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Tuesday 24th May 2016

There is, in my opinion, a lot of value in mock drafting.

And, while I am not an ADP person, I do understand the value of knowing roughly when a player will or should be selected. However, I prefer to transitively participate in mocks, and literally see where players are picked and fall, so I can see for myself how the draft chips fall. 

But, mocking tells me more than this, especially if when I participate in a mock, I change around strategies from draft-to-draft. For, even though the first few rounds of picks might be similar in all drafts, the development of my team might be radically different were Clayton Kershaw my first pick once, then Manny Machado during a second draft, and then Mike Trout a third time.

Mocking also gives a much better broad feel for the player pool, for though we all have guys we love and guys we loathe, it is indeed hard to remember everyone who might fill a specific hole. But, mocking shows who might slip to the middle rounds and more important. who will fall to the end. 

For, though we can build a foundation of stats with the selections the first six rounds, and ideally help stabilize those totals in rounds seven through 18, it is the jackpots in the late rounds that usually win the first place prize for teams. 

So, while I have been mocking--a lot with the #MockDraftArmy driven by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., whom you should contact should you have an interest--I have been scouring the late rounds for bargains. So, this time, let's look at guys who in 12-team leagues hardly get drafted at all, and in 15-team mocks maybe in the 19th round or later.

These players are lesser known, and some are vets who have been dismissed. But, if you are scrounging for late picks or auction selections that I would guess would carry a price of $5 or less relative to the depth of your league, dollar structure and time nominated, here are some names to consider. Should you be able to control your board with $35 or so remaining in a 15-team auction, I am confident you could walk away with almost all of them.

So, who are these guys?

Odubel Herrera (OF, Phillies): A 24-year-old Venezuelan, Herrera hit .264-4-24 over the first half of last season but then kicked it into gear, going .329-4-17 in the second half, jumping his OBP by almost 100 points from .297 to .394. Herrera, who was a Rule 5 pick from the Rangers in 2014, swiped 16 bases and could actually steal 30 bags (he did it twice in the minors) and with experience could parlay some of his 125 minor league doubles and triples into homers, meaning 15/30 potential. If you play games where defense counts, he will help you there, too.

Aaron Altherr (OF, Phillies): A bad team will force roto players to look elsewhere for production, which can be a mistake, for bad teams do hit homers, score runs and earn saves. The Phillies, who are working through their bad team karma, promoted Altherr, their ninth-round selection in 2009, and the 6'5" flychaser responded accordingly. Altherr was hitting .294-8-38 at Lehigh Valley, then .241-5-22 as a Phil. But, over the last month of 2015, he lifted his OBP by 50 points and the outfielder really does have 20/20 capabilities.

Jose Iglesias (SS, Tigers): Iglesias hit .303 split betwen Boston and Detroit in 2013 and then missed all of 2014 due to injury. But he returned to hit .300 last year over a full season with Detroit. True, he hits a pretty hollow .300 with 52 RBI and 83 runs cumulative over the two seaons and 836 at-bats, but in an AL-only format, you could do a lot worse.

Neil Walker (2B, Mets): A .271-16-71 mean over 162 games per Baseball Reference, and yet Walker rarely gets selected before round 19 it seems. Not sure what Walker did for us to dismiss his skill set, but I would be glad to roster him.

Robinson Chirinos (C, Rangers): Double digit homers two straight years playing part-time, Chirinos did raise his on-base numbers last year by 30 points to .325 despite his average dropping seven points to .232. If he plays full-time, the Ranger will hit a little better I believe, but if the function of a second catcher in fantasy is to contribute without really inflicting pain, Chirinos fits that description.

Marco Estrada (P, Blue Jays): Does give up homers, and sometimes his ERA gets knocked around, but over 722 big league innings, Estrada has a 1.150 WHIP and whiffs eight per nine innings. He never gets picked (except by me as a last starter).

Jason Castro (C, Astros): Castro has battled injuries and streakiness as he has matured with the Astros. But, this is now a team of veterans, and, it generally takes catchers a little longer to master hitting in the Show because catching and calling a game is the primary directive. Castro hit .276-18-56 in 2013 and now has two more years under his belt. Castro, who often is not selected in mocks, is a fine late power source.

Nick Castellanos (3B, Tigers): He hit .255-15-73 last year but struggles to make contact with 293 strikeouts and a .304 OBP over 313 games with Detroit. Castellanos actually turns 24 this week, so let's give him a little time--and I am inclined to like third seasons--to step up, and .270-25-90 totals will be your reward. Swear.

Brandon Phillips (2B, Reds): I have taken Phillips in the last round of two 12-team mocks to serve as my middle infielder. True, he is on the downside of his career, but he is 34 (not dead yet) and hit .294-12-70 with 23 swipes last year. Even with the same totals and half the swipes of 2015, he will be a fine choice in any format for 2016.

Alex Gordon (OF, Royals): Is it that Gordon was hurt a lot of last year, or that it took awhile to re-sign with the Royals or what? But, Gordon seems to be an afterthought, selected in the 23rd round of the #MockDraftArmy 12-team league. Huh? He did have an .809 OPS last year despite the injury, and is still just 32. Go figure.

The draft season has officially begun.

Sure, the XFL was last November at FPAZ, and the FSTA a month ago in Dallas. But this weekend, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., the amiable and roto-enthusiastic proprietor of The Wreck Room in San Francisco, hosted the first ever Bay Area Experts League, which I dubbed Bay Area Roto-Fantasy (BARF).

In addition to his barkeep activities and roto-focus, Tod makes a wicked sausage. With dogs and brew, he coaxed This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (by proxy with This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and a bunch of great guys into his cozy sports and games bar--which is a happening place for sure--for what became the first BARF draft.

It was a 12-team format, and I got stuck in the middle, so I determined with pitching carrying so much power these days, I was going to take two premiere starters out of my first four picks. In fact, I sort of reasoned out hitter, pitcher, pitcher, hitter, hitter, pitcher, and then several position players in a row.

