike Trout and Bryce Harper graced this side of the ledger six years ago. He’s a true five-category potential superstar and he turned 20 approximately four months after he finished going full Drogon on three levels of the minors, including Triple-A. He’ll be up by May barring injury and he’ll slug and run his way into fantasy owners’ hearts everywhere.
2. J.P. Breen, MKETailgate — Victor Robles, OF, Nationals
Some may want to make an argument for Shohei Ohtani, but there’s a sizable gap between Robles and Ohtani in terms of long-term value. Robles is a potential all-category fantasy monster who should enjoy a sizable cup of coffee with the big-league squad in 2018. If he reaches the upper boundaries of his power projection, there ain’t anyone you’d rather have on draft day — unless you’re one who believes Mike Trout will continue to steal 25-30 bags per year for the next half-decade. If he only hits 10-15 homers per year, on the other hand, Robles probably still ends up being a first-round fantasy pick most seasons.
3. Craig Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus — Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays
In the year of the big, beefy boy — the large adult son — there might not be one more dynamic than Vladito. He annihilated two levels as an 18-year-old without even putting the full extent of his raw power on display. Guerrero hit for average and has a better approach at the plate than either his name or his age would imply. He’s only a four-category performer going forward (despite near-double digit steals in 2017), which caps his fantasy ceiling, but he’s likely to pack tremendous value in those four categories. He’s good enough that he could see the majors by the end of this season if the Jays wanted to be aggressive, but 2019 seems like a safer bet. He’ll be 20.
It’s as crowded at the top this offseason as it has been in recent memory. That said, I think it’s clear that while Jimenez’s ceiling is lofty, he rightfully fell to me at No. 4. He did more damage with his bat than any other hitter in the minors after getting dealt to the White Sox, hitting .348/.405/.635 with 11 home runs, 16 doubles and a 37:17 K:BB in 195 plate appearances across stops at High-A and Double-A. Unlike the game’s other elite outfield prospects, the chiseled 6-foot-4 Jimenez won’t be contributing with his legs, but profiles perfectly as a middle-of-the-order run producer. He has the raw power to string together 35-plus homer campaigns in his peak seasons, but in this era of widespread power, his potential to hit .290 or better might be just as appealing. With just 18 games under his belt at Double-A, Jimenez’s ETA is difficult to peg. He could be ready for the majors in July, but if the White Sox are disciplined enough to hold him down in a non-competitive season, they would gain an extra year of control.
5. Ben Diamond, The Dynasty Guru — Brendan Rodgers, SS, Rockies
Sometimes, being too good has consequences. Rodgers could be the best pure hitter in the minor leagues, possessing an innate ability to make loud contact on a consistent basis, but such complete dominance at the lower levels has allowed B-Rod to overlook the finer parts of his hitting approach. Improving poor plate discipline took a back seat when Rodgers nearly hit .400 in High-A at 20 years old, with the lack of walks coming back to bite the shortstop in his first look at Double-A. Still, I have plenty of faith in his bat shining through; the fantasy comps to Tulo remain, and, y’know, Coors is still Coors. Even if the walks don’t come around, Rodgers’ contact ability and power can carry his profile at a premium position. I think I might be fine with him being too good.
6. Ben Carsley, Baseball Prospectus — Gleyber Torres, INF, Yankees
This is exactly where Torres belongs in a dynasty draft. I would have taken any of the five players who were popped before him without a second though, with the possible exception of Jimenez. At the same time, Torres was an easy choice for me here over any of the guys who’ll follow. He’s going to hit for a good average. He’s going to play a premium fantasy position. He might grow into 25-homer power. He’s going to bat in a great lineup. Worse comes to worse, he’s Starlin Castro 2.0 — still an eminently useful fantasy asset. If he really clicks, he could be a top-5 second baseman or a top-7 third baseman on the back of a great average and solid counting stats across the board. Torres has one of the best upside/floor combos in the minors, and I am happy to (fake) call him mine.
7. Brent Hershey, BaseballHQ — Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Padres
The (understandably) less-heralded “Jr.” here in the Top 10, Tatis is no slouch. With a blowout season in Low-A, he produced the counting-stat impact we look for in fantasy (.281/ 21 HR/ 29 SB)— as an 18-year-old in a full season league against much older competition. His impressive plate patience —a 15% walk rate—covers for some swing-and-miss issues for now, though it will be something to monitor as he climbs the ladder. Currently a shortstop, there are some questions about whether he’ll outgrow the position (and how that also might affect his SB totals), but there’s more than enough bat here for third base. He held his own in a very short stint in Double-A, but if he continues to produce in the high minors, it won’t be long until he’s a middle-of-the-order force in San Diego.
