The most important fantasy baseball draft of my life began during the early morning hours of Monday, February 18.
And I slept right through it.
Never fear, gentle reader, for I had set my queue up to auto-draft the third pick of the inaugural Tout Wars Draft and Hold league—devised by the late Lawr Michaels and implemented by the current Tout Wars leadership as an addition to the existing slate of Tout competitions. Modeled on the NFBC Draft Champions format, this league features 15 participants from across the fantasy industry, each of whom drafts 50 players, and then uses those players—and only those players—as their entire roster pool for the entire season. No trades. No waiver pickups. No IL slots. From your 50 players selected, all you can do is set the best weekly lineup possible for the 23 starting positions. This league otherwise follows the rules of the Tout Wars roto leagues—5×5 categories with OBP instead of batting average—with more details available here.
This was a slow draft, which began at 5 am, PST (oh, that East Coast bias!) on February 18, and finished up on the afternoon of Monday, March 11. The thing about a slow draft: you have to weave it into the fabric of your everyday life, and it isn’t always convenient. Your pick can come up when you’re in the middle of dinner, in a work meeting, in the shower, dropping your kid off at school, or (in my case) on a family vacation. The timing of the draft, beginning on the first morning of a mid-winter escape from the snowy inland Northwest to the sunny Southern California coast, was not optimal, but I did what draft prep I could while packing, planning, and finishing up some day-job tasks, and I hoped that a scenic view of the Pacific could inspire some winning selections.
Below are some observations about the draft as it unfolded, followed by my presentation of my team before your discerning, critical gaze.
•So, what was my overall strategy for such a difficult and deep draft? Four principles guided my decisions.
1. It’s an OBP league—the first I’ve played in, actually—so I made sure to prioritize hitters who had added value in this category. In particular, I wanted my first few hitters to be elite OBP performers.
2. I suspected that top-tier starting pitchers would be pushed up, and I hoped one of the top eight or so would fall to me in the second round (one did, barely). I also knew that I wanted two SPs in the first 4-5 rounds.
3. From rounds 5-11 or so, I planned to take almost exclusively hitters, evaluating each round in terms of available value and category need, mixing in one stable closer into this phase of the draft (and, of course, the word “stable” is entirely relative in this closer climate).
4. Among my reserve picks (rounds 24-50), I planned to stockpile as much starting pitching as feasible, giving me enough options to weather injuries and poor performances, and to play weekly matchups. I also wanted a diverse portfolio of relievers to help with ratios and (fingers crossed!) luck into a few saves. I planned for 22-24 of my 50 roster spots to be devoted to pitching (I ended up with 23).
•There were no real shockers in the first round, with the top three starters being drafted at #7, #13 and #14, respectively. James Anderson got an OBP bargain, nabbing Aaron Judge with the last pick of the round, while Michael Stein’s choice of Alex Bregman at #9 was perhaps the most eyebrow-raising—but even that was well within his #12 ADP error bar.
Picking out of the three-spot, I had a mini-dark night of the soul after Rotowire’s Clay Link shoved this tweet out into the universe a few days before the draft. I was all set to take Jose Ramirez with the third pick, but would I be a dupe in doing so? Was there a collapse already underway? Should I go for a safer option in J.D. Martinez or Max Scherzer? I decided to go ahead with JoRam, for the following reasons:
1. He’s been a top-5 hitter for the past two seasons, and he’s 26. Even if the small end-of-season sample represents a legitimate problem with breaking pitches, let’s assume that he’s capable of making adjustments.
2. This is an OBP league, and even during his August/September slide (when he hit .210), Ramirez still managed to get on base at a .343 clip.
3. In a depleted Cleveland lineup, the runs/RBI totals may not be as gaudy, but there’s no reason for him not to run just as frequently as last year (when he attempted 40 steals).
Given that roster construction is so much easier when you can begin with a five-category producer, I held my breath, set my auto-draft the night before, and woke up to the Cleveland third baseman already in the fold.
•As I expected, rounds 2-3 saw quite a starting pitching run:
From Jeff Mans’ surprisingly aggressive grab of Clayton Kershaw at pick #25 to Brad Johnson’s selection of Patrick Corbin at pick #38, there were a total of ten starters in a span of 16 picks. Jeff Boggis and Ryan Hallam, in the #10 and #12 spots, respectively, were the only teams who opted out of a starting pitcher in the first three rounds, while Michael Florio, Matt Modica and Vlad Sedler all grabbed aces with two of their first three picks. I followed up my pick of Blake Snell with a fourth-round Jameson Taillon (whom I will, despite temptation, try very hard not to refer to as This Year’s Aaron Nola) in my quest to get two possible aces on my staff.
•Given my interest in finding OBP-rich hitters, it was interesting to see who prioritized and who faded this category. My early picks Ramirez and Juan Soto, along with my later selections of Buster Posey and Jesse Winker, gave me a nice base in the category. James Anderson really set the bar in OBP, however, with his first three offensive picks: Judge, Joey Votto and Anthony Rendon.
