I participated in the annual Tout Wars mixed league draft last Tuesday. For those unfamiliar, this is a 15-team 5x5 league, with on-base percentage instead of batting average. This is my second year in the league, which features a bunch of notable names in the fantasy sports industry. After getting off to a strong start last year, I finished in sixth place. It was a respectable enough showing for my rookie year and I’m hoping to take some lessons into 2018.
Before getting to my picks, here’s a list of the other participants and their affiliations.
Rudy Gamble - Razzball
Ray Murphy - Baseball HQ
Tim McCullough - Roto Experts
Greg Ambrosius - NFBC/Stats Inc.
Perry Van Hook - Mastersball
Tom Kessenich - SportsHub Technologies
Jeff Boggis - Fantasy Football Empire
Gene McCaffery - WiseguyBaseball.com
Michael Beller - Sports Illustrated
Adam Ronis - Scout Fantasy Sports
Charlie Wiegert - CDM Sports
Scott White - CBS Sports
Anthony Perri - Fantistics.com
Corey Parson - Sports Illustrated
We were allowed to pick our draft positions this year based on where we finished last season. I opted to go toward the end of the first round (13th, to be exact) rather than select somewhere around the middle of the first. I didn’t see a ton of separation after the first couple of players, so I wanted to land one of the top-four starting pitchers before securing a high OBP bat on the way back. I also liked the idea of having my picks fairly close together, allowing me to strategize during lengthy breaks.
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You can see the full Tout Wars mixed league draft board here, but below are my picks with commentary:
1st round: Corey Kluber SP, Indians
I was expecting more pitchers to go in the middle of the first round. Clayton Kershaw was selected ninth overall, but I still had a choice of Kluber, Chris Sale, and Max Scherzer. It was a nice problem to have. I view them all very closely and would have taken any of them depending on how things unfolded, but I ranked Kluber as my No. 2 starter (behind Kershaw) for the Rotoworld Draft Guide, so I was happy to get him here.
2nd round: Freddie Freeman 1B/3B, Braves
I was bummed to not have Votto on my team for a second straight year, but Freeman is a pretty good fallback, especially in this format. He owns a .401 on-base percentage over the past two seasons. Only Votto, Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, and Jose Altuve have topped him in that time. It also helps that Freeman is multi-position eligible.
3rd round: Anthony Rendon 3B, Nationals
I made the mistake of focusing too much on OBP in last year’s draft, but I still think it’s a good idea to build a strong foundation on that end. Rendon qualifies. He displayed the best approach of his career last season while posting career-highs in home runs and RBI. He had a .403 on-base percentage and was one of just five hitters with more walks than strikeouts. Another strong building block in this format.
4th round: Marcell Ozuna OF, Cardinals
After missing out on well-rounded outfield targets like Christian Yelich and Andrew Benintendi, I decided to secure a middle-of-the-order power bat. I expect Ozuna’s numbers to drop off somewhat this year — it’s unfair to expect anyone to repeat 124 RBI and a .355 BABIP — but he should still be a strong OF1 in most formats.
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5th round: Xander Bogaerts SS, Red Sox
I get the lack of enthusiasm on Bogaerts, but keep in mind that he dealt with a hand injury during the second half last year. The 25-year-old is still in a great situation, so I’m expecting a bounceback if healthy. There’s definitely a handful of shortstops I like better, but I have a lot of questions about the names who were drafted after him here.
6th round: Ozzie Albies 2B, Braves
This might look a little early for Albies, but my favorite second base options were beginning to fall and I needed to secure some speed in my lineup. Albies should provide that, as he’s swiped as many as 30 bases in a season in the minors. He went 8-for-9 in stolen base attempts over 57 games with the Braves last season while putting up a .286/.354/.456 batting line. Pretty impressive for someone in their age-20 season.
7th round: Edwin Diaz RP, Mariners
I wanted a big strikeout closer, so Diaz was the best option left standing. He wasn’t quite as good last year as he was in 2016 — and even lost his closer job for a bit — but he still struck out 89 batters in 66 innings. If he can get the walks back down, he could be a great value here.
8th round: Luis Castillo SP, Reds
Yes, I’m buying into the hype. Perhaps I should have secured more of a sure thing, but I love what Castillo did as a rookie last year and I’m excited to see what he can do in a full season. Innings shouldn’t be an issue for him. I ranked him as my No. 21 starting pitcher in our staff rankings for the Rotoworld Baseball Draft Guide, so he fits the bill as a potential No. 2 fantasy starter.
9th round: Manuel Margot OF, Padres
This is another pick where I’m leaning into the hype. Margot showed some nice across-the-board potential last season, but I’m banking on further growth in a hopefully-improved Padres lineup. Even if he doesn’t progress as much as I’d like, he can help me with steals. So there’s a safe floor here, at least.
10th round: Lance McCullers SP, Astros
I was underwhelmed by the starters available at this time (Alex Wood, Tanner Roark, Jeff Samardzija), so I went with McCullers after seeing Rich Hill selected two spots earlier. There’s a lot of risk here given his injury history, but I’ll sign up for his upside even if I get 150 innings.
11th round: Jeurys Familia RP, Mets
I didn’t feel great about this one, but second-tier closers were starting to come off the board around this time. For what it’s worth, this pick was made prior to Familia’s disastrous showing in Thursday’s Grapefruit League game. Hopefully it’s not a sign of things to come. A.J. Ramos looms as an experienced alternative if Familia struggles out of the gate.
12th round: Greg Bird 1B, Yankees
The first of back-to-back Yankees, Bird finished strong after returning from his ankle injury last season. He packs power and patience, a good combination in this lineup and home stadium. Here’s hoping he distributes a lot of souvenirs with the short porch in right field.