I did think that for some reason should Clayton Kershaw fall to me at seven--and, with Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo tantalizing there was a chance--I would take the Dodger lefty with my first pick, then take a hitter, and then the next best pitcher I could. The other thing I determined was to wait as long as possible for closers, knowing there would be enough and that the position was ever-volatile.

You can check out the final draft here, and though I like my team, I think we all have to be careful for Justin, who had a great draft. Note the league is 12-team, 5x5, with OBP and Quality Starts instead of AVG and Wins. We get a five-man reserve, can have three players on the DL, and $1000 in FAAB that process on Mondays.

So, here goes in order (and obviously open to your scrutiny and comments below).

1) Clayton Kershaw: Woo hoo.

2) A.J. Pollock: Pop, speed, average, and upside (this is the year of the upside).

3) Chris Sale: I cannot imagine a better tandem going into Spring Training than Kershaw and Sale. Seven months to go and we find out.

4) Yoenis Cespedes: Obviously a personal favorite. Cespe's on-base is a little concerning, but I think he is on the verge of tapping enormous skill now that he is experienced and acclimated to the USA and Show.

5) Freddie Freeman: Not sure if this was premature, but it is an on-base league, and Freeman, who is still just 26, is proven in that area.

6) Jason Kipnis: A little bit of everything up the middle on a good team. Like Cespe and Freeman, I think Kipnis' best is ahead.

7) Randal Grichuk: Another guy who makes a lot of my mock teams. I am thinking Grichuk with 500 at-bats can out-produce Matt Kemp at this point, playing on a very good Cardinals team.

8) Jonathan Lucroy: At this point, I am fleshing out my team with the best possible option, with my eye on filling my roster. Usually by this pick I maintain a list of five acceptable players, and order them by my own preference. When it was my turn, Lucroy was atop the list, and I was happy to grab him.

9) Brandon Crawford: Again, perhaps a little early, but I think Crawford can come close to repeating his fine 2015, if not maybe improve the numbers just a little. 20 homers out of shortstop is fine.

10) Jeff Samardzija: Strikeouts, a good pitcher's park, and a return to the National League should help the Shark out, I hope.

11) Lance McCullers: #4 starter, gets strikeouts, is on a winning team, and has that magic upside.

12) Stephen Piscotty: No secret how much I love the two young Cardinals outfielders: one with pop, one with chops, I will take both.

13) Kolten Wong: I wasn't really expecting to nab Wong here, but he was available and will give me some pop and swipes, and I think will improve his hitting numbers from last year. A nice play at middle infield.

14) Ender Inciarte: Another youngster I really like, I am hoping the new Brave can finish 2016 somewhere between his fine 2015, and that of Pollock's.

15) Brandon Finnegan: #5 starter with lots of skill and the ability to miss bats. His team is rebuilding, so the leash might need to be short, but a risk I am willing to take.

16) Brett Lawrie: I covered first, second, and short, along with middle, so Lawrie can indeed plug in at third, or move to second should I need it, and he will give me .260-15-65 totals, or thereabout.

17) Mike Fiers: Again, whiffs, and a winning team where a quality start is more important than a victory.

18) Derek Norris: Power, on-base skills, and he is a starter at #2 catcher.

19) Danny Valencia: Can play multiple positions, can hit, and again, good on-base numbers on a team that values and utilizes all these skills. What can he do but flourish (don't answer right away, please)?

20) Luke Gregerson: First stab at a closer.

21) Roberto Osuna: Second stab at a closer.

22) Ketel Marte: I should have taken another closer, but I could not in clear conscience leave Marte out there at this point. My team is flexible enough that I can take advantage of a lot of my infielders so all bases are covered, so to speak.

23) Hunter Strickland: Closer in waiting. This year, maybe even.

24) Nick Castellanos: More potential power on a great hitting team, with you know what (starts with "u").

25) Marco Estrada: Reserve starter, and one who whiffs hitters and has a good WHIP.

26) Aaron Altherr: Some outfield help with speed and power potential, the Phillies flychaser has 20/20 capability and logged a .350 OBP once he was established as a full timer in September.

27) Brandon Maurer: I am not sure if Maurer will start (I suspect the pen is his destiny, as a closer) or not, but I think he will be pretty good, and maybe cop some saves, or at least QS.

28) Robinson Chirinos: A back-up backstop with pop. Always good to have.

-Check out Ray Flowers' assessment of BARF.

-Check out Justin Mason's analysis of BARF.

-Check out The Welsh's podcast of BARF.

There you go. Remember you can always hit me up @lawrmichaels.

The mocks are going on full tilt, and we anticipate the arrival of pitchers and catchers at camp with the first spring games just a couple of weeks ahead, meaning baseball is indeed almost here.

As noted already over the past few weeks, we have indeed been mocking the night away, writing analysis of those drafts, comparing, contrasting, and trying to get a feel of what the reality of our real drafts will be.

So, this time, let's look at players who have prompted, as my mate Matthew Berry would say, "love/hate" among the drafters, and try to determine any logic behind said emotions.

As a point of reference, we can use the MLB.com mock run by Zach Steinhorn, currently in progress:

Michael Brantley (8.12): True, Brantley is coming off an injury, but would Chase Utley have lasted this long in his peak? How about Troy Tulowitzki, who has a far greater rating on the brittle scale, but was selected in the fourth round of the MLB mock? But, Brantley, who is pushing to be ready to play Opening Day (that might be a tad optimistic), hit .310-15-85 over 137 games last year, numbers the Tulo owner would likely be thrilled with (along with 137 games). No way I would let Brantley slip that far in any straight draft.

Yu Darvish (15.4): Darvish, coming off elbow surgery, is on track to return in May. If Darvish can deliver his normal numbers, he becomes a steal, but a month into the season, bereft of normal spring training, I would not expect him to feel comfortable cutting loose till the All-Star Break. Round 15 is probably ok for a half a season of Darvish, but personally, I would let someone else assume the risk and reconsider the Ranger as a 2017 possibility.

