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2019 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide

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Welcome to our second annual fantasy baseball draft guide!

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

Welcome to culmination. What follows is the vast majority of everything baseball-related from us here at Fake Teams over the last two months.

Last year I went position by position, and that seemed easy enough for most to digest. Plus, it jives with how we offered content all year leading up to this point. Editor “Pistol Pete” was kind enough to make some fancy headings for each position, so feel free to skip over any spot that doesn’t interest you. Catchers, in particular, are pretty disgusting.

With no further preamble, I offer you our second annual Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide. Please notice each week’s “stream” underneath each heading. That stream is a link to all of the content from that particular week. So if you’re curious about a specific position, I tried to make it easy for you to run down that rabbit-hole.

In accordance with ADP, there is a clear-cut pairing of J.T. Realmuto and Gary Sanchez at the top. After that, it is a free-for-all. In our own rankings we had a tie for the third spot between Wilson Ramos and Willson Contreras. I tried to break that tie with what I referred to as a Blind Battle. For my part, I’m not spending an early pick on either of the top two. It’s too steep of a price.

My primary target is Yasmani Grandal, who was the No. 8 catcher per NFBC ADP data as of 1/20/2019 (when I first began writing this guide). As of March 9, 2019 Salvador Perez is out for the season and Grandal is now the No. 5 catcher per NFBC ADP. He is ranked ahead of Yadier Molina and Buster Posey. Grandal’s move to Miller Park is a boon, as only Yankee Stadium is more conducive to lefty homers in the MLB (per the most recent data on Fangraphs). Here’s what I said about Grandal in the State of the Position:

Over the last three years (2016-2018) only Salvador Perez (76) has more home runs than Grandal (73) among catchers. Gary Sanchez checks in at third with 71, and Mike Zunino’s anchor of a batting average checks in a distant fourth with only 57. Note: I omitted Evan Gattis’s 69 homers due to the fact that he was a full-time DH in 2018 (only one at-bat as a catcher).

Obviously Salvador Perez is out for the year, meaning no catcher has more homers than Grandal over the last three seasons. And sure, batting average is a risk with Grandal—but it’s also a risk with Sanchez and nearly every other catcher. Get over it and draft the dingers.

In general, you should aim for one of the first seven guys, as Dave discussed at length. Too busy to read? Okay, just draft J.T. Realmuto, Gary Sanchez, Wilson Ramos, Willson Contreras, Yasmani Grandal, Yadier Molina, or Buster Posey. If you miss out on all seven, do a couple of things for me. First, slap yourself in the face repeatedly. Second, wait wait wait on a catcher until the end of your draft. You can consider Danny Jansen and Jorge Alfaro if you need a pathway to at-bats. Just remember that Alfaro is now a Marlin, which means his surrounding lineup and home environs have taken a big dive. So don’t expect the world, but as a second catcher you could do worse.

Francisco Mejia is a guy I think can finish top-12 even in part-time duty. We’ve seen plenty of examples of catchers doing so in limited at-bats over the years (especially if you’re a Braves fan). Welington Castillo is another guy in a favorable park and an improving lineup (hello, Eloy!).

A dirt-cheap option that I like is Tyler Flowers, and it isn’t just my Braves fandom at play. Flowers’ overall slash line suffered in 2018 due to an oblique injury. But in the two seasons prior he was a well-kept secret along with platoon partner Kurt Suzuki. For instance, in 2017 both Suzuki and Flowers were top-12 backstops, checking in at 10th and 12th. Suzuki did so in only 276 AB, while Flowers did so in only 317 AB. No other catchers in the top-12 had fewer at-bats than those two, by the way. What contributes to this in part is Atlanta’s proclivity to allow their catchers to bat in the middle of the order. Flowers has routinely batted fifth for Atlanta, and I could see him consistently being up in that area in 2019—especially against left-handed pitchers. He has generally shown more power against right-handed pitchers during his time in Atlanta, but last year’s obscene .348/.511/.606 slash and 203 wRC+ against lefties has me salivating over what Flowers can do with more health. He can walk, he can hit righties, he can hit lefties, his pitch framing is awesome, and his competition is the 35-year-old Brian McCann, who only managed 216 PA with a .212/.301/.339 slash line last year. I locked Flowers in as my second catcher in TGFBI at pick 333, and I am totally okay with the value I’ll get in return.

