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Fantasy baseball draft strategy: What if you pick last?

How does your team look if you’re picking last in every round?

Getty Images/Peter Rogers Illustrations

The NBA’s All Star break means one thing: draft season is upon us! Since drafters get smarter each and every year, and thus drafting becomes more difficult, I think it’s important to try and think outside the box when it comes to draft plans. We only know one thing: our original draft plan WILL NOT OCCUR. Much like battles or boxing, your plan only works until you get hit. Forewarned is forearmed, though, so knowing that our optimal drafts won’t happen means we can plan contingencies, backup plans, desperate ploys and forlorn hopes. Hope for the best but be prepared for the worst, as the President would say that he said.

So, let’s find out how we’d draft given a worst case scenario: picking last in a draft that isn’t snake. We’ll have the final pick in each round (12 team league), and we’ll try to pick from players that are available, via ADP from NFBC, at that pick or within 12 picks of that pick (within one round of picks, in other words). Our first pick will be 12th, second pick 24th, third 36th, etc. Can we build a good team or are we doomed?

We’ll draft a 12-team mock for a 26-player team with one catcher (two-catcher leagues make less and less sense, methinks), one 1B, 2B, 3B, and SS, one middle infielder, one corner infielder, four outfielders, and one utility bat; and, five starting pitchers, three relief pitchers, and six bench spots.

I should tell you going in: I believe there’s a lot of SP value later in the draft, so we won’t be targeting arms early. And, I’m damn sure not going to draft a catcher with a high pick. Catchers are now like kickers in fantasy football: just use your last pick on whoever’s there because it probably doesn’t matter (however, I think we get a really good one!).

Pick 1 (12th overall) - Trevor Story, SS, COL (NFBC ADP 19)

Story is one of the few players who can be grouped in the “20-20” club, those who can, or already have, hit 20+ homers in a season and stolen 20+ bases. There aren’t very many of those: only ten players did it last season, including Story. He went 37 and 27, actually. He was tied for 9th in homers with Manny Machado, and 13th in stolen bases. He’s 26 years old and plays shortstop. I know, I know: there are folks who will say Yeah, but Colorado, and Yeah, but high BABIP, and Yeah, but, etc., etc., etc. To me, Trevor Story is a young shortstop who almost hit 40 home runs and stole 30 bags. There’s every reason in the world to expect a good player to improve as he enters his prime. We’re ecstatic that we get to build around a middle infielder with so much potential. (Granted, there’s risk, too, obviously, but we’re picking last in every round; we’re gonna swing for the fences.)

Pick 2 (24th overall) - Andrew Benintendi, OF1, BOS (NFBC ADP 29)

Beni’s been a 20-20 player before, so we’re drafting him with the expectation that he gets more homers (he’s only 24 years old) and continues to steal bags. He’s a player with a high floor and plenty of counting stat opportunities. I feel like he’s one of the safest elite players in the game, and I’d be somewhat surprised if he didn’t hit more homers than last season.

Pick 3 (36th overall) - Khris Davis, OF2, OAK (NFBC ADP 44)

Here’s our power. Khris Davis LED THE MAJORS IN HOME RUNS LAST YEAR. Third round pick? Sure. He hit 48 bombs last year, he hit .247 for the fourth year in a row, and guess what: he had the lowest BABIP of his career! He could be due for some positive regression, yall! I also think the lineup will be better this year, meaning his counting stats could/should improve. I think he’s a steal at pick 36 (especially since he’s being drafted 44th overall in NFBC). Honestly, if Khris Davis had hit 48 bombs for the Yankees or the BoSox, don’t you think he’d be a 1st or 2nd round pick?

Pick 4 (48th overall) - Xander Bogaerts, SS2 (MI), BOS (NFBC 48)

X-Man is a guy who can/should be a 20 HR, 15 SB player, and one with good counting stats, just like his teammate, Andrew Benintendi. 100 Runs and 100 RBI aren’t out of the question (only 8 players did that last season). I know we already have our shortstop in Trevor Story, but MI is a position, too, and we’re going to have to swing big and take best available for this entire draft, in the hopes that we can find solid guys with later picks. Besides, X-Man is 26, about to entire his prime, and so why can’t he improve? If he hit two more homers than his career best and stole two more bases than his career best, then he’d have a 25-17 season. That’s basically what Acuna did last year.