Adam Wainwright (9.10): Conversely, Wainwright, who missed the bulk of 2015, returned in September and held hitters to a .167 average over three innings before allowing just one run over 5 1/3 frames in three postseason appearances. That means Wainwright is a steal based upon the combination of his history and the recovery process, which seems to be over. 

Albert Pujols (12.10): Albert is 36 now, but he is coming off a 40-homer renaissance accomplished with some nasty plantar fasciitis problems. Pujols has had his surgery and like Brantley is optimistically pushing for Opening Day. Still, 40 homers falling to the 12th round? Crazy.

Carlos Correa: (1.8): Correa is a case in point against Pujols. If Correa can indeed bang 40 homers and knock in 95, then he is certainly worth at worst second round status even with the .244 average that Pujols posted last year linked to the dingers and knocks. But, were I to gamble, I would go with the guy who has hit 40 before in the third and the younster who might hit 30 around the fourth or fifth.

Michael Conforto (15.2): The signing of Yoenis Cespedes has made lovers of Conforto leery of his playing time. I would not worry about that a lick for barring a melt-down, Conforto will need playing time to improve, and I cannot imagine less than 400 at-bats for the young slugger. Round 15 is a steal-and-a-half.

Neil Walker (12.4): Walker is 29, and over a 162-game mean, posted .272-18-81 totals over his seven years in The Show. Last year, over 157 games, the line was .269-16-71, pretty much in sync with said mean, so round 12 is a bargain for certain.

Brad Boxberger (14.6): A 4-10, 3.77 record with nine homers allowed over 63 innings might be a tad scary, but 41 saves and 74 whiffs are not to be dismissed. Personally, in a 12-team format, I am willing to wait till the end for closers, much like I would wait for a kicker in a football league, but if you think Boxberger will not be given every chance to lead the league in saves again, well, pick him as your field goal guy come August, perhaps?

Matt Holliday (undrafted): Let's be clear: I don't like Holliday, and have not since he was so diffident about playing in Oakland. True, he only played 73 games last year and the numbers were down, but he still managed an .804 OPS. Holliday has some solid youngsters playing behind him, but the Cards will indeed give him 300 at-bats anyway, so expect Carlos Beltran-type numbers like .293-14-65 over those plate appearances. My MLB mock outfield is full--in fact I have Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty rostered-but dismissing Holliday is a mistake.

Evan Gattis (undrafted): We started the MLB mock before it was revealed that Gattis was in need of hernia surgery. There is roughly a six-week max recovery for that, and Gattis does plug in at DH-only unless 10 games is your minimum (Gattis played 11 in the oufield), but he hit 27 big flies and knocked in 88 last year. Will Correa do that? Kris Bryant? Kyle Schwarber? Miguel Sano? Perhaps. All those guys were drafted already, unlike Gattis, so I am just asking.

Last week, I wrote about drafting in an extremely deep league, trying to balance reasonable expectation with speculation. 

The league and format discussed, Strat-O-Matic, is different by definition than DFS and regular season roto formats in that the game is H2H simulation, using the previous season's stats.

However, even though the format and manner of play of Strat is different than a lot of the set-ups for most players, I am a strong believer that whatever format you play will shine some light on play in other formats.

Well, one advantage to assessing players after the season--and a lot of times MLB debuts--is you have that first foray of high level competition to balance against age and experience in the Minors.

In the MidWest Strat League, we are just finishing our 37-player draft which allowed for the freezing of up to 29. There are no salaries in the league, but there are usage parms and penalties, meaning just about every selection and player must contribute at some time.

Since the league is just grabbing 37th round players, it is safe to say we are scouring through the dregs, as it were. Allen Craig, John Mayberry, Jr. and David Aardsma are among the hopefuls bubbling within the free agent pool and hoping to make the team.

However, there are some potential gems among the 75-odd players still available, so this time I want to look at a few for speculation maybe into 2016, but possibly even a little further out. Note that I have nabbed players like Carlos Marmol and Shane Victorino in the later rounds of said Strat draft, two players who became useful in any kind of fantasy ball, especially as cheap keeps on a freeze list.

So, let's take a bit of a look.

Keyvius Sampson (Reds, P, 25): Sampson was originally drafted by the Padres in 2009, then grabbed off waivers by the Reds just a year ago--and turned 25 just a month ago. He has 434 minor league strikeouts over 607 frames, logging a decent 3-6, 3.38 mark last year at Double-A and Triple-A before spending time with the young Cincy pitching staff. Sampson did get pounded to the tune of 2-6, 7.39 with a 1.77 WHIP, but the strikeouts (42 over 52.3 innings) were ok, and Sampson is sure to be dismissed all over the place. His bane are the walks (302) in the Minors, but for a younger pitcher, wither goest whiffs, goest walks. Sampson might start the season at Triple-A, but I would track him.

Severino Gonzalez (Phillies, P, 23): The Phillies have become the hometown for "who?" when a member of their squad, and in particular their bullpen, is mentioned, making Gonzalez one of many pitching in obscurity at the highest level. Signed as a free agent in 2011, the native of Panama is 26-29, 3.36 in the Minors with a 1.106 WHIP and 394 strikeouts over 485.3 innings with just 83 walks. He was 3-3, 7.92 with the big club, but there is definitely some talent lurking, and time as well, for when Gonzalez fills out from his 6'2", 155 pound frame, I am guessing the power numbers go up.

Mayckol Guaipe (Mariners, P, 25): Signed by Seattle in 2006, when he was just 15, Guaipe has 31 saves in the Minors, 22 of them since 2012 when he moved to the pen permanently. At Tacoma last year, he was 0-4, 2.87 with five saves over 47 innings before a promotion and an 0-3, 6.41 mark over 26.3 innings. It should be interesting to see if the 6'4", 235 pound right-hander can eventually find himself in the closer role.

Jose Pirela (Padres, IF, 26): Thought perhaps to be the next big thing in the Bronx, Pirela was .310-3-23 with 42 runs over 69 minor league games in addition to 37 with the Bombers, hitting .230-1-5. Pirela was rather unceremoniously dumped off to the Padres for Ronald Herrera at the end of last season. The Pads, though, hardly have much of anything set anywhere, so Pirela could emerge with a bench gig to start 2016, and maybe even parlay that into something else.