Some quick links on Catchers:

Of the two first basemen going in the second round, yours truly wants all the Goldschmidt. As a Braves fan, I love Freddie Freeman. But if I’m buying a Joey Votto rebound, I can’t fathom spending a Round 2 pick on Freeman when I can snag Votto safely in Round 6 or 7. So if I miss out on Goldy, I’m fine to wait 50 picks and take Votto, especially if I need a boost in batting average.

Joe is a big fan of Anthony Rizzo in Round 3, and I’m surprised he didn’t list Rizzo as his target (he chose Peter O’Brien instead). Still, Rizzo has been very consistent over the past four years, sans what reads like an unlucky month to begin 2018. Take the discount and be happy if you’re in need of Rizzo’s services at that juncture of your drafts. I don’t think you’re losing ground if you draft Rizzo in Round 3. For reference, he was a Round 2 pick last year, so the one unlucky month is saving you a round of ADP. Rizzo went 34th overall in the Champions League of TGFBI.

We were split on Matt Carpenter’s prospects in 2018, but this year the only list he made was our “Avoids.” His ADP of 77 does feel a little expectant, especially since the Cardinals just added Paul Goldschmidt. Consider me one of those who feels like Carpenter may showcase more of an all fields skill set this year, focusing more on getting on base (while Goldy drives in the runs). I could see Carp trading some power for a higher batting average. And since that’s the case, I’ll take Jose Abreu a little later in the same vicinity. Abreu might be my favorite bounce-back candidate in 2019. He was hurt for a solid three weeks last season, so his counting stats from are depressed. But everything else under the hood checks out just fine. I took him at pick 63 in TGFBI, which is about 20 picks ahead of his NFBC ADP. However, a reversion to the norm of a .290 batting average and 25-30 homers puts him right back into elite first baseman territory, which means 63 is a relative discount. I’ll have tons of Abreu this year. I’m piloting the veteran bounce-back train, and Abreu is one of the primary passengers.

For my part, I like the top nine in our consensus rankings. After that you’re taking on more fleas than I care to, especially in any format where you’re only starting one first baseman. So try to land one of those gents if you can.

Some of my favorite depth/corner infield plays at first base are Luke Voit, Yuli Gurriel, Carlos Santana, Trey Mancini, and Justin Smoak. Just pick your poison, or whatever skill set your team needs. There are plenty of tolerable CI types to choose from. I’d wait a while to fill first base if I missed out on the top nine guys.

In summation: Goldy, Freeman, Rizzo, Bellinger, Votto, Carpenter, Aguilar, Abreu, and Olson are the preferred names. I love Olson’s power at the bottom of the top tier around pick 100. Only seven MLB hitters made more hard contact than Olson did last year, and I dig that the 24-year-old had an above-average 25.1% chase rate a year ago. He’s guaranteed 30-homer power at a thin position. Sign me up.

Some quick links from First Base Week:

This isn’t an overly powerful position, but it is a speedy one. Only shortstops had more raw steals in 2018. For these reasons, I’m all-in on Jose Altuve at his discount in 2019. At the time of this writing, Altuve’s ADP per NFBC data is pick 14.46. Here’s a bit of what I said on Altuve in the State of the Position:

His 9.6% HR/FB rate was his lowest mark in three years, despite making more hard contact and less soft contact than he did the year prior. There were no major changes in his his batted ball profile, and things even looked slightly more favorable with a 4% boost in line drive rate and one percent less on ground balls. Altuve’s launch angle rose a tick and his average exit velocity went up a tick. His walk rate went up...I’m not really seeing much wrong with this picture...

So yeah, count me in on the Altuve discount.

After Altuve, my favorite values are Daniel Murphy, Travis Shaw, Rougned Odor, Jonathan Villar, Ketel Marte, and Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera’s positional flexibility and new home park in Texas are especially appealing if I happen to be in a bind for any of my MI positions.