Make sure you understand how your league will handle Ohtani before you make the pick, but I couldn’t let him slide past me. I prefer him on the mound and consider anything I get from him on offense (if that’s allowed in this format) as an added bonus. I’m worried about the elbow and the ankle surgery he had in October, and I’m sure that had a lot to do with his tumble in this draft. Expecting anything over 140 innings for 2018 isn’t a great bet in my opinion, but he should pile up the strikeouts while he’s out there. The long-term upside is considerable, and he could be the best pitcher in the game a few years from now.
9. Wilson Karaman, Baseball Prospectus — Nick Senzel, 3B, Reds
I’m more than a little stoked that Senzel made it to me at nine. He might feel kind of boring, but only because he’s just about the surest sure thing a prospect can be. Don’t let that safety get him mixed up in your mind grapes with the “low ceiling, high floor” types that typically wear the tag, though. If you like what Alex Bregman did last year, you’re going to dig what Senzel does once his name gets read into the big-league transaction log. His swings are simple, fluid, and strong, with matching plus hit and power tools on the end of ‘em. He’ll run, too, with 15-bag potential throughout his 20s. Best of all, he draws the kind of effusive “grinder” and “baseball rat” scoutisms that make it all the easier to bet on him maxing out his tools and turning them into in-game production at the highest level. After he mashed in a half-season at Double A last year, the timeline’s right, too. I like this kid a lot, and he makes for a fine cornerstone on which to build my system.
10. Christopher Crawford, Rotoworld — Francisco Mejia, C, Indians
I strongly considered all of the pitchers you’ll see below this pick (spoiler alert!), but Mejia’s ceiling and floor are just too appealing to me. If he moves to third base his value obviously drops somewhat precipitously, but even at the hot corner he’s valuable. The ball jumps off his bat, I think there’s more power coming (and I’m not alone), and he might give you a handful of stolen bases as well. I think he has a chance to be a really nice fantasy player for a good amount of time. You can do a lot worse.
11. Jeffrey Paternostro, Baseball Prospectus — Bo Bichette, SS, Blue Jays
Well, just my luck, I drew the 12th pick in a year where I really like ten guys and would have settled for Brendan Rodgers. These guys know what they are doing. Bichette is more than a mere consolation prize, though. He gets slightly overlooked thanks to sharing a locker room with Vladito, but his 2017 was just as impressive on the field. Bichette’s more likely to stick further left on the defensive spectrum and is a potential five-category contributor.
12. D.J. Short, Rotoworld — Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros
I was very tempted to take a pitcher here — which almost certainly would have been Michael Kopech — but in the end I opted to go with my favorite position player remaining on the board. Tucker just turned 21 this month and saw a healthy progression on the power front last year with 25 homers between High-A and Double-A. He wasn’t as productive upon the promotion to Double-A, but again, consider the age. Repeating the level should be good for him. The lefty-swinging Tucker showed improvement against southpaws on the whole last year and again proved to be an asset on the speed front. He’s a solid all-around fantasy outfielder, with the chance for some additional growth. I also can’t ignore the context of eventually joining a loaded Astros lineup.
13. Ralph Lifshitz, Razzball — Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox
This is one of those times where I’m going to spend the next several sentences justifying something that goes against every fiber of my being… I took a pitcher with my first pick. While it’s not ideal, it’s tough to pass on a talent I have ranked 8th overall in my Top 100. The other major piece in the Chris Sale bounty, Kopech refined his delivery around the 2017 All-Star break and it resulted in a drastic improvement in his walk rate (1st half: 15.9% 2nd half: 5.5%), batting average against (1st half: .202 2nd half: .178), and WHIP (1st half: 1.39 2nd half: 0.86). Here’s the catch; his strikeout rate actually improved (1st half: 30.3% 2nd half: 32.7%) following the tweaks. Kopech has it all, an elite triple-digit fastball, a nasty slider, an Adonis build, and the confidence of an early career Kenny Powers. If he continues to throw strikes and miss bats he’ll likely make his big league debut this summer. He still needs to refine his offerings somewhat, but the total package is a potential top-of-the-rotation fantasy ace.
14. Tom Trudeau, The Dynasty Guru — Royce Lewis, SS, Twins
I would not, could not take a pitcher. I will not take a Whitley in a house, I will not take a Honeywell with a mouse. I do not like to draft an arm. I do not like them when I’m building my farm. If I’m going to gamble with my pick, I’d prefer to roll the dice on a stick. And so you see, I had no choice, but to draft the precocious kid named Royce! This has been a prospect-heavy offseason for me and I have become increasingly enamored with Lewis. He checks nearly every box for me – mature approach, draft pedigree, age-adjusted production, useable speed and projectable power.
