Fresh off their Super Bowl hangovers, two of Yahoo’s finest — Fred Zinkie and Scott Pianowski — dove into the 2020 fantasy baseball season by participating in the LABR Mixed League draft last week. The LABR (League of Alternative Baseball Reality) draft is one of the industry’s key events in terms of setting player valuations prior to the start of Spring Training. Let’s take a look at each manager’s key reflections from the draft (a full draft board can be found HERE).
Favorite Picks: Josh Hader, Yasiel Puig, Adrian Houser
Although closers are inherently risky, Josh Hader (281 K’s from 2018-19) felt like great value at pick 71. And while Yasiel Puig (pick 140) does not yet have a team, the 29-year-old has averaged 24 homers and 16 steals across the past two seasons and should find a full-time role. Finally, Adrian Houser at pick 281 is the type of high-upside arm (3.72 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 9.5 K/9 rate) that I’m looking for in this pitcher-deprived fantasy landscape.
I have nothing against Xander Bogaerts and his consistent skillset, but I wish I had passed him up for Lucas Giolito at pick 50. Instead, I had to chase starting pitching later in the draft. On a similar vein, I don’t feel great about Miles Mikolas (pick 191) as my No. 3 starter. Taking just three starters in the initial 15 rounds puts a lot of pressure on Justin Verlander to carry my staff.
Surprise Picks: Luis Robert, Alex Verdugo
I did not expect to be the high man on Luis Robert (pick 80), who produced 32 homers and 36 steals in the Minors last season and is going to be on the Opening Day lineup. My most surprising pick by far, however, was Alex Verdugo, who was a complete afterthought in my mind until he was traded to the Red Sox during our draft. Armed with elite contact skills and a respectable power-speed blend, Verdugo should settle into a premium lineup spot.
Fantasy managers should be ready to pay up for pitching, as 22 starters were tabbed during the initial 66 selections. And speed scarcity continues to be a big topic, as the majority of players who combine respectable plate skills with fleet feet flew off the board in the early rounds.
My final takeaway is that the fantasy baseball industry continues to ascend in terms of overall knowledge. There is not a single roster from this draft that sticks out as having been mismanaged.
Favorite Picks: Matthew Boyd, Kris Bryant
When ERAs and WHIPs don’t match up, I like to trust the WHIP. That’s part of my rationale for Matthew Boyd in Round 11; additionally, he’s coming off a 238-strikeout season after learning how to put batters away with his wipeout slider. I’m hopeful Detroit’s woeful supporting cast won’t be a problem all year; Detroit shopped Boyd at the deadline last year and he’ll be in play this summer, gettable for a contender. Anywhere would be better than here. I’m also comfortable taking Kris Bryant in the fourth round, anytime I can, and Niko Goodrun’s versatility can easily make a profit at pick 254.
An unbreakable personal commitment had me drafting off my phone and with partial engagement; there’s a difference between an explanation and an excuse (this is an explanation), but I wasn’t in love with some of my execution. I did like Andrew Benintendi as last year’s bum target, but pulling the autodraft trigger at pick 77 is 2-3 rounds too early (I don’t want to be a slave to ADP, but I don’t want to completely ignore it, either). On the bright side, Benintendi offers a broad base of skills, he was a fantasy standout in 2018, and Fenway Park can be a delicious spot for a left-handed batter. Even without Mookie Betts, the Red Sox still boast a plus offense.
Surprise Pick: Rougned Odor
Until we have any data to work off, we have to assume the new Texas ballpark will be neutral; this is a step down from the Arlington undertow we enjoyed for so many years. But keep in mind Rougned Odor’s career batting average is .240, not last year’s nightmare .205. In four of his six seasons, he’s batted .253 or better, and he’s conked 30 home runs or more three times. The steals could come or go, depending on how the team views his mediocre percentage on the bases. But this can be a dynamic player, and the cost was reasonable (Pick 212).
I’m thin in the bullpen (Brad Hand is my only bona fide closer) unless Adam Ottavino or Blake Treinen pan out as penny stocks. To be fair, if there’s one category I’m fine with semi-punting two months ahead of the real games, it’s saves.
I echo Fred’s comment about the room being proactive with starting pitching; I’d like to tap that position at least once every 3-4 picks for the first half of a deeper mixed draft. You can find support pitching in-season, but the true difference-makers are almost always going to be drafted.