Jed Lowrie’s injury opens up an early season starting spot for Jeff McNeil, a contact-maven who was only lacking guaranteed at-bats. I took the plunge on McNeil in League 1 of this year’s TGFBI at pick 298. Join me in playing for right now if you have need of a MI type in a deep league.

Some quick links from Second Base Week:

Shortstop is stacked. Maybe ever so slightly less so given Francisco Lindor’s calf injury, but the industry still values Lindor as a Round 1 pick. He went 13th overall in TGFBI’s Champs League, for reference. That was six picks ahead of the third guy, Alex Bregman. I took Trea Turner third overall, so your boy is all-in on Turner getting the full freedom to run wild in 2019. Manager Dave Martinez stated “if he [Turner] attempts 75 to 80, we’ll be in great shape.”

For reference, Whit Merrifield paced the MLB with 55 attempts in 2018, while Turner ranked second with 52 tries. For giggles, if Turner attempted 80 swipes at his career 83% success rate, that would equal 66 steals. Last year’s leader, Whit Merrifield, stole “only” 45 bases. In 2017, Dee Gordon had 60 and Billy Hamilton had 59—but they hit six home runs between them. Villar stole 62 in 2016, while also popping 19 home runs. He has a chance to be Trea Turner sans the batting average in 2019. He may qualify at shortstop in your league, too. I much prefer Villar’s ADP to Adalberto Mondesi’s, and I view their production similarly.

Here at Fake Teams we are apparently conservative. We are not drinking the proverbial kool-aid when it comes to the volatility of Javier Baez and Adalberto Mondesi. Baez is our SS8, while Mondesi checks in at SS12. Those guys are ranked fourth and seventh per current NFBC data. It should be noted that a large scale format where you’re trying to beat a ton of people (a la TGFBI) is a great place to take a shot on these types who ooze power/speed upside. But I wouldn’t utilize TGFBI ADP if participating in any head-to-head format. If you’re unwilling to take on the risks of those two, you can skip over Baez for Manny Machado or Trevor Story. And you could skip over Mondesi for the safety of Xander Bogaerts.

Jean Segura is one of my favorite picks in 2019. Some may be concerned about Segura’s batting order slot given the recent signing of Bryce Harper and the presence of quality bats in Andrew McCutchen and Cesar Hernandez. However, the Phillies would need to live their worst life to trade for Segura and then not allow him to use his skill set atop that lineup. You can let your best guy (Harper) bat second, your seasoned “professional” hitter McCutchen bat third, and Rhys Hoskins can clean it all up. After that, I don’t really care what you do, Philly. Okay, let Realmuto bat fifth. Cesar Hernandez, who is already battling a hip injury, can bat ninth for all I care. That’s a second leadoff man (with a career .357 OBP) ahead of Bryce Harper. I like it. Either way, I love the Philly lineup and expect Segura to hit for a high average, score plenty of runs, offer double-digit power, and give us 20+ swipes. He is an awesome “floor” play in the middle rounds if you need a shortstop.

Don’t hate me, but I’m not drafting Carlos Correa (49 ADP). I could wait a round later and take Gleyber Torres, who has a similar profile—both guys offer power in quality lineups but are nothing to write home about in the speed department. I’ve been avoiding both for Segura, who generally comes off the board right after Torres.

Jurickson Profar (125) is a nice consolation prize if you miss out on the elites. He offers 1B/SS/3B eligibility. He’s a 20/10 candidate, which is nothing to scoff at. Profar was Punk’s target in our staff post, where Punk had this to say:

You want to talk about an unlucky hitter in 2018, look no further than Jurickson Profar. The former No. 1 prospect had an abysmal BABIP of .269 last season. Despite this, Profar still managed 20 home runs, 10 steals, 77 RBIs, and 82 runs. His batting average should improve in 2019 which will only help the counting stats. He also enters 2019 as the Athletics’ everyday second baseman. This will give him eligibility at every infield position! Profar looks like a great buy in fantasy baseball this season.

