Expert Mock Draft: Mariano in the Middle

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I was fortunate enough to be invited to mock with some of the industry’s brightest on Thursday night, where I was able to test out how picking No. 6 in a 12-team roto league would go. Organized by fightingchancefantasy.com, I locked horns with folks such as Steve Gardner, Tim Heaney, John Halpin and Joel Henard as I repped RotoBaller.

We used standard 5x5 scoring categories, with one catcher, a CI, MI, four outfielders, a UTIL, nine pitchers (five SP, two RP, two P) and two bench slots.

All-in-all, I walked away happy—and FantasyPros said I “won” the mock with a 96 grade (click here for that analysis). So, booyah.

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My Picks From the Six

 

Early-Round Picks - Two Aces And Underrated Power Assets

My first surprise was getting Kris Bryant No. 6 overall, as I’m used to only choosing from Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt (who went fourth and fifth, respectively) from that slot. Six is definitely “the line” for me, as I’m happy with any of those top-six bats over Clayton Kershaw, and I really don’t want to ever select Kersh. Pairing Bryant with my next pick, Joey Votto, meant that I had roughly 220 runs, 70 homers, 200 RBIs and a .305 average in tow. I will always prioritize power over speed, but I’ll seek out batting average over speed early as well.

The third round brought the first “audible”, as Chris Sale was still sitting there at No. 30 despite him being a top-25 talent. I know Fenway Park isn’t a premier pitching spot, but neither was US Cellular Field. The talent around him is greatly improved, and he’ll surely vie for the AL Cy Young again in ’17 with roughly 250 Ks.

Then I timed out and picked Yu Darvish, though I had queued up Nelson Cruz (the connection cut before the queue took, obviously). However, we are not making excuses. Darvish could also strike out 250 guys if health holds, and I’m ending up with lots of shares this season. However, two pitchers in the first four rounds is uncanny, so I knew I’d need to buckle down on hitters. That lasted a few rounds.

Gregory Polanco and Hanley Ramirez were my next two picks, both of whom I’m very excited to own this season. Polanco had a torrid first three months, slashing .299/.377/.515 with 10 homers and nine steals before injuries mounted up and zapped his momentum (.216/.261/.409 the rest of the way). I’m buying hard into healthy Polanco for both power and speed, and Ramirez also finally looked like himself again as 2016 wore on (22 second-half homers). I won’t expect a 40-homer season, but another 30-homer, 100-RBI campaign is doable in the middle of that potent Boston order.

After selecting Zach Britton in Round 7 (Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen had gone a full round earlier), I got perhaps my biggest steal in Justin Upton at 91st overall. Upton is still only 29 years old, and despite his awful start to ’16, he still tied his career-high marks with 31 homers and chipped in nine steals. Even if we’re stomaching some bad stretches, this is roto and not head-to-head so I’m happy to do it.

At this point, I just wanted to fill out my outfield because I saw a deep middle-infield pool that was building up. This ended up yielding Adam Jones, who still delivered a solid stat line despite being hampered by a rib injury early in 2016, and the broken-out Jose Ramirez. I firmly believe in Ramirez’s bat and wheels to sustain a .333 BABIP and deliver a line-drive rate close to 2016’s 22.8% again. There’s room for a bit more power as well.

 

Mid-Round Picks - AL East Bats and Aaron Nola

Feeling satiated with hitting, I decided to roll my dice on the health of Rich Hill. If he can fend off blisters and the like, he’ll be a strong SP2 in the SP3 slot. Even if he can’t, the composite of Hill + waiver-wire arm will still be worth an 11th rounder.

Next came three AL East boppers, with Kendrys Morales, Dustin Pedroia and Troy Tulowitzki. This is why I felt I could wait on the middle infield. Pedroia at No. 150 is criminal, as he’s another average-anchor who will contribute in all five categories with a strong chance at 100 runs. We needed another big bopper though, so I grabbed my favorite mid-round slugger, Kendrys Morales. He’s had a clean bill of health and just bashed 30 homers with Kauffman Stadium as his home, and now gets to slug at Rogers Centre. So does Tulo, though I likely could’ve waited longer on SS. Still, I'll take a fresh Tulo to start the season. Come what may.

With most of my starting lineup filled, I went back to grab a second closer before getting another great value pick on Aaron Nola. Feliz and his velocity are officially back in the mid-to-upper nineties with no competition in Milwaukee’s ‘pen for the ninth, so I’m all aboard. As for Nola, his elbow is all good as he looks to build on a sabermetrically-gorgeous 2016. His 4.78 ERA stood tall over his 3.08 FIP, 3.08 xFIP and 3.29 SIERA, with a strong 23.2% soft-contact rate and 55.2% groundball rate showing promising signs. With a .334 BABIP and meager 60.6% strand rate unlikely to be so horrid again, Nola is a healthy pick for the middle of one’s rotation thanks to his SP3 upside.

 

The Late Rounds - Young Arms Galore

I filled out my rotation with Joe Ross, Tyler Anderson and Zach Davies. All of these young arms rely on command of the zone, with Ross’ upside being scary good in the NL East if he truly can unfurl an effective changeup in the spring. Anderson will need to show he can continue to navigate Coors Field, with Davies trying to hone his own command with Milwaukee’s subpar defense behind him.

In conclusion, picking from the No. 6 slot left me with a lot of time to gauge the temperature of the room in between picks. Even though I was limited to my phone, I felt most confident in building my hitters up in the middle rounds before grabbing several pitchers in the late rounds. While I don’t have much in the way of speed, guys like Rajai Davis went undrafted. I’ll be quite alright, but locking up power and average comes first for that reason. While employing Darvish and Hill as my SP2/3 is risky, I believe my hitting and the format make the juice worth the squeeze.

 

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