13th round: Aaron Hicks OF, Yankees
The Yankees are making Jacoby Ellsbury an expensive fifth outfielder in order to give Hicks a chance as their primary center fielder. Hicks had a nice little breakout last year and offers a useful blend of pop, speed, and patience. His value could get a nice boost if he bats leadoff against left-handed starters.
14th round: Salvador Perez C, Royals
Perez isn’t great in this format, as he’s the owner of a .301 career on-base percentage, but I wanted the steady power from the catcher position. Perez has amassed at least 21 homers and 64 RBI over the last three seasons. He reached career-highs with 27 homers and 80 RBI last year. After securing Freeman and Rendon earlier, I have a little bit of a cushion to work with here.
15th round: Michael Conforto OF, Mets
I wasn’t crazy about the outfielders during this stage of the draft, with names like Mitch Haniger, Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Shin-Soo Choo (granted, high OBP) among them, so gambling on Conforto felt right. The Mets continue to aim for a May 1 return from his shoulder surgery, but he’s already taken batting practice on the field. Who knows how his production might be impacted by the surgery, but this could be a great value if he’s anywhere close to what he was last year. And if he isn’t, I didn’t invest a crazy high pick to find out.
16th round: Jake Faria SP, Rays
I was hoping to get Kevin Gausman in this round, but he went a few picks earlier. Faria works, though. The 24-year-old showed some interesting flashes as a rookie last year while posting a 3.43 ERA and 84/31 K/BB ratio over 86 2/3 innings. He doesn’t blow people away with his velocity, but his slider and changeup are nice weapons.
17th round: Addison Russell SS, Cubs
I’m not sure what to think of Russell at this point. There’s no question he’s been a disappointment, but he dealt with plantar fasciitis for a good portion of last season and quietly posted an .840 OPS during the second half. He just turned 24 in January and has some talented hitters around him, so I can deal with him as a middle infielder.
Taylor isn’t a big on-base guy, but he should provide useful pop and speed. I’m intrigued to see Musgrove in Pittsburgh and under the tutelage of Ray Searage. Flowers owns a .368 on-base percentage over the past two seasons, so he helps balance out my earlier pick of Salvador Perez behind the plate.
I had Gleyber Torres all queued up, but he was selected just before me, so I pivoted to Cabrera. He’s actually a pretty useful player, as he qualifies at second base, shortstop, and third base. Heaney is a dice roll, but I’ve liked him in the past. Speaking of the past, Soler hasn’t lived up to the promise he showed as a rookie with the Cubs, but the opportunity for regular at-bats should be there this season with the Royals.
I’m not sure which way the White Sox will go with the closer role, but Jones is more exciting to me than Joakim Soria. Barraclough is another flier for the late innings, as he could get the nod if Brad Ziegler struggles or gets hurt. It didn’t really translate to results last year, but Kuhl throws really hard and is a Rotoworld favorite.
With the uncertainty over Daniel Murphy’s knee, Kendrick could see a lot of time at second base early on. He’s also outfield-eligible. I stashed Andujar on the chance he’ll become a regular at third base before the year is out. DeSclafani didn’t throw a pitch in the majors last year while rehabbing a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, but he’s been a useful pitcher in mixed leagues before. With news of his oblique injury, I could stash him in a DL spot to begin the year.
Quick lineup takeaways: I think I have a well-balanced group. Maybe I won’t dominate in any one category, but I should certainly compete in all of them. Freeman and Rendon provided an early cushion for on-base percentage, which allowed me to focus on other category priorities. Albies, Margot, and Bird are all young players with upside while Hicks and Taylor could provide useful pop and speed in the outfield. I’ll feel a lot better about my offense if Conforto looks close to normal after his shoulder capsule surgery. That’s obviously not a guarantee.
Quick pitching staff takeaways: There’s a wide range of potential outcomes beyond Kluber. Castillo and Faria could regress from their rookie showings while McCullers and Heaney could continue to run into injury issues. Musgrove and Kuhl might not take the steps forward I’m hoping for in Pittsburgh. And you just never know with closers. I think there’s a ton of upside with this group overall, but also quite a bit of flameout potential. As with most successful seasons, I figure it will take a couple of in-season waiver additions to get my through the year.
Quick league takeaways:
It’s easy to say when someone has Mike Trout on their roster, but I dig Rudy Gamble’s team. The pitching staff is loaded with many names I have either taken or targeted elsewhere, including Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Nola, Jon Gray, Charlie Morton, and Blake Snell. That’s a nice group of high-upside arms. Adam Ronis also had a nice draft. Getting Madison Bumgarner in the third round (especially behind Zack Greinke) could end up being a gift. I could go on, but those two teams stand out on first glance. It’s not surprising that each of them has had a lot of success in this league. I should also mention that Gene McCaffery’s first two picks (Joey Votto and Aaron Judge) are money in this format. And I’m jealous that he was still able to get Jacob deGrom as his No. 1 starter after that. Very well done.
Folks were very aggressive on pitchers early, which makes sense given that power is up around the game and generally easier to find. You want to target the best of the best among the available arms. However, I also noticed a lot of people chasing after the next big thing. And I’m not talking about my early-round selections of Ozzie Albies and Manny Margot. I’m saying Victor Robles in the 17th, Scott Kingery and Gleyber Torres in the 21st, and Michael Kopech in the 24th, just to name a few prominent examples. With the reserve spots, it’s possible to wait out those call-ups. They could really pay off.
It’s obviously important to draft well and have good fortune in regard to injuries. That could be said for any fantasy league. But effective in-season management is critical in this league. Working the waiver wire for strategic pickups and notable call-ups can really be the difference-maker. And in many cases, you have to be proactive, not reactive. I'm prepared for another challenging and interesting ride. Stay tuned.