Ryan Rua (Rangers, OF, 25): Rua gets props to start for being an Amherst graduate, meaning he is smart to go with any physical skills on his DNA profile. After the outfielder hit .295-2-14 to close out some 2014 playing time, big things were thought for Rua, who then struggled with a .193-4-7 mark over 83 at-bats. The Rangers are a team that can find hitters and score runs, and Rua just seems like the kind of guy to contribute accordingly.

Daniel Muno (Mets, IF, 27): Muno turns 27 on Tuesday, and for full disclosure, was drafted in the eighth round in 2011 after attending Cal-State, Fresno. He was a shortstop at Triple-A Las Vegas last year, hitting .277-3-24 over 83 games before a call-up that featured the somewhat abysmal totals of .148-0-0 over 32 at-bats, but played second and third at Citi Field. The downside is the Mets are fairly set up the middle with starters and bench, but Muno, his defensive flexibility, and his .390 minor league OBP (280 strikeouts to 321 walks) all point to a Jim Gantner kind of career. That ain't bad.

Picking rookies and prospects is among the diciest, and yet most satisfying aspects of building an Ultra League Franchise. In fact, for me, tearing apart a team and trying to reconstruct, particularly in a deep format, is where it is at.

In some of my leagues, like the XFL, players are often snatched up years before they achieve any big league success. For example, Carlos Carrasco was identified by Lord Zola back in 2008, as was Yu Darvish by Trace Wood. Carrasco did debut in 2009, but as we know has yo-yo'd up and down, tantalizing since, while it was a full four years before Darvish saw any active daylight on Trace's roster.

Needless to say, because of the rules of the league, and the fact that Carrasco has bounced around since his debut, he has been a longshot up until this year. But, Darvish, now priced at just $13 in the league, is still residing on Trace's roster.

Of course, it is so hard to correctly predict the arrival and success of a player ahead of time, but how much easier is the task a year into the process?

Well, in the MidWest Strat-O-Matic League, we have the luxury of that hindsight, but apparently having a rear-view mirror doesn't always point to prolonged success.

For, in Strat-O-Matic, players do not get cards and ratings and use till the year following their debut in the Majors, and even then depending upon innings/at-bats earned.

In the MidWest League, we have 30 teams, and can freeze up to 29 players from year-to-year. There are no salaries, but strict penalties for over usage of a player, who is allotted 20% over the previous season's innings or at-bats.

So, I thought I would look at the past five seasons of MidWest drafts, and then add in this year's gambles as we are in the throes of that draft right now.

Note that in 2013, all the free agents were thrown into a common pool, but prior, we had split the draft into separate American and National League lotteries. So, for 2011-12, I listed the NL and AL top five picks, respectively.


Pick 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
1 Carlos Correa Jose Abreu Jose Fernandez Bryce Harper Freddie Freeman Jason Heyward
2 Kris Bryant Jorge Soler Xander Bogaerts Matt Harvey Yonder Alonso Buster Posey
3 Francisco Lindor Yordano Ventura Jurickson Profar Lucas Harrell Dee Gordon Starlin Castro
4 Corey Seager Joe Panik Yasiel Puig Mike Fiers Brandon Beachy Stephen Strasburg
5 Noah Syndergaard George Springer Shelby Miller Jean Segura Cory Luebke Giancarlo Stanton
6 Lance McCullers Jacob deGrom Jedd Gyorko Manny Machado Mike Trout Carlos Santana
7 Kyle Schwarber Nick Castellanos Wil Myers Yu Darvish Eric Hosmer Austin Jackson
8 Addison Russell Gregory Polanco Julio Teheran Will Middlebrooks Michael Pineda Jeremy Hellickson
9 Miguel Sano Rusney Castillo Hyun-jin Ryu Yoenis Cespedes Brett Lawrie Colby Lewis
10 Byron Buxton Marcus Stroman Gerrit Cole Jarrod Parker Mike Moustakas Carlos Carrasco

Obviously, Buster Posey, Bryce Harper and Jose Abreu have held their value well, but what of Colby Lewis, Will Middlebrooks, Mike Fiers and Rusney Castillo, all of whom seemed like impacting contributors now and several years on?

Conversely, though I have had my failures with first rounders like Ike Davis and Jhoulys Chacin, similarly, I have had great luck with later picks like Marcell Ozuna (second round) and Derek Norris (fourth round). This suggests that the most obvious is not always the best investment, and that looking at age and opportunity as much as anything can be that harbinger to future success.

So, as we enter the busy drafting season, remember that picking the perfect prospect can be as ephemeral as picking the right first rounder in your snake draft. Baseball is a funny game.

Follow me @lawrmichaels

This is a busy, albeit sometimes confusing time of the year. It is now that leagues--particularly public industry contests--draft teams. Additionally, this is the time for Mocks (in fact the @rotobuzzguy Howard Bender starts his #MockDraftArmy this week).

At present, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) draft is going on, as is the MLB.com Experts Mock, both of which have my attention. Meanwhile, both of my Strat-O-Matic leagues are in the throes of long drafts as well. This coming week, I have four more--a couple each of mocks and 2016 for real--but I am hardly complaining.

I do find the process of drafting--especially mocking--not only a lot of fun, but beyond revealing not just because it gives me a feel for the flow a draft, or how configurations of players in a league might value players. With every set of picks, one must keep an eye on both the forest and the trees, simultaneously.

I have found the last couple of years that with the proliferation of solid pitching, I could really stall on the position--at least in mocks--filling out with an assortment of hitters, then fleshing arms starting by round eight. Generally, I have been able to cobble decent rotations from there, and though the speculative rotations certainly lack an ace, generally the likes of Francisco Liriano, James Shields, Gio Gonzalez, Jose Quintana and Hector Santiago comprise a nice cross-section.

