Baseball

Austin Bristow’s Early 2021 Mock Draft Review

When it comes to drafting, I do my best to strictly follow my rankings (which will be posted in December). For me, the hardest part about these early mocks is not having a complete set of rankings to refer to. This was especially true after a partial season, and I often felt a bit lost and wound up taking the best player available.  I particularly struggled with this draft in the middle rounds, as you’ll read. While I love the pitching staff I was able to put together, I am not a fan of my offense, and would definitely need to trawl the waiver wire to find improvements in season, were we to play this league out.

In terms of format, we drafted with a standard 5×5 league in mind, including nine pitching slots (SP or RP), two utility slots for hitters, and four bench slots.

Let’s go ahead and get into it.

1.2 Mike Trout (OF, Los Angeles Angels)

After Mookie Betts was taken with the first overall pick, I decided to take the safest option and take Mike Trout with the second pick. This may not be the popular decision in 2021, as the first three picks could be argued to be any order of Betts, Trout, or Ronald Acuña Jr. Trout may end up being the third of the trio, as he has not stolen bases nearly as frequently as the other two outfielders. Looking back at his last 160 games (going back to May 1st, 2019) Trout has only attempted ten steals, swiping eight. That said, he may still be the best hitter on the planet.

Looking again at his last 160 games, Trout has put up a .288/.414/.642 slashline with 56 home runs. His 2020 Statcast profile is gorgeous, showing him no lower than the 93rd percentile in all major categories. This includes a 93.7 mph Exit Velo (99%), 55.1% Hard-Hit rate (97%), and .408 xWOBA (98%). Trout obliterates fastballs and offspeed pitches, only “struggling” comparatively against breaking pitches, though he still put up a .388 WOBA against breakers in 2020.

You all know Trout is good. The only question is are you willing to bet that Betts or Acuña will steal enough bases to offset Trout’s consistent performance at the plate. In points leagues, Trout is #1, in 5×5 take your pick of your favorite.

 

2.23 Eloy Jimenez (OF, Chicago White Sox)

Looking back, I really regret this pick. I could/should have taken Alex Bregman here, then taken Nick Castellanos instead of Matt Chapman in the 8th round. I would absolutely prefer Bregman-Castellanos to Jimenez-Chapman. Alas, that happens in early mocks; that’s why we do these! So, let’s talk about Eloy and what we can expect from him in 2021.

Jimenez will be a fixture in the middle of the White Sox lineup, potentially taking over as the primary DH with the exit of Edwin Encarnacíon. Looking at Jimenez’s 175-game major league career up to this point, he’s proven to be a preeminent power hitter. He’s launched 45 homers so far while sporting a .275/.321/.527 slashline.

His 2020 season saw him improve across the board, becoming a standout hitter with a 98th percentile Hard-Hit rate (55.7%), 96% Barrel rate (16.5%), and a 91st percentile Exit Velo (92.4 mph). All the underlying statistics seem to indicate his performance in 2019 and 2020 is legit. Eloy can give you 35-40 homers and a .280-.290 batting average while putting up 200+ combined runs and RBI in the strong White Sox offense. But he also will not provide any stolen bases; as he has not attempted one since joining the big league roster, nor did he run much in the minors. While I won’t be taking him in the 2nd round again, I would love to see him fall to his 2EarlyMocks ADP in the fourth round. That’s a great price for a 4-category stud.

 

3.26 Lucas Giolito (SP, Chicago White Sox)

In the upcoming season, I actively plan to draft an ace within the first three rounds. In this particular draft, I was happy to get Lucas Giolito at the beginning of the third round. Since the beginning of 2019, Giolito has been an absolute stud, pitching to a 3.43 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 41 starts with 325 strikeouts in 249 IP. 2020 was an extension and confirmation of his breakout 2019 season, as his numbers were nearly identical across the board.

