Fake Teams’ Prospect Mock Draft: My Team, My Strategy

Before you go thinking this is just another mock draft column, read the next sentence — your mouse will practically click “more” by itself.

At a time when every fantasy owner and their sister is prepping for the upcoming season by doing mock draft after mock auction…what if we threw a curveball at that concept by selecting only prospects for a mock dynasty league?

That, friends, is what the fine folks over at Fake Teams came up with, and they so graciously asked FanGraphers Mike Newman, J.D. Sussman and me to participate as part of a panel of a baker’s dozen’s worth of prospect pundits. What comes next are the results.

But that’s not all! To help keeper and dynasty league owners everywhere who get to partake in the always-exhilarating, often-painstaking process of drafting prospects, I’ll present my approach and strategy to this enlightening exercise — which when you think about it, was really just a make-believe draft of non-major leaguers for this made-up fantasy game we all love to play.

Yeah, like you’re not gonna click.

The Plan: Via a snake draft with 13 owners, select a 10-player minor league roster of prospect-eligible players for an imaginary dynasty league starting from scratch, one in which no major leaguers are owned yet and all players are kept indefinitely with no contracts or salaries involved.

The Scoring: Standard 5×5 Rotisserie:

The Participants: (in order of selection)
1: Nick Shlain, Rotowire
2: Derek Carty, DerekCarty.com
3: Bret Sayre, Baseball Prospectus
4: Ray Guilfoyle, Fake Teams
5: John Sickels, Minor League Ball
6: Josh Shepardson, Baseball Prospectus
7: Spencer Schneier, Beyond the Box Score
8: Craig Goldstein, Fake Teams
9: J.D. Sussman, FanGraphs/Bullpen Banter
10: Mike Newman, FanGraphs/RotoScouting.com
11: Ben Carsley, Fire Brand of the AL
12: Jason Catania, FanGraphs
13: Jason Hunt, Fake Teams

The Results: The full rosters were posted last week at Fake Teams, and you can see the round-by-round breakdowns, with write-ups from every owner on each prospect choice, for Rounds 1-3, Rounds 4-6 and Rounds 7-10. Please review the picks to get a look at which players were selected, when and by whom.

My Team:
Pick 1.12: Shelby Miller, Cardinals SP — Write-up here
Pick 2.2: Jose Fernandez, Marlins SP — Write-up here
Pick 3.12: Nolan Arenado, Rockies 3B — Write-up here
Pick 4.2: Gregory Polanco, Pirates OF — Write-up here
Pick 5.12: Kolten Wong, Cardinals 2B — Write-up here
Pick 6.2: Kaleb Cowart, Angels 3B — Write-up here
Pick 7.12: Yordano Ventura, Royals SP — Write-up here
Pick 8.2: Kyle Parker, Rockies OF — Write-up here
Pick 9.12: Max Kepler, Twins OF — Write-up here
Pick 10.2: Marcell Ozuna, Marlins OF — Write-up here

My Strategy: Revealed in such a way as to assist owners in drafting prospects for their dynasty and keeper leagues

It can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. When the time comes to draft prospects for a dynasty league team, there are not only scores of names to know, but also several factors to weigh. A checklist of sorts. The points that follow paint a picture of my own personal criteria, presented to provide insight as to why I took the players I took in this mock draft. This is not, nor should it be, a hard-and-fast code, but rather more of a guideline to help fantasy owners in their prospect-selection process. Something to make this endeavor a little less daunting and a lot more fun.

1) Best Available
This should be both the first and the primary factor. By that, I mean, you should begin with your own list of top prospects to work off of. “Best Available” can also double as a “When in Doubt” or “All Else Being Equal” approach, which essentially means that when you’re not sure whom to choose — or alternately, if other factors already have been weighed similarly — just go with the prospect that you (or some site or analyst you trust) considers to be the best left on the board.
Draft Example: Yordano Ventura, Royals SP. I typically avoid the undersized right-handed pitching prospect because of the concerns over durability or conversion to reliever. But in Ventura’s case, I simply felt that such an electric, live arm had fallen too far to ignore any longer in Round 7, which was the 90th overall pick. Talent isn’t a category in fantasy baseball, but it is a valuable commodity.