Mind you, such rotations need some wizardry to guide a team to a title, but surely all these guys can throw 200 innings and each can at least give 150 strikeouts. Further, in the real world, I cannot say I would not at least jump on a Sonny Gray or Gerrit Cole by the fifth round, but the idea of mock drafts is to try things, in my view. And, that means see how they shake out.

It is rhetorical that pitching depth is indeed common knowledge, but in thinking about waiting longer to assemble a staff, coupled with Todd and my discussions during our FSTA draft, I am changing my tune some. 

If you check the link above to the FSTA matrix, you will notice that Todd and I grabbed David Price as our first pick of round four (4.2), selecting in the 12 spot of a 13-team league.

Picking at the wheel, this became sort of a no-brainer, since we would have to wait 22 selections before a chance at a #1 guy with strikeouts. But, since Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, Jose Fernandez and Jake Arrieta were taken over the first three rounds, it became "Price or never."

When the picks returned to us, what surprised me was how readily Todd and I both settled on Carlos Carrasco as our sixth pick, largely subverting that "wait on pitching" schema.

In the MLB.com draft, where I picked first, the same basic path was followed, as with my third pick I took the third arm off the board, Madison Bumgarner, reasoning that were pitchers the Beatles, Kershaw and Scherzer can be Lennon and McCartney, the best two song-writers in the band. I will take #3 in George Harrison.

It is not that I don't understand the power of having a dominant starter, for virtually all of my successful teams certainly had an ace. However, most of the time that ace did not necessarily turn out to be the guy I thought it would. Bret Saberhagen (his second season, my first playing roto ball), C.C. Sabathia (as a rookie) and even Zack Greinke last year were all guys I liked, but I did not think they would carry my teams forth to any type of reward, and they all did.

What I am suggesting here is as surely as you need power--those home runs and RBI--to boost your offense, you also need strikeouts from your pitchers, and ideally dependable ones. For, generally, with strikeouts flow the other good pitching numbers, just as runs and RBI get caught in the slip stream of homers.

However, when to pounce, and how to assemble the pieces to a winning roto puzzle lives in those variations of when you pick, how many teams, what are the rules, and other logistics of the league constitution.

To succeed in your draft, mocking as much as you can to identify players, identify player flows, know where you can grab a player or let him slip is the best way to make that completed puzzle a winner.

Note: If you are reading this, that suggests more than a passing interest in fantasy games. Please do write to your local lawmakers and tell them of your love of playing and desire to keep on playing, while keeping the game fair--and regulated--for all. Visit the FSTA site for more information (and thanks).

It is not much of a secret that I have an unnatural fascination with the transactions page. I need not go into the details, other than I see all the drama of life in the moves made by teams and subsequently affected onto the players.

Similarly, I do try to remember what a hard game baseball really is. For, remember, it is a game where a hitter who fails 70% of the time is really good, and that a team winning 55% of their games (which is 88) is likely a serious playoff contender.

Anyway, as a public service I want to look at some names that appeared in the Transaction Line just over the past week. The thing about the players I selected is they were all thought to be the next big thing, at least for a week or so.

And, the thing to remember about such players is they do often mature late, or better, just get hot for 140 games, all of a sudden making them solid fantasy pickups. Chris Shelton. Rob Wilfong. Ron Bryant. All of these players were obscure and mediocre, and came out of nowhere, and while this is the exception, not the rule, the thing about players on the fantasy margins is to never rule a player out. For, you just never know.

Carlos Triunfel (25, SS, signed to a minor league deal by the Reds): After hitting .287-8-49 with 30 steals at High Desert in 2008, Triunfel was rated the #55 prospect by Baseball Prospectus. That was the high-water mark for the career of the then 18-year-old, who is searching for something, somewhere. Triunfel is still just 25, and he hit .282-5-31 for Tacoma over 100 games in 2013, so I guess there is hope, apparently with Cincy. Just not much.

Moises Sierra (27, OF, signed to a minor league deal by the Marlins): Not so much top-ranked as a prospect, but Sierra has bounced around in the Majors for a total of 415 at-bats with a .243-9-37 line for the Jays and White Sox to go with a .267-75-362 minor league numbers along with 92 steals and a reasonable .331 OBP (212 walks, 636 strikeouts). Again, I am not sure what is there. Is he better than Allen Craig at this point? 

Tommy Medica (27, 1B, designated for assignment by the Marlins): After posting a .330-19-87 mark over 93 California League games in 2012, Medica moved up and played 76 games at Double-A in 2013, hitting .296-18-57, and that prompted a September shot with the Padres, wherein he went .290-3-10 over 19 more games. But, all the first baseman/outfielder could muster in 2014 was a .233-9-27 line over 103 games. Medica had a fine .367 minor league OBP but, alas, he must sink or swim with the Fishes.

Alex Liddi (27, OF, signed to a minor league deal by the Orioles): In 2011, as a 22-year-old, Liddi smoked Tacoma to the tune of .259-30-104, and then performed well enough to open 2012 (.270-11-30) in Tacoma, and then be promoted, where he hit .224-3-10 at Safeco. He then went back down, and by 2013, Seattle sent Liddi to Baltimore for "cash considerations."

John Mayberry, Jr. (31, 1B, signed to a minor league deal by the Tigers): Wow, a #1 pick of the Rangers in 2005, I remember seeing Mayberry at the Fall League many years back, thinking he just looked like a ball player. On the other hand, he had a huge looping swing with some holes that have kind of offset the fact that he looked "bitching out there" (see famous Dick Stuart quote). As a Major Leaguer, Mayberry has a .235-56-180 line over 570 at-bats but just a .299 OBP. I would like to think there is some Chris Carter in Mayberry somewhere, but likely not.

Joe Wieland: (26, P, traded by the Dodgers to the Mariners): A fourth-round pick of the Rangers in 2008, Wieland was then traded to the Padres with Robbie Erlin (who also belongs on this list) for Mike Adams. In 2014, Wieland was swapped to the Dodgers as part of the Matt Kemp swap, but all he has managed as a big leaguer is a 1-5, 5.85 record over nine starts. In 2012, Baseball Prospectus said that Wieland was the #4 top rated prospect following his 13-4, 1.97 line split between A+ and Double-A, and Wieland has 536 strikeouts over 590.3 minor league innings with a 1.203 WHIP, so maybe he makes the best flier.? Maybe.