Amed Rosario and Jorge Polanco are other promising breakout candidates, with Rosario offering elite speed and Polanco slated to bat leadoff for the Twins—which should give us double-digit homers and steals. Rosario was Mark’s target and Polanco was the target of yours truly. Polanco is above average in chase rate, contact rate, swinging strike rate, and sprint speed. I think he is in for a career year.

The grouping of Willy Adames, Marcus Semien, Andrelton Simmons, and Ketel Marte is a great way to fill your MI slot or grab some bench depth if you’re in need. This is a close-knit grouping per NFBC ADP, with the range rolling from pick 203 to pick 214. So when one of them goes off the board, go ahead and tee up whichever guy you like the next-best so you don’t get left out in the cold. I like Marte the best, for what it’s worth. He’ll add outfield eligibility pretty soon, as he’ll be covering center field for Arizona in 2019.

Some quick links from Shortstop Week:

The hot corner is deeper than first base. Only crazy depth allows an annual 30-homer threat in Mike Moustakas to be the 19th third baseman off the board on average per NFBC. “Moose” is a steal in 2019. I was the highest on him in Part 2 of our rankings, though I admit it’s tough to push him too far up my board. There are a lot of quality third base plays in 2019.

I chatted about Bregman vs. Bryant in the State of the Position:

Bregman (12.05) has a steep ADP, one I can’t get behind. I view him as a sum-of-all-the-parts sort of guy, and I won’t own him much when I can wait two rounds to draft Kris Bryant (35.26). Bryant battled shoulder ailments in 2018, but is currently 100% healed up for 2019. I can’t get behind the idea that he is no longer an upper-echelon talent simply because of shoulder woes from a year ago. The disparity between Bregman and Bryant surprises me.

Bryant says his shoulder feels “perfect,” and I see no reason not to jump all over his ADP of 34 (per NFBC). On FantasyPros, Bryant’s ECR of 28 feels closer to where he should be going. I’d take Bryant comfortably at that juncture, and maybe a little sooner if I’m not aiming for a starting pitcher in the early rounds.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was a key decision to make until his recent oblique injury. Vlad is now out at least three weeks and destined for Triple-A. He’ll be down at least until mid-April, and I’m not buying him ahead of other proven commodities. Third base is such a deep position. Why would you fool around with Vlad this year?

33-year-old Josh Donaldson is a guy some are undecided on. He comes with some risk due to recurring injuries (calves, shoulder) but I think that risk is already baked into his ADP of 104. Talent-wise, he is still an elite commodity. Donaldson’s “second half” last year was a small sample of 60 plate appearances. During said time, Donaldson batted .280/.400/.520 with a .240 ISO, .396 wOBA, and 149 wRC+. He had a scalding 50% hard contact rate, which would have topped the Majors last year. I think NFBC ADP has this right, right around 100 and in the vicinity of Wil Myers (108 ADP), Justin Turner (112), and Matt Chapman (114). Of that grouping, I’m most prone to own Turner or Donaldson, guys I view similarly. I give the edge to the “Bringer of Rain.”

Some quick links from Third Base Week:

Of note on our avoids, though Zack listed “Moose” as an avoid, that was before we knew his landing spot in Milwaukee. I actually think Moose is a solid buy when the middle rounds get murky. Give me all the power, at least I know what I’m getting.

I’d call the outfield a top-heavy position. A cursory glance will excite you, as half the first round picks in most leagues will be outfielders. Yes, Aaron Judge and Bryce Harper are first round picks, in case you were wondering. Mike Trout is still the undisputed top option, not only in the outfield but in all of fantasy baseball. Mookie Betts is a fine consolation prize as the consensus No. 2 overall pick. He is a no-brainer selection if you nab the second pick in your draft. It’s the No. 3 pick that gets all Robert Frost on us, with many different paths diverging.