Giolito has dominated with a three-pitch mix of a mid-nineties fastball, a changeup sitting around 81 mph, and a slider with late break. While I won’t pretend to understand the intricacies of pitching like Nick or many other talented writers here, I am confident this mix of three effective pitches will continue to work well for Giolito in 2021. I don’t see much to indicate regression or improvement and, after a season and a half of this level of production; he’s pitched to a 3.36 FIP and 3.55 SIERA in the past two seasons. I feel comfortable saying this is what we ought to expect from Giolito going forward. In 2021, I expect him to pitch about 200 innings, with 250-275 strikeouts, an ERA and WHIP around 3.40 and 1.05 respectively, with plenty of wins backed by a strong White Sox offense.

 

4.47 Blake Snell (SP, Tampa Bay Rays)

Snell is a peculiar case among pitchers. Inning-for-inning, he is among the best starters in the league. Unfortunately, the Rays no longer seem to trust him to throw more than six innings, claiming he struggles the third time through the lineup. To their credit, Snell has put up a 5.75 and 6.35 ERA in the past two seasons when facing a lineup for the third time, however, that is only in 15.2 and 5.2 innings respectively. What this all means though, is the Blake Snell has not pitched six innings or more in a game since July 21st, 2019, resulting in just 4.6 innings per start in 2019 and 2020 combined.

So, what do we as fantasy baseball managers do with this odd case of a stud that likely won’t give you more than 150 innings? After looking closer, I probably won’t be drafting Snell in 2021. I’m not sure we’re ever going to see a season from him anywhere near his Cy Young 2018 again. He is still posting an elite swinging strike rate (15%) and strikes out plenty of batters (31.4% K-rate), but he won’t be on the mound enough to give you the value over a 4th or 5th round pick. I highly prefer Mike Clevinger (who was taken one pick ahead of Snell in our draft), as well as Zac Gallen, Lance Lynn, and Brandon Woodruff all of whom should provide you with a much larger workload while still performing near Snell’s level. Looking back, I wish I had drafted Gallen here instead of Snell.

 

5.49 Whit Merrifield (2B/OF, Kansas City Royals)

The Kansas City Royals were once again one of the weaker offensive lineups in baseball, but Whit Merrifield represented a bright spot at the top of their lineup. After a somewhat disappointing 2019 campaign that saw him only steal 20 bases while being caught 10 times, many were concerned that his days as a base-stealer were coming to an end. However, rumors of his demise were quite unfounded, as Merrifield came back to swipe 12 bags in 15 attempts in 2020, a 32 for 40 pace.

While his batting average did fall off a bit, from .302 in 2019 to .282 in 2020, a 55 point drop in BABIP may be to blame. In fact, Merrifield actually under-performed his xAVG, which sat at .292, a 90th percentile mark. He even showed the best plate discipline of his career; posting career-lows in O-swing% and swinging-strike rate, along with career-highs in contact rate and Z-swing. While he only walked in 4.5% of his plate appearances, Merrifield made the most of his at bats, swinging at fewer pitches outside of the zone and making contact with pitches inside the zone, culminating in a career-low 12.5% K-rate.

Going back to the beginning of the 2019 season, Merrifield has played every single game – 162 in 2019 and 60 in 2020 – leading off in all but 11 of those games. Even in a poor Kansas City lineup, Merrifield should provide a strong batting average, around 100 runs, and 25-30 stolen bases. In an environment where homers and RBI are more plentiful than ever, Whit Merrifield represents a standout in the three other categories. He will be a top-3 second baseman in my rankings, and might even sit at number 2.

 

6.70  Pete Alonso (1B, New York Mets)

After a Rookie of the Year and record-setting season in 2019, Pete Alonso came back to earth in 2020. The 25-year-old first baseman hit .231 with 16 home runs, a pace for 43 over a full season. The batting average certainly wasn’t what you were drafting him for, but we had hoped for a mark closer to .250. While Alonso’s BABIP fell nearly 40 points from his 2019 figure (well below any mark he ever put up in the minors) he did post a .227 xAVG, so we may not expect to see a huge improvement from him in the AVG column next season.

