Baseball is back, friends!  Well, maybe not quite yet, but 2019 brings us the earliest opening day in MLB history (and that doesn’t even count the games in Japan a week earlier), so that’s something, right?  And I guess the offseason really hasn’t been all that slow, especially compared to last year, but it sure feels like it when you’re checking MLB Trade Rumors news every ten or fifteen minutes!

Hope you’ve all been enjoying your offseason.  Me, I started drafting fantasy baseball teams back during Thanksgiving weekend.  A couple of guys that I hooked up with ages ago during the NFBC in Vegas (probably a bad choice of words, not nearly as sketchy as it sounds) run a few slow drafts every year starting in November, which I eagerly agreed to participate in four or five years ago.  They are 15-team, standard 5×5 mixed re-draft leagues, with no timer rushing each pick (although folks are generally expected not to hold the clock up for hours upon hours, and it gets quite comical when owners get snippy about the amount of time others are taking when there’s three or four months to go before the first pitch of the season will be thrown).  The teams are anonymous, so while I know a handful of guys in the league, with about two-thirds of the teams I never know if it’s a fantasy baseball ‘pert (and I know there are several of them in these drafts), or a random friend/neighbor/mail carrier of one of the commissioners (although one would assume anyone agreeing to start drafting in November has a fairly significant interest in fantasy baseball).  We do play these leagues out — everyone contribute an entry fee that is just large enough to keep folks serious about both the draft and playing things out over the course of the season.

I’ve really gotten to enjoy the slow drafts, mainly because they usually take up about ten winter days each, and during those ten days I have an excuse to spend an inordinate amount of time doing baseball research that I really probably don’t need to start worrying about until sometime around the end of February.  They are also a great test to see how I really, really feel about a player when push comes to shove, and it still surprises me how often my gut instinct ends up going against the notes and numbers and ordered lists I’ve so carefully compiled.

This year, I did something I’ve never done before:  I ranked all hitters in one long list, without separating players into positional lists (though I did note positions by each player’s name, in a really cute color-coded way).  As some of you may know, my usual fantasy baseball preference is of the deep-league variety, and this is something that I will not be doing in my NL and AL-only leagues, where I need to pay a bit more attention to positional scarcity and such.  But I consider a 15-team mixed league to be exactly in the middle of the deep/shallow pool, and I felt that every position this year is deep enough to try drafting the best available hitter whenever possible, rather than worrying exactly how many second basemen that I really like are left.  (By the way, this started when I removed catchers from my master list, deciding that there was no way I wanted to pay for one, and just planning ahead that the two catchers I was required to draft in these leagues would be the last two picks I made, no matter what.  This won’t end up being my strategy in all leagues this year, but I was happy punting the position entirely at least for these first few drafts… if you really want to get queasy, take a look at an AL-only catcher ranking list for 2019.  It is NOT pretty).  So far the upshot of this is that I have a very strong outfield in each league, and really haven’t been too bummed about the late picks I’ve made to fill in the positions that I refused to reach for in the middle of the draft.

In a slow draft, I feel like one of the main differences in terms of strategy is the ability to see trends developing and deciding whether or not that will affect your choices.  In one league, I noticed about halfway through the draft that one team was absolutely hoarding speed, which I probably would never have picked up on in a real-time draft.  I mean, one guy started with Trea Turner and later grabbed Dee Gordon, Mallex Smith, and Billy Hamilton.  When I did a quick math check, I realized that with the gap there would be between first and second place in the stolen base category, the number of steals a team would need to come in second or third in the category was most likely much lower than one would expect from a league of this size.  Once I realized that I was already in surprisingly good shape in steals, I changed my mind about my next pick, ignoring the semi-speedy guys that were left and going straight for some power.  It’s also easier to avoid getting caught up in positional runs in a slow draft… when four or five closers have gone off the board in a round and you only have a minute or two to make a decision, it’s hard not to panic and grab whatever ninth-inning guy is near the top of your queue.  But with time to think and look over your options, you may realize that you can afford to wait another round or two, and instead grab that hitter that you’ve been hoping would fall to you.