Pick 5 (60th overall) - Joseph Votto, 1B, CIN (NFBC 71)

Joey Goddamn Votto is still a stud. He had the third highest OBP last year (behind only Mike Goddamn Trout and Mookie Goddamn Betts), but he had the lowest BABIP of the top 13 in OBP. He also hit the ball harder than he has in his career, so Goddamn Votto was damn unlucky (he also got injured in the second half of the season). Votto’s team is better this year, so his counting stats should improve, and his homers probably will, too. He was going in the second round a year ago. This is a bargain, especially with how tough 1B looks this year. Votto hit 36 HRs in 2017. C’mon and get real.

Pick 6 (72nd overall) - Corey Seager, SS3 (UTIL), LAD (NFBC 80)

In 2016, Seager hit .308 with 26 home runs. In 2017, he hit .295 with 22 home runs. He’s 24 years old. We’ll take the over, thank you very much. Yes, yes, we now have three SSs. Think of it as we now have our starting SS, our starting MI, and our starting UTIL, and each of them could hit 20+ HR this year. That’s a good thing. Having three elite options at SS now also means that we could use one or two of them in a trade to upgrade elsewhere. Remember, best available! Your fantasy team won’t be perfect after the draft, you’ll have to make changes, so just get the most valuable assets you can, while you can.

Pick 7 (84th overall) - Yasiel Puig, OF3, CIN (NFBC 94)

Puig went 23-15 last year, but in only 400 ABs. He should receive at least 100 more ABs with his new team, the Cinci Reds. Puig’s new batter-friendly park, and his new-found volume, could propel him to 30-20 status. Did we just draft another Trevor Story?

Pick 8 (96th overall) - Mallex Smith, OF4, SEA (NFBC 98)

Mallex is a speedster, he’s 25 years old, he hits for average, and he’s improved each season of his career. He also hit 10 triples last year (second most in the majors), and he’s in a larger ballpark now (Seattle), so maybe his legs will become even more valuable to him. Any power is gravy with Mallex, but it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing in the world to see a young man become stronger as he ages into his prime. Besides, only three dudes stole 40+ bags last year and Mallex was one of them. We’re doing pretty damn well for speed on this team, so far. He’s our last OFer, so we have to concentrate on 2B, 3B, and our rotation.

Pick 9 (108th overall) - Matt Chapman, 3B, OAK (NFBC 109)

Chapman’s one of those guys that every fantasy column says, “He was better than you thought last year, really quiet season, but got better in every facet of the game!” He’s one of, if not the, best defenders in the game, he hits the ball hella hard, and his team’s offense is getting better, so his counting stats will climb. He’s also 25, so more power could be on the way.

Pick 10 (120th overall) - Robinson Cano, 2B, NYM (NFBC 128)

Well, we have our starting 2B. We’ll see what Cano’s return to New York looks like, but if he maintains his excellent batting profile, then this could be one of the best picks in our draft. He’s still one of the best contact hitters in the game, the Mets could have a non-atrocious offense this year, and there’s plenty of upside considering this is the 10th round. We have our infield! (Aside from catcher.) We’re only missing a corner infielder, but we can address that after a few SPs in the 11th and 12th rounds.

Pick 11 (132nd overall) - Chris Archer, SP1, PIT (NFBC 132)

Archer still gets strikeouts (top 30 K/9 last year), and he still under-performs his peripherals. So, what else is new? He’s still a valuable fantasy pitcher. Let’s say that he pitches close to 200 innings again, 200+ Ks, but also 4+ ERA again. Even though his xFIP says he should be a half-run better, that line still makes him a good fantasy SP! Ratios are tough to build your team around because of how vulnerable they are to outside factors other than a player’s own skills. But, we know that Archer is a horse and that he gets Ks. He’s a top 40 SP with those traits, and if he improves in Pittsburgh due to the magic of pitching coach Ray Searage, then it’s all gravy. There’s a significant chance that Archer has a top 25 SP season, and we’re drafting him in the 11th round. We’ll take that gamble.

Pick 12 (144th overall) - Yu Darvish, SP2, CHC (NFBC 154)

Here’s another SP who’s returning from (another) down year and injury. But! Just like Archer, Yu’s got tremendous upside. If he’s healthy and can return to form, then he’s a 200 K pitcher with good ratios (2017: 200+ strikeouts, 3.86 ERA). Both Yu and Archer could be top 25 SPs this season, or they could be top 50. Unless they’re injured, though, that’s probably their floor.

Pick 13 (156th overall) - Miggie, always Miggie, 1B2 (CI), DET (NFBC 160)

Real talk: I’m a Tigers fan, and I love Miguel Cabrera. He’s been hurt. But, first base sucks this year, and Miggie was still a great hitter when he was healthy last year. This pick is all about upside and skills. If Miggie’s healthy, he’ll hit well. Both he and Votto, if things go well, should be excellent on base foundations for our team of last place picks.

