Trout, Betts, Altuve, Rizzo among the top selections
By Paul Sporer
Special to MLB.com |
We haven't even closed the book on 2016, but I'm already in a mock draft for '17.
I would normally say something trite like "it's never too early to start studying for 2017," but of course it can be too early. If I had done something in mid-May about the 2017 season, that definitely would've been too early.
And let's be honest, this current mock draft might also be too early for any sane person.
We're just wrapping up the third round, as it's a slow mock, so we're going to focus on the first round of this 12-team standard 5x5 draft.
12. Carlos Correa
I'm sure Correa's season will be tabbed as a disappointment by many, but I don't really see it that way. No, he didn't pay off on his first-round draft cost, but his .272 average, 69 runs, 19 homers, 90 RBIs and 12 steals are well within the range of outcomes we should've expected based on his electric rookie season. Of course, everyone wants the shining first-rounder like Jose Altuve who greatly exceeds their pick slot, but I just don't want to get crushed by my first-rounder.
The injured guy who plays like 30 games -- or worse, the guy who labors through a season with multiple nagging injuries and hits .220 with 15 homers. We didn't really see any of those in the first round this year. Giancarlo Stanton is probably the closest thing with a 25-homer/.244 batting average season in 108 games as the 11th pick. Thankfully, power was so plentiful this year that you might've actually found an adequate replacement for the other 15 or so homers you were hoping for from Stanton (if you were actually expecting more than 40 homers from a guy who has never hit 40 homers, that's your fault).
11. Anthony Rizzo
This is another great example of a player who won't "earn" his first-round cost back while still being a perfectly viable first-rounder again in 2017. In fact, Rizzo's '16 is very similar to his '15, save one major difference that was pretty easy to see coming: fewer stolen bases. He swiped 17 bags in '15 after netting 16 in 1,827 plate appearances prior to that. Rizzo got those 16 on a 57 percent success rate, too, so it's hard to be too surprised that he's just 3-for-7 this year. You were buying a stable power force in a great lineup, and if the stolen bases stuck, it'd be gravy. They didn't, but you still have to be happy with .289-86-29-98 so far.
10. Josh Donaldson
This is similar to Rizzo in that the only real difference for Donaldson is one we could've easily seen coming. There was almost no way he'd repeat the 122 runs/123 RBIs combo from 2015. Donaldson won't, barring something insane, but he's actually on pace to increase his run output. If everything holds, he'll score around 127 while driving in 104. Donaldson has 34 homers, leaving him an outside shot to crack 40 again, but no one is complaining if he "only" gets 37-38. Long story short: he's been awesome again.
9. Bryce Harper
OK, maybe Harper is a bigger first-round disappointment than Stanton. He was the third pick on average, and he's hitting just .247 on the year. But the counting categories have been solid.
In terms of HR+SB, Harper is actually pacing to beat his total of 48 from last year. Thanks to a surge in steals, he's pacing for a 51 total and sits at 45 right now with 24 homers/21 steals. Despite Harper's huge season last year, he only had 99 RBIs, so his 91 pace is palatable. I can't sit here and tell you he hasn't disappointed with his batting average, but I don't think he's the reason you didn't win the title this year. Harper's flaws could've been covered.
8. Jose Altuve
Back-to-back top-six finishes on the Player Rater -- including the No. 1 spot this year (it's unlikely that Mookie Betts will catch him, but at worst, Altuve will be second) -- still hasn't earned Altuve the respect he deserves. I think he is a total steal at eight. I'd definitely take Altuve over three of the seven we've yet to cover, I'm probably taking him over one other, and then I have him on par with the other three.
I thought the 15-homer power we saw last year was legitimate, and instead Altuve substantially improved upon it with 24 homers and a fantastic .209 ISO. With a couple more points of batting average, he will set career highs in four of the five standard categories with a .340-99-24-94-27 season. The beauty of Altuve is that it's not hard to imagine a near-repeat of this amazing season. However, even if not there is room for regression, that won't really harm you. He's no worse than a top-three pick for me.
7. Nolan Arenado
Here's the guy I'd personally take behind Altuve, but I won't crush anyone going the other way. A super-elite power source in Coors Field has a really high floor. He is essentially repeating his brilliant 2015, and he will somehow only be 26 years old next season. Arenado once again is leading all of baseball in RBIs, and leading the National League in homers, with sharp improvements in both his strikeout and walk rates. He sits 10th among hitters on the Player Rater, which is exactly where he finished last year. Arenado is easily a top-five pick.