The main information winter drafting provides is a sense of how others value players, especially since there isn’t exactly a lot of ADP information floating around in November.  Of course, each draft is very different, and depending on the ebb and flow, positional runs, speed/power binges, etc., a player may be drafted several rounds later in one draft over another, even if most of the owners feel the same about his value.  Meanwhile, player values can and will change constantly during the off-season.  Overall though, I still find crazy-early drafts to provide a great heads up as to whether or not other owners feel the same way about the guys you know you’re probably going to be targeting in March, whether it’s how early a pick you’ll need to get certain studs early in the draft, or how long you can wait on your sleepers towards the end of one.

I’m just going to touch on a handful of players (in a completely random, haphazard order) that I thought I might draft but didn’t, found myself drafting more enthusiastically than I thought I would, or was whose value I was curious about due to wildly varying opinions going into the offseason.  After each player’s name, I’ll list his overall draft position in each of the three drafts I’ve done this winter.  For now, I’m going to just talk about hitters, and if we’re all so inclined, there’ll be an upcoming post that covers pitching.  If you’d like to know where a specific player that I didn’t mention was drafted, feel free to drop a comment.  I’ll also include the first round of each draft at the end of this post.

Jonathan Villar (125, 111, 103)  I wrote a post on him at the end of last season discussing how much more valuable he’d been over the last couple months than people probably realized, and that I’d probably grab some shares in 2019.  So far, I haven’t; he’s not been dropping as low as I’d hoped.  A good spring and I may not end up owning him at all.

Daniel Murphy (162, 63, 119).  To say the trade to Colorado made a difference in his draft position is a bit of an understatement.  I think the first number was too late even without the trade, and the second one is way too early even with it.  I have always had a soft spot for Murphy but don’t know that I’m going to want to pay what I need to own him, and of course his price will only go up if he looks healthy this spring.

Jesus Aguilar (54, 72, 77).  Another player that I wouldn’t mind owing but probably won’t because I’m not confident enough to pay his 2019 price.  Could still end up being a nice value though, if he repeats or builds on 2018.

Gary Sanchez (57, 62, 56).  The fact that he is still being drafted this high after a disastrous 2018 shows how anxious folks are to get a catcher who could make a difference.  As I said, I’m basically on a catcher boycott right now, but if Sanchez does in 2019 what folks thought he’d do in 2018, I suppose grabbing him where he’s getting drafted could pay off.

Aldaberto Mondesi (36, 42, 43).  In terms of 2019 value, seems like he was the most disagreed-upon player by the experts at the end of the season.  I feel like I’m a little higher on him than some, but still didn’t come close to drafting him.

Mallex Smith (104, 83, 96).  One of my favorite sleepers going into last year; obviously his price has climbed significantly since March of 2018.  I haven’t drafted him yet, but I may end up with him on a few teams once I wrap my head around where I’d need to draft him.

Ramon Laureano (194, 180, 185).  Wanted him in each league and waited too long every time.

Miguel Andujar.  (70, 62, 65).  Pick 70 felt like he was being undervalued , so I went ahead and grabbed him in the fourth round of my second draft.  Gotta figure there’s a pretty good chance he’s going to play — and hit — whether he’s on the Yankees, or any other major league baseball team.

David Dahl.  (82, 80, 72) .  I didn’t really target him, yet ended up taking him in two of my three drafts.  Perhaps I overpaid, but round 6 or later seemed like a fair price with this league set-up — it won’t be a disaster if he busts, and if he does finally actually get to play and goes nuts…

First Rounds:

Draft 1:  Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, J.D. Martinez, Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado, Alex Bregman, Jacob deGrom, Chris Sale, Jose Altuve, Javy Baez, Christian Yelich

Draft 2: Trout, Mookie, Turner, Ramirez, J.D., Lindor, Arenado, Yelich, Scherzer, Bregman, Machado, Harper, deGrom, Sale, Altuve

Draft 3: Trout, Mookie, Ramirez, Lindor, J.D., Yelich, Scherzer, Acuña, Turner, Arenado, Bregman, deGrom, Baez, Machado, Harper