That said, all the underlying numbers concerning power look fairly similar to his rookie season; exit velo is nearly identical, launch angle is up a bit, hard-hit rate is down a point. Alonso’s barrel-rate did fall three points, but otherwise, the power still seems to be there.

One concerning development, which may simply be a result of small sample size, is Alonso’s relative struggles against fastballs in 2020. After pounding them in 2019 (.294 AVG, .669 SLG) he only managed to produce a .243 batting average and .513 SLG in 2020. Again, this comes off a third of the pitches he saw in the prior season, so it may correct itself, but it will be something to watch in spring training.

All in all, going into the 2020 season, Pete Alonso was being drafted 27th overall. I was able to snag him here as the 70th pick. That trend may not continue, but if he falls to the 5th round in drafts consistently, I may find myself drafting a lot of Pete Alonso shares and banking on 40+ home runs.

 

7. 73 Carlos Correa (SS, Houston Astros)

I’ll start this off with a broad statement saying I do not like Carlos Correa. I think he has played up the heel persona a little too well and may just be a jerk. That said, he is good at baseball and I was very happy to draft him in the 7th round.

Correa was only okay in the 2020 regular season, hitting .264 with 5 home runs en route to a .709 OPS. Once the calendar turned to October, however, Correa turned it up. In 13 Postseason games, he slashed .362/.455/.766 with 6 homers. Generally, I won’t look at Postseason numbers when analyzing players for the upcoming season. But, when we only have 60 games to go on in the first place, any expanded sample size becomes all the more useful.

My biggest takeaway from Correa’s 2020 season was his health. He stayed on the field all year, playing 58 games. Maybe it was easier to stay healthy with the shorter schedule, but I hope it means his back has been in better shape. While his regular season numbers, and the Statcast figures backing them up, are not particularly impressive, I’m willing to bet on a rebound from Correa in 2021 based on an impressive Postseason and a seemingly clean bill of health.

 

8.94 Matt Chapman (3B, Oakland Athletics)

As I said above, I would have preferred to have taken Bregman in the 2nd round and taken Nick Castellanos with this pick. Alas, that didn’t happen. But, Matt Chapman is still a good pick here, despite anything I may have implied in the past two sentences.

Chapman dealt with a hip injury throughout the season, which clearly hampered his production. He aggravated it further in early September and was shut down shortly after, undergoing surgery on September 15th to repair a torn hip labrum. He is expected to be ready for the beginning of the 2021 Spring Training in February.

The nagging injury makes his performance in the 37 games he did play all the more impressive. He did struggle with plate discipline, striking out at a 35.5% clip, but that is a clear outlier in his career and I am willing to attribute that to the hip injury. When Chapman did make contact with the ball, good things happened. His Barrel-rate, exit velo, and hard-hit rate were all at least in the 95th percentile, with the latter two sitting in the 98th. Chapman has always made very hard contact with the ball and continued to do so even in a season marred by injury. I’ll look to draft him in the 8th-10th round and hope for a healthy and productive season from the A’s third baseman.

 

9.97 Dominic Smith (1B/OF, New York Mets

I hedged my bet a bit with my 9th round pick, drafting the second Mets first baseman. Dominic Smith had been touted as an up-and-coming stud for a while, being drafted 11th overall in the 2013 draft, but had not seen an opportunity at consistent playing time until the introduction of the DH cleared a path for him in 2020. Smith played half his games at first base and the other half in left field, so even if the DH is not long for the National League, I would be shocked if the Mets don’t find a way to make room for him in the lineup.

Finally given a proper chance, Smith made the best of it, slashing .316/.377/.616 with 10 home runs and 21 doubles in 50 games. Smith’s 25.9% line drive rate was among the best in baseball, topped by only nine other players including Freddie Freeman, Charlie Blackmon, and teammate Michael Conforto. Taking a look at the Statcast data, everything looks gorgeous for the 25-year-old Metropolitan. His .304 xAVG was among the 95 percentile and his xSLG (.568) was in the 94th percentile.