As promised last week, the Top 250 Prospect List is out, and downloadable in a basic form, and with complete comments and sleepers as part of our Platinum Package.

To recap, there are always familiar names on the list, but also players who pop up and thus merit tracking, especially in ultra formats since basic skills--ability to hit or throw with power and discipline--at the earliest age is the best harbinger I have found for identifying baseball talent as early as permits.

Before we dig in to some thoughts on players outside the Top 10, take advantage of the changes made to the availability of the list this year.

Basic Top 250: The basic list, in order, with the player and rating can be downloaded HERE.

Complete Top 250: This lists all Top 250 players, with a brief comment by me, basic stats, my sleepers identified, and a separate sheet that basically rates everyone for a total of 2,004 players and is available as part of our Platinum Package. Note we also have our DraftKings deal going where you can get our Platinum--which includes Todd's projections and special analysis--for $10 off the regular price. Click HERE for that.

So, last week I revealed the Top 10, but this week, I want to look at some of the names bubbling under who caught my eye, but maybe no one else's as a future fantasy target.

Gleyber Torres (19, SS, Cubs, #66): As an 18-year-old, over 119 games, the native Venezuelan hit .293-3-42 with 22 steals and a total of 32 extra-base hits. Torres needs refinement as witnessed by the 108 strikeouts and 14 caught stealing he earned, but give the kid a couple of years and look out.

Cody Bellinger (20, 1B, Dodgers, #92): Kind of your prototypical hunky left-handed hitting first sacker, Bellinger, who is 6'4" but just 180 pounds, was a fourth rounder of the Dodgers in 2013. He hit .264-30-103 at Rancho Cucamonga with ten steals, with a decent .336 OBP (52 walks to 150 strikeouts) relative to age/level/experience.

Lewis Brinson: (22, OF, Rangers, #120): Texas' first-round pick in 2012, Brinson played at three levels, starting with A+ (.337-13-42) to Double-A (.291-6-23) to Triple-A (.433-1-4), giving an aggregate .332-20-69 line with 18 steals and 31 doubles with 44 walks to 98 whiffs (.403 OBP). Almost there.

Akeel Morris (22, P, Mets, #149): Can you spell dominate? That is what Morris did between A+ St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton, going 0-2, 2.05 with 13 saves along with 81 strikeouts over 61.3 innings, but just 28 hits allowed (0.781 WHIP) for the Virgin Islands import. Morris got a shot at Citi Field (five runs over two-thirds of an inning) but should get a chance to strut it next spring.

Brett Phillips: (21, OF, Brewers, #156): Houston's #6 selection in 2012 was good enough to be part of the Carlos Gomez compensation, based upon a .295-30-170 line over 340 minor league games. In 2015, Phillips went .309-16-77 with 17 steals over 120 games and 565 at-bats over two levels (he finished in Double-A).

Alex Verdugo (19, OF, Dodgers, #226): The Dodgers' #2 selection in 2014, Verdugo began last year at A-ball, and after going .295-5-42 at Great Lakes, finished at High-A with a .385-4-19 line over 23 more games. Verdugo has hit .322-12-104 with 47 doubles and 25 steals over 178 games since signing.

Trevor Story (23, SS, Rockies, #242): Two things struck me with Story. First, it is tough to crack the 250, and he deserves respect for that. But what really caught my eye was that Story, a first-round pick in 2011, hit .281-10-40 over 69 Double-A games at New Britain before being promoted to Albuquerque where he went .271-10-40 over 61 more games at Triple-A. Story's OBP did drop from .373 to .324, but all in all, the .279-20-80 totals with 22 steals and 40 doubles is pretty good.

Welcome to another year at Mastersball, one that marks my 25th year prepping for the coming season. To usher in the New Year properly, let's preview the 2016 Top 250 Prospect List.

Which means as in the past, we have that big list, which is primarily for use by deeper Ultra-style leagues that allow for stashing of future prospects, for our ratings are based upon age, control over the strike zone, and experience.

When I say "control over the strike zone," that means ability to both work a pitch as well as hit with power for hitters, while I look at both control (WHIP) and strikeouts for pitchers.

So, as we finish up some internal housekeeping that includes a site revamp, expanded daily coverage, new industry partnerships and our Platinum package, this week I will preview the Top 10 Prospects for the coming year. The completed list will be out within the next week, and available with comments and some special features as part of Platinum. But, we will also release the basic Top 250 numbered list for free, so keep an eye out for announcements regarding availability.

So, here they are, The Mastersball Top 10 Prospects for 2016.

1. Julio Urias (19, P, Dodgers): Not much of a surprise coming off his dominant 2-2, 2.36 season, but this time Urias went a total of 81 frames spread over four levels, notching 3-5, 3.81 totals with 88 strikeouts, and a 1.18 WHIP as an 18-year-old. Urias pitched as high as Triple-A Oklahoma City for 4.3 innings, and that is where Urias will start the year. But, don't expect him to stay there long.

2. Jose Berrios (20, P, Twins): A #1 pick of Minnesota in 2012, Berrios has a 36-20, 2.98 record with two shutouts and two saves over 440.3 innings. Berrios has 464 strikeouts and a 1.12 WHIP over those innings, and went 14-5, 2.87 over 166.3 innings split between Double and Triple-A last year. Berrios is ready to challenge for a slot come spring.

3. Francis Martes (20, P, Astros): Signed as a 17-year-old out of Puerto Rico in 2013 by the Fish, then swapped to Houston as part of the Jarred Cosart deal, the 225-pound righty went 8-3, 2.04 over 101.6 innings with 98 strikeouts and a 1.09 WHIP, earning both a shutout and a save. Martes finished his 2015 work at Double-A Corpus Christi (1-0, 4.91 over 14.6 innings), and that is where he will begin 2016.

