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FSTA Draft Analysis: Rounds 1-15

I feel the need...the need...for speed.

Milwaukee Brewers v Miami Marlins
Now a Seattle Mariner, Dee Gordon is one of the premier basethiefs in the MLB.
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Expert drafts are great for seeing how players are valued by the pundits who will continue to drive ADPs up or down as we near draft season. The annual FSTA Draft has already begun and is currently in slow mode, but we can assess the first half of it now and the second half at its conclusion.

On our most recent podcast Ghoji and I discussed dwindling speed numbers and surging power numbers (and the impact that has on draft strategy). For my part, I am focusing on elite speed threats and their perceived value in the expert community. Drafting speed is central to my game plan for 2018, as I view steals as a scarce commodity. Home runs are more plentiful than ever, but players are stealing fewer bases than ever. You have to go all the way back to the 1970s to find a worse three-year stretch of stolen bases than our current three-year stretch. Running is simply a dwindling part of the game, if the last three years are any indication.

Let us begin with the two most distinguished basethiefs in the league...

Dee Gordon (pick 31) and Billy Hamilton (pick 38)

Gordon and Hamilton were drafted aggressively. I was already viewing Gordon as a third-round pick, so that wasn’t a surprise. Hamilton at the beginning of the fourth round (if drafting in a 12-team league) was disconcerting, though. I had hoped he would be a fifth or sixth round pick in most leagues. If experts continue drafting him aggressively he may be better left for formats that utilize batting average instead of on-base percentage. You would have to be a true steals enthusiast to draft Hamilton in Round 4 of a league that uses OBP instead of batting average. I have a slight worry that more pundits will discuss the “need for speed” as we near draft season and further inflate Hamilton’s price. If more people join my side in this, I think we could see a Round 3 price for Hamilton (a la the way Christian McCaffrey’s price continued to rise as NFL draft season neared). Time will tell.

Byron Buxton (pick 62)

Buxton is a speedy, defensively-inclined outfielder. He will probably be drafted more aggressively than 62nd in most leagues (Top 50 or so). Taking a chance on him at pick 62 seems reasonable given his 20/30 upside. Remember, Buxton slashed .300/.347/.546 in the second half of 2017. He added plenty of category juice with 11 home runs and 13 stolen bases, so many are projecting a full breakout in 2017. I think it is noteworthy that he stopped pulling the ball in the second half (54.7% in the first half). In the latter half Buxton used more of an all-field approach, only pulling the ball 38.9% of the time and utilizing center field more. He also made a jump in hard contact (25.3% to 30.2%), hit less ground balls (41.4% to 35.7%), and smoked more line drives (21.7% to 25.0%). His HR/FB rate was an inflated 20.0% in the second half, though. I think you need to consider his large strikeout rate, the inflated HR/FB of the second half, and the unsustainable .378 BABIP from the second half if you draft Buxton aggressively in 2018.

Carlos Martinez, Chris Archer, Dallas Keuchel, Yu Darvish (picks 57 to 60)

I know I am primarily discussing speed, but this “pitcher run” was too epic to ignore. I would be just fine if any of these guys were my second starting pitcher on draft day. Gerrit Cole (pick 68) and Aaron Nola (pick 69) would be fine with me as well, but if I truly embrace elite pitching as a backbone in 2018 guys like Cole and Nola will be SP3s for me. My big goal is to grab two pitchers with the ability to strikeout 200 hitters. If I take one elite pitcher in the early rounds and grab one of C-Mart, Archer, Keuchel, or Darvish...I can still feel pretty solid about my foundation.

The “old” guys, Tommy Pham (pick 82) and Whit Merrifield (pick 93)

You are going to have to pay some tax for what Tommy Pham (7th round if drafting with 12-teams) and Whit Merrifield (8th round) accomplished last season. The question is, do you believe in these two late-bloomers? Pham (age 29) presents a little less risk than Byron Buxton but does not offer as much upside. Merrifield will probably come a little cheaper than this 8th round price in a typical redraft league. The guy is only 28 years old and is being talked about like he is geriatric. If the NFL taught us anything this year, it’s that “old” guys can figure things out if given enough opportunity. See Case Keenum and Josh McCown. It can be done, and Merrifield is young enough for me to take a shot on him in the middle rounds in 2018.

Manuel Margot (pick 127)

Margot is rapidly becoming a Fake Teams favorite if our Slack group is any indication. He managed 13 home runs and 17 steals in only 126 games last season. Over the course of a full year, projecting the 23-year-old for a 20/20 season isn’t crazy. Sure, the team context is spotty, but that just means Manny will have to make something happen on the basepaths. I dig it at his ADP.

Adam Eaton (pick 130)

The Nationals could have an embarrassment of riches in their outfield if Eaton returns to form. Eaton turned 29 this past December, so he isn’t over the proverbial hill. He has consistently hit for average (.284 career mark) and gotten on base (.358 career OBP) as a big leaguer. If he does so again in 2018, he will be a plus in runs, average, and steals...while not being a total zero in the power department (14 home runs in both ‘15 and ‘16). He is a great way to find some “floor” in the latter stages of your fake draft. Take the injury discount when it is presented to you. Shall I work in a Keenan Allen reference? Done.

Michael Taylor (pick 200)

Taylor is our baseball version of Jacquizz Rodgers. Much like Rodgers was the placeholder until Doug Martin returned, Taylor is keeping center field warm until hotshot rookie Victor Robles arrives. Taylor did produce last year when given a chance (19 HR, 17 SB) and is a safe bet for counting statistics in this Washington offense. Ride him until you need to cut him, or keep him if he somehow fends off Robles for an entire season. Either way, you should definitely consider drafting him at his rock-bottom ADP.

That’s all for me. Look for the second half recap as soon as the draft is completed. I will have less of an eye on speed and more of an overall take on things. Happy Wednesday, ladies and gents!