Smith was clearly among the league’s best breakouts in 2020 but isn’t coming at the price of a top hitter. It may be a bit hyperbolic, but his profile reminds me a bit of a poor man’s 2018 Freddie Freeman. That’s not to say you should expect him to win NL MVP in 2021, but I think a batting average near .300 with 35+ doubles, 20+ home runs, and a healthy RBI total is certainly in the cards.

 

10.118 Corey Kluber (SP, Free Agent)

Unfortunately, there isn’t much to say about Corey Kluber after he threw one inning this year before being sidelined for the remainder of it with a shoulder injury. This is his second straight season ruined by injury after he suffered a broken arm in 2019 when a comebacker hit his pitching arm. Now, going into his age-35 season, he is headed to free agency.

There is a ton of risk drafting Kluber at any point in the draft. He could be an absolute steal if he’s healthy and looks anything like his former Cleveland days, or he may be droppable in May. There is so little to go off of at this point, and I think his price will be all over the place in drafts until we learn where he’ll be pitching in 2021 and hear more about his health. I happened to get him in the 10th in this draft, but I have absolutely no idea where his ADP will end up in March.

 

11.121 Ian Anderson (SP, Atlanta Braves)

After taking two relatively risky pitchers in Snell and Kluber, I wanted more stability and hopefully plenty of innings. My solution: Braves young starter, Ian Anderson. Although he’s only pitched 10 big league games (if you count the Postseason), I see him as a safe play for fantasy purposes. The Braves, due in part to necessity, trusted him throughout their playoff push, and he delivered. Including his 4 Postseason starts, Anderson pitched to a 1.60 ERA and 1.09 WHIP while striking out 30.2% of batters he faced.

He’s succeeded on the back of a solid repertoire, including a mid-nineties fastball, occasional curveballs, and a nasty changeup. Anderson’s strategy in his first taste of the big leagues seemed to reflect the Blake Snell Blueprint, fastballs up and changeups down. It’s hard to extrapolate too much from his small sample size, but the Braves seem committed to having him in the rotation, and the 22-year-old right-hander seems as poised as anyone to challenge for the 2021 NL Rookie of the Year.

 

12.142 Travis d’Arnaud (C, Atlanta Braves)

Travis d’Arnaud is my second Atlanta player drafted; call me a homer.

In recent years, I’ve found myself looking to draft a catcher in the middle rounds, rarely taking the top picks like J.T. Realmuto or Gary Sanchez, but making sure to have a solid contributor. d’Arnaud fits the bill perfectly here, after a fantastic season in Atlanta.

d’Arnaud’s .321 batting average was topped only by Salvador Perez, among catchers. While that average may be due in large part to a .411 BABIP, Statast loved the Braves catcher this past year! His hard-hit rate of 57.8% was 2nd in the league, topped only by Fernando Tatis Jr. d’Arnaud’s exit velocity (93.4 mph) was among the 98th percentile, and his xAVG of .305 was in the 95th percentile.

At a very weak catcher position, d’Arnaud represents a standout in offensive production. While I do expect some regression next season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him bat near .300 again while hitting about 20 home runs and racking up RBI in a very strong Atlanta lineup. d’Arnaud will be a top 5 catcher in my rankings, and I was happy to take him as the fifth backstop off the board in the 12th round.

 

13.145 Michael Kopech (SP, Chicago White Sox)

Continuing the theme of risky pitchers, we return to the south side of Chicago. Michael Kopech was touted as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball heading into 2018. Unfortunately, he was sidelined not long after his big league debut, tearing his UCL and undergoing Tommy John surgery in September of 2018. That recovery eliminated him from the White Sox plans for 2019, but he was set to return with few restrictions in the 2020 season and was estimated to return in May. That was until the pandemic hit and delayed the season. Kopech decided to opt-out of the 2020 season but is fully committed to returning in 2021.