One way yours truly is diverging is with Andrew Benintendi. I was the only writer to rank Beni ahead of Charlie Blackmon. Though I have them only one spot apart as my No. 9 and No. 10 outfielders, I do think this is a contrarian take. I’m not certain why, as Blackmon’s speed has all but disappeared. He’ll turn 33 years old in July, and his stolen base counts over the last three years leave something to be desired (17, 14, 12). Can we really still call him even a four-category contributor? Last year’s 70 RBIs were nothing special. Meanwhile, the 24-year-old Benintendi chipped in 87 RBIs a year ago, and is ready to lead off for the Boston Red Sox in 2019. Beni has a better chance at pacing the league in runs scored, and has the skill set for a 20/20 season along with a strong batting average. I just prefer to draft the guy whose arrow is trending upward, okay?

After the Top 30 names or so, you have to start taking some chances. Our Top 40 rankings show this well, as Puig (OF27) is one of the last guys without a question mark hovering over his name. A.J. Pollock (OF28) and Wil Myers (OF29) are talented but injury-prone, for instance. In that area, I’m more prone to lean towards the underrated Eddie Rosario, who I ranked 22nd among outfielders. NFBC drafters agree with me more than my Fake Teams compadres, as Rosario checks in as the 23rd man in NFBC outfield ranks.

We were pretty split on Starling Marte, so that bears mentioning. Punk and I had him 13th, while Mark had him 15th. Joe and Zack were really bearish, each ranking him outside of the top-24. For my part, I agree with the pundits who say Marte’s speed factor drives up his ADP. I disagree that the speed shouldn’t drive up his ADP, though. There aren’t many guys who can offer double-digit pop with 20+ steals, while also not dragging your batting average down. Marte is a career .286 hitter who logged a career-high 20 home runs last year. Now 30 years old, the speed may begin to go the way of Charlie Blackmon...but for one more year I’m in on Marte at his ADP, which is only 36th per NFBC data. Sure, you could wait a couple of rounds for Lorenzo Cain, but Cain is 2 12 years older and offers less in the power department. And I’ll sign off on Marte having a higher amount of swipes in 2019, too.

Count me out on David Dahl at his ADP of 70. I could just say “y’all are crazy” and carry on, but I won’t. The Coors tax is nuts, especially when Dahl has some ordinary skills, which I outlined in the State of the Position. Here’s a bit of that:

Dahl still has a relatively small sample size as a big leaguer, so I’m not going to make an injury argument against him. Plate discipline is more sticky, though. Dahl doesn’t do anything impressive in that regard, at least not over his first two years. He is below-average with regard to contact, both overall and in the zone. Only 12 MLB hitters made less overall contact than Dahl last year, and only seven hitters made less contact in the zone. Dahl is also a free swinger, swinging nearly 10% more than the MLB average, AND his chase rate last year was almost 10 percent higher than average. Only six hitters swung more than Dahl did last year. Call me crazy, but making a low amount of contact and coupling that with a high swing rate does not seem sustainable to me.

I’ll take Yasiel Puig over a round later (18 picks according to NFBC) instead. Puig is in a similar sort of situation, a power/speed guy in a quality lineup with a hitter’s haven as his home park. Except that Puig has experience and more of a floor, and just as much (if not more) upside.

Victor Robles, Michael Conforto, Aaron Hicks, and Andrew McCutchen are some of my favorite values. Stephen Piscotty, Harrison Bader, Brandon Nimmo, and Austin Meadows fit the bill a little later, too. The problem is that all those guys will be drafted well before pick 200, which means if your league has five outfield slots you better not ignore the position for too long. After the top-50 or so things really start to get murky.

Which leads me to one of my favorite posts of the year, where I listed five of my favorite late-round outfielders. Go read about these potential breakouts: Jackie Bradley Jr., Max Kepler, Ian Happ, Domingo Santana, and Cedric Mullins.

Some quick links to Outfield Week:

Be advised, the “Avoids” piece is hot take central. @MWAbell did give me some pause regarding J.D. Martinez...but in the end I’m going to play for right now. I’d still take JDM in the middle of Round 1 this year.