15. Jim Callis, MLB Pipeline (MLB.com) — Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros
I don’t really want to spend my early picks on pitchers, but picking last in the first round stinks because all of the truly elite hitters are gone (including the first 10 players on our new MLB Pipeline Top 100). Last year I got Cody Bellinger at No. 10, but no such luck this year. Whitley raced to Double-A in his first full pro season while averaging 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings, a reflection of his ability to miss bats with four different pitches.
16. Jim Callis, MLB Pipeline (MLB.com) — MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Padres
There are a couple of bats that intrigue me, but I absolutely adore Gore as a prospect. Like Whitley, he can miss bats with a bunch of different pitches and he’s so advanced for a high school pitcher that he’s going to move very, very quickly. I wish some of the bats I loved had fallen to 15-16 but I’ll roll the dice with a pair of potentially elite starting pitchers.
17. Tom Trudeau, The Dynasty Guru — Lewis Brinson, OF, Brewers (now Marlins)
Brinson is MLB ready, with tools for days and a chance to be the increasingly rare steals source with the ability to hit for both average and power. Thanks to Statcast data, we know his expected wOBA, which is based on quality of contact, K’s and walks, was a very respectable .329 in his brief 2017 Major League debut. With 500 at-bats, he could easily flirt with 20/20 in 2018. If he can find another level up in skills (he’ll be 24 in May), we can dream on even more power in the future.
18. Ralph Lifshitz, Razzball — Luis Robert, OF, White Sox
The last of the 8-figure bonus babies, Robert is the heir apparent to the hyped Cuban prospects of the past. The biggest unknown to be selected thus far, Robert should make his stateside debut this spring, as many have pegged the 20-year-old Cuban for a full-season assignment out of camp. His professional debut in the 2017 Dominican Summer League produced a slashline of .310/.491/.536, with 3 homers, and 12/15 on stolen base attempts. He was able to accomplish all of that despite dealing with some nagging injuries. His compact yet powerful swing generates plus bat speed, and his baserunning, power, and pitch recognition skills have all garnered plus grades. Robert is a true five-category star in the making. Two picks in and I’m batting 1.000 on well-built White Sox prospects. If I don’t end up with the best group of prospects when this is all said and done, at least I’ll make a killing off of shirtless poster sales. Actually, do they still sell those air fresheners with hunky guys on them? If so, I’d like to order 10,000. Thanks.
19. D.J. Short, Rotoworld — Walker Buehler, RHP, Dodgers
It’s pretty bogus that I can’t take both Buehler and Brent Honeywell here. Making me choose is just not fair. I really like both of them, but if I’m taking a pitcher this early, Buehler fits the mold of the “shoot for the moon” pitcher I usually covet in a format such as this. The 23-year-old rocketed through the Dodgers’ system in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery last year, posting a 3.35 ERA with 125 strikeouts in 88 2/3 innings between Double- and Triple-A. I’m not going to count his first stint in the majors against him here. It sounds like there’s work to be done with the change up, but Buehler hits the upper 90s with his fastball and his curve and slider are already nice weapons. I’m aware of the workload questions, but there’s frontline potential if he stays healthy and he finds himself in a great situation. I look forward to seeing more of him with the big club in 2018.
20. Jeffrey Paternostro, Baseball Prospectus — Alex Reyes, RHP, Cardinals
We still think he’s the best pitching prospect in baseball, although the competition is tighter this year. While I don’t like taking a pitcher this early, Reyes has the ace upside that turned my head in this spot. He’s likely to rack up Ks in whatever role he ends up, and as weird as it is to say about a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery, he’s safer than the rest of the top arms. My plan was to float one of the toolsy, high-upside outfielders to my next pick. There’s seven on my list, they couldn’t all get popped, right? (ominous music plays)
21. Christopher Crawford, Rotoworld — Brent Honeywell, RHP, Rays
Honeywell should have pitched in the majors last year, but, reasons. This is another high-floor prospect to me, because I think Honeywell’s command has a chance to be plus at the next level, and he does such a good job (in general) of mixing up his pitches. Everyone talks about the screwball because come on it’s a screwball, but there are lots of ways he can beat hitters. I might need to target some upside (volatility) with my next pick, but I love having two players who can get it done who are close to the big-league level so far.
22. Wilson Karaman, Baseball Prospectus — Willie Calhoun, “2B”/OF, Rangers
I took Calhoun here because, well, I wanted to write about Calhoun here. I have him, Austin Hays, and Ryan McMahon all clumped together in the high teens as the best mix of guys with some ceiling and imminent-arrival ETAs, and of the three I’ve got the most confidence in this guy. It’s hard to explain just how fun it is to watch Calhoun hit. He has a deceptive amount of strength for a smaller guy, and he pairs outrageous hand-eye with vicious bat speed and leverage to create consistent loud contact, particularly to the pull side. It’s rare to find a young hitter with so much pop who also makes as much contact as Sweet Willie, and while the real-world position will forever be in question, the bet here is that he logs at least enough starts in the outfield every year through his 20s to maintain eligibility while providing outstanding four-category production while he does.