Looking ahead, it isn’t likely Kopech will crack the Opening Day rotation, as he may need time to regain his pre-surgery velocity and command. Kopech utilizes a mid-high 90s fastball that has topped out at 101, a slider and curveball, and has been working to develop his changeup. I imagine we will see Kopech in Chicago in mid-late May, after which he has the potential to crack the top 40 starters, if not higher.

 

14.166 Raisel Iglesias (RP, Cincinnati Reds)

I don’t like drafting closers. I always seem to miss the beginning of the closer run and end up looking in from the outside. That was the case again in this draft, as five closers were drafted in the two rounds leading up to this pick, and nine more were taken not long after I grabbed Raisel Iglesias.

Luckily, Iglesias was among the best relievers for fantasy in 2020, landing in the 8th slot of the Player Rater. His truncated season was among the best he’s had in years, finishing with a 2.74 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 8 saves in 23 innings. He had career-highs in swinging strike (18.6%) and K-rate (34.1%) along with a career-low in walk rate (5.5%). While the sample size is small, a 2.63 SIERA and 1.84 FIP seem to back up the improvements.

The most notable change Iglesias made in 2020 was using his sinker much less than in years past. In 2018, his sinker was his main offering, being thrown 31.8% of the time, despite giving up a .618 xSLG and .442 xWOBA. In the past two years, Iglesias has favored his four-seamer over the sinker, relegating the latter to only 7.8% usage in 2020. This new strategy seems to be paying dividends for Iglesias, and will hopefully lead him to another productive season in 2021. As the primary closer on a competitive Reds team, he has as good a chance as anyone to save 30+ games.

 

15.169 Tony Gonsolin (SP/RP, Los Angeles Dodgers)

Sure, let’s just keep drafting upside starters with injury risk or playing time questions; there’s no way that backfires.

Tony Gonsolin was a key piece of the Dodgers championship team this past season, starting 8 games and pitching to a 2.31 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, and striking out 46 in 46.2 innings pitched. His 4% walk rate was among the best in the league as well, yet, despite his success, his role in the Dodgers rotation going forward is very much in question.

The Dodgers will have Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urías, and the return of David Price as locks in the rotation next season. The fifth slot will be a battle between Gonsolin and Dustin May, though I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see LA bring in another starter in free agency, such as Charlie Morton, a reunion with Rich Hill, or even splashing the pot for Trevor Bauer.

Gonsolin’s talent is evident, the risk is almost entirely in his role on the team. Dodgeritis is real and as frustrating as ever.

 

16.190 Mark Canha (OF, Oakland Athletics)

The 16th round marks the moment when I just started drafting players I like. Mark Canha was one of my favorite draft targets last season, as an elite walk rate and solid power potential indicated he could be a breakout candidate in 2020. Well, that didn’t happen, but I am still buying in.

In 2020, Canha slashed .246/.387/.408, posting a career-high 15.2% walk rate but dragging behind in the power and batting average columns. The plate discipline numbers were fairly similar to his 2019 season, with an identical contact rate and slightly improved eye for laying off pitches outside the zone. Canha’s hard-hit rate and exit velo were in line with last season’s numbers as well. He even had a BABIP within one point of last year, when he batted .273 in 126 games. So, what happened this year?

What I can see is a bit of bad luck and a potential hole in his approach. In his 59 games in 2020, Canha posted a career-low 7.9% HR/FB rate, a notable swing from his 21% mark in 2019. That explains quite a bit of his drop in power, but there is a bit more at play. Canha struggled royally against breaking pitches this past year, managing a measly .058 batting average against them. Canha usually just watched breakers go by him, swinging at only 29.4% of the breaking pitchers offered to him, and only swinging at 39.7% of breakers in the zone.

Should pitchers pick up on his disdain for breaking balls and exploit it, Canha could be in trouble. Luckily, he still crushes fastballs, but it will be worth keeping an eye on going forward. I still want to draft Canha in the mid-late rounds in 2021, though I may try to wait a while longer in future drafts.