4. Josh Hader (21, P, Brewers): Drafted first by the Orioles in 2012, then swapped to the Stros for Bud Norris, and then to the Brewers as part of the Carlos Gomez deal, Hader certainly seems like a sought after commodity. The lefty went 4-7, 3.03 over 104 Double-A innings last year that included 119 whiffs and a 1.17 WHIP. Hader will likely start 2016 at Triple-A.

5. J.P. Crawford (21, SS, Phillies): A first-rounder (16th overall) in 2013, Crawford hit .288-6-42 split between High-A and Double-A in 2015. Crawford swiped 12, and had a fine .380 OBP (63 walks to 54 whiffs) and is ready for Triple-A right now.

6. Spencer Adams (19, P, White Sox): A second-rounder in 2013, Adams did 129.3 innings last year, split at multiple levels, and delivered a 12-5, 2.99 mark with 96 whiffs to just 18 walks (1.23). Not overpowering, which is my concern, but good success thus far. Make or break at Double-A in 2016, and that will tell us a lot about Adams' future.

7. Alexander Reyes (21, P, Cardinals): How about 151 strikeouts over 101.3 innings over three levels as a comparison with Adams? That is what Reyes did last year, finishing with 34.6 frames at Double-A (3-2, 3.12 over eight starts), and that is likely where the right-hander will start 2016. 

8. Daniel Missaki (19, P, Mariners): A product of Brazil, Missaki has worked in slowly, tossing 34.3 innings last year at Clinton, following 58.6 rookie innings, assembling overall numbers of 7-6, 3.04 over 104 minor league innings with 111 strikeouts and a 1.17 WHIP. Expect time at High-A to start 2016, and slow advance, but like Adams, making it at Double-A will be the challenge.

9. Braxton Davidson (19, OF, Braves): #1 selection (32nd overall) in 2014, Davidson hit .242-10-44 over 124 games and 401 at-bats with 80 walks (though 135 strikeouts) and a .381 OBP. The flychaser, who banged 33% of his hits for extra bases last year, will begin 2016 at High-A.

10. Kodi Medeiros (19, P, Brewers): Drafted out of Waiakea High School in Hawaii #12 overall in 2014, the lefty was 4-5, 4.44 over 93.3 innings at the Midwest League last year wherein he struck out 94 while walking 40, allowing just 70 hits and no homers. Medeiros will start the year at High-A, and along with several of his mates on this list, will be worth a serious look when it is Double-A time.

As we wrap up 2015, there has been a lot written all over regarding 2015 post-season swaps. So this time, I want to look at six that struck me as interesting (or in a few cases, "huh?").

Perhaps my favorite swap thus far was Neil Walker to the Mets for Jon Niese. Certainly, the Bucs had an infielder to spare with Jung Ho Kang, Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer on the roster along with the solid Walker. However, the swap for a good #3 starter just makes sense on the Pirates side.

With Daniel Murphy gone, the main question for the Mets is how healthy will David Wright be on a regular basis. Personally, I felt with Wilmer Flores on the roster and Dilson Herrera in the wings, adding a second sacker after signing Asdrubal Cabrera gives the Metropolitans more of a glut in the infield than the Pirates had before they unloaded Walker. But, where the Mets are weak is the outfield, so someone might get some time there. I suspect the Mets might regret losing Niese over the long haul over keeping him, but for the most part this is an even deal, with both sides certainly giving up something to get something. As far as roto goes, the values of both players are stable, with Walker being worth around $15 and Niese $12.

Yunel Escobar to the Angels: Escobar, who just turned 33, has trouble sticking with a team, but he can surely hit, and along with Andrelton Simmons constitutes a new left side on the infield for the Halos. Escobar had largely a career season last year, with his OBP jumping 50 points over his 2014 number of .324, and now he will start at third base in a fairly potent lineup. Escobar is generally a late-round buy, so if you can nab him for $7-$10 in an AL league, he should be good. In fact, if you nominate Escobar early, he may float past the owners who want to bid on "serious" players and fall to you on the cheap.

Charlie Morton for David Whitehead: This one makes me chuckle as the Pirates did well in exchanging Morton for Niese in their rotation, but I do have to wonder why the Phillies hope to rebuild with a guy who has a 4.58 career ERA and 1.449 WHIP? Not that Whitehead looks like the future of the Phils either, but this is like a roto "dreck for dreck" deal. At least Morton gives innings. Too bad they are not very good ones.

Adam Lind to the Mariners: Lind takes over at first base for Seattle with a good chance to provide some stability to a spot that has had virtually none the past handful of years. Coming off a nice .285-20-87 season, the left-handed hitter should help jell the Mariners infield which is pretty good, and chances are Lind slides into the four/five slot and that suggests some nice quiet run production on a team that is not sure of its path. Like closers, hitters put up numbers, and you need numbers, and ultimately it doesn't matter where they come from. In an AL-only, I'd spend around $15 for Lind.

Starlin Castro to the Yankees: What can I say? I like Castro. He can indeed hit, but I was really thinking Rob Refsnyder would get his chance. Guess not, and Castro--who qualifies at second and short--might be on a short leash, however, with an OBP of .296 last year. But like Seattle, I am not exactly sure what direction New York is pushing. I would trust Castro as no more than a middle infield gamble and not for more than $7.

Jedd Gyorko to the Cards, Jon Jay to the Padres: Not sure why the Padres gave up on Gyorko following his decent second half of .259-13-43, although like a lot of young sluggers, the infielder can hit for power but doesn't get on base enough (career .293 OBP). Since the Cards infield is pretty well set, Gyorko just becomes a utility bat, although I would not be surprised to see him get some time at first since the team might need a right-handed hitter in that slot from time-to-time. He is worth $5-$7 in an NL-only.

As for Jay and the Padres, again, "huh?" This is a team that has blown it with trades of late, and this one really makes me wonder why the team would think Yangervis Solarte and Alexi Amarista along with Jay would provide more offense than Gyorko could by himself. Jay is not even a reserve pick at this point.

