It’s been a month since I last posted about a set of four industry mock drafts the honorable Justin Mason wrangled experts together for. While more complete mocks likely exist on the seas of the internet, these hold a special place in my heart, as they contained myself, good friends of the Razzball universe, and Prospectus Jesus himself. I’ll save you from the self-reflective intros that have lined my last few columns – but really, you should read them – and hastily prime our readers who prefer a longer digestion cycle with info, for 2018.
Partial results of these mocks can be found here, and instead of sifting through the first few rounds, I’m only looking at players with ADPs among the four mock drafts that exceed 100 overall. These players range in potential and my confidence in attaining that potential, but I think each should occupy a small place in your mind for the coming season.
Ender Inciarte (ADP – 109.3; ’17 Player Rater – 67th)
Endorsing a player who held a .106 ISO last season is unchartered territory for me; rarely do I find myself attracted to average-and-speed-proficient outfielders who lack at least some power upside. Aligning a certain set of stars has allowed me to see hope in an outfielder on the team I’m most interested to see PECOTA win projections for. Inciarte never batted anywhere other than the leadoff spot for Brian Snitker, supplanted by Ozzie Albies when days off were granted for a Braves squad that fell out of contention, but managed an admirable 72 wins.
Keep in mind, this is a 72-win team that adds 50 games each for Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp – granted health – to pair with with Albies’ first crack at a full season of professional ball after posting a respectable 112 wRC+. I’m also receiving intel that some guy name Ronald Acuna Matata is going to eventually slot into an already improved lineup in Sun Trust Park?
Inciarte is a 26-year-old who just hit two home runs less in one season than he had in 1,500+ prior major league at bats and remains a non-zero factor on the basepaths. I was mildly concerned to see a 2%+ jump in his swinging-strike rate from 2016 to 2017, but Inciarte still remained around the 75th percentile among qualified hitters. Hacking at a substantially higher rate can be concerning, but I look at this as a change in approach and productivity. What Inciarte just did throughout 2017 as a repeatable outcome for 2018, and if you believe health of his teammates and maturation his approach can be any bit beneficial, there are few reasons for him to fall outside top 75 territory come the end of 2018. If his ADP sits around 100 overall, he brings decent – albeit low-upside – value to position that wasn’t as deep as we anticipated last season.
Masahiro Tanaka (ADP – 117.3; ’17 Player Rater – 150th)
I’ll make this one quick. There were only two qualified pitchers in baseball last season with a better swinging-strike rates than Tanaka: Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer. His FIP fell more than one full point from the first half to second as his sinker usage plummeted and tendency to offspeed inclinations crept north of 65% (splitter, curve, slider). Tanaka adapted, and my interest in this push for offspeed usage sticking come 2018 remains extremely high. All this enlightenment, and I haven’t even mentioned his wacky home-road splits and 21% home-run-to-fly-ball rate.
Javier Baez (ADP – 129.5; ’17 Player Rater – 109th)
Struggling with Baez’s rank was a theme for my conscience through my draft, yet he had a nearly identical draft spot – 124, 126, 133, 135 – across our four mocks. Whenever I’ve found myself hesitant of an endorsement in Baez, my opposition cites the positional flexibility. When I lean towards an endorsement, I have trouble getting over his grotesque strikeout rate, even with maturing power in a 24-year-old bat. On top of all my confusion, I struggle with his high, yet consistent BABIP, tendency towards grounders, and overall confusion with how quickly his profile can improve.
2017 was demonstrably better than 2016, but is expecting his violent load and swing to simmer down towards hopes of a 22% strikeout rate and 8% walk rate feasible? In the long term it might, but ironing out a swing with holes, and an “all-or-nothing” feel will likely take more than one offseason. After all my wishy-washy thoughts, you’d think I was a Whirlpool appliance! (too soon?… is this thing on?). With all this now on the table my conclusion is really divisive: I agree with these four mocks, 125-135 overall feels right.
Dylan Bundy (ADP – 172.3; ’17 Player Rater – 146th)
I touched on Bundy for my own site a few months ago, continuing to harp on how essential his cutter/slider usage is to developing his other pitches in given outings. Looking at advanced pitch-tunneling metrics that exist on Baseball Prospectus puts numbers to just how hard it is to hit one of the better singular pitches in all of baseball. The concept of “late break” can best be quantified by understanding that the “tunnel point” on a pitches’ path to home is where the hitter has to make a decision to swing or not. Movement that happens beyond that point presumably makes a pitch harder to hit – with some qualifiers. Bundy is a standout in this department, particularly when comparing the break-differential of his cutter/slider to his fastball. He masks which pitch he is throwing well, which leads to the numerous “fall off the table cutter/slider” GIFs you see on Twitter around the Orioles’ righty.
The issue with a pitcher like Bundy resides in not knowing what he’ll feature on any given night. Given his injury history, I can’t think of another pitcher who generates more success as one pitch’s frequency increases, yet goes completely dormant with said pitch on other nights. His cutter/slider opened up his ability to elevate his four-seamer, which improved each of his other pitches through eye-level variation among other aspects of sequencing. Rough Bundy outings come when his best weapon’s usage doesn’t rise to a substantial, preventing osmosis of its success onto his other offerings, and allowing hitters to approach at bats against Bundy very differently.
I bought in very early – after one start…. – on Bundy last season, trading Gerrit Cole to CBS’s Chris Towers. Was it dumb? Yes. But my intentions stemmed from observing what was the culmination of every prospect list’s fever around a pitcher in the upper echelon of talent; and a mesmerizing performance against a Blue Jays team we thought would be respectable.
I’ve recently been debating with myself – a Lance-off if you choose – which pitcher I’d grant a clean bill of health to for one season. James Paxton is at the top of my mind for obvious reasons, but if I gave Bundy the honor, the heavens are the ceiling. Everytime he struggles on the mound, I wonder to myself if something is physically nagging him and why his cutter/slider usage isn’t higher. Cheers to the prospect he once was, and the ace I hope he one day becomes. With my aspirations for future journalistic days in sports media, I keep in the back of my mind one question to ask hitters who have faced Bundy multiple times: is he the single most volatile pitcher you’ve faced?
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