 

17.193 Germán Márquez (SP, Colorado Rockies)

I should quit Germán Márquez; I know he isn’t good for me, but I keep chasing that 2018 high.

2020 really can’t be called a good season for Márquez, as he walked more and struck out fewer batters. Looking at his home roads splits, he was unsurprisingly more successful away from Coors Field, posting a 2.06 ERA in 43.2 innings on the road and a 5.68 ERA in 38 innings at home. Looking for improvements, Márquez gave up home runs at a much lower rate, posting a career-low 0.66 HR/9 and 9.4% HR/FB rate. Oddly enough, Márquez actually gave up four home runs on the road and only two at home, though I am certain this would have corrected over a full season.

Márquez continues to get beat on his fastball, sinker, and changeup, though he did have some success with his breaking pitches this past year. His curveball and slider each ended the year with a 21.9% swinging-strike rate, while the slider had much more success in the zone. The two pitches earned a 33% and 43.7%  CSW respectively. So, he has a very good slider and a good curveball. The pieces are here for a successful pitcher, but we’ve not seen him put it together in two years.

I had been a fan of Márquez due mostly to his strong 2018 and the potential for a massive strikeout total. Now, it seems he can’t be relied on to get strikeouts and he is essentially unstartable at home. But, darn it, if the 17th round isn’t for taking a flyer on an upside pitcher, I don’t know what it’s good for.

 

18.214 Jurickson Profar (2B/OF, Free Agent)

Another player that I’ve been high on for years, Jurickson Profar was one of my favorite 2019 targets after a pseudo-breakout in 2018. Then I was out on him for a year after a disappointing 2019 (which in hindsight looks a lot like his 2018, with a 50 point drop in BABIP). But now I’m back in, baby!

2020 was a solid return to form for Profar, as he set career-highs in batting average (.278) and OBP (.343) while setting a 20-20 pace for homers and steals. The biggest question for Profar is where he’ll be playing in 2021 and in what role. He is the caliber of player that could absolutely be signed to be a super-utility style infielder-outfielder, though he could also be an everyday starter on some teams. Looking at some possible options, the Nationals could use a left fielder, the Royals have an opening at second base, the Red Sox could fit him in across the diamond, as could the Tigers. Profar is going into his age-28 season, so it is not the time to be giving up on a former #1 overall prospect. He won’t be Mike Trout like he was supposed to be, but he could be a 20-20 player eligible in the outfield and infield, which is a great player to have on your squad.

 

19.217 Chris Martin (RP, Atlanta Braves)

Chris Martin is my third Atlanta player drafted; call me a homer.

Those that have ignored and been blocked out of closers will notice the Clocks ticking and need someone to Fix You. Well, don’t get cowardly and Yellow, look instead to the reliever whose sinker is thrown near the Speed of Sound that calls Trust Field his personal Paradise.

I’m not sorry about that. Nonetheless, Chris Martin is due to see a shot at closing out games for Atlanta in 2021. Now that both Mark Melancon and Shane Greene have gone to free agency, the closer’s job is vacant and Martin seems poised to step in. The 35-year-old reliever was stellar in a shortened 2020, pitching to a 1.00 ERA and 0.61 WHIP while striking out 20 in 18 innings.

Other options in the Atlanta bullpen to pitch the 9th inning may include Will Smith. Smith did save 34 games for the Giants in 2019, but pitched only once in the 9th this past season, allowing a home run, no less. Less likely options are A.J. Minter and Tyler Matzek, as the two of them were the next most effective relievers for the Braves in 2020. However, with all three of Smith, Minter, and Matzek throwing from the left side, it may give Martin a slight advantage initially.