My mate Zach Steinhorn covered some of the fun post-Winter Meetings Hot Stove action and implications in his Keeping Busy piece.

To a large degree, the big swaps and big name implications of those trades have hit cyberspace, so this time, let's go in the other direction and look at some lesser deals and some of the spoils of even the big trades.

Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte, and Aaron Blair to the Braves:

The troika spoils for Shelby Miller was a real potential haul for the re-structuring Braves. I love Inciarte (.303-6-45 w/21 SB last year), who plugs right in as an outfielder and is a fine $10-range outfield gamble in most roto structures.

Blair was a first-round pick in 2013 who just went 7-2, 3.16 with 56 strikeouts over 77 innings to complement a 1.221 WHIP. The 6'5" righty will likely get a rotation shot in the spring, making him a fun reserve gamble in a deeper format.

Swanson, the top overall pick out of Vanderbilt last June, hit .289-1-11 over 29 Low-A games after signing. Swanson also walked and whiffed 14 times each (.394 OBP) and will be fast-tracked on this team. The soon to be 22-year-old shortstop will likely start at High-A, but he will be moved up aggressively with success, though we should not expect a serious impact until 2018 if he makes it. However, Swanson could make it to The Show for a taste late next year, and certainly sometime in 2017.

The Athletics, with the acquisition of Jed Lowrie and minor league presence of Chad Pinder, jettisoned Brett Lawrie for Zack Erwin and Jeffrey Wendelken.

Erwin was a fourth-round pick by the White Sox out of Clemson last June. A 6'5" Southpaw, Erwin went right to work with a 2-2, 1.34 mark over 40 innings and 15 games after being signed. The lefty whiffed 15 over 17 Sally League frames to close the season, and it is there I would expect Erwin begins 2016. Since it is Billy Beane, we never know where Erwin will find himself in two years, but it well could be the Coliseum.

Wendelken was a 13th round pick of the Red Sox in 2012, but was then swapped to the other Sox as part of the Jake Peavy deal a year later. He is a stocky (6'0", 235 lbs.) reliever who has whiffed 304 over 304.3 minor league innings with 19 saves. Wendelken has pretty good control (just 139 walks) but his pitches are too much around the middle of the zone (321 hits and a 1.34 WHIP). But, as witnessed by his Double-A Birmingham performance last year (6-2, 2.72 w/5 saves), the right-hander could be a help for a needy Oakland pen soon.

Jason Rogers traded to Pirates for Keon Broxton and Trey Supak

Pittsburgh gets Rogers, who can hit and can help stabilize first base. At 6'1", 255 pounds, Rogers' value is his stick which produced a pretty good .296-4-16 line with an .808 OPS over 86 games in the Majors last year. He should get a chance and at least put up James Loney-type numbers.

Broxton is a speed-burning gamble. Drafted by Arizona in 2009, then purchased by the Bucs in 2013, Broxton has 150 swipes over 826 games, but the outfielder has 967 whiffs over 826 games with a .333 OBP and .743 OPS, meaning not much else. At 25, things probably will not change much for Broxton in cheeseland.

Supak was a second-round pick out of high school in June of 2014, and is also a project with a 2-5, 5.85 record over 52.3 innings the last two seasons.

Todd Frazier to the White Sox, Micah Johnson, Frankie Montas and Trayce Thompson to the Dodgers, Brandon Dixon, Jose Peraza and Scott Schebler to the Reds.

Johnson could be a second baseman if he can get on base in the Majors. He had a shot last year with the White Sox but couldn't keep the gig.

Frankie Montas is a 22-year-old Dominican who throws hard, as 390 strikeouts over 388.3 innings suggests. He played in Birmingham last year (5-5, 2.97) and then at the new Comiskey (0-2, 4.80 but 20 whiffs over 15 innings).

Thompson was signed in 2009, and the now 24-year-old outfielder hit well enough with Charlotte (.260-13-39) and then went .295-5-16 with the big club. Thompson has a .241-101-395 line in the Minors with a .747 OPS over 734 minor league games.

Brandon Dixon was selected in the third round in 2013 out of the University of Arizona. The second sacker/outfielder has a .247-29-131 line over 247 games, with 40 steals, but with 51 walks to 312 strikeouts (.296 OBP). Another project, and one likely destined for the "utility" tag from here on out.

Jose Peraza (also 2B/OF) is a 21-year-old Venezuelan import with a .302-9-183 line over 461 games, with 210 steals and a .347 OBP. Peraza makes good contact (207 whiffs, 93 walks) but is likely not ready for the Majors, as witnessed by the .182-0-1 mark he posted over seven L.A. games last year.

Scott Schebler is an outfielder who was a 26th round pick in 2009, and another within the three-way deal who appeared in the Majors last year (.250-3-4 over 19 games). He is now 25, and hit .241-13-50 over 121 minor league games, with a reasonable 40 walks to 93 strikeouts (.322 OBP). All the Reds spoils could challenge for Major League time next year, making them all at least reserve-radar worthy.

Finally, within the Ken Giles swap, the reloading Phillies got prospects Mark Appel, Harold Arauz, and Thomas Eshelman while the Stros nabbed Jonathan Arauz.

Appel, in my view, is toast, ranking around 1000 overall in my minor league rankings.

Harold Arauz is a 20-year-old Panamanian who is pointed towards the pen with four saves and an 11-8 record over four years and 185.3 innings. He has 178 whiffs, a 1.225 WHIP, and will likely start next year at High-A.

Eshelman was a second-round pick last year by Houston. The 21-year-old pitcher has thrown just 10.3 innings over four games since being drafted. The right-hander was a monster at Cal-State Fullerton, having tossed 362.6 college innings and allowing just 17 walks. Apparently, the Astros were being light with his workload in deference to the heavy college frames pitched, but Eshelman should begin 2016 at High-A.

In one of the more obscure trade trivia notes ever (minor leaguers named Arauz swapped for one another), Jonathan is a 17-year-old middle infielder who hit .254-2-18 as a 16-year-old in the Gulf Coast League last year over 44 games. A future project as well, but one worth checking out.

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