2) Position Scarcity
Now we start moving into the more nuanced criteria. Position Scarcity has a few different meanings:
–One: The likelihood of a prospect remaining at his current position. Minor leaguers move around the diamond as they work their way up the ladder, impacted by everything from depth chart obstacles (think: Nick Castellanos) to defensive limitations (think: Eddie Rosario) to body maturation (think: Miguel Sano). The key here is to spot when a prospect, especially one whose value is tied up in his position, might need to move. This problem most often shows up with shortstop prospects, who frequently can “fake it” early in their careers — which, in turn, only drives up their reputation — but if any defensive shortcomings emerge, their fantasy impact is undercut by a position switch.
Draft Example: Javier Baez, Cubs SS (selected by Ben Carsley). I thought long and hard about taking Baez with my second-round pick, but I chose Jose Fernandez because, in addition to Baez’s strikeout rate (21% in the low minors), there’s a risk that he will eventually have to move off shortstop, which would knock his value down a few pegs. His bat looks lethal enough to play anywhere, at least right now, but that’s a concern I chose to avoid.

–Two: The inflated value of real life positions. Spinning off the above, there are a few positions that tend to pump up a player’s ranking on top prospect lists, namely shortstop and catcher, and occasionally second base and closer. Point being, specific positions carry more weight in actual baseball — based almost solely on defense or specialty usage — compared to the fantasy version. Owners need to separate the two. This applies particularly to up-the-middle prospects, who get extra love from scouts and evaluators simply for playing those positions (i.e., Jackie Bradley, Hak-Ju Lee and Jose Iglesias).
Draft Example: Mike Zunino, Mariners C and Travis d’Arnaud, Mets C (selected by John Sickels and J.D. Sussman, respectively). Do I like Zunino and d’Arnaud as prospects? Sure. Do I like them as first-round picks in a dynasty draft? Not so much. There are just so many variables that take away from a catcher’s fantasy value — injury risk, loss of at-bats, focus on defense — that I almost universally avoid catching prospects, unless their bat would play anywhere. Again, I like Zunino and d’Arnaud, but not as a building block for my dynasty squad. Them could be fightin’ words.

–Three: The goal of filling shallow positions. Again, same vein, but we know all too well how fallow certain fantasy positions are. Right now, shortstop is especially so, and in the past, it’s been second base or catcher. Owners who figure they can pick a young player who will eventually give them a leg up on addressing a difficult spot to cover in their starting lineup may be settling. It can be a somewhat useful strategy, but don’t do this at the expense of passing up more talented prospects.
Draft Example: Kolten Wong, Cardinals 2B. At the time, I wasn’t sure of this pick, but I knew that other options I still liked would be on the board just three picks later. Instead of being sold, I sort of settled. In hindsight, I don’t think it was a bad choice — Wong is a quality prospect and could become a Top 10 fantasy second baseman — but it probably wasn’t the best one, either.