•Along with the early run on aces, there was similar frenzy in rounds 7-8 on closers. After Edwin Diaz was taken at pick #55, all was quiet on the closer front until Vlad Sedler grabbed Roberto Osuna at #97. Then all hell broke loose, with 11 of the next 14 selections being closers. While I missed this initial run, I followed up in the 9th with Wade Davis, one of the last closers with little competition for his role. In retrospect, I wish I would have waited a round for Ken Giles (who I might take ahead of Davis straight up were I to do this over again). Alan Harrison used his near-wheel position wisely at the 8/9 turn, nabbing likely ninth-inning Brewer Corey Knebel, then coming around three picks later and pairing him with teammate Josh Hader. I had Hader teed up in my queue, but I sensed Alan’s plan once I saw Knebel go off the board.
Regarding second closers, this league reached a near consensus that it wasn’t worth the cost to roster two sure-fire options (given the unprecedented volatility at the position). Anthony Aniano did the closest thing to locking down two clear closers by taking Blake Treinen in the seventh round and Cody Allen in the 12th. The aforementioned Alan Harrison also followed his Knebel/Hader double with Ken Giles in the tenth round, effectively locking down two teams’ closing situations. And finally, Vlad Sedler drafted Roberto Osuna in the seventh and Shane Greene in the 16th round—though Greene’s skills suggest a very loose grip on the Detroit job. All the other teams, mine included, dipped into the less certain waters of timeshares and unresolved bullpen roles.
•The long slog of the reserve rounds saw a lengthening of the time between picks and a deepening sense of ennui, as the end of major league benches and the unlikeliest of prospects found their way onto rosters. But it’s likely that the league was won, or lost, during these final 27 turns around the draft board. With respect to pitching, some managers prioritized a deep bench while others felt comfortable going comparatively shallow. The number of pitchers ranged from 17 to 25, and it will be intriguing to see whether the league is won with pitching or hitting depth.
And now, my roster, broken down by position. Keep in mind that Tout Wars only requires 15 games at a position to gain eligibility for the following season.
Buster Posey (round 10, pick 148)
Tucker Barnhart (23.333)
Josh Phegley (41.603)
Max Stassi (42.628)
Posey was a target of mine, as his OBP projects to be among the league leaders at the position. With a return to health after his offseason hip surgery and the likelihood that he plays at least once a week at first base, he becomes a premium option at a sparse position. Barnhart is one of the few second-catcher types who both has a steady job and is not a huge on-base liability, so his choice in the 23rd round was an easy one. What can I say about my reserve catchers? If I end up using either one for a significant period of time, things have probably gone horribly wrong.
Eric Thames (1B/OF) (29.423)
Dan Vogelbach (40.598)
With a meager two names, both being part-time players as it now stands, you might think I punted first base. In fact, I’ll likely have Ryan Braun, Travis Shaw or Jake Lamb (who should earn eligibility early in the season) slotted into this slot. But Thames is a good hedge against a Braun injury, and Vogelbach has recently been promised a chance for significant playing time by Jerry Dipoto, so the minor-league masher stands a chance of returning a significant profit on a back-end pick.
Travis Shaw (1B/2B/3B) (7.93)
Kolten Wong (28.418)
Cory Spangenberg (2B/3B) (45.663)
Shaw is my de facto “second baseman”, though Jose Ramirez also has eligibility at the keystone. The Brewer offers a solid on-base floor and 30-homer upside. Wong may be platooned in the busy Cardinal infield, but he should offer another MI option for me on most weeks. And while Spangenberg is currently on the Brewers’ roster bubble, he may end up filling a utility role, and he certainly should come into play if Shaw is sidelined for any period of time.
Jose Ramirez (2B/3B) (1.3)
Jake Lamb (18.268)
Ke’Bryan Hayes (44.658)
Ideally, I won’t need to move Ramirez from his hot-corner slot, but Lamb (along with Shaw and Spangenberg, if need be) gives me another option in the event of catastrophe. Hayes was my only “pure prospect” selection—though he likely won’t see PNC Park until September, his solid spring performance could lead to an earlier call from the Bucs. At any rate, a 44th-round pick helps me swallow the long odds on the promising Hayes.
Amed Rosario (11.153)
Dansby Swanson (21.303)
Freddy Galvis (32.478)
Richie Martin (39.573)
I went ahead with four shortstops, given that none of them have any multi-positional eligibility. I have high hopes for a growth season from Rosario, and he emerges as my secondary stolen-base source after Ramirez. Swanson looks to rebound from a season slowed by injury, and he should have ample opportunity to put a lock on the Atlanta shortstop job. Galvis is an unexciting accumulator but currently seems to be ahead of Lourdes Gurriel in the Blue Jay pecking order. Finally, Rule 5 draftee Richie Martin will have the chance for an everyday role in Baltimore. Regular playing time, with a bit of speed, is a rare find in the 39th round.