At the top we have Mad Max Scherzer, who is a defensible choice at any juncture in the first round after Trout and Betts fly off the board. deGrom and Sale round out the pitching choices within the top-15, but another nine starters generally fly off the board prior to the conclusion of Round 3 (pick 36 or so). A lot of folks are willing to pay up for at least one hurler inside the first three rounds this year. So if you normally like to ignore pitching in the early going, this year looks like your time to shine...

In the State of the Position I discussed some veterans to avoid, including Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner. The pitching depth and playoff aspirations of Los Angeles lead me to believe that Kershaw will not be pushed to return or risked due to injury in 2019. I can’t stomach Kershaw in SP1 territory where he is currently being drafted per NFBC (13th pitcher off the board). That’s around pick 38 or so, which is insane. At BEST you can consider Kershaw in the 50s or 60s, around other guys who have skills and injury concerns (Paxton, Strasburg). But I think he belongs more around pick 75-80, after Jose Berrios comes off the board. He went 85th in League 1 of TGFBI, for reference.

Madison Bumgarner is another cautionary tale. Last year’s 19.8% strikeout rate and below-average 9.2% swinging strike rate are concerning, as last year’s career-worst 41.6% hard contact rate. His cavernous home park environs will prevent him from bottoming out completely, but at best he seems like an innings-eater with solid ratios—and he’s not pitching many innings anymore. If you’re aiming for upside, he’s not your play at his NFBC ADP of 77. Wait a bit and take a stab at Zack Wheeler, or use said pick to nab an elite relief pitcher. I’d rather have Charlie Morton than Bumgarner, and Morton’s ADP is after pick 100 (119 per NFBC). Let other people chase these name brand veterans.

I love the Jack Flaherty-Jameson Taillon-Mike Clevinger-Jose Berrios cluster that ranges anywhere from the 40s up to pick 80-90, depending on your league. I’m comfortable with any of these guys as my elite SP2 or as the lowest I’ll go for the ace of my staff if I want a somewhat reliable anchor. If you’re in a sharp room, these guys will all be gone before pick 75, if not before.

If I miss out on that grouping, I like Zack Wheeler (89), Charlie Morton (119), Cole Hamels (144), Shane Bieber (150), Nick Pivetta (151), Eduardo Rodriguez (153), Andrew Heaney (164), Tyler Glasnow (166), and Nathan Eovaldi (173). Morton and Hamels are your dependable veterans, while the others all offer some form of upside.

Of note in your deeper tilts is the No. 5 spot in the Atlanta rotation. Mike Soroka is the prince (we thought) was promised, but recent shoulder issues now mean he’s out of contention for a rotation spot. Luiz Gohara has also been slowed by a shoulder injury, and was one of the first cuts of spring. With Mike Foltynewicz dealing with an elbow issue, one of Max Fried, Touki Toussaint, or Kyle Wright should get a chance to impress. Stay tuned.

Last up should be a tip of the cap to all the Padres for giving us Matt Strahm and Chris Paddack, who are two of the buzziest players around right now (according to Twitter). Here’s some Strahm love:

Strahm’s ADP of 356 is going to rise quickly. Don’t miss out.

Jesus Luzardo, Brent Honeywell, A.J. Puk, and Forrest Whitley are other guys of note, with Luzardo likely helping our fake team rosters the soonest this year. I touched on all of these guys in our State of the Position.

Some quick links to Starting Pitcher Week:

This week was pretty sparse. Maybe because saves are so sparse. There simply are not many arms you can trust with saves entering 2019. In my opinion, it makes sense to play the waiver wire game. And I love Josh Hader—at least I know what I’m getting! Elite ratios, strikeouts, with some wins and saves chipped in.

Some quick links to Relief Pitcher Week:

  • Top 40 Relievers for 2019
  • Punk’s Targets were excellent, as it begins with Leclerc, who we all seem to love. I hope I’m right on Matt Barnes over Ryan Brasier (I took Barnes in TGFBI) but at this juncture it’s anyone’s guess.
  • Staff Targets and Staff Avoids
  • And that’s all for the Fake Teams Draft Guide! I’m sure I missed something, but even trying to condense each position resulted in over 5,000 words. Yikes. Let me know who you think we missed. Come argue with us in the comments. Nicely.