3) Performance vs. Projection
This is probably where I differ most from some of my prospect cohorts. On the sliding scale of performance and projection, I tend to lean toward minor leaguers who have proven themselves in the high minors and are within sniffing distance of the majors. Other owners, including a bunch in this draft, often favor prospects who might have higher upsides but are also very raw in aspects of their game and still two or three years (or more) from the bigs. Look, no prospect — even a “can’t-miss” one — is a guaranteed anything, so within reason, I prefer to limit the risk and the range of outcomes (which narrow as prospects advance) while improving the chances of at least getting some return for my investment. A big part of that comes from the fact that it’s easier to “trust” a prospect whose had success at the higher levels of the minors. For me, the “sweet spot” is usually the turn from High-A into Double-A, because that covers both breakout prospects and those who have made the toughest, most telling jump. Double-A is typically where a prospect’s strengths and weaknesses — especially any glaring flaws — are revealed because the competition is noticeably better. Plus, plenty of prospects make the leap from Double-A straight to the majors and have success, so they’re not all that far away.
Draft Example: Nolan Arenado, Rockies 3B. A strong — and possibly divisive — illustration of my approach: I chose the 21-year-old Arenado, coming off what was widely considered a disappointing 2012 at Double-A, over outfielder David Dahl, the Rockies’ newest toy who tore up the Rookie Level Pioneer League (.379/.423/.625) at age 18 after going 10th overall. I may well regret this, but I’m confident Arenado, who already has 2011’s breakout campaign under his belt, makes a ton of hard contact is nearly big league-ready, will help me in 2013 and beyond, whereas Dahl needs to prove he can do that again as he enters what will be his first year of full-season ball.

4) Hitters vs. Pitchers
In fantasy, the pitching pool is very deep, so owners can afford to stock up on hitters early and still find quality SPs later on. This is also true in the minors, as there were a number of intriguing young arms left in my queue at the end of the draft. Now, you may have noticed that I actually drafted pitchers with my first two picks — Shelby Miller and Jose Fernandez — but that was mainly because I felt there was a noticeable dropoff in hitters after eight of the first nine owners picked bats before me in Round 1. At that point, though, the pendulum swung and the final four picks of the round were arms. What you should have realized, too, is that after Round 2, I chose only one more pitcher the rest of the way. While we’re on this topic, it’s worth bringing up that owners should at least give slight consideration to park factors, insofar as a hitter’s or pitcher’s park can bring a bit more value.
Draft Example: Kyle Parker, Rockies OF. The former first-rounder is entering a possible make-or-break season for him, since he’s yet to play at Double-A and is already 23 years old. I could have picked another pitcher in Round 8, but I had just taken Yordano Ventura, and I knew I could wait on arms, so I obtained a high-upside hitter who will (hopefully) get to play at Coors Field.

5) Category Need
This route can get tricky. Obviously, having production in specific categories is the name of the game in fantasy, so a player who excels in one can prove to be even better in fantasy than he is in reality. The drawback, of course, is that too much focus on one — and only one — category might mean the player is not well-rounded enough to pan out. You still want a prospect who has something to fall back on in case his category forte in the minor leagues drops off as he advances or reaches the majors. In other words, don’t get too cute by, say, drafting a closer-of-the-future (ahem, Bruce Rondon), unless your team is well-constructed elsewhere and that particular category (in this case, saves) is a glaring need.
Draft Example: Billy Hamilton, Reds OF (selected by Nick Shlain). Just because he was the first overall pick, don’t confuse Hamilton for the No. 1 overall prospect. Still, props for having the gumption to go all-in on Mr.-155-Steals-in-a-Season’s speed — as long as everything else falls into place so said wheels can be put to use. Obviously for fantasy purposes, there’s so much value in a player who might win a category, like steals, practically by himself. Just imagine if Hamilton could have stuck at shortstop.

6) Proximity and Opportunity
Two parts here:
–One: Proximity comes down to how much you should weigh short-term versus long-term impact, so it depends in part on the construction of your team as a whole. For dynasty or keeper contenders, a prospect on the cusp of the majors can be a nice piece to add, even if the upside isn’t gigantic; whereas, rebuilding squads should focus much more on overall upside as it relates to eventual fantasy impact. Sometimes it’s tempting to pick a prospect who is a near-certainty to contribute in the current season, like, say, Adeiny Hechavarria this year. But then, more often than not, you’re just stuck with, well, Adeiny Hechavarria. In other words, don’t go overboard on impulse buys just because you can use a player right away.
Draft Example: Rob Brantly, Marlins C (selected by Nick Shlain). Hard to find too much fault with the final pick — No. 130 — of the whole draft, as everyone was running out of gas by this point, but Brantly just isn’t that exciting, doesn’t have much upside and won’t be more than a backup or low-end No. 2 fantasy catcher. As an Opening Day starter in the majors, though, he may be the most productive player for the first few weeks of 2013!