 

20.238 Mitch Keller (SP, Pittsburgh Pirates)

Mitch Keller is a very weird case. After a tumultuous 2019 where each start either seemed to be great or awful, he came back in 2020 to pitch 21.2 innings of 2.91 ERA and 1.25 WHIP… with a 6.94 SIERA, yikes. On top of that, 18 walks to 16 strikeouts is not generally what you want to see as a major league pitcher. Keller’s 2020 game log is fascinating, especially his final two starts where he gave up zero hits, had nine strikeouts, but ten walks in eleven innings combined.

So, what should we expect of Keller going forward? Well, I’m not sure 2020 really helps us much to answer that question. The general craziness of the season combined with the fact that he missed all of August with an oblique strain limited him to only five starts and was likely detrimental to his preparation and readiness for the season. If we look at his combined 2019 and 2020 numbers, Keller boasts a 32.4% CSW on his slider and a 28.9% mark for his curveball. Pair those with a mid-nineties fastball and the kid has the tools to succeed. If you were in after his 2019 debut season, don’t let his wonky 2020 numbers scare you away. I think he is largely the same pitcher with solid upside that can be taken late in drafts.

 

21.241 Carter Kieboom (3B, Washington Nationals)

I was very excited when the Nationals were prepared to give Carter Kieboom everyday at bats from third base this past year, but it was not to be, as he struggled mightily throughout the season, slashing just .202/.344/.212 in 33 games. Kieboom seemed overmatched, as he was very passive at the plate, only swinging at 44.3% of the pitches he saw and only 27.9% of the first pitches in each at bat. While this did earn him a 14% walk rate, he just didn’t make any strong contact, barreling zero balls all year.

However, I’m far from out on Kieboom. He has only had 165 plate appearances at the major league level thus far, which is truly a drop in the bucket. In 109 games of AAA ball in 2019, Kieboom slashed .303/.409/.493 with 16 homers and 5 steals. The talent is there, he just needs to trust his bat and return to his approach from the minors. I highly doubt the Nationals are ready to give up on him, as he was their first-round pick in 2016 and has been touted as their top prospect since Juan Soto came up.

 

22.262 Nick Solak (2B/OF, Texas Rangers)

After a miniature breakout in late 2019, the Texas Rangers got a full (shortened) season out of Nick Solak and were not fully impressed. In 33 games in 2019, he slashed .293/.393/.491, surprising almost everyone after a boring midseason trade moved him from Tampa to Texas. Since debuting, Solak has played 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, and CF for the Rangers, filling a proper super-utility role while getting regular at bats. In 2020, Solak hit .268 with just 2 homers. So, what happened?

Looking at his underlying numbers from 2020, he actually seemed to improve across the board. His xAVG in 2019 sat at .255 but improved to .264 this past season. He improved his exit velo by one point, his hard-hit rate by eight points. The sharp drop in power may be due in large to a ridiculously low 3.4% HR/FB rate, while his 34 point drop in BABIP correlates well with his batting average dip. The Rangers seem committed to Solak, and I am absolutely still in on him; I think he may be one of the best true sleepers of 2021. Nobody will be talking about him, but nothing is stopping him from returning to his brief 2019 production.

 

23.265 Drew Waters (OF, Atlanta Braves)

Drew Waters is my fourth Atlanta player drafted; call me a homer.

To round out my draft, I took Braves outfield prospect Drew Waters. Analyzing prospects is going to be ridiculously difficult this offseason, as we have basically no information to look at. Most notable players were at their team’s alternative site, playing against some big league level players. This may very well be just as, if not more beneficial to their development. Still, it will be extremely difficult to find first-hand reports of their progress or development.

From what I can gather, Waters, who will turn 22 in December, is still somewhat raw. He has a number of loud tools, but may not yet be ready to bring them to Atlanta. Eric Longenhangen suggested briefly there may still be quite a bit of swing and miss left to work out. I may have been better off drafting his teammate Cristian Pache here, as he’ll almost certainly break camp with the team and very well may be in line for starts. Still, the last pick is for an upside dart throw, and that’s what either of them would have been.

Photo by John Cordes & Rob Grabowski/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)


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