I’m all about athletes like Trammell, so I have to love how he hit so well out of the gate. His .281/.368/.450 line comes with serious power and speed upside as he totaled 47 extra base hits (13 homers) with 41 stolen bags in the Midwest League. Players that hit for this type of power and speed combination are rare. A potential fantasy star here.
24. Brent Hershey, BaseballHQ — Juan Soto, OF, Nationals
All the 18-year-olds in full-season Low-A. Like my first rounder, Tatis, Soto excelled at this level where he was far younger than his competition—though his sample was much smaller due to injuries that kept him mostly out of action after May. But my look and reports from others were stellar: short lefty swing, ball jumping off his bat, multiple hard hits, and very advanced pitch recognition and approach for a teenager. Still a ways to go, but have little doubt he would have been one more of 2017’s fast-risers had injuries not intervened. He won’t contribute speed, but enough of a BA/HR future to stick in a corner and just let him hit. The Nats spent a ton of money on Soto as an international sign several years ago, and think it will come out looking like a wise investment.
25. Ben Carsley, Baseball Prospectus — Estevan Florial, OF, Yankees
Classic me, hoarding all the Yankees prospects. I have a major sadz after getting sniped on Soto, but Florial has plenty of fantasy star potential in his own right. His approach and age mean Florial is unlikely to have a linear ascent to the majors, but his power, speed and hit tool make him one of the few remaining guys with legit OF1 upside. I might have to wait a while to see any impact, but Florial has a 30-homer, 20-steal ceiling. It doesn’t hurt that it looks like the Yankees lineup will be dominant well into the 2030s.
26. Ben Diamond, The Dynasty Guru — Mitch Keller, RHP, Pirates
While you’ll find prospects with a higher ceiling than Mitch Keller, there aren’t many who have his combination of floor and upside. Already excelling in Double-A at 21 years old, the 6’3” righty could join the Pirates’ big league rotation by the end of next season. With his potentially plus-plus fastball and curveball serving as a dominant 1-2 punch, Keller could be fantasy relevant immediately. His upside is capped by the lack of a true third pitch—he’ll need to improve that below-average changeup—but it’s hard to find another weakness in Keller’s profile.
Coming into 2017, Kingery was seen as a good hitter with impact speed. That much hasn’t changed. However, he proceeded to hit 26 home runs in 132 games after hitting just eight home runs in his previous 197 games. Even if we take away the 10 home runs he hit in Reading’s bandbox, he still hit 16 home runs in the remaining 96 games in relatively neutral conditions. If he’s a 15-to-20 home run hitter in the majors and his plus hit tool translates as expected, we would be talking about a top-10 fantasy second baseman. The one lock is that he will be a threat to steal 20-plus bases annually, which pairs nicely with my first-round pick, Eloy Jimenez. One way or another Kingery should be in the majors playing every day at some point in the first half.
28. Craig Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus — Keston Hiura, 2B, Brewers
I actually think there’s a good chance Hiura is a second baseman now that he’s back on the field and throwing. It’s not going to be special defense, but it won’t have to be, because the bat is special. He was the best pure hitter in the draft and could get to average game power when it’s all said and done. He’s not really going to run, so I’m looking at another four-category guy with my second pick, but one who is worth the tradeoff.
29. J.P. Breen, MKETailgate — A.J. Puk, LHP, Athletics
While I don’t adore taking an arm this high in the draft, we’ve hit a bit of a threshold for me on hitters and Puk is the best of the bunch of arms remaining. Some folks will focus on the control issues and the potential for an unattractive WHIP. On the other hand, he has multiple things going for him: (1) a strikeout rate higher than the interest rate on your terrible department-store credit card; (2) an excellent home ballpark; (3) a chance to start producing as early as 2018; and (4) a valuable floor as a high-leverage reliever. If the control takes a step forward, he’s an easy SP2. To put it differently: I like Puk more than Josh Hader, and the latter went in the first round of last year’s BP Expert Prospect Mock Draft.
30. Bret Sayre, Baseball Prospectus — Ryan McMahon, 3B/2B/1B, Rockies
There’s a certain floor fantasy prospects have when they are ready to be placed into a starting role in which half of their games will be played at Coors. There are still a couple of unsigned free agents standing in the way of McMahon being the starting first baseman for the Rockies, but he’s ready for a full-time role regardless. He’s reduced his strikeouts as he’s gone from High-A (27.5%) to Double-A (27.0%) to Triple-A (16.9%). That last one is very important, as if he can keep his major-league strikeout rate to around 20 percent, he can be a .290 hitter with 25-30 homers in Coors. That is tasty at any position.