–Two: Opportunity is related to proximity in that it also deals with a prospect’s direct path to The Show. It can be intriguing, but occasionally misguided, to choose a minor leaguer who plays a position that puts him in line to fill a hole on the big league depth chart. While it’s a logical approach, trouble can come in any form — injury, transaction, performance — and before you know it, your round peg of a prospect no longer fits into the now-square hole in the lineup.
Draft Example: Kaleb Cowart, Angels 3B. He broke out while reaching High-A in 2012, so there’s more to Cowart than just being a hot cornerman — and the top prospect — for an Angels org that has struggled to fill that spot for years, so even if something were to change between now and Cowart’s expected arrival, I wouldn’t feel like I put all of my eggs in the 3B basket.

7) Organization Reputation
Don’t weigh this aspect too much as front offices experience turnover, plus minor league talent is often reflective of a team’s direction at the major league level (i.e., contending vs. rebuilding), but it’s good to know which clubs excel in certain areas of player development. For instance, the Rays, Giants and Cardinals do pitching really well, while the Reds, Royals and Braves know hot to get hitters to the majors. After all, isn’t that — prospects reaching the major leagues — the point of all this?
Draft Example: Shelby Miller, Cardinals SP. Just reinforcing my top pick.


Thanks again to the gang at Fake Teams for hosting this, as well as everyone involved who made it worthwhile.

For Commenters:
–Any other factors that you utilize when it comes to drafting prospects?
–Which team(s) came out of the mock draft with the best set of prospects?
–And which of my picks did you like or would you like to re-do?

Print This Post

Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11

11 Responses to “Fake Teams’ Prospect Mock Draft: My Team, My Strategy”

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  1. Bob says:

    Pitchers are less likely to work out, it’s been proven a million times it’s just a more volatile position – especially with prospects. I think drafting two pitchers off the bat is an automatic fail, sorry.

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    • rickeycanstillplay says:

      I think you have to look at the context. The guys that were drafted in the same block are way less proven than the two pitchers he selected and therefore have just as great a risk. Not to mention a lengthy wait. He also nabbed some real nice bats with upside and opportunity in 3,4&5 rounds. hardly a fail. Billy Hamilton going 1st is the fail here.

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    • Atari says:

      It is true that pitchers fail more but everyone needs it. Pitching has value too. You could always use the players in a trade, especially right now when their value is highest.

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      • tylersnotes says:

        Every manager’s strategy will be different, of course, but my experience with dynasty leagues is that many owners highly overinflate the value of hyped prospects versus major league talent. I would expect that the return in a trade you could get in 2013 for a Shelby Miller could be quite valuable.

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    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      There are studies out there, I think John Sickels’ was mentioned in the discussion about JD Sussman’s column, that dispute this notion. Teams may be getting better at developing pitching prospects or newer surgical and rehab technigues are increasing the salvage rate for injured pitchers, but I don’t believe it is an established fact that pitching prospects are more likely to fail.

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  2. tylersnotes says:

    Prospects are simultaneously overvalued and volatile in fantasy; it’s awesome to have a bryce harper or dylan bundy in your fantasy farm system, but just as often you’ll have tim beckham or a hyped pitcher with the upside of a no. 5 starter or middle relief.

    Rob Brantly might not be a glamorous pick, but value is value and a catcher who is guaranteed playing time is worth a lot more in fantasy than the 19 year old 2012 first rounder who put up impressive numbers in rookie ball.

    In a draft like this I’d look for 5 players who could contribute this or at latest 2014, and fill the rest with players I’d hope to trade. Even though you can always find pitching in fantasy, I’ve found I can trade a highly touted prospect for a lot more than I can trade the 4th starter I picked up off waivers. In that context, a guy like Arodyz Vizcaino going in the final round could look like a major steal.