Pick 14 (168th overall) - Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP3, LAD (NFBC 178)

Did you know that Ryu struck out over a batter per inning last year and had a sub-2.00 ERA? He only pitched in 15 games, but when he returned healthy, he was daaaaamn good. We’ll take the discount, even if his peripherals suggest he’s been a bit lucky.

Pick 15 (180th overall) - Josh James, SP4, HOU (NFBC 190)

This is all about upside. If James is what he looks like, then he’ll never go this late in drafts again. We’re probably reaching, especially since Houston’s rotation is still unofficial, but again: we’ll gamble on the upside. Swing big when picking last, y’know?

Pick 16 (192nd overall) - Kyle Schwarber, OF5 (Bench 1), CHC (NFBC 194)

We’re going to need a fairly strong bench in case one of our reaches doesn’t work out, or so that we can consolidate via trades. Schwarbs remains one of the best power hitters in the game, he’s 25, I’m not afraid of platoons in this day and age, and he could absolutely hit 30+ HRs with a ton of walks. As a legit power threat, we’re lucky to be able to draft him this far along. You could argue that Schwarber should start over Mallex Smith on our (or, any) squad. He’s going a hundred picks later.

Pick 17 (204th overall) - Ryan Braun, OF6 (Bench 2), MIL (NFBC 205)

This is a guy who will probably go 20-10. He was a bit unlucky last year, but still: we’ll take it. He’s a bit of a high-floor guy now, but that’s still important to have on your bench, especially when the inevitable injuries occur during an MLB season. I’m not thrilled with this pick, but again, we’re going for best available.

Pick 18 (216th overall) - Kenta Maeda, SP/RP1, LAD (NFBC 224)

I’m a big believer in SP/RPs because they generally transition from RP to SP because of how good they are. If a team thinks a pitcher is better as an SP than an RP, then that’s a pretty good indicator that we should consider them as being a good pitcher, too. Just like Collin McHugh, Maeda isn’t considered a top of the line SP, but his peripherals suggest he’s solid, AT LEAST. If he sticks in the bullpen, then he’s probably an elite swing man, which is getting more valuable by the season. Technically, he’s our fifth SP, and our first RP, but we’ll see how the rest of the draft goes before we decide where to put him.

Pick 19 (228th overall) - Kyle Seager, 3B2 (CI2, Bench 3), SEA (NFBC 241)

Corey’s older brother had an unlucky season, but he still crushed 20+ bombs. There should be positive regression for him this season, otherwise he’ll be a curious outlier because it’s rare for such a consistently solid hitter to fall off so precipitously. Bet on the upside here (and the counting stats, since he’ll play every day), plus it’s nice to have siblings on your fantasy team.

Pick 20 (240th overall) - Jimmy Nelson, SP5, MIL (NFBC 248)

Whoa! Nelson was one of the best pitchers in the majors just two seasons ago, and now, after missing a season due to injury, we’re just not drafting him, at all? I LOVE this pick. If people are this down on him, then you can probably draft him in every league you’re in, and enjoy the 50% chance that he returns to form. If he’s still injured, and he’s only 75% of himself, then that’s still a good SP, especially this late in a draft. There’s a chance this guy is a top 15 SP, if all goes well. That’s tremendous value in the 20th round. In 2017, Nelson was the 8th best SP by Fangraphs WAR. C’mon.

Pick 21 (252nd overall) - Collin McHugh, SP/RP2, HOU (NFBC 254)

Just like Maeda, McHugh provides us with some positional flexibility and good peripheral stats. If McHugh sticks in Houston’s rotation, he should return to being a high-end #3 starter, and if he goes back to the ‘pen, then he’ll be an elite swing man. I’m liking our staff so far!

Pick 22 (264th overall) - Marco Gonzalez, SP6 (Bench 4), SEA (NFBC 275)

Marco ran out of gas last season, but he still ended the season with the 26th best FIP out of all pitchers (including RPs) who pitched at least 100 innings last year. He doesn’t strike a ton of people out, but that’s not a prerequisite for useful fantasy SPs. This is an absolute steal this late in the draft. By ERA, Marco had three bad months and three good months, switching on and off, but by his peripherals, he was good all season except in August (maybe the season caught up to him, he threw a career high 160 IP). I’ll bet on the young, unlucky pitcher who gets to pitch in Seattle, thank you very much.