6. Manny Machado
I don't love this pick. It's not that I can't get behind taking the 23-year-old superstar in the first round, but ahead of Arenado and Altuve is tough to justify for me. Machado has repeated everything except what made him a bona fide top-five type of guy: stolen bases. Similar to Rizzo, he had a big surge in stolen bases after a modest output prior to 2015. Machado stole 20, which doubled his career total through 1,266 plate appearances. He has zero this year. I know most people expected Machado to drop some form the 20 count, but ZERO?! Without stolen bases, how is he ahead of Arenado? Even with six or seven, I don't see a clear case to take Machado over Arenado.
5. Paul Goldschmidt
Stolen bases have been a key discussion with several of these first-rounders, and Goldy's 25 this year have been instrumental in sustaining his value after a power drop that will likely result in about 10 fewer homers. Goldschmidt has set a new career high with 25 steals, and he's had at least 15 in four of his five seasons. We can't know for sure, but it's likely that injury is the only thing keeping him from 5-out-of-5, as he had nine in 109 games back in 2014.
I was a bit surprised to see Goldschmidt land in the Player Rater's top 12 so far, just because my mental perception has been that of a down season. I'm not sure where I got that -- maybe I've carried his .247 average from April in my brain all year -- but his lowest OPS in any month was .816 of July. Goldschmidt is still a firm first-rounder for me, but I'd have him closer to the 7-10 range.
4. Mookie Betts
I remember taking heat for my Joey Votto /Betts combo on the elbow of a 15-team draft at the Arizona Fall League, because Correa was still available. Maybe Votto was the bigger objection of the two, but those jeering weren't specific, so let's pretend they really hated the Betts pick so we can make fun of them! I was hardly alone in my Betts love this year. After all, he wound up just outside of the top 15 in average draft position this year, slotting 16th and going as high as fifth in at least one NFBC draft. Betts has been everything the most aggressive projections could've hoped for -- and then some. For me, Mike Trout is the only guy clearly ahead of him. At pick No. 2, I'm deciding between Betts and Altuve. Great scoop here at No. 4.
3. Kris Bryant
We have to be clear in differentiating between a bad pick and a pick you wouldn't make. I wouldn't take Bryant third, but I can't clown it, either. The 24-year-old has not only met, but exceeded, the absurd expectations bestowed upon him so far. He greatly improved his biggest flaw -- strikeouts -- making him a better hitter across the board. The only area Bryant will fall short from 2015 is -- yep, you guessed it -- stolen bases. But he has eight so far, and he should get another 1-3, which will leave him just a few shy of last year's 13. I have players I prefer in this spot over Bryant, but if I'm closer to the middle of the first round, he's firmly on my radar. Amazing player.
2. Mike Trout
I know we haven't really talked about a player's stolen bases much in this piece, er ... nevermind. I didn't mean to make this so SB-centric, but it's interesting how much they played a role in the fate of so many top picks this year. The knock on Trout (by the way, that is a dumb sentence to type): How is there a knock on Trout? Why did we try so hard to remove him from his perch? I was one of those saying Harper and Trout this year. Anyway, the knock was that he wasn't running as much anymore, so see if you can mess up your draft by not taking him. So, of course, Trout surged back to 25 steals after a combined 27 in 2014-15.
Trout won't come near his 41 homers from last year without a Brian Dozier-esque run the rest of the way, but he's already matched his 52 HR+SB thanks to the returned speed production. Let's all just stop looking for reasons not to take Trout. What more does a player have to do to earn the unconditional trust of the fantasy market? I can live with the guy who was taken first (who you've probably guessed by now), but there is no league where I personally wouldn't take Trout first. Spare me the analysis on how he doesn't hit enough triples or sacrifice flies or whatever else you want to throw out there as a reason to go elsewhere. Just take Trout and enjoy your money finish.
1. Clayton Kershaw
Like I said, I understand this pick. I think there is a viable case for it, and I'm not going to obliterate it, but I'm not making it myself at this point. Kershaw is so clearly the best pitcher, it's not even funny. I don't really understand that phrase because I'm not sure at what level it would become funny, but just know that he's the best. I'm not balking at Kershaw as No. 1 because of his injury issue this year, I just prefer Trout. I'll listen more after the first pick, but I'm probably going Trout, Altuve and Betts as my top three before considering Kershaw, whose excellence is crystallized by the fact that he's still seventh among starters on the Player Rater despite pitching only 124 innings. He's still ahead of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Justin Verlander, Noah Syndergaard and Jose Fernandez (among many others, obviously) despite missing more than two months.