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  3. NES says:

    WOW this is exactly what I was looking for since I’m joining a fresh dynasty league!


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  4. bcarsley22 says:

    I would argue that Carsley’s Baez pick was brilliant.

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  5. jdbolick says:

    Not only do pitchers fail more often, but they’re also inherently less valuable than top hitting prospects simply due to the auction cost of available hitters. Additionally, they have more year to year variation and thus the perception of their future value can change significantly even if their potential really hasn’t. I almost never select pitchers in the early rounds of my keeper leagues (Dylan Bundy with the second overall reserve pick last season was an exception), and the ones I take later tend to be those with control if not command (guys who avoid the zone rarely learn to pitch within it later, which is why I don’t like Zach Wheeler). Then during a season I’ll try to trade for high minors pitchers who are “struggling” (Casey Kelly and Shelby Miller).

    For hitters, contact skill is paramount. You can’t drive the ball if you don’t square up on it, and grooved swings will be avoided as hitters progress (why I can’t stand Mike Olt). I make some exceptions there when the power is elite, which is why I drafted Stanton and Miguel Sano, but I love a batter who can control the bat (that’s how I ended up with Taveras in both my NL keepers). Of course it’s nice to have infielders rather than outfielders, but chasing positions often nets inferior talent. I probably wouldn’t put that as high as #2 both because of the potential for later changes and because elite skills are valuable wherever they end up.

    Like anything draft/auction-related, though, the most important thing is always to beat the hype. Everyone sees Bryce Harper coming, but you can get an 18/19 year old Jesus Montero or Julio Teheran at the end of the reserves if you identify them as worth rostering before the prospect sites do (this can also mean drafting college players a year before their draft class if they’re truly elite and your league allows it). Just going by FanGraphs or Baseball America lists means that you’re using the same plan as your competition, whereas digging a little deeper finds gems and gives you the heady feeling of “discovering” a talent, something that helps to dull the frustrating of not winning a league.

    AL Keeper: Dylan Bundy, Mike Zunino, Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Gary Sanchez, Nick Franklin, Hak-Ju Lee, Blake Swihart
    NL Keeper: Oscar Taveras, Javier Baez, Brian Goodwin, Shelby Miller, Tyler Skaggs, Julio Teheran, Casey Kelly, Gerrit Cole, Matt Szczur, Brandon Nimmo

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  6. Ryan says:

    I’m in a keeper league that lets us draft five minor league players a year.

    Here are my criteria:
    1. Best available: pretty obvious

    2. Hype: This is a big factor I think you forgot. The more talked about a prospect will be in the coming year, the more likely other owners will know who he is, and the more likely you will be able to include him as a throw in to cement a midseason trade.

    3. Major league readiness: The closer a guy is to being called up, the more value he has, both for trades (see Hype), and to help you down the stretch when injuries take your veterans.

    4. Starting pitching over hitting: My league rules happen to favor pitching, both in quality and quantity, but everyone should think about putting pitching first. If there’s a chance that a guy can become my fifth or sixth best starter after a midseason call up, I take it. You don’t need more than one or two players at each batting position in most leagues, but you can always use more starting pitching down the stretch.

    Matt Harvey last year is the best example of a prospect that met my criteria. He was a huge help after he was called up, and in the offseason I was able to package him in a deal with Ellsbury to get Cliff Lee and Goldschmidt.

    One more rule: Never draft a pitcher already projected to be a closer or reliever. There’s already too many uncertanties gambling on closers. Why would you add the lack of a major league track record to that?

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    • jdbolick says:

      Regarding hype, drafting to trade is risky, but I have done it before where I’ll take a minor leaguer going from a poor park / league and heading to a strong one. I did that with Mike Olt last year and traded him during the season for pieces that helped me win my league, and have targeted guys like Lars Anderson the same way in the past.

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