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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:
BA, R, HR, RBI, SB
W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV

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.

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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?