Pick 23 (276th overall) - Dellin Betances, RP1, NYY (NFBC 290)

Our first true reliever! You’ve probably heard and read everything there is to know about the Yankees’ Bullpen of Doom, so I’ll just remind you that Betances is the ONLY RP to get 100 Ks five years in a row. He won’t get you many Saves, but our team is punting Saves in favor of ratios and Ks, so that’s perfect. Remember, Saves are just one category. By focusing on other stat cats, and ignoring Saves entirely, we can concern ourselves only with good RPs, not just those fortunate enough to have been named “Closers” (like Shane Greene on the Tigers, sigh).

Pick 24 (288th overall) - Dereck Rodriguez, SP7 (Bench 5), SF (NFBC 299)

I don’t care what the haters say, I watched DRod pitch last year, and I’m convinced he knows what he’s doing. His dad, Hall of Famer Pudge Rodriguez, is one of the best catchers who’s ever lived. You don’t think he taught his son some tricks? Dereck’s delivery is deceptive, which is probably why he overachieved last year, compared to his peripherals. But! A smart, deceptive SP is still hella valuable and can do very well, especially in a pitcher’s park. He was a top 40 SP in my league last year, and I think he can do it again. If he craters, then all I wasted was a late draft pick and a bench spot. If he’s good again, then I just drafted someone who returned the value of Tanaka and Porcello last season.

Pick 25 (300th overall) - Touki Toussaint, SP8 (Bench 6), ATL (NFBC 307)

Have you seen Toussaint’s curveball???? If you haven’t, then just internet it. People are going nuts about it. He’s a young SP with a high pedigree and one of the nastiest pitches in the game. This is our second-to-last pick. Why not, right? If he’s awesome, then we just scored an elite arm with the 300th pick.

Pick 26 (312th overall) - Omar Narvaez, C, SEA (NFBC 309)

Okay, so I cheated a little bit, and took Narvaez even though technically he’d been taken already. Catcher is, as always, no fun this year. In my humble opinion, that means you should take the safe route and play a guy who won’t hurt your ratios, and should play a lot. That’s Omar, the new starting catcher for the Mariners, and a guy who hit over .300 in the final four months of last season. He won’t hurt you, which means he’s fantasy gold at the C. We’ll take it with our final pick.

Here’s our roster. Remember, we waited on pitching, we punted catchers, and drafted best available rather than for need (thus, three starting SSs). I like the 20-20 potential, I like the on-base profiles, and I like the SP upside. For picking last in every round, I think this is a pretty good team, and a reminder not to panic when drafting. Even a worst case scenario can leave you in a pretty good spot.

What do you think?

  • C - Omar Narvaez (26th pick, NFBC ADP 309)
  • 1B - Joey Goddamn Votto (5th pick, NFBC ADP 71)
  • 2B - Robinson Cano (10th pick, NFBC ADP 128)
  • SS - Trevor Story (1st pick, NFBC ADP 19)
  • 3B - Matt Chapman (9th pick, NFBC ADP 109)
  • MI - Xander Bogaerts (4th pick, NFBC ADP 48)
  • CI - Miguel Cabrera (13th pick, NFBC ADP 160)
  • OF1 - Andrew Benintendi (2nd pick, NFBC ADP 29)
  • OF2 - Khris Davis (3rd pick, NFBC ADP 44)
  • OF3 - Yasiel Puig (7th pick, NFBC ADP 94)
  • OF4 - Mallex Smith (8th pick, NFBC ADP 98)
  • UTIL - Corey Seager (6th pick, NFBC ADP 80)
  • SP1 - Chris Archer (11th pick, NFBC ADP 132)
  • SP2 - Yu Darvish (12th pick, NFBC ADP 154)
  • SP3 - Hyun-Jin Ryu (14th pick, NFBC ADP 178)
  • SP4 - Josh James (15th pick, NFBC ADP 190)
  • SP5 - Jimmy Nelson (20th pick, NFBC ADP 248)
  • RP1 - Kenta Maeda (18th pick, NFBC ADP 224)
  • RP2 - Collin McHugh (21st pick, NFBC ADP 254)
  • RP3 - Dellin Betances (23rd pick, NFBC ADP 290)
  • Bench 1 - Kyle Schwarber, OF5 (16th pick, NFBC ADP 194)
  • Bench 2 - Ryan Braun, OF6 (17th pick, NFBC ADP 205)
  • Bench 3 - Kyle Seager, 3B2 (19th pick, NFBC ADP 241)
  • Bench 4 - Marco Gonzalez, SP6 (22nd pick, NFBC ADP 275)
  • Bench 5 - Dereck Rodriguez, SP7 (24th pick, NFBC ADP 299)
  • Bench 6 - Touki Toussaint, SP8 (25th pick, NFBC ADP 307)