Juan Soto (3.33)
Yasiel Puig (5.63)
Jesse Winker (12.178)
Ryan Braun (1B/OF) (13.183)
Manuel Margot (19.273)
Brett Gardner (25.363)
Clint Frazier (30.448)
Alex Gordon (36.538)
Robbie Grossman (37.543)
Jordan Luplow (47.693)
Soto and Puig should be easy weekly plays—Soto’s remarkable on-base skills obviously made him an attractive roster cornerstone for me. Puig and Winker look to hit in a revamped, souped-up Reds order, and Winker, like his teammate Joey Votto, is an OBP savant. Braun’s batted ball metrics suggest that the power hasn’t completely disappeared from his bat, and he may well be a sneaky source of double-digit steals as well. Margot is a bet on prospect pedigree and the hope that his bat can catch up to his defense in a crowded San Diego outfield.
Moving on down…with Gardner and Frazier, I was pleased to lock up the left field slot in the Bronx. While Gardner’s strong spring suggests he’ll hold the job initially, the newly healthy Clint Frazier could work his way into playing time as the season proceeds. Gordon at least has a starting job and the remnants of his power/speed profile are faintly visible. His everyday at-bats could come into play if injuries blow through my starting five. Grossman and Luplow are longshots to be significant contributors, but Grossman has always been a strong on-base presence, and Luplow is young enough to find room to develop in the uninspiring Cleveland outfield.
Nelson Cruz (6.88)
Grabbing Cruz at the end of the 6th round was possibly my favorite pick of the draft. While I skimped on first-base producers, Cruz effectively fills that role for me in the UT spot, with Braun or Shaw or Lamb essentially functioning as my utility player from the first-base spot. If Cruz can hold off the inevitable depredations of time for one more year, he should provide his typical 30-HR, 90-plus RBI stat line in a solid batting order and a decent park for right-handed power.
Blake Snell (2.28)
Jameson Taillon (4.58)
Charlie Morton (8.118)
Hyun-Jin Ryu (14.208)
Jon Gray (15.213)
Matt Boyd (20.298)
Matt Strahm (22.328)
Michael Pineda (24.358)
Jeff Samardzija (26.388)
Tyler Mahle (35.513)
Pablo Lopez (38.568)
Zach Davies (43.633)
Jharel Cotton (49.723)
I went according to plan here, grabbing Snell and Taillon at the top of my rotation. I didn’t plan on drafting Morton in the 8th, but we were on the edge of a tier drop, and despite his advancing age and likely light innings totals, Morton provides ace numbers when he’s on the mound. I plan to mix and match Ryu, Gray, Boyd, Pineda and Samardzija based on weekly schedules, while Strahm could be a find in the 22nd round if he can parlay his strong spring performance into a rotation role in San Diego. The back end of my starters offer upside if a starting role emerges (Mahle, Lopez), targeted win potential along with pedestrian ratios (Davies) and the hopes for a strong midseason return to a rotation sorely in need of quality (Cotton).
Wade Davis (9.123)
Trevor May (16.238)
Andrew Miller (17.243)
Greg Holland (27.393)
Yoshihisa Hirano (31.453)
Ryan Yarbrough (33.483)
Fernando Romero (34.508)
Caleb Ferguson (46.688)
Scott Oberg (48.718)
Kyle Zimmer (50.748)
After Davis, my main rule of thumb was to take relievers who would give me solid ratios and strikeouts and at least a chance at some rogue saves, if not a more permanent ninth-inning role. I still have hopes for May as the closer in Minnesota, but the Closer Experience™ of Blake Parker may still win the day, at least initially (Ariel Cohen wisely drafted both Parker and Taylor Rogers, denying me the full market on Twins saves). Miller, Yarbrough and Romero could settle into multi-inning roles with sneaky (or not-so-sneaky in Yarbrough’s case) win potential. Holland and Hirano are the clear closer alternatives to Archie Bradley in Arizona, and I would be surprised if they didn’t cobble together at least ten saves between them (though rostering them for those saves may prove difficult). Oberg looks to be third in line in Colorado, but Seung Hwan Oh has had a terrible spring and could easily be ousted from his Penultimate Boss role. My final pick is a pure bet on spring hype: the oft-injured, former first-rounder Zimmer has visited the Driveline mecca and he’s currently healthy and pumping 96 mph with good command. Do you see Brad Boxberger or Wily Peralta as insurmountable options in Kansas City? Neither do I.
So that’s a wrap on the longest draft in the history of the world. I’m excited to see how this roster plays out, and to see if I can bring honor and glory to House BP among the Fifteen Fantasy Kingdoms of Tout. Into battle we ride.
Thank you for reading
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